How To Cut Your Own Homemade Rocket Sticks
Making your own sky rockets is an extremely satisfying project for both beginner and advanced firework makers. Getting your sky rockets to fly straight is an essential part of the process, and wooden sky rocket sticks are the simplest and most common form of guidance.
Although wooden dowels can easily be bought in three or four-foot lengths at the local home improvement store and used as sky rocket sticks, having the ability to cut and make your own custom size sky rocket sticks can be a real advantage. However, a good quality table saw fitted with the proper blade is essential if this is to be done safely. Here are a number of suggestions for cutting your own sticks:
TABLE SAW - Use a quality, brand name saw such as Delta, Powermatic, Ryobi, Jet or DeWalt, fitted with a 10" blade. A high quality fence that is accurate and stays locked in position; parallel to the blade is absolutely essential since you will be making narrow cuts with the fence set close to the blade. Many older or cheap table saws have poor, flimsy fences that should be avoided.
BLADES - When buying saw blades there are no bargains and you get what you pay for. Get the best blade you can afford. Home improvement stores often do not carry top quality blades. A better place to buy is from woodworker catalogs or online. My personal favorites are blades made by Freud. There are basically three main types of blades available for table saws: crosscut, rip and combination. Crosscut blades produce an extremely smooth, fine cut when cutting boards across the grain and are mainly used for fine furniture making and therefore are not needed by the average woodworker (or fireworks maker). Rip blades are used only for cutting a board along its length, as in cutting sky rocket sticks. A rip blade should not be used for making crosscuts. Combination blades are designed to function both as a crosscut and a rip blade. A top quality combination blade (about 50.00 to 60.00 dollars) works pretty good as intended in both roles. However, if you intend to do a lot of ripping cuts, I recommend getting both a combination and a rip blade. Although it means changing blades, a rip blade will glide through the wood with much less effort.
PUSH STICKS - When making cuts any time the fence is located close to the blade, a push stick is mandatory for pushing the tail end of the board past the blade. You may be familiar with push sticks that are basically a straight stick about 8" to 12" long with a notch on the front end that hooks over the back end of the board, enabling you to push the board. This is a most common type of push stick that is sometimes recommended in woodworking books and magazines. Unfortunately it is not a good design, especially when cutting thin, narrow strips like sky rocket sticks, as it can slip off the back of the board easily and does not keep the wood from chattering as it is being cut. A much better shape is made from a piece of 3/4" plywood cut in an "L" shape that has a low "heel" on the bottom to hook the wood. The vertical portion of the "L" is the handhold and should be about 2" wide and about 8" high. The horizontal portion should be roughly 6" to 8" long. The "heel" extends down from the bottom of the horizontal portion about 1/4" and is about 3/4" long. Imagine a tall, thin boot shape with a small, low heel. The push stick is used by resting the sole of the stick on top of the board being cut and with the "heel" hanging off the back edge of the board. Push sticks should always be used to push the portion of wood that is between the blade and the fence, never the piece that is outside the blade. Since the sky rocket sticks are going to be narrower than the width of the push stick (3/4"), the saw blade will cut a groove in the sole of the push stick. Therefore the push stick needs to be made of wood so as not to damage the saw blade.
SUITABLE WOOD - Any straight-grain, knot-free wood can be used for sky rocket sticks. Heavy, dense woods such as oak should be avoided, since they will add unnecessary weight to your finished sky rockets. At home improvement stores, clear pine or poplar are about the only choices available. Start with 3/4" thick boards rather than 1 1/2" thick material until you gain more experience cutting narrow strips, especially if your saw is under powered or you do not have a good, sharp saw blade. Scrap wood from old furniture such as tabletops can frequently be found being thrown out and is usually high quality, straight grain material. Watch out for nails and screws if you intend to use "recycled" wood.
Determine the length of sky rocket sticks needed and crosscut your raw boards to that length first. It is much easier to rip boards that are three feet long rather than ones eight feet long. However, do not try to rip anything less than about one foot in length. Next, switch your saw blade to a rip blade (if you have one) and set the fence to the desired width of the sky rocket stick. Set the height of the blade so that it is about 3/8" higher than the thickness of the material being cut. Spray-on saw blade lubricants are highly recommended when cutting and really make a big difference. Wearing safety glasses and a dust mask, cut the board into strips. Remember to use your new push stick tight up against the fence. After you have cut your boards into strips, the strips are rotated 90° and cut into the final square cross-section sky rocket sticks. Lower the saw blade so the teeth are just barely above the thin dimension of the strips and run the strips through the saw to produce the final product. Do not try to cut sticks thinner than about 5/16"x 5/16".
Know how to use a table saw safely before attempting this project. This is not a project for a beginner unfamiliar with the use of a table saw.
Make sure your blade is sharp and that the fence can be set accurately.
Make a push stick from good quality 3/4" plywood and understand how to use it. The project should not be attempted without a properly made push stick.
Use good quality, knot-free wood for your sticks.
At no time during the cutting process should it feel like you have to force the material through the blade.
Wear a dust mask and safety glasses.
Use a paste wax on the table saw top and fence, to help the wood glide through the cut.
Be aware of where your fingers are. Except for the hand on the push stick, your fingers should never extend past or over the edge of the blade of the saw. Do not try to pull the wood through the blade from the backside of the saw.
- Table saw
- Wood, light weight
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