Friday, November 17, 2017

Guide to Flammable Aerosols

This is Jake's unofficially official guide to all flammable substances that come out of a can. Think cooking spray, deodorant, engine starter, hairspray, etc. What they are, how to tell if they are flammable or not, flame size, danger factor, whether they'll work to power your spud gun, and all that other good stuff for my pyromaniac friends.

Note: I am not the complete expert on all these substances, and I have not had the chance to test yet everything that's out there. I will be updating this list as I experiment with more, so I'd love your recommendations.

Ready or not, here we go.

1. Hairspray (the classic)
As far as flamethrowers go, hairspray has an average to small flame.  

I'll also mention an interesting thing I've noticed about hairspray; it seems to have a flammability shelf-life of sorts. I don't understand it, and I may be mistaken, but all the cans I've used have lost their potency after about a year of sitting on the shelf. They aren't nearly as powerful, and they don't have much of a flame anymore. Strange. 

Is it good for Spud Guns?
This is the classic for powering tater guns. It works well, and is powerful. The only downside to its use is the sticky residue it leaves behind. That nasty sticky stuff has annoying tendency to glue the screw cap on tight as heck. If you don't clean your threads before putting it away after each use, you will need a really big wrench and a whole ton of elbow grease to get it off again. Other than that, the results are generally satisfactory, although the power tends to vary a little between brands. Aqua-Net is the brand I usually use. 

2. Spray Deodorant
Another classic. If I had a buck for every prank video on YouTube involving a can of Axe, a lighter, and a couple of blonde teenagers, dang, I could build some really awesome stuff. It works very well, with a large flame.

Is it good for Spud Guns?
Yes. It works great of spud guns. a tad more powerful than hairspray, but without the glue effect.

3. Spray Paint
Spray paint is great. Very flammable, good flame size. Danger factor is average. Not much to say here. 

Metallic Silver spray paint:
Burn is the same as regular spray paint, except it has flecks of metal in it that when burned make a cool sparkling effect. I have found that the textured kind makes more sparks (the camera doesn't capture the effect unfortunately).

Metallic Gold spray paint:
Burns with an incredible blue/green flame, which is absolutely awesome. It also puts off a bit of white smoke. This is a really awesome reaction. The blue/green fire is very cool. It also has the sparkling effect like the silver, due to the flecks of metal in it. Why green flames? Probably because of copper  alloy in the paint, used to give it the gold color. Danger factor? About the same as regular spray paint. I would be careful about breathing the fumes created by any of these. Spray paint is bad enough to breath on its own, and burning it won't improve that.

Is it good for Spud Guns?
As far as performance goes spray paint is very good, better than hairspray. However it is after all paint, and using it in my spud gun means the combustion chamber will have a new look. If you don't mind painting up your gun, then I suppose you could use it. I don't. You also may need to be careful as many spray paints have chemicals like acetone in them, which can probably eat away the PVC after a while.

4. WD-40 
I've read that the company changed what was in it recently and it's less flammable than it was previous. In my experience it's about average, but does not put out as fine of a spray, and the flame shape reflects that. Flame size is similar to spray paint, darker in color, and is very uniquely shaped. It puts off a bit of smoke when burned, and an educated guess would say that you probably shouldn't breath it. There is also a large bit of unburned waste spraying off into the air when burned. Danger factor? Average.

Is it good for Spud Guns?
I would say no. It would probably work in a pinch, but due to the fast shooting nozzle, and not a very fine spray (after all, this is designed to shoot large amounts of oil onto things, not to put out a wellatomized mist), as well as a good amount of waste, I don't think you would get much success.

5. Silicone Lubricating Spray
Similar to WD-40 in that it puts off a lot of waste. Flames are hot, bright yellow/orange with a large spread but very short range, due to the throw of the nozzle. Danger factor is a little higher than normal, because the spray goes wide, and doesn't have much range, so the fire is closer to the can than with the others. It feels a bit hotter than usual as well (which may just be because the flames are closer to my hand). I prefer to wear gloves with this one.

Is it good for Spud Guns?
Well, I don't use it. Would it work? Yes. It does work. However it simply has too much waste for my taste, and silicone spray has an annoying way of getting everywhere, due to the very wide, very fine spray. The combustion chamber will be coated with large amounts of silicon oil, as well as your hands, your clothes, and anything else near you.

6. Cooking Spray
You'd suppose a spray you use all the time within close proximity to your stove would be designed to be less flammable. Apparently not. I've personally tested 4 variants of this stuff, and they are all very impressive flame-throwers. As you can see from the picture. Flame size is a notch larger than spray paint.

Is it good for Spud Guns?
Yes, it works great for spud guns. Much like silicone spray though, it puts off quite a bit of waste. If you're fine with that, then go ahead. 

7. Wasp/Hornet Killer
Will not burn at all. I have tried every can I've got my hands on with zero success. It is not flammable in the least.

Is it good for Spud Guns?
Not applicable.

