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I ran across a video tutorial for making fireballs that you can hold in your hand over at MAKE. I had to try it out. Here's how I made the fireball shown in the photo:

Materials Needed to Make Fireballs
  • 2" x 5" strip of cotton cloth (like from a t-shirt)
  • 100% cotton thread
  • needle
  • naphtha lighter fluid (e.g., Ronsonol™)
  • match or lighter
How to Make a Fireball
  • Thread the needle with 3-5' of cotton thread.
  • Tightly roll the cotton strip into a ball.
  • Pierce the ball with the needle and wrap the ball with the thread. End by running the needle through the ball one more time and break off the thread.
  • Soak the ball with lighter fluid. Don't soak your hands.
  • In the video, the guy lights the ball while he is holding it. Don't do that. Set the ball on a fire-proof surface. I used a frying pan from my kitchen.
  • If you want to hold the fireball, my recommendation is to pick it up with tongs and carefully/slowly set it on your hand. That way you'll be able to tell if you can take the heat or not.
Safety & Additional Information
  • It's important to use 100% cotton fabric and thread. If the fiber is synthetic (like nylon or polyester) it will burn or melt, with unpleasant consequences.
  • The 'trick' to this demonstration is the fuel. It needs to be naphtha. The video tutorial, assuming it wasn't faked, used Ronsonol™. I used Zippo™ (not the butane stuff... read your ingredient list).
  • It's pretty hard to blow the fireball out. You need to suffocate the flame to extinguish it. You can set a saucepan lid over the fireball.
  • The fireballs are reusable. Put them out when they run out of fuel or else the cotton will burn (you can tell this is happening when the ball starts to blacken and produce sooty smoke). If you get to the point where the cotton itself is burning, the fireball will be too hot to hold. Ideally you want to extinguish the fireball before it consumes all of its fuel. Simply soak it in more lighter fluid and relight it to reuse it.
  • Regarding holding these in your hand or doing tricks with them... I'm about as likely to hold one of these for an extended length of time as I am to walk barefoot across burning coals (not going to happen). The base of the fireball nominally is cool enough to touch, but my delicate writer-hands weren't up for the challenge. I don't know if it's that the Ronsonol™ burns a little cooler, the video was faked, or else you need callouses on your hands. I can confirm the tutorial makes an awesome fireball, but personally don't recommend juggling with the fireballs or twirling them between fingers. The cone of the flame is hot, especially above the ball, however, the fuel burns at a relatively low temperature. The flashpoint of Ronsonol™ brand of naphtha is 6°C or 43° F, with combustion mainly around 400°F. To put that in perspective, touching the fireball is a lot like touching a hot pizza right out of the oven (except without the sticky cheese part).
If you have improvements you would make on the tutorial or try it and want to share your experience, please post a comment to the blog entry. Fireballs are great fun to make, but like all fire projects, use proper safety precautions and common sense. Don't get burned or set your house or yard on fire.

Make Green Fire | Smoking Fingers Trick
Image: My fireball. Note that the cotton isn't charred. Also note I didn't take the photo of the fireball in my hand. (Anne Helmenstine)
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Comments

January 15, 2008 at 1:12 am
(1) Aric R says:

I actually tried this with the Ronsonol™ and tried it with charcoal lighter fluid. The Ronsonol™ burned about 40 degrees hotter than the lighter fluid.

With the lighter fluid it was possible to hold it in your hand for 3-4 seconds before physically burning your hands. It was cool nonetheless. Having tried several types of fuel, I believe the guy just built up a greater tolerance for the heat or it was just straight up fake.

January 17, 2008 at 5:39 pm
(2) Paddgett says:

I tryed this using zippo lighter fluid. I was able to hold it for about 10 secounds and put it out by closing my hand. I think its just getting past the thought that its fire and building a tolerance to the heat. Other wise…don’t be a pansy.

January 18, 2008 at 3:53 pm
(3) Jesus says:

You could always just slip a piece of paper underneath it, if it burns it’ll burn your hand, and if it doesn’t then you can touch the bottom, and if it’s still fine you can just pick it up.

January 21, 2008 at 4:33 pm
(4) Jason says:

Actually ive tried it out with rosensol and it burns like any other really, whereas i can hold it to the point that it runs out of fluid and no i didnt just put a little squirt into it, its just the fact that its hot, not that its going to burn you, its like picking up a lava lamp its hot but not hot enough to burn you. So its just your senses that are messing with you because im just an average kid im not a construction worked with hands like rocks so just try it out and hold it to the point where its starting to hurt (not when ur skin starts to boil lol) or if you would like to have fun with it and not burn yourself, try rubbing alcohol. Burns just about the same but at a much lower temperature and it will go out before the ball starts to get burnt.

January 23, 2008 at 1:11 pm
(5) william says:

you coud use vaseline too cover your hand. i read it on another site haven’t tried it yet though. but i will write down the differens i i get time to try it out.
and yes it’s all about keeping the ball in movment if you want to lower the heat from your hands.

February 12, 2008 at 6:32 am
(6) william says:

hay! me again i tried it out and found no bigger difference than building up your restistance to fire. my vaseline was a non waterbased. i think it coud help out a little to begginers but nothing compares to train up the heat restistanse. ( hope you make out what im writing. im a swede.. )

February 14, 2008 at 8:35 am
(7) azaiez ben akacha says:

I see the fireballs in the video,you have not any problem in your hand after fire.It’s very good.Thank you very much.

