The flamethrower. When most people hear those words they usually think about WWII. During WWII the soldier wore a backpack of tanks and carried a “gun”/ wand kind of thing that he used to spew fire 150-300 feet or so ahead of him burning everything in its path. Those were cool, huh?
Ancient fiery streams of death
In reality, the concept of a flamethrower goes all the way back to ancient Greece to the 1st century. Often the Greeks would have it mounted on their ships and use it to destroy enemy ships. This version was referred to as Greek fire.
What Greek fire actually consisted of is unknown today, but it was said that it would even burn on water. Most likely it contained some type of oil as oil will lie on top of water and continue to burn.
The Greeks were not alone in the use of streaming flames as weapons. During the same century the Chinese also had flame throwing weapons.
Their weapons were siphon pump operated, and flaming oil was used against their enemies to engulf them in fire. I say flaming oil because writings from the era stated that their flames could not be put out with water. This leads me to believe that some form of oil was used as fuel.
Whatever the case, the ancient Greeks and Chinese’s method of delivering a fiery stream of death seems to have gone forgotten for centuries, at least until WWI came along. It was at that time that the flamethrower was resurrected to once again wreak havoc upon the battlefield.
Unfortunately for the soldier wearing a flamethrower in a combat zone, the enemy made it their priority to shoot him first.
Although the tank system was designed to not burst into a ball of fire if struck by a bullet, if it was struck with an incendiary round that would indeed be the effect. This was a terrible turn of fate for the soldier carrying the tanks on his back.
Modern Fiery streams of death
Basically a military flame thrower contains two or three tanks and a gun to deliver the mixture. One or two of the tanks were filled with some form of petroleum fuel. There is a thickening agent added to the fuel in order to help it stream towards the target rather than spray.
The third tank is filled with a pressurized inert gas, usually nitrogen, in order to propel the fuel mixture. At the business end of the sprayer there was either a small flame fed by the fuel tank that burned continuously, or a glowing hot ignition coil to ignite the mixture as it leaves the gun.
Although the flame thrower was used during WWI, it saw greater use during WWII as a means to eliminate pillboxes (concrete fortified machine-gun nests).
Flame throwers were also used extensively in the Pacific theater to burn the enemy out of tunnels and holes in the ground as they were prone to digging in, and for burning vegetation in the heavy jungles.
The Korean and Vietnam Wars also saw use of the flame thrower as a means of eliminating heavy jungle around military installations as well as used against the enemy. Besides a backpack version worn by a soldier, flame throwers were also mounted on trucks and tanks in larger versions that could spew death at much greater distances than the man carried devices.
This video examines and explains the function and use of a WWII flamethrower:
Movie flame thrower
We often see flame throwers being used in movies as exciting scenes of battle and violence unfold, but in reality those are just props. The movies use flame throwers that are merely propane gas under pressure that, although they spray large streams of fire, they are not liquid and do not stick to the targets like the real stuff does.
You can buy a back pack style propane flame thrower for a few hundred bucks. These devices are often used in the roofing industry where hot tar is used on flat roofs to seal around pipes and the like that protrude from the roof.
Other uses for this type of flame thrower is to use around fence lines and border walls to burn the weeds out, that’s right, landscapers use flame throwers.
Buying a real flame thrower
The store bought propane only flame throwers aren’t really the same as the liquid death spewing flame throwers of the battlefield. But believe it or not there is a civilian liquid fuel flamethrower on the market. The X15 personal flame thrower, as you can see in this youtube video:
You can go online to the website and buy your very own X15 personal flame thrower if you have the money for such toys (see diagram below). Those bag-worms in your trees won’t stand a chance.
Make your own real flame thrower
However, since there are no federal laws prohibiting the average American citizen from owning a flame thrower, why not just make your own. Although of course if you live in California you can’t have one. You can’t have one if you live in Maryland either.
But anywhere else in the U.S. I guess it’s good to go. That’s funny to me too since cities like New York and Chicago have such harsh restrictions on firearms, handguns in particular. Yet apparently they are ok with you protecting your home with a flame thrower. Makes sense, I guess.
Here is part 1 in a series of videos where the guy explains how to make the flamethrower that he gives plans away for you to make your own flamethrower at home:
Notice in the diagram below of the homemade flamethrower VS the store bought version. This one has the propane tank mounted to the gun, while the other has it mounted with the other tanks.
I think that this method will be somewhat unwieldy VS the store bought due to the extra weight on the gun. Both work obviously, and it would be awesome to have either one. If I were to make my own I would simply modify the design and mount the propane tank with the other tanks, as I mentioned earlier.
Is a flamethrower expensive?
On the website earlier in the article where you can buy a ready to go, already made flame thrower called the X15, the cost of the device is nearly $2000. That’s a pretty steep price for most of us. However, the cost to build your own, according to the free ebook plans the other guy is gracious enough to send you, is “only” around $450.
Now, $450 might still be a little steep for a lot of us to spend on a fun and exciting toy like a flamethrower, but if you are clever and patient you might be able to source most, if not all of the parts free.
Classifieds free section and yard/garage sales
If you look in your local classified ads or perhaps craigslist free section, you might find a broken pressure washer free and you can source the “gun” and the hose from that. These are already designed to handle high pressure. Another possibility is to scout your local neighborhoods for yard sales and garage sales. You might find a pressure washer there.
Another key element to making your own flamethrower is the fuel tank. A used scuba tank or fire extinguisher can possibly be found cheap or free. These items are also already designed to handle the high pressure you will be dealing with. The CO2 tank that you need is pretty cheap already at stores like Waldo’s world o’ Chinese made products, but you can probably find one or two of those used too.
