Playing with fire

Fire dance

There’s something mesmerising about flames. They way they dance, crackle, reach out in all directions. Simply striking a match is really sensory experience – the sound of the friction of the match head against the side of the box, the sudden fizz as the match flashes into life, blinding you with its brightness for the briefest second. Then there’s the smell. The smell of a newly struck match is wonderful. I much prefer it to the smoky aroma left when you blow the match out, but there’s still the satisfying sizzle if you put the still hot match-head into water. Tssssffft.

Holding an unlit match close to a flame will give you the same flash of brightness when the energy level is enough to prompt the same exothermic reaction that striking a match gives you. I’ve often wondered at this near explosive little flash. What if you lit one match, and had another close by, and another, and another. Could you have the match equivalent of dominoes as they are each triggered by the preceding flash of the match before them?

I felt like it was time to find out, so I looked at what I had around me.

NB: Please don’t try this at home, unless you’re sufficiently old and sensible to take safety precautions, and learn from my mistake when it comes to polystyrene (ie find something less flammable, and less likely to give off toxic fumes!).

What I did:

Took a block of polystyrene, since I thought I could easily push matches into it, and hold them in a shape.


I considered writing my name, but wanted a shape where the lines didn’t cross over, so I could watch the progression of flame. I settled on a heart for simplicity, and sketched it out.


Then I raided my stash of matches and started poking them into the polystyrene, attempting to get them to stand up securely and neatly.


Heart made of matches

It took a while – and a lot of matches!

Heart made of matches

I thought about it, and decided that playing fire was dangerous enough, so I should do it in the garden rather than the house. I set myself up with my own fire dampening system (a watering can), set up my video app, and got a fresh match.

Heart made of matches

Swooosh! Off it went. A bit quicker than I imagined since the wind helped the flame around a bit at times.

This heart is on fire!

This heart is on fire

Then I realised the downfall of using polystyrene as it started to melt and catch on fire and the matches began to collapse in on themselves. Much flame… err – time for the watering can. Ppppsssshhhhhhh. Experiment over, but it had worked! Huzzah!

Fire's out

I made a little vine of heart of fire…

…but there wasn’t time to show the melting polystyrene and sizzle of the watering down. So here is the full video:

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