8. Engine Starter
Absolutely epic. This is the most flammable stuff that comes out of a can. It puts out 5 foot flames easy. Danger factor? On a scale of 1-10, this would be a 12. Very dangerous, extremely fast burning, and a considerably hot burn temperature. Remember, this stuff is used to help old rusty engines get going again when regular gasoline apparently isn't cutting it. In other words, this is more flammable, starts easier, burns faster, and burns hotter than gasoline. So, yeah. It's dangerous. You need to exercise extreme caution when using this stuff. Unlike the other sprays in this list, Engine Starter is not just flammable while in the air. It's every bit as dangerous on the ground. While this makes it a very cool thing to play with, (all the fun of gas in a nice easy to use portable spray can), it also gives it a new level of danger. With any of the other sprays, when suspended in the air they burn rapidly, but when that spray falls on the ground they no longer burn, as they aren't really flammable unless in the air exposed to oxygen on all sides. That makes them (relatively) safe to use. Not so with this stuff. On the ground it acts just like gasoline. Be careful.

Is it good for Spud Guns?
Don't risk it. This stuff is simply too volatile. Think gasoline in a spray can. You would not use gas in your potato cannon. Don't use this either. Not to mention that as a petroleum product similar to gasoline, there is a pretty good chance it would start eating through the polyvinyl-chloride, turning your combustion chamber into a gooey flaming (and probably toxic) mess.

9. Propane
Once again, not exactly an aerosol, however in a post in which I am discussing flamethrower fuel and spud gun propellant it simply must be mentioned. It's very flammable, easy to use, and with the proper setup makes for an excellent flamethrower. In the picture above I am using it in what I call my propane gun

Is it good for Spud Guns?
Yes it is. I have recently began to use it in my marble guns actually, and I've had very good success. I really love the fact that there is absolutely no residue left over after firing, and since it's a gas, I find it easier to use. 

10. Butane
Butane is very similar to propane. Flame size and burn are practically identical. The main difference (from an unscientific standpoint) is that propane is stored under much higher pressure.

Is it good for Spud Guns?
Same as propane, if you can figure out a way to get it from the can to your combustion chamber. Because butane is lighter fuel, the cans have a nozzle specifically designed to be inserted into a lighter, and don't have the nice spray nozzle that the others do. You'd have to rig some kind of adapter.

11. Polyurethane/Lacquer Spray
Flame size is about the same as spray paint, but because it is a wood finisher, they have a slightly different shaped spray nozzle, which in turn makes a different shaped flame. As you can see, this flame is shorter and taller than many of the others.

Is it good for Spud Guns?
For the same reasons as spray paint, I wouldn't use it. Otherwise I'm sure it would work great.

And that's about all I have so far.

How do I Tell if This Stuff Will be Flammable?
Obviously, the best way is to just grab a lighter and light it up. Nothing like seeing it in action. However, there is going to be a lot of times when you need to tell if a certain brand of, say, Hairspray will produce a good exothermic reaction. You can't, after all, just light it up in the aisle at Walmart. (Well, I wouldn't recommend it.) You will need to be able to tell from the label whether or not it will light up in flames, just smell really bad (adding insult to injury). Otherwise you'll waste a lot of money on not-so-cool un-flammable aerosols.

Here are some things to look for:
First of all, look at the warning labels. If its flammable on a dangerous level, the can will say so. 

Another thing to mention would be not to go with 'natural' junk. For flamethrower purposes, the more toxic it is, the better. You will notice on just about all of these products that there are warnings about ingesting it, inhaling it, getting it on your skin, in your eyes, etc. As a general rule of thumb, the more flammable something is, the more dangerous it is for your health. If you see a can of something marked 'natural', my advice would be to stay far, far away.

The other thing is, quite obviously, the ingredients. If you know what substances are flammable, then you'll know a spray that contains it has a good chance of being flammable too. For instance, I know that acetone is highly flammable. The label of this can of spray paint says it contains acetone. Thus, I know the spray paint has a very good chance of spraying satisfactory fireballs. Alcohol is also very flammable, and is an ingredient found on the label of just about every can of hairspray out there. Another thing to look for is butane or propane, which are often the propellent gases for these products (as demonstrated by this can of deodorant). Other than those things, really you just have to test them.

If you guys think of any others I should test, by all means let me know. I'd love to add to this post, and perhaps make a part 2 of the video.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this assessment.
I am based in humid Durban, South Africa and use aerosol cans to kill biting insects. I have noticed that the claimed knock down effect on insecticide aerosol cans is a little underwhelming. So I had the brilliant idea of frying the little gizmos instead with a flame thrower. Imagine studying for midterms or end of year exams and there is a pesky mosquito. I have graduated from mosquitos to cockroaches, the ones in 'dinner jackets' that fly in during the evening and land with a thud! I suspect it is also a more humane form of assassination as well. Better than the insect twitching there (from paralysis) for hours on end. It might be good for burglars as well...

Thanks for all your good work!

Unknown said...

BTW that greenish flame from Metallic Gold spray paint is likely copper metal flecs in the spray... copper metal burns with a green flame!!