Baking Soda and Vinegar bottle rocket launcher

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Blog entry by Dan Lyke posted 05-30-2010 11:56 PM 10678 reads 0 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The 3rd grade boy across the street is pretty smart, and his mom is doing her best to make sure he’s got some pretty broad horizons (He goes to a Waldorf inspired charter school, I went to a Waldorf school through 7th grade, so we’ve got some similar background).

Anyway, he and his mom came over to ask if I had some scrap wood for some raised planters, then he found an inner tube we’d cut up for some project, and started playing with the valve, and that led to us launching a soda bottle with compressed air. Then we knocked on another neighbor’s door to apologize for the intrusion and retrieved our bottle from her yard, but got thinking about launchers rather than doing it manually.

So he and I went into the shop to see what we could come up with. With a little help he learned how to use a drill press, and a Japanese pull saw, and a file, and we ended up with this:

BottleVinegarAndBakingSodaLauncher01.JPG BottleVinegarAndBakingSodaLauncher02.JPG BottleVinegarAndBakingSodaLauncher03.JPG BottleVinegarAndBakingSodaLauncher04.JPG

Yeah, there’s an additional piece of wood that probably isn’t strictly necessary, but when a third grader tells you “I think we need a piece there”, well, who am I to argue?

YouTube video of a launch here, or embedded below

We wrapped the baking soda in paper towel to slow down the reaction long enough to put the thing on the launcher, which is all that goop left on the launcher.

Similar entry on my own site.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

14 comments so far

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3110 days

#1 posted 05-31-2010 12:39 AM

what a great guy you are teaching the kid woodworking and cemi at the same
time having fun with it
I´ll bett it was his best teachinghour ever
and I´m pretty sure he will turn up another time in your shop very soon

thank´s for sharing the story


View a1Jim's profile


117090 posts in 3572 days

#2 posted 05-31-2010 01:23 AM

Fun Fun Fun thanks I enjoyed that.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3204 days

#3 posted 05-31-2010 01:36 AM

Oooh, what fun!
I miss having kids around the neighborhood.

View Napaman's profile


5526 posts in 4072 days

#4 posted 05-31-2010 02:46 AM

good stuff…what a great neighbor you are!

-- Matt--Proud LJ since 2007

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4120 days

#5 posted 05-31-2010 06:17 AM

A few months ago he knocked on the door with an awesome chemistry experiment book, most of which involved things I’m not necessarily comfortable handling myself let alone in the presence of a third grader who’s not mine, and asked if I could help him do some experiments. We ended up making hollow pennies with muriatic acid (AKA HCl or hydrochloric acid) and then when I realized we were letting all the hydrogen escape we tied balloons over the beaker mouths and filled them up, then exploded them.

So, yeah, he’s getting a bit of a chemistry education. In fact his mom came over this evening and said “He really needs a place he can get away from his sister. Can he set up a workbench in your back yard?” (We’d already offered them a corner of our garden for their plants, as they’re in a rental), so I think we just accidentally ended up with a grandkid.

Which is kinda cool, actually.

So one of the next projects is going to be a weatherproof workbench, his size, in a corner of the yard, with a lock on it to which only he has the key. I anticipate that we’ll end up grinding off the hasp with an angle grinder after he loses the keys, probably three or four times. Mostly because although there’ll undoubtedly be easier ways to remove the lock, angle grinders throw lots of really cool sparks which are awesome when you’re a boy going into fourth grade.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View MNWOODWORKER's profile


105 posts in 3580 days

#6 posted 05-31-2010 06:41 PM

My son is the same age as the boy you are talking about. He has been building or taking apart stuff ever since he could crawl around, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!! I home school both my kids and we are always doing something that I hope they learn from, and thank you for another project to add to the list. It is nice to see people lending a hand to our youth, so many just cast them aside these days-hats off to you. Pease let me know if you come up with any other teaching idea’s.

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4120 days

#7 posted 05-31-2010 07:41 PM

Nate, I built trebuchets for the neighborhood kids, those were received well and now I’m waiting to have some scrap 2x lumber in lengths big enough to toss a watermelon.

On the list of things I want to do with the various kids in my life are things like potato cannons (done that with several already); ammonium tri-iodide (also called “nitrogen triiodide”), a tremendously unstable high explosive that’s quite fun when made in seed sized quantities, it’ll explode if you breath on it too hard (did that with some 16 year olds who wanted to make a big batch, after we did a small batch that exploded semi-unexpectedly and turned the coffee filter it was drying on into a doily they said, in a scared quiet voice, “okay, never mind”); making larger quantities of hydrogen with lye (sodium hydroxide, or drain cleaner, but you can also make it by filtering water through hardwood ash) and aluminum, but you have to be careful because it’s exothermic enough that it can self-ignite; at each stage making sure we do it all with reasonable safety equipment, and building jigs and devices so we’re learning tools and fabrication along the way.

