Matchstick model rocketry

[Valentin] is the MacGyver of model rocketry, building a small rocket out of three items many people have hanging around the house. Cat litter, matchsticks, and a ballpoint pen are the raw materials that he rounded up before setting to work on the build.

The housing of the ballpoint pen will act as the body of the rocket. [Valentin] stuffed the tip of the pen with cat litter, creating the first part of the fuel chamber. Next, the heads of the matches were very carefully muddled into a fine powder which fills the bulk of the pen housing. Finish this off with another plug of cat litter and you’re almost done. The final step is to drill a hole through the plug layer at the tip of the pen, creating a nozzle to focus the force as the fuel burns.

From the videos we’d say there needs to be some work done as far as rocket guidance, but the solid state fuel certainly does work. Just remember to make your personal safety the first priority when working with combustibles like this!

Wondering how to launch something like this? Here’s a way to make your own igniters.


  1. Tom the Brat says:

    Um. I think you’d better stick with Estes? Match heads are very unstable, especially when packed into a tight place. Perhaps safer when muddled, but, um, stick with Estes.

  2. ejonesss says:

    also i am not sure how legal this is you may want to check with the laws .

    i know that when you get into big rockets you have to clear with the faa to even have a temporary no fly zone created because of how high they go

  3. therian says:

    currently we can obtain all components for gunpowder legally as well as gunpowder itself in US so I dont see reason to play with matches

  4. vollkontakt says:

    “focus the force as the fuel burns” some very creative writing going here… details ey?

  5. Kuhltwo says:

    When I was a kid (mid 60’s) and into model rocketry, these were called “basement bombs” and very unstable to use, among some of the issues were uneven burning, and explosions, sending shrapnel into everything.

    Not really a good idea.

  6. Kyle says:

    FYI, this is incredibly dangerous and your rocket could explode. This is nothing new (well, neither is anything else they post here), and many people have hurt themselves performing different derivations of this “project”.

    Lol. HaD fail.

  7. XiuiX says:

    This seems less of a hack and more of a dangerous homemade bomb build.

  8. Whatnot says:

    “To finish this rocketengine you have to drill a hole from the botten to about the halft of the matchstickpowder. The hot gases will escape throuh this hole and create thrust:”
    That sounds like a tricky part there.

  9. ToolGuyd says:

    It is grossly irresponsible to encourage the use of match heads as the fuel for miniature model rocketry. This is extremely dangerous and risky and should not be attempted by anyone. My recommendation would be to find a safer fuel alternative.

  10. Roberto says:

    The instructions say to be careful when packing the powder, but what care should be taken with grinding the matchstick heads? Grind them together sounds like a fatal idea. Same as for packing them.
    We should probably make a robot for these tasks.

  11. fotoflojoe says:

    Uh, Houston, we have a problem…

  12. Plaid says:

    This is just asinine, for all the various reasons stated above. When I was a kid, I made bombs from powdered matchstick heads, paper and duct tape. (I don’t dispute that that was pretty asinine, too.)
    This is the same thing, especially before you get to drilling the hole in base. Some of the ones about the size he’s making could take off your fingers, and that was without plastic shrapnel.

  13. BigHank53 says:

    This is good way to inspire another project–homebrew prosthetics. I hear making new eyes is kind of tricky.

  14. Doug says:

    @Kyle practically everything posted here is new to someone, somewhere.
    @ejonesss While you are correct in par,you must be joking about FAA clearance with this stunt.

    Anyway this may be the excuse for some to finally to build/buy that ball mill they always wanted or maybe that mortar pestal?

  15. darkith says:

    A much safer plan for budding rocket scientists is the Teleflite “5 cent Sugar rocket”. I had lots of fun with these as a youth. Takes a bit of care, since the mixture needs to be carefully packed into a carefully made engine to be effective, but it has the upside of being relatively safe to handle until ignition.

    Alas, some of the ingredients are becoming hard to find in some countries…


  16. bty says:

    We used to make em using potasium nitrate and sugar.

