Tennis Ball Mortar




About: Working wireless-ly.


The tennis ball mortar is a great project for many reasons: all the materials are cheap and readily available, its construction is extremely simple, and it gives off a nice loud *pop* which the video doesn't do justice.

Quick and dirty explanation on how it works: The mortar is composed of three sections of Pringles cans duct taped together. The metal bottoms of the top two cans are cut to form baffles, which will focus the force of the expanding hot gas created by the burnt vaporized naptha, onto the center of the tennis ball. Thanks to the near exact match in diameter of the ball and can, the force of the compressed gases is trapped behind the tennis ball for the whole length of the top can.

As you can probably guess this design has room for improvements. For example, if the length of the top can were extended, the ball would have a longer time to accelerate and thus achieve a faster speed, but at what point does the downward air pressure on the ball overpower the structural integrity of cardboard and duct tape? How does increasing the volume of the cans affect overall performance? What effect would adding a few more baffled cans have? I'm sure the answer is only a simple math problem or two away, but you look bored and like your enjoying a few too many fingers. (More after the video)

Today (June 1st) I am beginning a contest (Shhh! Its not an official contest so don't tell my bosses Eric and Christy) to see who can come up with the best tennis ball mortar design. No one characteristic defines "best", it is a combination of performance, creativity, adn 1's aBiLiTy 2 not tlak LIEK Dis!!!1!1 I am judge and jury of this contest, and my decision is final.

How to enter: Join the group Tennis Ball Mortars (Its moderated) If you feel your design is truly innovative, and that you are making great advances in the field of tennis ball mortarology, write a new instructable and post it in the group. If you just have some pictures, or if the only difference between your mortar and someone else's is the color of the duct tape, post it in the forums, and then add it to the group.

Now for the good part *THE PRIZE*. I'm sure your dieing to know what sacrificing several fingers, gaining numerous pounds, and clogging all your arteries will win? ::Drum roll:: The ULTIMATE SUPER GRAND PRIZE is ...
a cookie, thats right you win a cookie (Specifically: (1) Entenmann's chocolate chip cookie mailed in plain white envelope to any address in the world ( Its internationally delicious!! )). I know what your thinking "Damn Tetranitrate you cheapskate, even Fred, the guy who sits in his van by the playground is more generous with sweets then you", to which all I reply is "After all those Pringles you don't need anymore junk food, and you should probably tell a trusted adult about Fred."

**DISCLAIMER: By entering this contest, thinking about entering this contest, or even just reading this, you retain all liability should you happen to blow up or injure yourself in an attempt to build this.

(edit: I ate the cookie)

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Step 1: Materials

1. (3) Pringles Cans
2. Duct tape
3. Lighter fluid
4. Tennis balls (edit: or aerosol hairspray)

(Told you it was simple)

Step 2: Building the Mortar Tube

Step 1: Eat the chips. Vomit when necessary. Repeat. (I was making a joke about the flavor of the chips, but it also works nicely as a beginners guide to bulimia)

Step 2: Wash out the cans with soap and warm water. Do not get the cans too wet or the cardboard will lose some of its integrity. Dry cans.

Step 3: Cut out a circle in the center of two of the cans metal bottoms. The diameter of the hole should be equal to the radius of the metal bottom.

Step 4: Stack the two cans with baffles (holes) on top of the solid bottomed one, and duct tape heavily ( 7 - 12 times around) at the seams.

Step 5: Completely cover the cans in duct tape at least three times (three layers of duct tape thick)

Step 6: Poke a 1/4" hole 1" from the bottom of the mortar

Step 3: Firing

Safety first: Lighting the mortar without a stand (like I did in the first shot of the video) is asking for trouble. A simple and fast stand can be made from PVC pipe and coat hanger as demonstrated in the photo. If no stand materials are available at least lean the mortar against something (bench, rock, etc.) so it isn't at risk of falling when you are trying to light it.

Tip: 3" PVC pipe will fit perfectly around Pringles cans with just the right amount of duct tape on them. A hole can be drilled through the PVC and cans for lighting. This provides extra structural reinforcement to the cans lessening the chances of a blowout.

Tip 2: Use a barbecue lighter, or like in the video a quick & easy torch (made by bending coat hanger around paper towel). This will put distance between your fingers and the bottom of the tube, in case of a blowout.

Generic safety stuff: Use adequate eye, ear, nut-sack, and various other body part protection.

To prepare for firing: Set up the mortar in a large open area where you have little risk of hitting someone. Squirt about 1-2 teaspoons of lighter fluid down the barrel of the mortar, making sure to aim for the bottom can. Spray a little extra through the hole in the bottom, to help aid in lighting, or, if using hairspray, you can spray hairspray down the mouth of the barrel for a few seconds. Drop the tennis ball down the barrel. The mortar is now loaded, and from now on no one should pass in front of it.

To fire: Wait about two minutes after pouring, to give the chamber enough time to fill up with the evaporating lighter fluid (Pouring the perfect amount of fluid, and waiting till exactly the right time to light are the two things to master when it comes to tennis ball mortars). Light the barbecue lighter or torch, and hold it close to the hole on the bottom. If all goes well you should hear a loud bang, and see the ball sail off into the distance.

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    350 Discussions


    11 years ago on Step 3

    hey really good Instructable. now this is gona be a really dumb question but do u have to use the lighter fluid?(coz where I live they don't sell it) :(

    16 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Step 3

    Yeah, you kinda do need the lighter fluid. Where do you live that they don't sell it, North Korea?


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 3

    I got a garage shop ballistics book, and it says that hairspray can work too, which makes sense. Would the whole thing just blow up?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    This is an old wives tale,
    Fire needs oxygen to burn, their is no oxygen inside aerosol cans or else they could spontaneously combust at anytime.
    Therefore, flame has no way of getting into the can, no back-feed

    Damp Cuttlefishcodz30

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    hmm everyone seems to think that. if i put a match near a deodorant can all my freinds go OMG IT WILL BLOW UP AAAAAAHHHHH. it never has although i was once near an almost empty butane canister when the gas blew back twas F*****g scary


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 3

    wow. thank you. i never thought of it that way. i have always been terrified  to hold a flame for more than a second on an aerosol can. it makes a lot of sense. thanx. :D


    Reply 2 years ago

    if you ue butane, make sure you have good medical coverage


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 3

    na dont use butane... last time i tried with it the whole thing just caught alight... the result was a 30inch candle and a flaming tennis ball rolling down my street..not cool


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 3

    Gotta be careful of that stuff, it'll go without even needing the "perfect" air mixture. For my potato canon I usually use Starter Fluid because its strong as hell and if you get too much the chances of it blowing up without enough air are pretty slim. I haven't made one of these yet, but I'm going to try to make it out of PVC instead...Pringles cans seem more like a cardboard pipe bomb.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     you seem to have the internet, anything can be got on the internet, including lighter fluid


    8 years ago on Step 3

    I want to use it for airsoft and I wanted to know if anyone knows how to make the tennis balls explode and shoot BBS everywhere.
    Any ideas?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    How about a #4 coffee filter (as for a Mr Coffee) add your BBs, fold over the filter to cover, stuff down the tube. (Might even use 2 filters together, experiment)