There are a variety of fuels in use on the fire performing scene. Were frequently asked What kind of fuel do you use on those? by audience members, and many peoples guesses are interestingly incorrect. Were also going to cover a few of the kinds of fuels you shouldnt use for fire performance, along with the reasons why.
Basic Fuel Characteristics
Fuels on the fire scene come in two major varieties: fast-burning
(or just fast) fuels, and slow-burning
(or just slow) fuels. Some people also call them hot and cool fuels. Either way, the division is the same, because the hotter something burns, the faster it burns as well.
Slow fuels are good for beginners, as theyre safer in two main ways: first, theyre less volatile. They dont emit as many flammable vapors, and so the amount of care needed to keep anything unpleasant from happening while working with them is less. They have a higher flash point than fast fuels, so theyre harder to ignite by mistake. (A substances flash point is the temperature you need to raise it to in order to get it to catch fire. For example, papers flash point is the celebrated 451 degrees Fahrenheit, while cinder blocks have a phenomenally high flash point.) Of course, a high flash point is both a blessing and a curse: while it means its harder to set a slow fuel on fire by mistake, it also means its annoyingly difficult to set it on fire when you want to, especially in damp or windy conditions (like any outdoor fire gig in San Francisco!).
The second safe thing about slow fuels is that, once you do get them burning, they burn at a cooler temperature than the fast fuels. (Hence the hot/cold terminology.) This means that if you make a mistake and get a flaming toy stuck against your skin, you have more time to recover before it starts to hurt you. In actual practice, even a fast fuel will take about three seconds of contact with your skin or clothing before it really causes any damage, and by that time, your fire safety should have gotten the situation under control. (You do have a fire safety, right? If not, what other important safety rules are you ignoring?) But when youre still beginning to light things on fire, any extra level of psychological security is a good thing to have. And knowing that youre using a nice, cool fuel can be a part of that psychological security.
Slow fuels also have the advantage of lasting longer, both before and after you light them. Fast fuels, being volatile and vaporous, will start to evaporate off your wicks almost immediately after you finish soaking. Especially in dry or windy areas, you may find that you need to re-dip your wicks if you havent lit them a mere five minutes after removing them from the soaking container. With slow fuels, this is much less of an issue; the fuel can remain on your wicks for an hour or more, under the right conditions. And once you do light them up, youll find that a slow fuel gives you a longer burn and hence, more time to have fun.
The major advantages of fast (or hot) fuels is their low flash point. (Remember, a low flash point means increased flammability.) They light easily, catch quickly, and burn brightly once theyve caught. While a pair of kerosene-soaked wicks can often require heroic measures to light in even a moderate wind (kerosene being a slow fuel), the same wicks soaked in white gas (a fast fuel) will blaze to life with only a brief wave of a lighter.
Fast fuels require a bit more care in your spinning they put out more heat and create a noticeably larger fireball on your wicks, so youll need to keep them even farther from your body as you spin them. However, this is usually something that becomes obvious as soon as you light them. This larger fireball is also substantially brighter; when spinning with a fast fuel, youll find that your visibility of anything beyond your wicks is pretty well gone.
Fast fuels will also burn out more quickly than slow ones; while this can be a benefit if youre tired or otherwise low on stamina, most people find it a little annyoing to have their burn be over so quickly. (Besides, you shouldnt be spinning when youre tired. Fatigue is one of the prime causes of accidents, along with overwork, lack of food, and lack of sleep. Beware of all four!)
Fuels: A Bestiary
Here are the major types of fuels being used by fire performers, at least in the San Francisco area. Weve listed them more-or-less in order of their popularity, but just because everyone else is using something doesnt mean you have to. Feel free to experiment with different mixtures and find what works best for you.
Kerosene comes in a wide variety of containers. Heres just one.