  17. nateL says:

    I love the idea of drilling into this “unstable”, “volatile” substance. Heat? Indeed. Friction? Quite. Fingers in about 10 minutes? Not likely.

    That said, for the particularly stupid (those who build these), rather than drilling it, before you put anything in the pen, drill a hole in the end and insert a wooden skewer as far in as you want the nozzle. Then pack your ingredients in via the same manner (namely, reckless abandon).

    Or as the first comment said, use an Estes and continue being able to count to 10 with what’s on your hands.

  18. Some of you are absolutley right!
    Bad things happen but if you know that it’s dangerous you can take precautions!
    See for yourself:

  19. lwatcdr says:

    Yes I have to agree. This is one hack that HAD should actually take down. This is the king of bad ideas.
    Just about every book on model rocketry going back to the late 1950s has some horror story or cautionary tale about matchhead rockets.
    Really just go buy a kit and build it your self. If you want to get into it more then design your own and keep going up in power.
    This hack really is one of those Darwin awards in the making. The sad thing is that it also makes a really crappy rocket.

  20. rock says:

    Don’t drill with the combustibles in the pen!!!

  21. smartie says:

    Not only extremely unsafe but would likely constitute bomb making in the states. Any kind of highly flammable substance packed into an enclosure is absolutely non legal, and downright dangerous!

    @HAD – Shame on you for posting! We want to see hacks, not how to blow fingers off…

  22. 10fingers says:

    One more word of caution to add to the chorus… don’t use strike anywhere matches.

    I’m not as convinced you’ll have a problem with safety matches if you follow a few precautions, but then again I wasn’t particularly impressed with the video either. And drilling into a combustible substance is retarded, use the pre-drill/dowel idea above.

  23. Bob says:

    Congratulations! You’ve made a very small pipe bomb. Say goodbye to your eyebrows.

  24. Hirudinea says:

    Well considering that everybody seems to agree this is just a pipe bome with a hole it it I hope he used clean kitty litter or he’ll get a nasty infection from the shrapnel!

  25. stmojo says:

    My brother almost blew his hand off with a similar project. You’ll want a good surgeon on standby.

  26. BruceJ says:

    Am I the only one old enough to remember the grisly pictures in the back of the Estes catalog?

  27. I remember making even smaller “rockets” when I was a kid. We took the lead bullet and gunpowder out of a .22 long, leaving the primer in the shell. Then we set lighted end of a kitchen match in it. When the flame reached the primer, it launched a flaming little match-head a few feet in the air.

  28. RBR says:

    You know there are different types of matches, If their safety matches then it shouldn’t be attempted by anyone. To address the comment “safer fuel alternative” there is no such thing. You are responsible for YOUR safety and YOUR responsible to take the initiative to educate yourself with the knowledge of proper handling of types of fuels. You can blow your hand off just as easy Estes engine when your ignorant.

  29. Maxwell Smart says:

    At least it isn’t another of the seemingly endless stream of Kinect or Arduino articles – ho hum…

  30. stormdog says:

    Dang! You all sound like my parents when I was 10. I can’t be the only one that learned quite a lot by doing dangerous (and sometimes stupid) things. Surely the people posting the dire warnings aren’t the typical HAD readers, are they?

  31. Stevie says:

    WHat a bunch of whiny morons. This is no more dangerous than the high voltage CRT hacks and such like that gets posted here.

    I’ve scraped off the ends of hundreds of matches and often had fun with them. It’s really not that dangerous if you have some common sense.

  32. anti-fanboi says:

    +1 whiney little bitches!

  33. WestfW says:

    It’s not JUST that match-head rockets are unacceptably dangerous (even by the standards of the 1960s), but also… The state of the art of hobbyist amateur rocketry AND amateur fireworks making have both advanced a great deal in the last half of a century.

  34. rocketman1001 says:

    As an experienced and qualified pyro I assure you this is foolhardy.

    The issue here is that ALL match heads are based on Potassium Chlorate mixes which when confined risk detonation.