All that leaves is the ignition system. They are showing a propane tank being used in his design. It shows that he just clamped the tank to the gun, but that looks kind of unwieldy to me.
If or when I make mine, I will put the propane tank on the backpack with the other tanks and run a hose from the tank to a hard line that will be on the gun, then put the torch tip on the end of the hard line. You can just use some 1/4″ copper tubing.
Low budget flame thrower
If the $450-$2000 price ranges are just way beyond your reach but you still have a strong desire to throw fiery death, maybe you can make one of these low budget flamethrowers with a garden pump sprayer or maybe a super soaker water gun might work (I tried the pump sprayer and know it works, I didn’t try the super soaker).
I read online that hot shot wasp and hornet spray would act like a flamethrower, spraying distances of about 20-30 feet. This is to keep you a safe distance from an angry hornet nest when you start spraying them. The claim is that if you place an ignition source in the path of the spray it can cause it to ignite, thus creating a low budget flamethrower.
Well, excited by the prospect of a nearly 30’ flame I hastened to my local all night Waldos’ and found a can of hot shot wasp and hornet spray that says it sprays 27’ and contains petroleum distillates. Sounded like just the ticket. Wrong. I used a propane torch to try to light it and it would not burn for anything. I even sprayed a puddle on the ground and tried to light it. It did nothing. It does not work.
Next I tried some of the wife’s hairspray, which was another claim of instant flamethrower. It barely made a flame a mere 4 or 5 inches long, as you can see:
It was also very hard to light. Another disappointment and another internet myth debunked.
I checked my workshop for WD-40, the next claim on the flamethrower in a can list, but I didn’t have any. What I did have was PB Blaster, it said on the can “contains petroleum distillates and penetrating oil” so I figured that’s like WD-40. It did nothing. It didn’t even try to ignite.
Nearly crazy with desire to throw fire, I got out my garden pump sprayer and filled it with very flammable denatured alcohol. Expecting to finally achieve my ball of fiery death, instead I was yet again saddened by the effect. It barely shot a yellow flame a foot away from the sprayer:
Finally I put regular ol’ 91% isopropyl rubbing alcohol in the pump sprayer. This stuff actually sprayed 5 or 6 feet away and lit the night up. I could literally feel the heat coming back at me from the fireball. Finally, I got a modest ball of fire in the night, but still not a flame thrower:
I think maybe the penetrating oil and bug spray didn’t ignite because they spewed a steady stream rather than a spray, and it needs to be aerosolized in order to combust.
After all, the key to fire is fuel, oxygen, heat. I had the fuel and the heat, but no oxygen as they didn’t spray in a mist. You have to have that mist to get a fuel/oxygen ratio that will allow it to combust.
Step it up
I suppose the next step would have been to put gasoline in it, but I didn’t want to ruin my sprayer as I use it for things that gasoline residue would mess it up. It was tempting though. I guess if you really want a flame thrower the best way to do it is build one with the plans I mentioned, or get out the wallet and shell out big bucks.
If you used a metal garden pump sprayer that has a metal spray wand, I suppose you could use gasoline in that and get a little bit of a flame thrower effect from it. My sprayer is all plastic and I could feel the heat from just the few seconds I sprayed fire, so I’m afraid gasoline might melt it besides the contamination factor.
If you just want to play around with fire, maybe burn some bagworms from your tree, 91% isopropyl rubbing alcohol and hold a lighter or torch in front of it would probably get the job done because that did throw a pretty good ball of fire.
I suppose it you want it to look more “gun-like”, you could use a super soaker water gun and strap a pen torch to the side so the liquid will ignite as it exits the water gun. But then that depends on if the super soaker has an adjustable nozzle to get that fuel/air mixture right. But be sure to use a flammable liquid that will actually burn, most of the claims from the internet just didn’t work.
One tip, I did notice that a stream of liquid did not burn; it had to be in aerosol form. So in other words, it had to have a fuel/air mixture in order to ignite. That’s why I only got 5 or 6 feet from the pump sprayer.
I know that pump sprayer will spray a 20’ stream, but the fuel wouldn’t ignite that way. So I had to tighten the nozzle to get it to mist, then it lit. I guess the moral of this story is you can’t win a car race on a bicycle, if you want to throw fire, build a flamethrower.
I always wanted a flame thrower, but I have to admit it makes me a little nervous playing with fire like that. When I was asked to write this article I was excited about it. Now that I have written it I am even more excited because I see how easy it would be to actually make myself a real flamethrower. Playing with the pump sprayer was kind of fun, but still not a flamethrower.
Looking at the designs they have I see a couple of changes I will make for mine when I build it. It will be awhile before I make myself one, but now the seed has been planted in my head so it is only a matter of time. Several years ago I mulled over making a twin SKS Gatling gun for about two years before I finally broke down and made it. Now I have a twin SKS Gatling gun. Pretty soon I will have a flamethrower.
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Eric Eichenberger is an avid outdoorsman, skilled marksman, and former certified range officer and instructor with nearly 40 years experience handling and repairing firearms.
A skilled craftsman with a strong love for working with his hands, Eric spent 20 years as a carpenter and custom woodworker in high end homes. As a gold and silversmith he has created hundreds of pieces of jewelry over the years using the lost wax casting method.
The grandson of humble country folk, he was raised with the “do it yourself” mentality and so is accustomed to coming up with unique solutions to problems utilizing materials at hand.