Kerosene is one of the most popular fuels on the fire scene. Its a nice, cool (slow) fuel, and so is especially good for beginners. You can do a wrap onto bare skin with kerosene and not have to worry. (This actually applies to other slow fuels as well.) Like other slow fuels, kero gives you a nice, long burn generally on the order of five minutes, but it can go up to eight with large wicks. Keros long burn time is one reason for its popularity; another is its inexpensive price. Kerosene can easily be found in camping and hardware stores, generally for five dollars a gallon, or even less if you can buy it larger increments.
On the down-side, burning kerosene produces a good deal of smoke and soot, which tends to get in your hair and clothes. Its also got a distinctive odor, which fire performers quickly get used to. (Heck, many of us wind up making jokes about the erotic nature of the scent of kero after a while... and Im not sure all of us are joking, either!) However, this does mean that you dont want to use kero for an indoor performance your audience will not appreciate it.
The smoke and soot of kerosene will also get in your throat and lungs, which some people find to be problematic. Especially if you have asthma or other respiratory conditions, you may want to avoid kero in favor of lamp oil (below), despite the greater expense. Your health is worth it.
Spilled kerosene is both an annoyance and a safety hazard, as it will render nearly any surface slippery for hours.
White Gas (aka Coleman Fuel)
Coleman fuel, front and back
Just as kerosene is the primary slow fuel in use, Coleman fuel is the default fast fuel. Like other fast fuels, Coleman (also known as white gas) evaporates quickly, leaving no residue, and so is much cleaner to work with than kerosene and most other slow fuels. It burns brightly and cleanly, with no appreciable odor, smoke, or soot.
Coleman fuel can be found for around $5.00 per gallon at most hardware and camping stores, which makes it about as ubiquitous (and cheap) as kerosene.
Because of its low flash point and high flammability, white gas is excellent for outdoor performances under windy, wet, or otherwise adverse conditions. It lights quickly and easily, even eagerly. It also gives a fairly showy flame, under nearly any circumstances. Indeed, this flame is not only brighter, but also gives noticeably bigger fireballs than slow fuels this is something to keep in mind the first time you use white gas, if youre used to spinning really close to your body.
Because of Colemans high flammability and volatility, you should be quite careful whenever you have a situation with open or exposed fuel. Naturally, you should always be keeping any sparks or flames away from your fuel dump and soaking area, but this is especially important when working with Coleman or other fast fuels.
Two types of lamp oil containers.
This is another slow fuel perhaps even harder to light than kerosene. It burns about as long as kerosene, perhaps even a bit longer. Unlike kerosene, however, its intended for indoor use, and so has (usually) no odor, no smoke, and no soot. When lamp oil does have an odor, its a faint, moderately pleasant scent that can lend a mildly ceremonial feel to your burn. The one exception is that there are some varieties of lamp oil available that are deliberately scented with citronella. These are usually plainly marked as such on their packaging; youll want to avoid these like the plague for indoor (and perhaps even outdoor!) performances most audiences dont want to go home smelling of bug repellent.
Lamp oil is an excellent fuel for performance purposes, especially indoor performances or those where the audience will be close to (or downwind of) the burn area. Its main drawback is its price: generally three dollars for a 22-ounce container (which equates to about $15.00 a gallon!). Also, its quite slippery and oily far more so than kero. Once you remove the paper/foil seal inside the cap of a lamp oil container, merely re-capping the container is not enough to keep it sealed the lamp oil will leak out through the threads on the child-proof plastic cap if you turn the bottle upside down. You might simply want to decant all your lamp oil directly into MSR containers. (See below for image of MSR containers.)
Youll also want to be careful about wherever you spin off your lamp oil; the stuff is more than slippery enough to create hazardous conditions for walking, even on high-grip surfaces like asphalt.
The ultra-pure, no-additives lamp oil is one of the few fuels thats not a bad thing to put in your body, in case you want to do some fire breathing, fire eating, or fire swallowing. Unlike most other flammable substances, it doesnt even have a foul taste in fact, it has essentially no taste at all, just an oily texture.
Naphtha (aka lighter fluid, Zippo or Ronsonol fuel)
Ronsonol brand fuel for Zippo lighters
These are all chemically the same (plus or minus a few trace additives that dont seem to affect the burn any). Theyre all fast fuels, and have characteristics that are nearly the same as white gas. They light quickly and easily, then burn brightly and with a minimum of smoke, soot, or odor.