    By all means make yourself a small rocket with a black powder green mix or sugar fuel. Use a cardboard tube, not metal or rigid plastic. As these these are Potassium Nitrate based they are inherently much safer, though they still need a long fuse…

  35. adamziegler says:

    When I was a kid we used to take wooden matches, cover the heads with aluminum foil and make tiny rockets. The trick is to get a thin sewing needle and hold it against the side of the the match stick, and match head while you wrap a small 1″x1″ (or smaller) piece of foil around it.

    When you slide out the needle a path is created. Using a lighter or another match apply flame under the foiled head. Many time the pressure will find its way out the needle path and propel the matchstick.

    Hard part is making an inclined “launcher” of sorts… we use paper clips.

  36. rusty says:

    I think I am gonna go blow my fingers off despite all the warning, also I think I way light it then throw it like a bottle rocket.

  37. mic says:

    I doubt you could loose a finger to that thing, probably JUST an eye. Where safety goggles. Plastic pen pipe bomb? Hilarious suggestion.

    Fun with matches:
    Anyone ever filled a tennis ball with strike anywhere matches and threw it at some sort of noun?

    Use small diodes to ignite from a distance electrically. Save the fuses. Glass diodes actually melt when you short them out on lantern battery. Test them first, the most dangerous rocket/bomb is the one you have to diffuse…

  38. Whatnot says:

    Matchstick are so safe as can be, and they ignite very slowly, so not it’s not a pipe bomb and no removing the heads will not make them ignite since that can only happen with the first matches that you could light without a matchbox, normal ones either need a matchbox to rub over or need to reach a high temperature at which point lots of things will burn like paper and wood and various plastics and compounds we all use all the time and sit on and wear.

    It’s getting a bit silly to get too excited about things approved for kids 5 and over..

  39. strider_mt2k says:

    Hey gang!

    I know a guy with some disassembled microwave oven parts we can use to set these off with!


  40. svofski says:

    I used to build rockets from match heads. And everybody I know around here used to do that too, and from many other very very dangerous materials that would without doubt blow heads off. Thanks to educated hackaday readers I now know scary this is and will now only buy springloaded usb controlled missile launchers.

  41. Anthony says:

    Which is the hack? The contents of the post, or the author?

    If you want to use matches for rockets, check out adamziegler’s comment. If you’re looking for a good way to wind up in the emergency room, use Valentin’s method. If you don’t take off your eyebrows while grinding the matches, and manage to avoid getting shrapnel shot in your face from the firecracker you just made, congratulations. Scaling this up any amount does turn it into a decent pipe bomb, albeit one prone to going off spontaneously.

    Hackaday, if you want to make rocketry posts, find something about making your own solid rocket fuel, or even something on hybrid rockets. With some digging, you’ll even find stuff on liquid fueled rockets. This? Somebody got lazy.

  42. signal7 says:

    Better way to make an igniter: use a razor blade to make a slit in the head of a paper match from a match book. Run a 30ga or finer piece of wire through the slit. Place match head at the engine nozzle and apply a current to the wire. The wire heats up until the match head ignites, which in turn ignites the engine. Way easier than what’s mentioned here.

    Also – note that I did NOT say to put the match head inside the nozzle. A blocked nozzle = bomb = bad. You may have to add some combustible material to the nozzle to ensure ignition, but it must not leave a residue that will block the nozzle. FF or FFF gun powder would be one possible option.

  43. therian says:

    I bet someone will drill a hole after rocket is full of matches and drill get hot ;)

  44. JDW says:

    I am happy to see that the this community is concerned with others safety. But it is interesting to see every day items used for this. Still dangerous.

  45. Ben says:

    Anyone interested in this sort of thing should look into just building real model rockets. It can be done for super cheap. I did it as a kids activity at a science camp for 6th graders over the summer. Gross costs work out to being about 12$ for three rockets. All you need are rockets engines (3$ at a hobby shop) white glue, some thicker card stock and batteries and a rod to use for launching . Tons of fun and in some cities (Halifax for one) completely legal!

  46. Cameron Watt says:

    Leave it in Darwin’s hands.

  47. anon says:

    I burnt my face and hands trying this, whats the address for the HaD legal department please…hurry, only compensation can ease the pain.

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