Friday, August 17, 2007

The Redneck Steam Cannon...

*Updated to add photos*

Ah, the Redneck life! You just can't do any better than good old redneck fun. Like most rednecks, we frequently build a bonfire in our back yard - right in the middle of town. The place we live technically IS a town, I mean, we have a post office. But I don't know if 5 or 6 square blocks really counts. Still, we have bonfires. And nobody cares, so long as it's "yard waste". For the record, the local fire department doesn't consider old wood siding that's fallen off your house INTO your yard, as yard waste. Go figure. "Ma'am, we mean the stuff that grows in your yard, not just stuff that happens to be there." Picky, picky.

Anyway, it's common while having a bonfire for Dad and the kids to play in the burning flames and coals. This is fun, right? This is the part where Vic laughs a lot and I say, "Please step back a bit," and, "Please don't run," and, "Please don't wave the flaming stick near your sisters." Usually, I get so stressed out I have to go into the house and find something to do. I trust my husband to be a good father and not allow them to get hurt. He's an old fire pro and is the reason my kids know how to build and bank a fire, which wood burns best, etc. But sometimes maintaining that trust requires me to leave the premises.

During one such backyard bonfire, Chad suggested making a steam cannon. Vic assisted the kids in a makeshift prototype, and after some tweaking and experimenting, this is what they were successful with:

The Redneck Steam Cannon
Supplies- one 2-foot (or so) piece of copper water pipe (diameter under 1-1/2 inches), red-hot coals (from a good couple of hours of burn is best), one wire coat hanger, water, and mud.
Assembly- With a pair of metal crimpers, pliers, or even a vice, bend up about 1-2 inches at the bottom of the pipe. Then, bend it up again, essentially "rolling up" or folding the pipe twice.
Make sure the "folds" are tight and flat. Straighten the wire coat hanger into one long wire. About 4 inches down from the top of the pipe, twist the coat hanger tightly, like a twist tie. You want it tight to make a secure handle that's not likely to slip. (In this version, we used a piece of bent metal, tied on with the wire, but the concept is the same)
Firing the "cannon"- Pour a small amount (1/4 cup or less) of water into your cannon. (As you can see in the photo, we usually just dip it in the nearest rain-filled outdoor object.) Plug up the top with a sticky clod of mud. Mud with very few pebbles is recommended; it lessens the air pockets and your risk of breaking window glass in the event of a misfire. You want your mud to be about the consistency of playdoh. If you're lacking this kind of mud, I suppose you really could use playdoh, although in my opinion it wouldn't be as fun. With a shovel or spade, make a big hill of your hot coals, at least 6 inches tall for good stability. Nestle your loaded cannon right in the middle of the coals, deep enough to prevent it from falling over. Remember to aim it away from people, houses, and your neighbor's car. (Since the kids would be heading to bed soon and I wanted a decent photo, we just braced the cannon with boards strangely straight sticks that fell off the tree. Ahem.) That's it! Within a few seconds, your cannon should fire, blowing a big ole mud clod high in the air. If it doesn't fire, give it a couple of minutes to make sure you're not just being impatient before trying to remove it from the coals. Check for leaks in the bottom of the cannon, holes in the sides, or cracks where steam could escape around the mud. Maybe your mud ammo is too thick or thin? Too much or too little water could also be the culprit. Experiment with different amounts of mud and water. Have fun with it.

This is great fire entertainment, and has become a camping (and backyard) favorite for the kids. Simple and using the basics of supplies, it's guaranteed to leave you grinning like a shit-eating possum.


Robinella said...

You crack me up. I'm afraid of hot things since I was burned by scalding water as a child. (my doing) So I tend to stay away from fires.

I've got something on my blog for you.

Ami said...

I would LOVE to see a picture of that. I can't quite visualize it... I need to see the real thing. Probably why the geodesic dome project wasn't perfect. However, I learned from it.


Heather said...

I was going to take pictures, but we did this in the dark. I'll have to go out and get some pictures of the finished product in the daylight.

kitten said...

That is NEAT! Sounds like our kind of fun! Yep, We will try this as soon as our burn band has lifted. You go girl!!!