The thing that makes these particularly interesting is the fact that they generally come in containers with squirt tops. This allows you to easily squirt a bit of them onto your wicks after youve spun off excess fuel, in manageable quantities that dont require you to then spin off a second time. This means that if youre having trouble lighting a slow fuel in windy conditions, you can squirt a little Zippo fuel onto your wicks to make them easier to light, without appreciably diminishing your burn time.
New Fuel: Biodiesel
Biodiesel isnt in particularly heavy use right now, but its starting to make inroads in the community. A wide variety of information about it is available at www.biodiesel.org, which is an advocacy site devoted to gaining acceptance for it as a mainstream fuel. It can be used to power cars, trucks, boats, airplanes, and probably many other things, and has the advantages of being (apparently) safe, non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and far less polluting than petroleum fuels. If you want to know more about that end of it, the biodiesel.org site will be happy to fill you in.
For fire performance purposes, however, biodiesel can be summed up as follows: its definitely a slow fuel, requiring a bit of annoyance to light (much like lamp oil). It burns well once its lit, and continues burning for a good long while perhaps even longer than kerosene, according to informal observations. It has a noticeable but not unpleasant odor, something like french fries or popcorn.
Unless the safety information on the biodiesel Web site is a complete lie, the stuff is extremely safe and quite non-toxic. This makes it an excellent fuel for fire breathing, eating, swallowing, and similar feats that involve getting fuel inside your body. Of particular interest are the environmental and safety information, and the sample Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), which claim the stuff is less toxic than table salt.
Theres some anecdotal evidence that biodiesel may degrade wick life. Whether and how much is still up for some debate.
What About Paraffin?
The term paraffin is often used by non-US firedancers to describe oil-based fuels. This may be the equivalent of kerosene, or it may be more along the lines of lamp oil. Either way, the term paraffin generally means a slow-burning fuel, not a volatile one like white gas or naphtha.
Kerosene and lamp oil have the kind of long duration you want in a fuel, but theyre a screaming hassle to light. White gas lights up beautifully, but then its all gone, just when youre really hitting the top of your stride. Wouldnt it be nice if there were some fuel that combined the best characteristics of both?
There is, and you can make it yourself. Its called white-gas/kero 50-50 mix. Thats right, you can just go ahead and mix the two. Or mix lamp oil and white gas, if you want to avoid keros stink and smoke.
If youre at all familiar with chemistry, you may be a little wary of just randomly mixing chemicals. Thats good safety instincts are nothing to scorn, and make a good inner voice to listen to. But in this case, all of the fuels listed above are compatible with each other. You can mix any two of them, and the result will be a fuel that shares half the characteristics of each. This means youll mostly want to mix a fast fuel with a slow fuel, as mixing two of the same type would be fairly pointless. (Of course, if you run out of one particular variety of fuel and need to top off your soaking dish or your wicks with another of the same speed, it will work just fine.)
MSR containers highly recommended for fuel storage
50-50 mixtures of kerosene and white gas, or of lamp oil and white gas, are quite popular in firedancing circles. (If we were listing them in the popularity-order ranking above, instead of giving them their own section here, theyd come out somewhere between kerosene and white gas. Quite popular stuff.) Some folks also like to do 2-to-1 mixtures, or varying other proportions (leaning in either direction). If you like to do mixtures like this, youll probably want to have a separate container to hold the resulting fuel. That way, you can clearly label it as whatever it is, rather than having to remember the kero can with the dent on one side is actually two parts white gas to one part lamp oil. MSR containers, available at most well-stocked camping stores, are excellent for this, and for all other fuel storage purposes. The cans that kero and Coleman fuel normally come in are designed only for storage, not for transport (to and from gigs, for example). If you want to get a fire permit for your performance or your troupe, most fire departments will want to see your fuels stored in MSR containers anyway. Besides, theyre sturdy, reliable, and convenient. You may as well stock up on them.
