Rapid Fuelling Potato Cannon Mounted on Kubota Tractor





Introduction: Rapid Fuelling Potato Cannon Mounted on Kubota Tractor

About: Like inventing, woodworking, tractor gadgets, gardening, making Youtube videos, wind turbines, ham radio, making instructables, etc

This potato cannon has a unique one-way valve system that lets the fuel (propellent) into the combustion chamber and prevents the explosive gases from escaping out through the valve.  The cannon can be refuelled and fired in a couple of seconds.  We decided to mount the cannon on the bucket (front end loader) of our Kubota BX25 tractor.  With the bucket as a shield, we get a big safety advantage, and we also get a nice tank-like experience when manoeuvring the cannon in position to strike the target (see video below).

The cannon is fired with a remote electronic ignitor connected with wires to the spark plug in the cannon combustion chamber. The ignitor is secured to the tractor engine hood with a couple of rare earth magnets.  The ignitor is an inexpensive unit available at hardware stores and is normally used to ignite gas barbecues.    The wooden cannon cradle is mounted to the bucket with two C-clamps making it quick to install and remove.  We mounted a GoPro Hero2 camera on the cannon barrel to record the potato firing action from that perspective.

Step 1: Study What Is Out There Paying Attention to the Safety Aspects of This Kind of Project

We checked out potato cannons on the web and based the fundamental design on what we learned there.  We ended up going with ABS plastic pipes and associated fittings for the cannon.  The combustion chamber has an inside diameter of 3 inches and is about 24 inches long.  The cannon barrel is 1-1/2 inches by 36 inches.  A reduction coupling connects the two pipes together.  The other end of the combustion chamber is fitted with a female coupler and a removable (threaded) clean-out plug. Hair spray seems to be the propellent of choice so that's what we experimented with first.

The YouTube video, below, shows the cannon in action and also presents some of the construction details.  The Instructable step by step instructions below are quite detailed to help the builder have a greater chance of success.

A second video giving more construction information can be viewed here: http://youtu.be/T7r6I8M4AG4  

Be aware that this kind of device can be very dangerous - it would be smart to read and view plenty of  background material before construction and testing.

Step 2: Measure and Cut the ABS Pipe to Size

A regular wood cutting blade on a miter saw is an easy way to cut the ABS pipe.  A hand saw works too but it is more challenging to make a nice straight cut.  After cutting the pipes to size (24 inches for the combustion chamber and 36 inches for the barrel) we removed the burrs from the pipe with sandpaper (a knife or file will also do).  Don't forget to wear eye and ear protectors when using the miter saw.

The ABS pipes and fittings are cemented together after the one-way valve and the spark plug are installed in the combustion chamber (see steps below).

Step 3: Make a Cutting Edge on the Barrel to Help Get the Potato (ammunition) In

We found that a pretty sharp edge is necessary on the front end of the cannon barrel to make loading the potato as easy as possible. The combination belt and disc sander, shown here, made short work of this procedure.  Best to take your time on the sander to reduce chances of melting the plastic as you shape the end of the pipe.  As a final step, we honed the edge of the barrel with a hand file.  A woodworking mallet  comes in handy to drive the potato into the barrel but a piece of 2x4 should work as well. The sharp edge of the barrel cuts the potato neatly to create a snug fit in the barrel.

Step 4: Drill Holes for the Spark Plug and the One-way Valve Assembly

Two 1/8 inch diameter holes were drilled for the one-way valve.  One hole takes a machine screw that secures the valve flap (two layered pieces of plastic venetian blind) and the other hole, spaced about 3/4 inch from the first, is the fuel injection port.  The spark plug requires a hole somewhat larger than 1/2 inch.  I first drilled the hole with a 1/2 inch twist drill and then manipulated the pipe, with the drill turning, to increase the hole diameter.  The spark plug hole is made about 2-1/4 inches from the pipe end and it is offset from the one-way valve holes by about 1 inch.  The offset makes installation and maintenance of the plug and valve easy.

Step 5: Install the One-way Valve

The one-way valve flap is made from  lengths of plastic venetian blind.  I found that two pieces of blind layered  together gives a good spring-back action.  The flap is held securely in place against the pipe by a round head machine screw, lock washer, and nut..  Long nose pliers aid in the installation of the flap.

Step 6: Install the Spark Plug

Install the spark plug by first pushing and turning the plug clockwise into the previously made hole.  If necessary ream the hole to a larger diameter to get the "tapping" started.  I needed to use a socket wrench to get the plug all the way in.  As a backup I installed a nut on the spark plug (on the inside of the pipe).  I "made" the nut by hacksawing a standard plumbing connector nut in two (see  photos ).  The nut is probably overkill in terms of securing the spark plug but no harm in being as safe as possible when dealing with a combustion chamber! 

Step 7: Give the One-way Valve a Test

This is a good time to test the one-way valve.  This is done by pushing the hair spray feed tube in through the fuel injection port and then pulling the tube out while observing the action of the valve flap.  There should be an immediate return of the flap against the inside of the pipe.  This is also a good time to check out how the hair spray atomizes in the combustion chamber.  (I found that the tube tip should be pushed past the flap to prevent the hair spray from condensing on the flap.)

