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Backyard Ballistics: Build Potato Cannons, Paper Match Rockets, Cincinnati Fire Kites, Tennis Ball Mortars, and More Dynamite Devices [Paperback]

William Gurstelle
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Paperback, June 1 2001 --  
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Book Description

June 1 2001
Ordinary folks can construct 13 awesome ballistic devices in their garage or basement workshops using inexpensive household or hardware store materials and this step-by-step guide. Clear instructions, diagrams, and photographs show how to build projects ranging from the simple—a match-powered rocket—to the more complex—a scale-model, table-top catapult—to the offbeat—a tennis ball cannon. With a strong emphasis on safety, the book also gives tips on troubleshooting, explains the physics behind the projects, and profiles scientists and extraordinary experimenters such as Alfred Nobel, Robert Goddard, and Isaac Newton. This book will be indispensable for the legions of backyard toy-rocket launchers and fireworks fanatics who wish every day was the fourth of July.

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"13 projects engineered to be safe yet exciting and able to be built with household and hardware-store supplies" -- St. Paul Pioneer Press

"Fun and thrilling" -- Journal of Chemical Education

"Offers a safe, cheap, and legal, labor-intensive and intellectually challenging to the 'oops I blew off my fingers' debacle." -- Burt Constable, Arlington Heights Daily Herald

"To inspire kids to spend more time exploring science" -- The Plain Dealer

"Would-be rocketeers, take note: Engineer William Gurstelle has written a book for you." -- Chicago Tribune

...shows the safe way to amaze and annoy your neighbors with amateur science projects. -- The Daily Oklahoman

Your inner boy will get a bang out of these devices to build and shoot in your own back yard. --

About the Author

William Gurstelle is the author of Absinthe and FlamethrowersThe Art of the Catapult,  the bestselling Backyard BallisticsBuilding Bots, Whoosh, Boom, Splat, and Notes from the Technology Underground. He is a professional engineer who has been researching and building model catapults and ballistic devices for more than 30 years. He is a contributing editor at Make magazine and writes frequently for Wired, The Rake, and several other national magazines. He can be contacted at