Fuels to Avoid
With the huge number of flammable liquids available in any major metropolitan area, it seems reasonable that someone might want to try some of the following. It turns out there are very sound reasons not to do so.
Quite flammable stuff, gasoline. Practically every audience member who asks us what we use says something along the lines of: What do you put on those? Gasoline? The answer is a very definite No. We dont.
Gasoline is extremely flammable stuff, and very volatile to boot. Thats why gas stations all have prominent signs near the pumps saying DO NOT smoke around here. If you were to use it for fire-dancing purposes, gasoline would be a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Alcohol (methyl, ethyl, or isopropyl)
There are three major types of alcohols available in our society: ethyl alcohol, aka ethanol (the kind you drink); isopropyl alcohol, aka rubbing alcohol (the kind you rub on wounds); and methyl alcohol, aka methanol, aka wood alcohol (which Im not sure what its used for, except occasionally putting in weird engines). They all suck for firedancing purposes.
Why? If you have a restaurant available that serves any flamb? dishes, go and get one. (If you dont know of any, but are in San Francisco, may we recommend the dessert cr?pes at Ti Couz?) See the waiter approach your food with a container of heated alcohol (ethanol, to be specific). See him light it on fire and pour it all over your food. See how it flickers, how the flame runs across your plate... Take a moment to savor this, and think to yourself, God damn! Theres flaming stuff on my plate! Cool!
Now, as you dive into your toasty-warm dessert, imagine that same flame on a pair of poi. Not as spectacular as on a plate, is it? In fact, its the sort of thing that would go out if you gave those poi a half-decent spin. In fact, while an ethanol flame is quite pretty on a restaurant table, it flat-out sucks for a fire performance. Too wimpy.
The one useful thing to with alcohol in a fire performance is firebreathing with 151-proof rum. Do note that the stuff will sting the inside of your mouth if youre used to firebreathing with lamp oil (which is a very sedate substance with no evil taste), then you may be a little distracted by the rums bite the first few times you try it. 151-proof rum is a little too wimpy for an outdoor fire-breath blast, but it can be just the ticket for small, indoor performances. If youre into firebreathing, and you suspect you may need to do indoor performances at some point (or you go to a lot of parties with hard liquor...), youll probably want to learn to breathe fire with 151, just to have it in your bag of tricks.
Butane and Propane
Nobody uses these for firedancing. The reason is simple: at normal temperatures and pressures, theyre gases. Sure, butane looks like a liquid inside a transparent cheapo lighter, but thats only because its under pressure. When you press the release valve, gas is what comes out. You cant soak your wicks in this. The same comments apply for propane.
/ Candle Oil
An oil lamp is simply a reservoir for holding oil and a wick. We have traveled the world to find the most unique creations of this beautiful specialty candle. Our lamps are typically made with mouth-blown glass, polished glass or premium quality beveled crystal. The majority of our lamps come with a fiberglass wick. This type of wick is designed to last for years without needing replacement.
Choumouuh oil is the finest quality refined liquid wax available. It burns slowly and safely without any odor. It is offered in a variety of sizes from 4 oz. to a gallon as well as in a variety of colors to suit any environment or decorative setting.
Burn times for our oil lamps will vary according to the type of wick used and the size of the oil well.
Product Care for
Oil lamp/ Oil candle
When filling your candle with oil, fill only to the prescribed levels. Generally, fill the lamp 2/3 to 3/4 full for candles with oil reservoirs 5 inches or taller; 1/4 to 1/2 full for candles with reservoirs less than 5 inches tall.
Proper adjustment of the wick is essential. When adjusting the wick, especially if using a fiberglass wick, use a tweezers instead of your hands. The natural oils on your hands may clog the fiberglass wick and cause it to burn improperly. The top of the fiberglass strands should be exactly even with the top of the glass tube that surrounds the wick.
Allow 30 minutes to 2 hours for the wick to absorb the lamp oil before lighting.
If the flame is short, check the oil level and/or wick height. It may be too low.
