Candle-powered hot air balloons are a great DIY project that you can do anytime at home. The flame
can be fueled by ordinary candles, alcohol, lighter fluid, or wax and burners can be made to
burn for several minutes or more.
A tradition of many East Asian cultures, Sky Lanterns can be made at home using very cheap materials.
While the Asian balloons are typically made of oiled rice paper, you can also make them from tissue
paper or very thin plastic. The base of the balloon can be supported with straws, bamboo, balsa, or
other rigid, lightweight materials. The candles can be ordinary birthday candles, or they can be handcrafted
with larger wicks and various fuels such as wax, alcohol, lighter fluid, etc. Flight time can
range from a minute or so up to over ten minutes, depending on the supply of fuel.
I'll show you my own candle designs and how to make them, as well as building instructions for the envelopes (balloons).
Keep in mind that candle
balloons do pose a fire hazard, so they should be built with care and flown after rain or snowfall.
While they look best at night, candle balloons can be flown anytime, as long as the wind is near
calm and not gusting.
Watch some videos!
These are some candle balloons I've built. They are a thrill to fly - I always wonder what people
think when they look up and see a floating, flickering light drifting over their neighborhood.
More videos coming soon...
Design and Instructions
These are mostly my own designs. I have observed different designs and building methods for candle balloons, and have come up with some of my own variations.
This is the type of candle I usually make. It burns two large wicks that put out a decent-sized flame, but contains enough wax to keep it burning for a while (5-10 minutes or more).
It is very important that the fabric used is 100% cotton. Synthetic fabrics will melt and your candle will drip flaming pieces till there is no wick left.
Use thicker fabric for larger candles for larger balloons. Fabric from old bath towels is good for large candles and fabric from rags or T-shirts makes good small candles.
The components are put together fairly simply:
Tie a knot in the cloth strip; trim the ends so they are about as long as the knot.
Wrap the center of the wire around the center of the knot and twist it tightly around the knot.
Soak the wick in hot melted wax for a couple minutes. Then let the excess drip off and let the wax harden.
Wrap the aluminum strip around the knot and twist it shut at the top where the wire is twisted. The knot should not be showing.
The candle is complete! Make sure the wire is long enough to span the mouth of the balloon you are making.
Here's a photo of a candle burning:
This type of candle is suspended on the wire which is stretched across the frame at the mouth of the balloon. The frame holds the mouth open and keeps the flame near the opening of the balloon so it doesn't hang down too low where wind can blow the heat away.
And now that we're getting into the frame, let's move on.
This frame is made from flexible yet lightweight materials and holds the mouth of the balloon open about its circumference.
A hoop frame is often made of flexible drinking straws, which work well but often won't hold the mouth open if the candle is particularly heavy.
I prefer to use bamboo skewers split in half the long way. It's not super easy, but I take a razor blade and slice down the middle of the skewer
so I have 2 skewers that are only half as thick as a whole skewer. Making them thinner like this allows them to flex more easily so you can make a fairly circular
After splitting several skewers and checking them to make sure they flex evenly, tape them together as shown in the illustration below.
Wrap the tape around tightly because the skewers will be bent and you don't want the seams to be weak points.
Make the hoop approximately as wide as the mouth of the balloon you are making. Secure the ends of the wire to opposite sides of the hoop, making sure
that the candle is in the center. Twist the ends of the wire around the hoop and secure them with tape so they don't slide around.
Now that I've shown you how to build your candle and frame, here are instructions for building the balloon itself.
Envelope (balloon) design and construction
Candle hot air balloons are often made out of tissue paper and glue. I personally prefer using cheap, super-thin trash bags and either heat-welding the seams or taping them.
The best trash bags I have found are Ruffies Color Scents. I don't use them because they smell good - I use them because
they're about as thin as you can get and can be purchased at most Walmart stores or supermarkets.
Now if you don't know yet how to cut open a trash bag, see the instructions for doing so when building a solar balloon.
If you don't want to use the scented trash bags or you want to make a larger balloon with fewer seams, the other option I often use is Painter's Plastic.
You can purchase this stuff in rolls of 9 or 12 feet wide (folded down) by 400 feet long. I use the 12x400 roll because it allows me to cut the largest pieces.
This painter's plastic is HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) film, usually 0.31 or 0.35 mil thick. It's very rare to find plastic that's thinner than this. You may find this sheeting under different brands in different stores.
The link above takes you to the Lowe's source where I purchase mine.
BUILDING INSTRUCTIONS COMING SOON!
This page was last updated on October 30, 2009. Check back soon for instructions and more videos!