Introduction: How to Make Human Cannonball Fancy Dress
In this Instructable you will find out how to fire Donald Trump out of a cannon. More specifically, I will show you how to build a real working cannon to fire a dummy human cannonball as part of a fancy dress costume.
I was very excited to be invited to my sister-in-law's 40th birthday party. I wanted to go as the Human Cannonball but thought it would be much more fun to actually fire people out of a cannon. I discussed it with my family and my 7 year-old, Ted suggested firing dummies instead. He obviously has much more sense than me.
At first I wasn't sure who I should fire and so I consulted Wikipedia to find the most controversial figures of all time. The list was based on the number of Wikipedia edits, the more edits, the more controversial the person. Excluding religious figures I decided to go with Michael Jackson and Donald Trump in the end.
In the first photo you can see Michael preparing to fire Donald out of the cannon. In case you think I am making a political statement, I would love to be fired out of a cannon! I would obviously wear a pair of decent ear plugs so I wasn't deafened in the process.
In the two videos you can see me firing Donald and Michael out of the cannon. Donald was much heavier due to the suit and rubber mask, so he didn't go very far!
In the sixth photo you can see my daft sister-in-law Katy getting into the cannon. There is another film of the whole thing falling over and her falling out, if you are interested, let me know. In image 7 you can see quite a crowd gathered to watch and in the last one you can see my lovely wife Becca in her awesome outfit.
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Step 1: You Will Need
- Old pushchair. Instead of this you may wish to build your own base with wheels on. I considered doing this using wood and some casters but figured it would be much quicker to use an old pushchair.
- 2 dustbins. (We needed new dustbins anyway as there were holes in the bottom so I used our old ones and replaced them, rather than ruining two new bins. I pressure washed them before use. A plastic or metal oil drum would be a good alternative and would probably work better due to the larger diameter.
- Garden wire, I ended up using an 18 inch length and a 12 inch length for the hooks, as well as two 8 inch lengths to attach the wheels.
- PPE goggles and ear plugs such as my ZenPlugs from https://zenplugs.com/ for when you are using power tools.
- About 50 15cm tent rubber bands, I used about 45, it's good to have a few spare.
- Gaffa tape (I got through quite a lot, maybe half a roll).
- The fourth image shows some nuts and bolts I used for the first attempt at the catapult mechanism. I ended up not using these in the end but you could use them to make a neater attachment for the catapult extension, rather than just gaffa taping them as I did (I was in a rush!)
- Spray paint, I used primer, red and silver. Most of a can of primer, a whole can of red and only a small amount of silver.
- 2 foot piece of dowling (I used my paint stirring stick)
- Sparklers (not shown).
- 7ft piece of 2 by 1/2 inch wood to extend catapult (image 6)
- Rope, about 8ft (image 6).
- Inflatable dummies, one for each person you want to fire out of your cannon. The only ones I could find were 'Hen Party props'. I thought about shop dummies but they are expensive and heavy. An alternative would be to stuff clothes with newspaper in the style of a bonfire Guy.
- Outfits for dummies. Check the sizing; the only dummies I could find were about 5 ft tall so I bought clothes for 12 year olds. See section on making the dummies for images.
- Masks for dummies.
- Wood to splint dummies. I used a broom for one and a 4ft piece of 2 by 1/2 inch wood with a notch cut in the bottom for the other.
- Bluetooth speaker to play rousing music from your phone, e.g. theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey (not shown)
- Pliers (not shown)
- Power jigsaw/handsaw (not shown)
- Work knife (not shown)
Step 2: Cut Up the Bins
If there is a seam on the bins you can use this as a cutting guide. In the second picture you can see the bin on the right has more cut off; this one goes at the top and has a wider opening to let the dummy through. I left a rim on the one on the left to give it more rigidity due to the force going through from the catapult mechanism. I used a power jigsaw to cut them but you could use a handsaw if you don't have one.
Step 3: Tape the Bins Together
I made the mistake of undercoating the bins before taping them together. It's better to tape them first. Line the bins up as best you can and then tape them together, pulling the tape tight as you go. Put plenty on, above and below the join, as in the photo, as a lot of force will be going through the bins. Mine isn't very neat as I was in a bit of a rush but you can do it neater. If you can't get it neat you could wrap some wrapping or coloured paper round to cover it up.
Step 4: Paint the Bins
Give the bins a light sand all over to get the paint to stick then spray with primer according to the instructions. Next spray with spray paint of your choice in long, even strokes until there is good coverage.
Step 5: First Attempt at Catapult Mechanism
Here is my first attempt at the catapult mechanism. I underestimated how difficult it is to fire a clothed balloon through a tube and it took me some time to get it right. I won't go into detail with this because it didn't work but I thought I would include it so you could see the process I went through. You can see in the first image that I made a platform connected to the rubber bands on 4 sides. These are then bolted to the sides of the bin using bent garden wire hooks. I taped them up so they weren't sharp for the inflatable dummy. The dummy always got stuck in the tube. I think the problem was that the rubber bands on four sides gripped the bottom of the dummy, creating friction.
Back to the drawing board.
Step 6: Second Attempt at Catapult Mechanism
Here is my second attempt at the catapult mechanism. I thought that the problem of having bands on four sides would be solved by having bands on one side, working like a jet fighter catapult on a warship. I bent a clip from the garden wire, as you can see in the first two photos. I then hooked it on the top edge of the bin, as you can see in the third photo. I made a hook to go on the dummy and tied it onto the other end of the rubber bands with rope. I left the rope long so it hangs out of the bottom of the cannon and it can be pulled to stretch the bands to charge it.