If the oil lamp is producing a smoky flame, the wick may be too high. Keeping your oil candles clean is as simple as dusting them and occasionally wiping them on the outside with a glass cleaner. They should not be run through the dishwasher because of the possibility of scratching. They also should not be immersed in water because it can be difficult to get the water out of the fuel reservoir.
If the need to clean the fuel reservoir does arise, empty out the fuel and clean the reservoir with rubbing alcohol. Pour some alcohol into the reservoir and swirl it around. A long Q-tip may also be used to scrub the inside of the oil well. Once cleaning is complete, make sure the inside of the well is dry before refilling with lamp fuel.
Do not use scented lamp oils. These can leave a residue inside the candle and can stain or damage the fiberglass wick.
Do not use kerosene, gasoline or alcohol as these are much more dangerous and flammable than Choumouuh lamp oil.
Liquid paraffin turns into solid wax when cold. It returns to usable liquid form when stored above 40 degrees F.
Keep the oil out of direct sunlight to prevent colored oils from fading.
Choumouuh oil is a combustible mixture that contains petroleum distillates. The following cautions should be taken:
o Keep out of the reach of children.
o Do not take internally. If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Call
a physician immediately.
o Use in well-ventilated areas.
o Avoid prolonged or frequent contact with skin.
Oil Candles FAQ.
How are they generally made?
aka Rock Candle Indoor decorative oil candles are definitely in style. They usually are comprised of the following: A glass tube (either lab, instrumentation or Pyrex glass) or metal tube that holds a 1/16" to 1/8" diameter fiberglass wick. Fiberglass lasts indefinitely compared to cotton that will dry out over time and have its wicking capability degrade significantly. Also fiberglass does not burn. The glass wick holder (tube) is set in a decorative bottle holding a clean high grade liquid paraffin fuel. You want to stick with the liquid paraffin because it has a high flash point which offers a good safety factor. I have seen designs made from decorative bottles, drilled out rocks and even slate attached to various types of glassware. The following is some typical questions asked regarding the decorative style oil candles:
How do you adjust the flame on an oil / rock candle?
Before you slide the wick into the tube make sure it is cut evenly across the top. An irregular cut will cause smoking. Set the wick in the tube so it is even with the top of the tube. This will generate a clean burn. Having the wick set too high above the tube will cause smoking. It is similar to "flooding" a car engine, you are sending more fuel to the engine (flame) than it can burn. Therefore the excess passes through as black soot. This theory also applies to just about all oil type lamps and lanterns.
How long should the glass wick tube be?
All the tube does is hold the wick. A longer tube does not improve wicking action. Some folks prefer longer tubes because they are making lamps that are rather high and use the longer tubes to make sure the wick makes it to the bottom of the vessel. Some folks put potpourri in mason jars and use a longer tube to "push" through the decorative objects that are set in the fluid part of the oil candle. Some buy longer tubes just for the looks.
My oil candle smokes!
There are many fuels on the market. Perhaps you have used a crude
fuel meant for outdoors. Look for "cleaner - purer" brands
The most common oil lamp problem for new designers. THE VACUUM PROBLEM !!!!!
If the wick is set tight in the wick opening and there is no air vent for the fuel, a vacuum will be created in the can. You can tell if the fuel is not properly vented when the torch lights up strong and goes out for no apparent reason after 30 seconds or so. This is the most common pitfall encountered when making patio torches and rock candles. NOT venting the fuel, thus creating a vacuum in the can. More info on fiberglass.
Aroma Candle Oil Product ID: LampOil Category: Oil Candle Accessories
Lamp Oil (22 oz.) 99% pure paraffin, odorless, smokeless oil
Description: Note: Ordering 2 or more bottles of oil will result additional shipping costs. We will contact you with the final total cost before finalizing your order
15 oz. (450 ml.) / bottle - Price: $
4 ounce bottle.
99% pure paraffin
odorless. Use indoors
3 1/3 oz.( 100 ml.) / bottle - Price $1.00 / 40
33 1/3 oz. (1000 ml.) / bottle - Price $