How to make miniature match rockets

Warning: You can potentially damage your property and/or yourself by trying this. Please take precautions. Launch on a non flammable, non meltable surface and keep a fire extinguisher ready.

One lovely summer day when I was about nine years old, I was extremely bored. I had a penchant for science and for science fiction, and decided that I wanted to build a rocket. I didn't, though, have the money, knowledge, or support to even consider making a real model rocket. It never occurred to me to ask anyone for help, and left to my own devices I simply invented something from scratch by turning to matches.

My dad, who recently died of lung cancer, smoked a pipe. So, we had matches in the house as I was growing up. I got out matches (the wood-stemmed sort), some cheap tinfoil, some round toothpicks, a very sharp knife, and, after some thought, a large paperclip.


  1. Cut or rip a square of tinfoil. The square should be very slightly less than twice the length of the matches you are using.
  2. Take a wooden match. Take a very sharp knife or a razor blade, and shave down the stem of that matchstick. Leave the head alone. Try to shave all the sides of the stick evenly if you can. This is to reduce the weight of the match.
  3. Lay the toothpick along the side of the matchstick so the toothpick's pointy tip is touching the matchhead very well, and its body lies along the stem of the matchstick. Hold the toothpick there against the matchstick. Put the matchhead in the center of the foil square and fold the foil carefully down around the matchstick and the toothpick, pressing it tightly. Make SURE the toothpick is in contact with the matchhead.
  4. Crimp the foil down very well against the matchstick/toothpick with your fingers. Very carefully, pull the toothpick out. Make sure you don't crush down the foil when you do this. You want to leave a full channel open between the matchhead and the back of the match.
  5. Take your paper clip and bend it open to a 45 degree angle, more or less. Set the paperclip onto a suitable, fireproof surface, so that one side is flat on the surface and the other side is angled upwards. If you want to burn a hole in your kitchen linoleum, now is the time to place it on the floor. (I strongly suggest doing this outdoors on a nonflammable surface!!!) Lay your little missile onto the paper clip aka launching apparatus so that it is angled up, with the matchhead at the top and the tail end of the matchstick at the bottom.
  6. Light another match. Very carefully hold it underneath the foil-coated head of the match that is resting in your launching assembling. Before very long, your rocket should cook off and will shoot across the room. Congratulations! (Oh yes, and do blow out that match in your fingers.)
  7. I kept scientific records on what I did (as scientific as a 9-year-old can get, anyway) but unfortunately they are long gone. My distance record was in the vicinity of 4 feet, though; that, I remember. Sometimes the foil outer shell would blow off, leaving the heavy matchstick behind, and that gave the best distance. I also tried cutting and/or shaving matchheads and adding that material around the matchstick's head. (This last is most likely to cause a foil/match blow off. No big surprise there.)

Hey, I was a kid, okay? At some point, I realized that the blast off site of my little experiment had acquired a very nicely burned hole in the linoleum floor of our kitchen. I never said a word about it, and eventually my sister got blamed for it, for rocking back on a bar stool in approximately the same location. Hee :-)

It would appear I'm not the only one who enjoyed this passtime!

riverrun says: We used to do this with *paper* matches, put three or four match heads on each, use a straight pin instead of a toothpick. I'm *sure* we got over twenty feet with them. (when they didn't burn our fingers)

BlueDragon says: Haha, this sounds really cool! Must try it. I used to make rockets with dry ice in a sealed screw top 50ml plastic bottle, pointing vertically upwards - went a lot more than 4 ft, but they are quite a bit bigger.

doyle says: We spent hours and hours doing this as kids! Thanks for the memories!

saintjim says: My record went across the room via a light fitting and burnt a hole in the rug - about 12-15 feet. Mind you, we crafted small fins rather than used paperclips...and fit the whole thing on a specially-designed launchpad. We were pros!