Teeny Tiny Rocket Engine




About: A Northern Ireland based maker with a propensity to cause trouble and freshly constructed family.
"Adam you never cease to make me feel like my brain is about to fall out my ears lol you're never just like reading a book" 

A text I received after telling Sammi what I did today. This is what I did today. 

I am unsure why I did this or what purpose, if any it could serve. It does propel itself in a direction, though it more or less explodes forward it does do it's job, it went straight across, hit the counter, leaving a small mark and then back in to the depths of the kitchen. It may have surprised my housemate a little, probably should have told him why he was lighting my match... 

First issue, propellant? I reckon Swan matches, they're pretty bad because they light slower than most. Seems like it's about the right mix of burny but not explodey... 

Wait what will I use as the body? More to the point where did this idea even come from if the propellant was the first question? This is some kind of bizarre causation loop in my head. 

Anyway I realized an earring back might work, the end of the casing is about the size I'd expect for the nozzle. (I did no science here, I just decided this) I didn't figure out the capping of the other end until later. 


Oh stop. This is dangerous, grinding up matches is a logically foolish activity that may lead to burns, break up small amounts at a time to stop it from being a little surprise instead of a burnt hand. Lighting this thing might go badly. Cover your eyes and in general constructing it may be a danger - take care. 

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Step 1: Tools and Materials

You'll need: 


 - Pliers
 - A knife
 - A Card
 - A hard surface

 - Matches (Keep the box handy too) 
 - An earring back, clutch back that is, see photos. 

Step 2: Prepare the Casing

Remove the end cap of the earring back. 

Remove the inner plastic clutch (this still works as a back) 

To remove it get a drawing pin or nail and push it in to the inner hole, then pull it out, the object just needs to be thicker than the earring pins that went through it before. 

Step 3: Prepare the Match Head Propellant

This is relatively simple, but inherently dangerous with strike anywhere matches. 

NO metal on metal or stone on stone. 

I used an upended ashtray (glass) and chopped the stuff up as well as I could with a knife. 

Next I used my old tech card to finely chop it repeatedly. This worked nicely. 

The technique is the same as you might use with certain illicit substances, but slightly rougher. 

It doesn't need to be powdered, just fairly fine, like granulated sugar is enough. 

Step 4: Loading the Powder

Poke a hole in the match box and press the empty casing in to it - it'll hold it until it's nearly finished. 

I used a scalpel as a teeny little spade. 

You carefully fill the casing, start with a few lumps, to stop the finer stuff falling out the bottom. 

As you go use the end of match (not the head) to tamp it down. 

By the end you want it to be thoroughly packed in, to essentially be solid. 

Leave at least a millimetre between the end and the powder. 

Step 5: Cut Capping Piece

This doesn't entirely cap the thing, it's just there to help on sealing the end. 

Cut a small rough circle that drops in on top of the propellant, it should pretty much fill the end over. 

Step 6: Seal the End

To seal the end fold the rim over inwards with pliers. 

Now carefully squeeze the lip flat. 

Bend it over a little and squeeze again. 

Repeat this a few times. 

You'll need to squeeze hard to seal it up, by the end it should look like a single piece of metal. 

I wouldn't do this in a vice unless it's small and fairly easy to be accurate with.

Step 7: Launch It...

I bent a beer cans pull ring in to a stand for firing the rocket...

Then lit it...

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    23 Discussions


    5 years ago

    the balance between "burny but not explodey" considering "explodey" encased in metal isnt very forgiving. neither are unsespecting friends with earing backings stuck in their face


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I used to make small exploding thingies with match powder.
    Instead of scraping the dangerous bit off the woody bit, I had an electric pencil sharpener which I wired to a button (Instead of the internal 'pencil detector'). It's a much faster way of stripping the explosive bit off the match, and once you get the knack for it, you have minimal amounts of wood in it.

    That said, if anybody tries this and gets burned/injured/killed (Unlikely, as I processed about ~25 boxes of matches with this method.

    Good instructable.

    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Cheers, good idea there...

    I know it's unlikely, it's more just well there's always that one person that manages to blow up the house with a paperclip...


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Hahaha, reading this was fantastic. Stream of consciousness combined with fire, good work all around.

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    did none of you make match stick rockets as kids? with aluminium foil and a paperclip as the launch pad?

    alternative fuels include: model rocket engines, Black Powder, fast burning fuse (comercial grade is difficult for folks to get a hold of but let me assure you an awful lot of fun)
    since what your after is a fast burn and not an explosion it helps to compact the dry fuels. enjoy an wear cool safety specs.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    pliers work really well. just squeeze the tip of your matches and the powder will crumble of in nice clean chunks :).


    love your rocket science,"the right mix of burny,but not explodey.." . you definitely want the right balance between those two. too much explodey and they will call you stumpy.

    2 replies

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Forget scraping the match head off the stick. up end a bunch of them in enough water to cover. after a day or so all the fuel will come off the stick and you can squeeze it out in a cloth to get a putty. form it any way you want and let it dry. we would use it as an engine propellent by filling a tube with the match putty being sure to add a small tube in the middle, I.E. 3,8" tube with a pen refill. what you end up with is a hollow, packed "sulfur" tube after removing the pen cartridge. the purpose of the pen tube is to allow more surface area to burn. this make a shorter burn but a more forceful drive. it worked for the solid booster rockets on the space shuttle. that's where we got the idea.

    3 replies

    I thought about doing a hollow up the middle but since I didn't know if it'd work at all I just decided to keep it simple.

    I hear acetone can also be used as a solvent for quicker drying.

    Thanks for the interesting comment on this - wasn't even sure match powder was worth advancing upon.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    i was looking at making a hand held rocket lancher a elctronic bbg lighter would do to light this or just a barbucaue lighter

    1 reply