Fuels, Flame
Colours and
Non-Fire Ideas

What to Burn

Soak your wicks in liquids which are flammable but not explosive. DO NOT use petrol!

  • Lamp oil (clear >99% liquid paraffin).
  • Fire Water from juggling/kite shops (if you can find it).
  • Kerosene is good, if a little smokey.
  • Other types of lamp oil, e.g. Citronella (mosquito repellent stuff for outdoor lamps) give a bright flame. You can mix Citronella with Shellite (a petrol additive - *be careful* very combustible) at a ratio of around 2 parts Citronella to 1 part Shellite to increase combustibility.

For more information on various fuels and their names in different countries, check: International Fuel Names. (Thanks Vance!)

Coloured Flames

Non-explosive chemicals can be dissolved into certain flammable liquids to change the colour of the flames. Specifically, you need to use a solvent which is based on alcohol, methylated spirits (meths) or pure ethanol to allow the compound to dissolve (with thanks to Xaeda for clarification here). Methylated spirits and ethanol can be bought in a good quality pharmacy, though probably not in your average high street pharmacy. Meths is sold as camping stove fuel, whilst ethanol is, I'm led to believe, sold as an anti-freeze agent. Paraffin, lamp-oil, white gas and other petroleum-based compounds will not allow the chemicals to dissolve. Some ideas are listed below.

Be warned that all of these fuels and chemicals have certain levels of toxicity and long-term use and/or ingestion should be avoided. Reading the Materials Safety Data Sheets for these substances is recommended - the vast majority can be found at the MSDS Database at Cornell University. Use at your own risk!

By general concensus, the best chemicals are:

  • Boric acid, which gives a green/blue flame. This is sold in pharmacies in powdered form as it has antiseptic properties.
  • Lithium chloride, which gives a nice red flame. Tricky to get as it's an anti-depressant.
  • Copper chloride, which gives a good green/blue flame.
  • Indium, expensive and hard to find, gives a deep violet.
Other which are theoretically possible, but might not give such good results are:
  • Strontium compounds - red.
  • Calcium compounds - orangy-red.
  • Barium compounds - green.
  • Potassium chloride - a purple flame.
  • White gas (liquid gas e.g. Colemans camping fluid) - a white flame.
  • Dry gas (as above) - a blue flame.
(Thanks to Wolfzero, Scott and Xaeda for their contributions here).

Recommended amounts vary from person to person, but a rough guide is to keep adding the powdered chemical to the fuel until no more dissolves after a gentle shake. Generally, this should be somewhere in the region of about two tablespoons of powdered chemical to a litre of fuel, though don't be worried if you're using more.

If you're having trouble getting the flames to colour sufficiently, here's a couple of ideas. The first is to make sure that your wicks are 'cleaned' of oil-based fuels. One way to do this is to use only meths for a couple of burns, so the old fuel is burned away.

Secondly, whilst making a set of towel wicks recently, I 'seeded' the towel material with the boric acid powder before folding and wiring the material up into wicks. This guarantees that there is plenty of colour-inducing chemical within the wicks to add to that which is dissolved in the fuel.

Non-Fire Ideas

Try using glowsticks attached to the ends of your chains if you don't want to use fire, as they come in various colours such as white, yellow, red, blue and so on. They're a plastic tube about 10-15cm long full of a glowing liquid which looks pretty cool at night, and they often come with a moulded loop on one end which allows them to be clipped straight onto the end of your chains. They can be bought from many camping and outdoor shops.

Sean writes:
"If you're spinning with glow-sticks, put one green and one red on each chain. It makes a long green beam with a red stripe in the middle for some odd reason."

Fluorescent Tails
Long, thin fabric tails made from fluorescent kite material can be made or bought (Home of Poi sells them as 'Comets') and attached onto your practice wicks. They can look amazing when used under UV light and are a very effective substitute for fire.

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Copyright S.M. 1999
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