Also, I strongly recommend a series of books called “The Boy Mechanic”. I had one when I was a kid that I think came from my grandfather’s childhood, because the printing date was early enough that I’m not sure it could have been from my father’s, but the whole series is reprinted by Lindsay Books and it’s worth having on your shelf to help kids set expectations. And they’ve got a number of other reprints of books for boys from back in the days when boys welded stuff together on their own.

(In using phrases like “for boys”, I’m not for a moment suggesting that this should be gender specific, just reflecting the time of original printing. If you can get your daughters building cool stuff, even more power to ya!)

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2956 days

#8 posted 06-01-2010 01:51 PM

Good opportunity for mentoring. I did notice that his might be a single Mom home. Keep us informed of the projects this young fellow is pursuing. Look up the plans for a marshmellow gun. Made from PVC.
The way kids are exposed in early life show up in their future interests. Two grandsons would migrate toward baseball stuff, one (his Dad’s a mechanical engineer and includes him on simple projects) headed for the tools at the Discovery Museum last Saturday.

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4120 days

#9 posted 06-01-2010 05:23 PM

I’m pretty sure he’s done the marshmallow gun, but I’ll ask. Yeah, single mom, they see their dad fairly regularly, but the parents are not amicable. And in the “things were way better when I was a kid” department (which I know is a lie, they were different though), I don’t think the presence of two parents in a given household means the kids are getting the “build it” they need.

A few months ago another member of a local technical society had offered me an old stat camera, ‘cause I was looking for a lens. I went over to his house, and the whole thing was really bigger and more of a project than I wanted to deal with. However, we were in his workshop and he said “you know, this is a lifetime of dreams of projects I always wanted to get to, I’m in my late 70s and am not going to get to all of it, is there anything you want?”

I allowed as how I had a teenager interested in making some ammonium tri-iodide, so if he had any chemistry glassware… and I ended up with boxes of test tubes, a bunch of glassware, a beautiful huge flask for doing distillations, with a heater that I haven’t yet opened up and cleaned off, that his son “who’s know a doctor” used when he was a kid. Now I don’t think that this was all that out of the ordinary for that era, ‘cause my mom majored in chemistry and had a similar setup (minus the flask) that I used to play with bits of when I was a kid.

A few of the things I got scared me a bit, so I sent an email to the head of the local high school’s chemistry department asking some questions, and asking if there were perhaps a good student they had that might like a bit of equipment. She wrote back saying they’d love some of it for the school, but they couldn’t possibly talk about setting up kids with gear like that “for liability reasons”.

I think this paranoia is going to set this country’s technological innovation back.

And as I’ve acquired various chemicals for experiments with kids, we’ve had to jump through a few hoops because of some of the idiocies of “the drug war”; for instance, elemental iodine for the aforementioned explosives. Used to be that you could buy it at drug stores, now, because we’re so afraid of big bad scary meth you have to jump through hoops to even order it online, but you can buy tincture of iodine at drugstores and extract elemental iodine from that. So it makes for a longer afternoon and more patience for the kids while they wait for yet another process, but doesn’t really slow down the meth makers.

Another example of how political processes run amok are making it harder for our kids to learn.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3110 days

#10 posted 06-01-2010 06:47 PM

I wish I had such an reserveuncle as a neighbor when I was a kid
you doing a great job there Dan I take my hat of for you

I know what you meen about the crazy safty things people can come up with
my thoughts of that is : no I wont talk politic here sorry Dan I say no more :—))

take care and bee safe


View Grumpy's profile


23916 posts in 3846 days

#11 posted 06-02-2010 05:52 AM


-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4242 days

#12 posted 06-02-2010 04:52 PM

And to think we just used to take the powder out of shotgun shells and put it inside CO2 cartridges, get a fuse from an old cherry bomb and blow up bridges. Darn kids today….

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4120 days

#13 posted 06-02-2010 05:19 PM

Mike, I had a blessed life, but I grew up pretty far out in the country, and at somewhere around that age my Dad bought me a can of gunpowder and a pair of goggles, and showed me how to make electric igniters from multistrand wire. So, yeah, I blew a few craters in the yard (I was trying to make rocket engines, and failing…), and learned about shrapnel and such through direct visceral experience. Not saying it’s the way every kid should learn, but geez, if the modern authorities got wind of that I’d be up on terrorism charges.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Hillsboro's profile


44 posts in 2892 days

#14 posted 07-16-2010 03:46 AM

Unfortunately Dan Lyke’s comment about terrorism charges is all too true. There was a news report this morning about teenagers make “home made bombs” out of plastic bottles and “chemicals found around the house” (read baking soda and vinegar). The crack mental geniuses in law enforcement have stated they would prosecute these young people if caught. Clearly the authorities did not have a childhood.

Dan, keep up the great work with kids. Well done.

Phil Stevens

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