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Picture of Potent Pirate Smoke Ring Cannon
Halloween is ALL about the accessories, that extra little detail is the key to get the reaction you are looking for. We chose a Pirate theme this year and needed a little something to give the decor that extra punch. I created a smoke cannon using a classic design and dressed it up to resemble a ship's cannon. The result is a lightweight and fun accessory for kids and parents alike.

A smoke (or vortex) cannon is basically a vessel with a hole at one end (usually close to half the diameter of the side) and a diaphragm at the other end. When the diaphragm is punched, air shoots out of the hole; but due to the circular lip the air forms a toroid (doughnut) of air which travels great distances before petering out. Add a little smoke or fog and you get a very cool effect. There are a few great instructables out there on how to make one of these cannons; the business end of my cannon is basically a copy of Steve Spangler's design as seen on Ellen.


Picture of ITEMS and EQUIPMENT
For this instructable you will need the following:
  1. Plastic Garbage can. In my case it is a "Rubbermaid Animal Stopper" which is complete misnomer because squirrels chewed through the lid in the first week. This made it a perfect candidate for this project!
  2. Plastic sheeting, shower curtain, garbage bag, piece of nylon. Really, anything that will hold air.
  3. Box tape, I used hockey sock tape as well.
  4. 2 Black poster boards (aka bristol board in Canada).
  5. 4 times 3 foot lengths of 3/8" foam pipe insulation.
  6. ≈ 4 foot by 4 foot of scrap plywood or strandboard.
  7. 3 foot length of 2x4 or 2x6.
  8. Fog maker, I bought mine specifically for this project for 40$.
  9. 6 times 1.5 inch screws
  10. Matte Black spray paint
You will also need these tools:
  1. Hand drill
  2. Jig saw
  3. Glue gun

bmiller912 years ago

Feed in propane and have ring pass over open flame ?

Renard_Bleu (author)  bmiller912 years ago
That seems like a bad idea at first... but given yhat yhe flame is some distance from the source. I might have to give it a try! Propane is denser than air: i wonder how that will affect the physics of the toroid.

Thanks for the comment.
Spoken like a man who still has his eyebrows un-singed
bpark10002 years ago

I made the cannon from aluminum sheet, scaled up some from "Airzooka" toy, and put a large long-throw subwoofer driver. I found the optimum pulse shape to be complicated by experiment (involving a back movement followed by front movement, followed by back).

Renard_Bleu (author)  bpark10002 years ago

Sounds cool. I am curious about what it looks like! Thanks for the comment.

thanx for share

I wonder if you could use a bass drum and its pedal... Hmmmm
Renard_Bleu (author)  redmarkonthewall3 years ago
great idea, the ideal amount of force is about the same. my kit tilts to aim so this would be difficult to implement. Thanks for the comment!
Simple and fun, I like it.
Renard_Bleu (author)  monterreymachito5 years ago
Thanks man.
Thank you! I'm making this with my kids this week.
Renard_Bleu (author)  robbtoberfest5 years ago
Cool, I hope it rocked. I really like you projects.
Yoshinok5 years ago
This is absolutely brilliant. Excellent video. Also, I really love that you dressed the part.

I too made an "air cannon" for a children's science show a few years back. It might be time to paint it and deck out a pirate ship!

I was short on money at the time and couldn't afford a smoke machine so I ended up burning small smoke bombs on the pavement. As soon as they were lit i put the can over the top to capture the colored smoke.
Renard_Bleu (author)  Yoshinok5 years ago
Thanks; I figured that without the costume it wasn't very Halloweeny. Some passerby's were perplexed because it wasn't quite the season yet... great idea for the colored smoke!
KaydeeKrunk5 years ago
This is fantastic! I have one of those little air guns and this is like a huge version of it! Just awesome!
Renard_Bleu (author)  KaydeeKrunk5 years ago
Thanks, I like your one eyed felines!
nice idea of Toppling the Oppositions Fort of Infallible Plastic Cups.. it will be a Definite Hit in the Kids Camp... I wonder what would happen if two smoke rings collide mid air..
Also instead of a Smoke Machine, you could use incense sticks.. just practice some safety precautions like placing them on a metal disc, and let them fill the cannon with scented smoke..
Renard_Bleu (author)  chaitanya.vedak5 years ago
There are many videos on you tube with people making trick smoke rings with their mouths (ring in a ring, or heart shaped by making a slow ring and clipping it with a faster ring near the top). You could test out some tricks and challenge the kids to make them. Using incense for the smoke should work to some extent, you could setup a solid incense holder inside the garbage can. Let me know how it goes (Patchouli WAR!!!).
Well in India (where i am), we get some really thick and slightly wet (from Hydrogenated Oil / ghee) which manage to make some really thick smoke in a small time.. it is usually used during ceremonies, or even daily prayers. I was suggesting that.. Also i wonder, what you said could be true.. that varied shaped smoke rings can be made?!?! Will try and make a smaller version for personal entertainment.. from a plastic bottle perhaps.. :D
Renard_Bleu (author)  chaitanya.vedak5 years ago
Let me know if the incense works, because it might be a practical replacement of the Fog Machine! Thanks for the comment.
karlpinturr5 years ago
Very nice indeed - I particularly like the 'cannon' detailing, with another use for pipe insulation - you have my vote!

Earlier this week, Dave (the TV channel) repeated an episode of QI fom October 2012. If you want to see some absolutely brilliant comedy with a vortex cannon, check this clip: on the BBC's website, or this same one: on YouTube.

If you can't get either one, you may be able to find something on BBC America - a search for QI, series {10 or J}, Journalism, Vortex cannon (or similar) should turn up anything they have.
Renard_Bleu (author)  karlpinturr5 years ago
Cool thanks, I had not seen that one.
Outstanding Cannon, Great Idea - the Pipe Insulation Cannon Rings, "Cannon Ball" Cool. Capitol Cool. I'm Voted. Thanks.
Renard_Bleu (author)  snoopindaweb5 years ago
Well, thank you! It was my first time using the tubing, likely not the last; so cheap.
trunghau805 years ago
ohhhh, happy canon hiii.
rimar20005 years ago
Awesome results!
Renard_Bleu (author)  rimar20005 years ago
Thanks, I was surprised myself by the longevity of the rings, some of them will just hang around for 30 seconds.
Absolutely awesome!! Can't wait for my little man to be old enough to appreciate that!! In the mean time, looks like the dad's are going to war!! Got my vote!!
Renard_Bleu (author)  nottingham atlatl5 years ago
My girls are just old enough to appreciate the physics, and not too old to think I'm a dork. Gotta make the most of it while it lasts!!!
Kevanesoso5 years ago
You are such a genius! This Cannon looks so fun!
Renard_Bleu (author)  Kevanesoso5 years ago
Thanks the for the compliment, even though I just tweeked an existing genius invention. It IS fun, and so easy to make.
yellowcatt5 years ago
I remember hearing that one of the great Victorian physicists, I think it was Michael Faraday or Humphrey Davy made a smoke ring canon and amused themselves by filling it with hydrogen sulphide and aiming the device at unsuspecting people in the street below who would suddenly be enveloped by the smell of rotten eggs.
Here is another video of such a device:
Renard_Bleu (author)  yellowcatt5 years ago
Hmmm, you could really mess with those poor poor unsuspecters...
I hope the kids at Halloween are half as excited as the kids in that classroom!!!
Thanks for the comment
monty3245 years ago
Finally, an excuse to get a smoke machine. I will be making this.
Renard_Bleu (author)  monty3245 years ago
It was cheaper than I thought. You can tell your "Family Council" that I said it was OK.