El Cheapo Sugar Rockets

New to rocket making? Here's the perfect rocket project for you to start with. It uses basic rocket tooling that you can make in a few minutes at home.

These sugar bottle rockets were invetnted by Dave Sleeter. He wrote a big book on making rockets so he knows a thing or two.

Making the propellant

Here's the fuel for the Sleeter Sugar Rocket.

Sleeter Sugar Rocket Fuel

  • Potassium Nitrate – 63
  • Sugar – 27
  • Sulfur* – 10

*You can use a pinch of red iron oxide in place of the sulfur.

All parts by weight

Grind each chemical separately, fluffy fine using a coffee mill.

Then weigh each of the chemicals into a small plastic container which has a tight fitting lid. Put the cap on the container. Shake the chemicals in the container vigorously for about 3 minutes. Pour the chemical mixture though a 20 mesh screen pr kitchen strainer to break up any lumps. Then put then back into the container, shake some more, and repeat the shaking-screening process 3 times.

The finished propellant will be a pale yellow colored powder.

Note: This particular mixture of chemicals can absorb moisture out of the air. Keep the lid on. It can be stored indefinitely.

Making the Casings

Now you need to find or make a parallel tube that is 1/4-inch inside diameter x 2-inches long. Tubes this small are very easy to roll using gummed paper tape or even strips cut from a grocery bag, glued with a little white Elmer 's or even a glue-stick.

To roll your own, first get a 1/4-inch diameter x 4-inch long wooden dowel. To make sure the tubes do not stick to the dowel, wrap a piece of clear plastic packing tape around the dowel. This will give you a nice smooth surface.

Cut a strip of gummed paper tape or brown kraft paper from a grocery bag about 10 inches long x 2 inches wide and lay it on a smooth, flat surface.

If you 're using gummed paper tape:

Using a slightly damp sponge, moisten the tape except for the last inch. Starting at the dry end, roll the gummed paper tape strip around the dowel, trying to keep the edges nice and square.

If you 're using strips of paper cut from a grocery bag:

Apply a very thin layer of glue to the paper strip, leaving the last inch dry. Starting with the dry end, roll the paper tightly around the dowel, trying to keep the edges nice and square.

It may take a little practice. But if the tape/paper is not too damp, the tube should hold together and stay rolled up right away. If it doesn 't a little piece of scotch tape can keep it together while it dries. Allow a day to dry.

Making the Rockets

If you were to simply load this propellant into a cardboard tube with a hole in one end, it would burn too slowly to allow a rocket to fly. To get this slow-burning fuel to propel your device into the air, you need to get the powder to burn must faster. And you do that by making a core through the middle of the propellant in the tube. Such rockets are called “core-burners.” They are perfect for slow-burning, homemade propellants.

You have two simple options for making your rockets. Either you can ram them solid with fuel and drill though the nozzle to create a core. Or you can make a simple rocket tool and form the fuel around a hollow core.

How to Make Simple Rocket Tooling

Homemade sugar rocket tooling

To make the tooling get a 3/32-inch thick finishing nail that is 2.25-Inches long.

Cut a 2×2-inch square of 3/8-inch plywood. Drill a 1/4-inch hole though the center. Now cut a 3/4-inch length of 1/4 inch dowel. Very carefully drill a 3/32ths hole right down through the center of this little dowel. This will hold the spindle dead center in your tube so it 's important that the hole is straight and centered. Now glue the dowel into the hole you drilled in the plywood base. Finally, tap the nail though this hole.

Assembling homemade sugar rocket tooling
Assembling 2×2 Plywood Base, Hollow Dowel for Nozzle, and Finishing Nail Spindle

We will also need two rammers: a solid rammer and a hollow rammer.

Cut two 4-inch lengths of 1/4-inch dowel. In one of the dowels drill a 1/8-inch hole about 2-inches deep–again dead center. If you have access to a drill press and vise this is a pretty simple procedure. But even if you don 't, after a couple of careful tries you should get it right.

Homemade sugar rocket hollow and solid rammers
Solid and Hollow Wooden Rammers

Ramming the Engines

Place a rocket tube onto your homemade rocket tooling. Add 1/8 teaspoon of dry bentonite clay. You can make a simple funnel using a piece of paper. Using your hollow rammer, give a few firm taps with a hammer to pack the clay tightly.

Next, repeat the ramming steps using the hollow rammer to pack rocket fuel until the spindle nail is completely covered. Once the fuel is above the spindle, then add another 1/8 teaspoon of clay to form a bulkhead.

The easiest way to fly one of these little rockets is to simply glue or tape it onto the end of a stick. Bamboo skewers make great rocket sticks. Because the core on these little rockets is so small you will need to use thin fuse to ignite them. Cut a 5 inch piece of cross-match or other thin Visco. Insert it all the way up into the core, then tape the fuse to the stick using a small bit of tape.

Insert your rocket into a launch tube and let ‘er fly.

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