I replaced the supplied hair spray nozzle with the nozzle and extension tube from a can of WD-40 - works fine. 

Step 8: Cement the ABS Parts Together

This set of photos illustrate the process we went through to assemble the ABS plastic components of the cannon.  We cleaned the mating parts with the recommended cleaning agent first.  Then, following the instructions on the container, we applied the cement and pushed the parts together as required.  You need to work pretty fast to make sure that the parts are properly seated before the cement has a chance to set.  The last photo in this series of photos shows the clean-out plug being screwed in place on the back end of the cannon.  

With this cannon design the clean-out plug will only have to be removed for cleaning and maintenance  - for other designs that we examined, the clean-out input is the fuelling port for the cannon: therefore it is necessary to remove the plug, inject the propellent, and then screw the plug back in place.

Step 9: Make a Support Braket for the BBQ Ignitor

The barbecue electronic ignitor was picked up at a hardware store for about $20.  It comes with electrical connectors and wires and it takes one AA battery.  We found a metal bracket in the junk box and drilled a hole in the bracket to mount the ignitor.  We then screwed the backet to a block of wood to serve as a base for the ignitor.  We then attached two rare earth magnets to the bottom of the wooden base so that we can readily postion it in a convenient location on the tractor hood.  Once this is done the wires are connected to the spark plug and the cannon is then ready for firing!

Step 10: Make and Label a Ram Rod

We made and  clearly marked a wooden ram rod to insure the potato is never pushed too far into the barrel - having the potato lodged in the combustion chamber is not a good idea!

Step 11: Installing the Cannon on the Cannon Cradle and the Front End Loader

We tried several clamping methods to secure the cannon to the wooden cannon cradle.  We settled on a standard worm screw pipe clamp as it is easily loosened and tightened to remove or  install the cannon on the cradle for cleaning or maintenance.  We also secured the GoPro Hero2 camera to the cannon barrel with a pipe clamp. 



    • Oil Contest

      Oil Contest
    • Water Contest

      Water Contest
    • Creative Misuse Contest

      Creative Misuse Contest

    26 Discussions

    This is a great design! The only thing I would change short of a autoloading feature(not sure how that would be done anyway) would be to flip the C clamps around just in case the bucket is lowered all the way.

    Hi, I have made few combustion cannons myself and I know that it the biggest problem with those is venting, it takes some time because you have to uncap it and and vent it by hand, for my cannon I've made another valve just to vent it with an 2L inflatables pump, I used ball valve but one way valve would be better, so my question is - how long does it takes to fully load after a shot? P.S. if anyone have some questions about combustion cannons feel free to ask :)

    3 replies

    batonas - Hi, this was our first potato cannon and Max (star of the show in the video) had just a 5 day visit. He got to do some tractor driving and help me make the potato cannon. With that limit on time we didn't get a chance to do a lot of testing - BUT I know what you are getting to re venting. Although we enjoyed the construction and testing of the design we were rather disappointed in the overall results because of many misfires. Max wanted me to try taking of the cap and give it a try but I didn't really get around to that before he had to leave. My thought on a possible solution would be to have a can of compressed air to inject in to the fuel port and to see if that would do the job. I haven't tested this so it is only speculation right now. What do you think? Do you think that would work?

    compressed air would definitely do the job, but can would not last long and it cost so I prefer inflatables pump (rechargeable one would be convenient) and one way valve.
    P.S. make a fuel meter for your cannon, hairspray is the worse you could use, here's a link

    I thought abs was not pressure rated though, pvc is, but pvc has poor thermal breakdown point.

    1 reply

    NEITHER are okay. Only use metal piping unless it is a combustion cannon. Then use polyvinyl chloride. It must be pressure rated.

    frighteningly ingenious... Im glad to have seen it but i wish i would have thought of it.

    Does anybody know if I should use abs or pvc for a potato gun using hairspray?

    1 reply

    Hi, I write for Farm Show magazine (www.farmshow.com) and would like to interview you for an article. Email me at dee_goerge@yahoo.com.

    Very nice, indeed!

    The only thing left is an auto-loading mechanism and you've got a potato TANK!

    4 replies

    PS118 - Thanks, maybe you or some other instructables creator will handle the auto-loading part.

    I think the loading itsself could be accomplished by the same time-tested mechanism used in Gatling Guns, if not for one major problem. What's really holding us back in this science is the non-uniform shape of the potatoes.

    What the future demands is some kind of form or mold to grow a consistent caliber of russet.

    That, or perhaps if we could somehow harness and employ tater tot technology...

    LOLz :D

    Where I lived as a kid, we had a potato and onion farm nearby. They standardized the sizes of potatoes all of the time, through a simple set of metal grates while processing them.
    Are you allowed to make a punch press to cut the potato into a clean cylindrical shape prior to loading? If you can make a potato cannon I am sure you can build a simple biscuit cutter (band saw blade in the round?) onto the front of the cannon, and make a "tamper" with a spike on the end, to ram the potato into the cannon, cutting off the excess in the process.

    - oh, forgot to say, we used to just ram the potatoes ONTO the barrel, versus trying to make them fit inside the barrel. Makes a nice cork!