6 foot tall fire breathing piranha plant from Super Mario Brothers

 

I always thought it would be cool to build a giant fire breathing piranha plant. I never really came up with an excuse to do it though. Eventually, I just decided I didn’t really need an excuse, and thus it was born.

The plant itself is pretty much just foam and cardboard. You can see the construction process in the video, it was really easy, but a little time consuming. I wanted to go with a bit of a crazy, hyper stylized look, so it is covered in veins and has these insane looking wrinkly lips.  The plant itself would be a fun thing just to have around the house. Actually, I may turn it into a lamp.

The fire systems were very much trial and error.

My initial plan was to use a “fire poofer” design with propane like what you would typically see at burningman. I had all the parts ready and was about to build it when the redbull creation challenge started. I ended up using most of the parts to build the redbull cannon.

Before going any further, let me point out that this is not the proper way to make a fire piece. None of these methods are particularly safe.

My plan then changed to be able to use this indoors. I wanted a flame, but not a massive column of fire. To do this I used small bottles of butane in a cobbled together dispenser.

There is a large piece of PVC, with a servo and plunger mounted in the bottom. The cap has a small hole in the top of it, with a long brass tube extending out. The butane bottle is guided into the hole with an old plastic cup, then the whole thing is screwed into place. You can see a small rubber band keeps the butane bottle pushed into the hole, so it doesn’t drop out and just fill the chamber with butane.

When I pressed a button, the servo would push the bottle upwards, releasing butane into the brass tube. Extremely simple, extremely effective.  I really liked the fireballs this produced.

When I showed it to people outside though, the first response was that they were expecting a little more fire. The size of the plant itself made the little fireballs a bit underwhelming.  So, I built basically the same system to fit a can of carburetor cleaner.  Again, horrible idea, completely unsafe.

The carb cleaner did not dispense cleanly, no matter how I tried to adjust the mechanism. Highly flammable liquid sprayed EVERYWHERE including down the sides of the bottle. Luckily I tested this outside of the plant. It was a complete failure and I got a chance to use that fire extinguisher.

I ended up putting the piranha plant away for the winter, but once the sun came out, I wanted to get it out again.  I considered tearing apart the redbull cannon for the parts and going back to the propane poofer, but ultimately decided I’d save that for another fire project.

The final outdoor fire system I used took a total of about 15 minutes to make. It is a cylinder, with a hose attached to it. You put creamer (fine powder, not liquid, obviously) inside it. A blast of compressed air shoots it upwards, through the flame of your choice, causing a rolling fireball. There’s a knot in the hose to stop the creamer from pouring all the way down. I’m sure there were a million other ways to do it, but this worked.

IMG_1750

While the construction was easy, the implementation wasn’t so straightforward. I found that in many cases, less is more. Too much air pressure simply sprayed creamer everywhere with no fire. Too much creamer would ignite, but then fall while still on fire to the ground, or the plant.  A quick puff of roughly 30lbs pressure and about a quarter to half cup of creamer gave me some nice fire balls that easily went 10 feet upwards.

Ultimately, I think I’d probably just put in the propane powered fire poofer if I were to use this for an event. The creamer worked ok for the video but was a mess and took a lot of set up in between shots.

Oh yeah, be sure to catch the shot at the end of the video where the gopro fell off the quadcopter. You can see the quadcopter still flying in the air above me when I retrieve the camera.

Comments

  1. addidis says:

    TY Caleb. You do a fine job keeping me entertained. I love the balance of mad and scientist in you. Mad enough, it is entertaining, science enough you still don’t need to try too hard to learn something.

  2. wretch says:

    “The fire systems were very much trial and error.”

    “Fire” and “error” shouldn’t be in the same sentence. (c:

    Anyway, well done.

    • Caleb Kraft says:

      haha, very very true. My heart rate was through the roof during the entire time I messed with the carb cleaner. I just stopped because it was too uncontrolled. The well thought out propane system would be much safer.

      • Hack Man says:

        “Fire” and “open celled foam” shouldn’t be in the same sentence either. It’s going to look like Mario threw a fireball at it once it catches. Then release pretty awful fumes while it burns, being an ISO foam. Oh and the foam sticks like napalm too. Literally nothing in this is resistant to fire – yet you put fire inside it. *Sigh*.

      • Tony Russell says:

        Isn’t carb cleaner ethyl ether? Extraordinarily flammable and explosive!
        I’ve heard that hair spray is the “explosive” used in a potato cannon. Squirted in and ignited with a spark.
        Clever to use powdered creamer to make the fireball indoors. Like an explosion in a grain mill. It’s probably as good a lycopodium powder.
        Anyway, a great project and wonderful using a quadrocopter to film the flame, and with the added attraction that the camera tumbled off but kept filming! Thanks.

  3. bacony says:

    This is pro-bacon and anti-family. Also, you look _identical_ to a friend of mine lol

  4. Hirudinea says:

    Holy crap, what do you feed that thing!? Have you considered using something more “fire friendly” like plaster or concrete for V 2.0?

  5. truthspew says:

    Flammable as all hell though.

  6. Test_subj says:

    Why did you carve it with a razor? An electric bread knife is an amazing tool for carving soft foam. Other foams the best tool around is fire and a butter knife (or a spoon for texture).

  7. testsubj says:

    Why use a razor to carve foam? An electric carving knife is far superior in most cases. In the few situations where it isn’t, a torch and a butter knife (or spoon if you need textures).

  8. Bradley says:

    Insanely cool.

  9. John U says:

    Something that poofs aerosol cans on demand… what about one of those air fresheners? A small ignition coil + lawnmower spark plug driven from a very basic oscillator (or just AC) should light it nicely.

    • pcf11 says:

      I’ve done the light an aerosol can thing, I mean who hasn’t? That flame is cool and all but it is nothing compared to when you fill a balloon up with something flammable, like Butane, then let it woosh out of there. How do I know this? Because I’ve done that too! The flame isn’t as intense, but it is so much bigger it is far more dramatic. I can’t guarantee the balloon Big Flame™ won’t catch anything on fire you’d typically find in a house, but when I did it, it seemed safe enough to me.

      For the record the whole contraption I built consisted of a garden Y hose valve, and two balloons. One balloon is pretty cool, but two is awesome. There is no better way to describe the effect. People here should try it and report their thoughts in the comments.

      No lie a balloon Big Flame™ can shoot a 20 foot long horizontal column of flames. Least the one I made did. There isn’t much to it really, from my description I think anyone can reproduce the device.

      Have fun kids.

  10. Hank says:

    Butane is bastard gas, i’ll tell you what. should’ve used propane…

  11. Dave M says:

    I’m a bit disappointed. I assumed you had bred, or genetically engineered, a plant that generated and burned methane. And caught things like a Venus Flytrap. This isn’t actually a plant at all.

  12. x3n0x says:

    Sweet! Now I know what I need to bring to the next family reunion… :P

  13. Jonathan Wilson says:

    This is a VERY cool hack and a GREAT replica of a Venus Fire Trap :)

  14. bolke says:

    Daily comic on a dutch new site: http://bin.snmmd.nl/m/m1nxf0naxvb2_std640.jpg
    It say’s: “Here honey, for mothers day.”

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