Make an Exploding Ash Tray - April Fool's Prank




Introduction: Make an Exploding Ash Tray - April Fool's Prank

About: I like turning boring things into awesome things! Usually on video.
This Instructable will be demonstrating how to create an exploding ash tray to startle your smoking companions this April Fool's Day. In the following video the process and results are demonstrated:

Step 1: Nitrocellulose

This prank requires flash cotton, which is a common material used in magic tricks. It is a low density form of a widely used chemical called nitrocellulose.

Nitrocellulose is a plastic like substance, used as a wood varnish, fingernail polish, guitar picks, ping pong balls, and in the manufacture of many other useful products. In most instances nitrocellulose burns quite slowly in open air, but when in the low density form of flash cotton, it burns quickly and cleanly enough that the heat rapidly disperses into the air without burning the surface it is ignited on. This means that if done properly, small amounts of it can be lit on top of an open hand without causing a burn. This is not a recommended activity to try, as burns are of course a possibility.

In the above video I ignite far more flash cotton in my hands than what would be considered safe. I have years of experience working with nitrocellulose, and know exactly what the necessary precautions are for working with such large amounts. Under no circumstances should my actions be replicated in that respect.

Step 2: Trapping the Ash Tray

The process used to rig an ash tray with flash cotton is extremely simple. Just hide the cotton under the ash. A thick layer of ash on top of the cotton can provide a delay from when a cigarette is placed in the tray and the cotton ignites.

This prank is sure to get a big reaction, so I highly suggest that it not be used on someone who's reaction may not be a positive one. Use common sense, and don't prank in public places.



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    48 Discussions

    Seems like there's a lot of internet boo-hooing going on about this. Whatever who cares. I'd just like to say nice instructable. It was clear, concise, and provided adequate warning to those not responsible enough play with fire.

    Thank you for the info. I especially like the firewire.

    Any "prank" that causes ignition is a bad idea. Hair, clothing, etc... A magician uses this gimmick in a carefully contained way - you're victim will not.

    In the eyes of the law, this is considered an incendiary device. - if someone get's injured, well, I'd hate to be you.

    9 replies

    While I do not disagree that there are many circumstances where this, or any other prank involving fire are a bad idea, this is by no means an incendiary device according to the law. Not by any definition I have ever seen - and believe me, I've looked. An incendiary device according to every legal definition must be something that is intended to cause physical harm or damage to property. A prank does not have intent to cause harm.

    For the sake of argument, lets say some psychopath really did want to use this to cause harm. Notice on the second page of this Instructable that in the last image showing the explosion you can clearly see the cigarette through the cloud. Notice also that the ash is still attached to the end of said cigarette.

    The explosion is so weak that it cannot even knock the ash off the end of a cigarette, let alone cause physical harm. Even if it was intended.

    Incendiary (Chemistry) (of a substance) capable of catching fire, causing fires, or burning readily. By putting nitrocellulose in a place where you know that it will ignite, by definition you're setting a tiny bomb. So if you're victim catches fire, or get an eyeful of cigarette ash, or hurts themselves trying to get away from a sudden blast of fire, it is the result of an incendiary device - there was a flame, there was an explosion.

    Recently there was this:

    You yourself disclaim a portion of your instructable by saying "do not attempt this at home." And you had eye protection.

    So, I stand by my statement - this is a bad idea.

    Oooo! Let us play the word war!
    Skipernicus, you specifically used the term "incendiary device" in your last post. defines that as the following:

    An incendiary device is any firebomb, and any device designed or specially adapted to cause physical harm to persons or property by means of fire, and consisting of an incendiary substance or agency and a means to ignite it.

    Examples of incendiary devices include:

    1. Accelerant

    2. Arson

    3. Flamethrower

    4. Fuel-air explosive

    5. Greek fire

    While flash cotton can be used as a component in some types of incendiary devices, when used in the terms of this prank, which is what it is, it is not that.

    ANY prank can turn bad. A prank can always result in something you did not expect. If a person fully reads this instructable and takes certain common sense approaches to enacting it all should be well.

    But like a great many things on this site, if they are used incorrectly or even just used in the wrong environment or at the wrong time dire consequences can result. But the same can be said for almost anything in life.

    Thank you for your comments of additional warnings to people reading this, they are noted and will possibly warn others away that are unsure of themselves.

    I will still do a prank similar to this one to a friend. He will find it amusing and I am confident in the safety of the act. But we shall see. If it goes horribly wrong I will tell you and you can sadly say I told you so.


    He said "Do not try this at home" with the LARGE portion of the flash cotton, not the small amount placed in the ash tray.

    Also, if you don't want to try this, DON'T. Let the rest of us check it out.

    I didn't say it was "illegal" - my point is that if you injure someone, you are criminally liable.

    There is a world outside the U.S you know. Just cos it's illegal there, doesn't mean it is illegal everywhere. Should it be taken down because it violates laws there?

    Show me the law. I have no desire to promote illegal activities. If you can prove it I will delete the page.

    Not enough that the government sponsers a hate capaign against the visible minority that are smokers, now we have the real concern about terrorists taking up the descrimination...nice

    I remember a friend who did this with a genuine "pre-explosive" made from household ingredients that didn't involve suspicious quantities of nitrogen-based fertilizer (and no, I won't disclose the compound for safety reasons). This means that it did not need access to oxygen in order to ignite. He did make a small bomb out of it but it was far more entertaining using it for this exact prank!

    It's rare to find a real ash tray as full as the one used in the video--it's usually more butt than ash. There was no need for physical contact either, just the residual heat from 'ashing' was enough to set it off.

    It didn't flare like the flash cotton but it was still definitely an outdoor prank because it would blow the ashtray clean (whoof!) and sometimes even took the "cherry" off the end of the offending cigarette. In an "open" environment this stuff was completely safe. I was left without about 1/2 a 35mm film canister of material which lasted for well over six months, using barely a pinch at a time.

    It's really nice to see someone else has a similarly wicked but safe sense of humor!

    I love how everyone suddenly becomes it at your own risk Nuff said. Eat more Bacon!...mmmm tasty tasy bacon ...

    hmmm, I have the feeling that if flash cotton were more widely available, this would be the favorite tactic of anti-smoking fanatics to get smokers to give up the habit. At every oppty, they'd lace ashtrays with this stuff to instil such an anxiety about lighting up that smokers would develop such anxiety about smoking they'd quit. LOL (I don't smoke, but some people are very fanatical about those who do smoke)

    I have, they won't change it. I'm not happy about it either. Being age restricted means they won't put ads on it and I don't get a paycheck from my work that day.

    YouTube appears to have age-restricted your video. Could you please appeal the restriction (see so I (and many others) can watch it?

    I'm going to use this on some of my friends that smoke...