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
"When you were a child, people told you not to play with matches for a good reason-they can be dangerous!" Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Parents, Dont be scared April 26 2003
This is a great book. Just from skimming through it you can tell that a lot of thought and precaution went into it's construction. Parents may be scared seeing a book like this in the hands of their child, but don't be frightened. Most of the projects in here are pretty innocuous and saftey is paramount. The book and author STRESS proper precautions and advise saftey gear for any dangerous experiments. If you have a kid who has been playing with fire, been showing a disturbing interest in explosives or such, then buy them this book and do these projects with them! It will give kids a productive, educational and supervised outlet for these curiosities and fascinations and will give you a chance to teach them a bit about physics and further bond with them. Some young pyros grow into arsonists, others grow into firemen and physicists... you make the choice! Instead of punishing them and trying to curb their interest in such things, channel this energy into something positive.
From the perspective of an adult or adolesent this book is still great. Fun projects and lots of information make for a fun read, and an even more fun summer project. Science teachers and the like will love this book as some of these projects could prove wonderful classroom demonstrations to aid in teaching and more importantly, in getting kids' attention and perhaps sparking an interest.
Great book. more stuff like this might help the curb effects of all the negative stuff out there like the Anarchist's Cookbook and all those [explosive] websites.
A big five stars!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Things that go "Boom" in the Night March 5 2003
What a wonderful boys book--boys from 9 to 90 will get a bang out of these projects. The author presents enough safety information to be reasonable, and mixes in scientific explanations, a bit of math, and interesting anectdotes that take us back into the history of ballistics. But most of all, he presents details plans and parts lists (including sources for hard to find parts) to build things that shoot up into the air, things that go "BOOM," and other cool stuff like fire kites.
Many of the projects described here are also well documented on the internet. But most internet postings have little to say about safety, science, or history. Using this book as a starting point, and the internet as a resource to expand the ideas, could lead one to develop a truly interesting ballistic arsenal indeed!!
Before we had homeland security to worry about, this might have been a good source book for a science fair. Now, it just might be a great way to spend a lifetime behind bars. But, if you're in touch with your inner Goddard, von Braun, or just love the idea of a tennis ball mortar ... then this is the book for you!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and great fun June 9 2004
This is one of those ultimate guy books, fun for boys 8 to 80. It brought back memories of building similar devices in my youth, although I never built anything close to the diverse collection the author has brought together and describes in this interesting book. The book contains instructions and even troubleshooting suggestions for 12 different projects, ranging from a potato canon to Greek fire to the dry-cleaner bag balloon. I remember using a compound called Bangsite 40 years ago when I was a boy that was probably calcium carbide to build a primitive canon, and he was a similar one here.
In addition to all the projects, the author does a fine job of providing a little education on the fine points of the history of many of these devices, and on some of the most important inventors in history. There are briref but very readable articles on Archimedes, Robert H. Goddard (the "father of rocketry"), Alfred Nobel, and others.
A particularly interesting section is the one on the history of the catapult. The author details its use from 400 B.C. to the 15th century. For example, we learn that last successful use of the catapult (before it was replaced by canon) was at the Battle of Rhodes in 1480, and that 500 A.D. is the earliest recorded use of gravity-powered catapults or trebouchets in the Middle East. In 1191 Richard I (the "Lion-Hearted") participated in a hard-fought battle between the Franks and the Turks in which they battered each other with 300 catapults. And torsion engines were in widespread use in the Roman army by 50 A.D. In 1450, the canon supplanted the catapult throughout Europe and its long use in warfare came to an end.
There are also interesting articles on The Roman Candle, the Medieval Crossbow, and Secret Weapons (such as missiles and rockets).
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great Collection for Overgrown Boys April 29 2003
This book is a wonderful resource for those boys who have graduated from Nerf and waterguns- and for those of us that never will. What struck me most was the sheer variety of projects in this book- from little rockets powered by a match(!) to monster potato guns, this book has everything. I built a potato gun similar to the one in this book several years ago, and have been looking for projects in the same vein. With this book, I've found them. I especially love the fact that he uses a variety of power sources- the traditional hair spray of the potato gun, air pressure, even chemical combustion.
One of the unique things about this book, as compared to other similar books, is the emphasis on both safety and history. Safety is important for obvious reasons. But most readers are enthusiasts about this sort of stuff, and the history lessons are exciting.
My only complaint is that there is no room in this book for any sort of modification to the designs. For example, there are formulas that can be used to determine the maximum chamber size for a PVC-constructed potato gun, and with this, you can design your own potato gun in relative safety. Unfortunately, the author insists that you stick strictly to his designs. This appears to be an effort to ensure that all of the "toys" created with his book are safe, so that's only a minor complaint.
Can't wait to start lobbing tennis balls!
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
i am about to destroy my neighbours the war begins so0n
Published 24 days ago by rapern
3.0 out of 5 stars Good ideas
Good ideas, but a bit too ballistic for our grandchildren, which is why we got it. Otherwise, it was good.
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars A must have for Father and Son
If you want to amaze your children, then this is the book to buy as it will guide you through step by step on how to build cool ballistics. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Hostile
5.0 out of 5 stars A Booming Five Stars!!
I've had this book a while and have read it multiple times. With four growing boys in the house this is an amazing way to spend innumerable Saturdays and be the hero all at the... Read more
Published on Sept. 9 2006 by Pete G. Rambo
5.0 out of 5 stars Lots of fun
Definitely fun projects for guys! If you feel like blowing something up, but still want to be safe, this is for you!
Published on March 4 2004 by "trombone-master"
5.0 out of 5 stars Pleasing men of all ages!
Being an avid potato gunner, I picked this book up at the local library, and after reading it over, I just had to to get it. Read more
Published on Dec 1 2003 by Cory A. McGuinness
5.0 out of 5 stars Backyard Ballistics Review
My son and I built the potato cannon. We modified the plans to use 4 inch PVC instead of 3 inch. With the lantern sparker (from Walmart) and using Right Guard deodorant, you can... Read more
Published on Nov. 9 2003 by Jay Schmitt
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book for kids of all ages.
I bought this book for my boyfriend, and he practicaly sleeps with it. Not only does this book help you build the projects step-by-step, but it also provides the mechanics behind... Read more
Published on Oct. 30 2003 by Jacquelyn Block
4.0 out of 5 stars To dangerous
Everthing is a little to dangerious for my tastes, other then that, great book!
Published on April 29 2003
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