In this Brainfoo project I wanted to revisit a childhood favourite and create the best match rocket I could. Fellow mini rocketeers on the internet had claimed to achieve a distance of up to 40 feet, which is better than the 20 – 30 feet I remember as a teenager. The real question was how far could I take it when approaching it with an adult brain? Well the answer turned out to be 60 feet, with nothing more than a single match head, and If you read this you should be able to copy exactly what I have done and maybe even improve on it if you want to , If you do I would love to know about it, feel free to post videos or photos on my facebook page.
Match head rocket template & Plans
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Download PDF the matchstick rocket template above
Best matches for match head rockets
I tried roughly 15 brands of common matches from the US and UK, and what I found is that on balance ‘strike anywhere’ like the very reactive Swan matches tended to give a better and more consistent reaction rather than the safety or ‘strike on box’ variety. Some are too big, some too small and some react too slowly, although most can be made to achieve 40+ feet.
Best aluminium kitchen foil
I tried 6 common kitchen foils, four off the shelf, and two catering quality foils bought online. Initially my biggest problem was blow outs and explosions caused by the higher pressures created by a slim design and performance tweaks, this was obviously a foil quality problem. I did try using a double layer of thin cheap foil but it wasn’t quite as good as one very good layer of top quality foil in my tests. Any sort of thicker premium foil like Reynolds wrap seemed to be just thick enough, without adding unnecessary weight.
Best launching rod
I used cocktail sticks, wooden BBQ skewers, knitting needles, various width coat hangers and metal BBQ skewers – on balance the metal worked best. Metal whilst not necessary for smaller distances does give a consistent straightness, width and friction level that you can rely on when fine tuning your technique. It’s also very hard wearing, doesn’t give, and will stick to a magnet if you have one. The ones I used had a shaft diameter of 2.57mm for those who might be interested. Always launch against something solid or with mass or you will lose valuable distance!
Match stick rocket design
The first problem to solve was to reduce drag. Just like real or model rocketry the fastest match rocket should benefit from a reduction in drag, that means not just across the body but at the rear fins also. It seemed to me the best idea was to build it as slim as possible and remove the fins totally, and inspiration from Nerf gun ammunition seemed like the perfect starting point.
Many prototypes were created of various length, weight and design until I came across what on balance worked best for most match heads. It was a fairly painstaking process of trial and error. The weight has to be enough to carry the rocket through the air, but still be light to launch at speed. The sides of the kitchen foil must also contain the explosion of the match at fairly high pressure for a toy rocket.
Rolling the rocket body
If you look at the video you will notice I introduce a fold over the head of the match at the first or second rotation. This is to help contain the high pressure created during launch. This simple step helps to stop the end of the rocket either blowing out completely, or unfurling the crimp made near the tip, thus ruining the aerodynamics and distance. Try to keep a nice tight roll right until the end, this reduces wrinkles, looseness and drag. Inspect your old launches for signs of this problem.
Finally when crimping the rocket tip make sure you have enough to fold over three times as in the template. This helps contain the pressure of the exploding match and creates some mass at the front of the rocket for distance and accuracy.
Long distance tweaking
Distances of 40 feet and over are possible by following the construction method and materials, and the mini rockets are reliable because they slip up and down the metal launch rod smoothly without catching. The last piece of the jigsaw in achieving the longest distance possible with a single match head was a finger crimping process near the junction between match head and launch rod tip itself. What I did next was to introduce a combination of a little fiction and compression of the foil around the match head, and where it touches the launch rod (seen in video).
Getting this exactly right is the key to maximising distance, it has to be just enough and not too much. Too much results in a rocket casing blowout and too little not enough power, it’s a fine line to tread and practice is the key. What you’re listening for is a ‘crack’ as the rocket launches, not a ‘pffft’ or a ‘bang’, the latter being not enough pressure and too much.
The above project is for consenting adults only and is for education and entertainment only.
Although these mini matchstick rockets are relatively safe to build, they may blow out hot or flaming particles of light match debris, and although I have never been burnt, it is a possibility that it could happen. These hot particles are definitely a hazard to anything flammable inside or outside the home, think carpets, furnishings and dry grass etc. On occasion you may also get a rocket explode, this can shoot out aluminum foil and particles that could hit your eyes, so eye protection should be worn. Finally it should be noted that the rocket casings are hot when they land, and they may damage delicate surfaces or soft furnishings.