Step 7: The Grappling Hook
It was at this point that the knot came undone when I was charging the cannon and both the hooks and the firing mechanism were fired over the ten foot wall at the end of our garden into the neighbour's garden. It's about a half a mile round walk there and back so I decided to make a grappling hook to get it back. I climbed on the wall, used the hook and got it back. Phew!
Step 8: Third Attempt at Catapult Mechanism
My second attempt at the firing mechanism was better than the first but it still wasn't working. Firstly, the side of the bin kept buckling as it wasn't rigid enough, and even when it didn't the dummy was still staying in the tube. The only option now was to have an extension to stretch the rubber bands further and maintain traction until the dummy was clear of the tube. It wasn't ideal but was the only option at short notice. I was running out of time!
Tape the hook on the end of the piece of wood, stick it between the barrel and the seat of the pushchair and put two bolts through the wood and the end of the barrel. I was in a rush so bodged it on with gaffa tape, as you can see in the photo.
In the first image you can see how I set up the firing mechanism. I was trying to avoid having it extending from the barrel but it simply wasn't working. Barrels are great when the propulsive force is due to the expansion of a gas but in the case of a catapult it only adds friction.
Loop about 20 of the large rubber bands together and attach the barrel hook shown in the previous steps to the top and the brush hook to the bottom. Tie the rope to the end of the bands and tie a 4 inch loop in it for the launching stick to pass through.
Step 9: Making the Dummies
The dummies are made from the only not-too-rude inflatable people I could find on Amazon. They cost only a few pounds each and I clothed them with a kid's Michael Jackson outfit and a cheap suit from eBay. The only Michael Jackson mask I could find was cardboard but this just added to the humour so I wasn't bothered. The Donald Trump mask was over £20 and was by far the most expensive part of the setup.
The dummies were too light and bendy to fire to start with so I made them heavier and more rigid using using a broom for one and a piece of wood for the other. I tied these on with rubber bands. You can see the broom attachment on Michael in the third and fourth images.The head of the brush gave a good point for the launch mechanism to attach. Unfortunately I didn't take a photo of Donald's wooden version before he went missing at the party. Apparently he turned up in the host's bath the next morning. It consisted of a 3 and a half foot piece of wood about 2 inch by half an inch with a 'V' cut in the end for the launch hook to attach to. You could use either two brooms or two pieces of wood, depending on what you have available. Donald was a lot heavier so I used the lighter piece of wood for him.
The arms stuck straight out in front of them for some reason so I taped them straight with gaffa tape on their elbows. I also taped their legs together as they seemed to be spread rather wide. You might need to put the clothes on first then thread the wood through afterwards, I have omitted the clothes in the second two images so you can see the attachment.
Step 10: Making the Wheels
The lids of the bins conveniently were the right size to make wheels for the cannon. Rub them down then spray them silver. Attach them using hooks made from garden wire. This makes them easy to take on and off for transportation. Otherwise you can tie them with string. I sprayed mine silver, you could leave them black or spend time painting them up to look more like wheels if you like.
Step 11: Making the Star
In order to spray paint the stars on the side of the cannon you will need to make a star stencil. This may be straightforward for you but in case this is something you are not sure how to do, here are the instructions. The first photo shows the final result.
Draw a 30 cm pencil line, as in the second photograph. Draw a 36° angle from the end using a protractor, this is shown in the third image. Next, draw another 30 cm line, using the 36° mark as a guide. Keep drawing 30 cm lines at 36° to the previous line until you end up with a five pointed star like that shown in the last image. Cut the star out from the inside, making sure you don't break the outer ring of paper. You can use a craft knife to make this easier. Use the silver paint to spray stars on the outside of the barrel.
Step 12: The Fuse
The fuse is made from a sparkler and really adds to the effect and suspense when the cannon is about to be fired. Make a small hole in the top of the barrel with a craft knife or other sharp implement. Push the end of the sparkler through the hole making sure that the part of the sparkler which burns does not contact the plastic.
Step 13: Assembling the Cannon
As you can see, I used the large tent rubber bands to attach the body of the cannon to the pushchair. There were quite a few attachment points on the pushchair for the bands so I simply looped them round. Conveniently, the base of the tube sat nicely in the seat of the pushchair. I put the garden wire hooks on the wheels into the sides of the basket at the bottom. Here you can see the rope hanging out of the bottom to make it easier to stretch the rubber bands.
Step 14: Firing the Cannon
To fire the cannon you pull the rope until you can reach the loop. Pull it right down then thread the launching stick (like the one shown in the photo) through the loop with the stick outside the bottom of the lower dustbin so that the bands pull it up against the base. Next, load the dummy into the top of the cannon.
Hook the base of the broom or stick onto the hook at the bottom of the rubber bands and you are ready to go. To fire the cannon you simply pull the stick out sideways and the dummy will launch. You can see this in the video at the beginning. If your dummy is large in the tube you will need to push the loop towards the lower side of the cannon so that the rubber band does not lie diagonally through the tube. It allows more space and creates less friction if it runs parallel with the side.
Step 15: The Show
To make this into a show I dressed up in a vaguely military/circus outfit, although I did think it might have been fun to dress up as Hilary Clinton or Stormy Daniels. You could play music such as 2001: A Space Odyssey or a fanfare to add to the drama.
If you build this project please post your photos, tell us about it and let me know if you managed to make any improvements on the firing mechanism. I spent about 7 hours trying to make it better!