March 22, 2008 at 12:03 pm
(8) daniel says:

I used liter fluid and rubbing alcohol. It makes a big difference with rubbing alcohol. But it also makes a difference if you wash all the liter fluid or rubbing alcohol off of your hands before trying this. it also helps if your hands are moist when you try this.

August 11, 2008 at 3:28 am
(9) matt says:

it works lol do it with alcohol or you can also use cologne i can throw it in the air and cath it and it doesent even burn but be careful with the cologne beacause its hotter than the alcohol for beginners i would use alcohol

December 24, 2008 at 1:45 am
(10) Vinnie Lam says:

i heard that rubbing alcohol will make the fame smaller and cooler

December 26, 2008 at 8:58 pm
(11) Chase says:

I made a fire ball yeterday because I found the lighter fluid in my garage and I had a pretty bad experience, the first thing that happened was that I tried to light it in my hands and burent myself, then I tried to put out the flame with my foot and I momentarily lit it on fire then tried to put it out with my hand hand burent and burent the too. Even though I got pretty scared doing it it was slot of fun and I’m going to make another one right now

January 8, 2009 at 5:05 pm
(12) Steve says:

I have heard that you can use rubbing alcohol instead of lighter fluid. True or not?

February 6, 2009 at 9:52 pm
(13) stephan says:

i used rubbing alcohol. it feels hot when you put your hand near it but when you touch it its not hot

March 5, 2009 at 9:47 am
(14) Donna says:

I tried making a fire ball last nite, but i used my brothers brute cologene. It caught fire really fast and stayed burning for about 10 or 11 seconds. then my brother soaked his hand in the cologene and lit that. it was really cool looking. we’re going home later tonite and making 3 huge fire balls so i can juggle them.

May 3, 2009 at 6:13 am
(15) Jake-- says:

It works!! I tried it with rubbing alcohol and lit it in my hand and just felt a little heat and i was juggeling 3 of them and no pain even when i dropped one and reached right through the flame!! ^^ (//-)

May 28, 2009 at 11:04 pm
(16) Lila Tom says:

I performed this experiment, using 70% rubbing alcohol instead of fuel. While the flame was a bit lower, I can imagine, it was still a distinct flame, and I was able to hold the fire cotton ball for about 20 seconds without dropping it

June 17, 2009 at 5:48 pm
(17) funnie bunnie says:

my guy friend like made 1 and it was like really hot. what’s like, a rubbing alcohol? is it bad for like pruncy manicure? can fire balls like damage your skin? i g2g, like, bye, ok?

June 28, 2009 at 1:11 am
(18) Newton says:

I did it but after I soaked it in lighter fluid I found I had forgot my lighter so when I got it again and tried it the fluid had dried out and I burned my fingertips. I tried again after reading this and re-soaking it and it worked gr8.

March 6, 2010 at 12:23 am
(19) Ludacris says:

I used axe spray on liquid and it worked fine and smellled goooooooood :)

June 2, 2010 at 4:38 pm
(20) Brad says:

ya it’s pretty awsome and fun but it gets hot fast but they are cool. I’m also wounderinng if you could take some cotten balls and have them in the center to help keep the lighter fluid in longer. like have it cotten balls then cotten cloth then the cotten thread any ways if your a pyro like me you should make a moke bomb there easy and fun you take 6 oz. of KNO3 also know as saltpeter and pour it into a pot then add 1/2 cup sugar turn the heat on, on your stove and take something like a wooden spoon so sturr it what will happen is it will clump to geather and do all sorts of stuff but keep sturing it now as soon as it looks like peanut butter pour it out of the pan on to or into something you can reach wi a lighter i like to use foil so it spreads out and i can bust it and use it more than once but if you want like a 3 – 5 minute smoke bomb cot off the very top of like a pepsi can so you can pour it all in then wait for it to cool down it will be very hot so use like oven mits or something wait for it to get compleatly hard if there is some dark bobbles on it dont worry about it then when its hard light it in one spot with your lighter and it will bobble and then catch on fire and look like a flare but it makes tons of smoke and please do NOT put the smoke bomb near anything that can catch on fire like a shed i have caught my shed on fire its not fun and to clean up the pot you used just soak the stuff in hot water and it will not hurt the pot like if you bernt it all out but if you want the smoke a diffrent color than white just add some DRY Rit Dye powder of what ever color you want the smoke so just add it to the 1/2 cup sugar and 6oz. KNO3 after it looks like peanut butter it will thurn the color you added so it looks realy dark but it will be thicker and it will burn a lighter color than what the Rit box of dye you can also make these a color that will catch the eye like red or yellow and keep them for an emergancy signal hope you have fun with it and be safe

July 28, 2010 at 7:19 pm
(21) Max says:

Do NOT try with acetone. Ouch.

February 6, 2011 at 10:18 pm
(22) Fireballer says:

me and my friends use liquid bug repellent and can keep it still for around 6 seconds before rolling into our other hand. The ball lasts around 30 secinds

August 4, 2011 at 2:45 am
(23) Tim says:

I like to use a mixture between axe and nail
polish remover
About 10% nail polish remover. If mixed
right it should flame
An orangey-violet color. It looks cool but it
doesn’t last as long.
(about 2 to 5 mins)

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