Posted on Leave a comment

Death Stars

The Death Stars. Our biggest, baddest, poi.  As I mentioned in the write up for the Solaris poi, I was originally trying to design these  when I came up with the Solaris.  It started at Burningman, when Watermelon Dan came up and asked for something truly spectacular.  These wicks popped into my mind.  Why, you might ask.  I’ll tell you.

At the time, I had been playing with designs for several years and I had been working as a mythbuster with NAFAA at the same time.  So I was in a unique position to make, break, and diagnose fire tools.  Nafaa required me to answer questions like “do i really need to soak my wicks for an hour the first time?”  Answering that meant building fresh wicks and finding creative ways to take them apart and see what the fuel content of the inside looked like.

Two big things came from these exercises.  First, I decided then and there that I loved the cathedral design more than anything else.  The were such a b!+<# to take apart compared to the other models available at the time.  We literally had to get a high speed band saw to properly open them up.  The second thing was a fairly deep understanding of kevlars absorptivity properties.

Yes, If you really soak your wicks, the fuel will go straight to the core.  No, it only takes about 10 seconds or less on the biggest wicks we could make. “When the bubbles stop, the wick is full,” became our motto.  Also, I learned a lot more about how much kevlar it takes to do certain things, what causes flame, and what just provides time.

I won’t go into it all, but here’s the short of it.  Most people only really have about a 3 minute show in them.  Those who can perform longer are probably performing to the deeply stoned.  The average, sober audience won’t even look at supermodels doing anything for more than about 3 minutes (4-5 if they’re a favorite…and talented).  So shooting for a 20minute wick was a bit of a fools game.  Done, Step one, get about 3 minutes and don’t worry about the rest.

Next, I knew what thickness of kevlar would hold enough fuel to provide a 3 minute show.  The spikes on this star are targeted at specifically that ratio.  And finally, the fuel needs to mix with air.  There’s an ideal mixture rate, but there’s just no way to confirm that with fire tools.

In this case, we wanted a LOT more fuel than air.  Why?  Well, if you’ve ever seen a rope wick in action, you’ll notice it turns blue.  This is nearly perfect mix of fuel and air.  The flame only turns yellow or orange when enough fuel gets into the mix that can’t find air.  These flammable but unreactive particles function as soot.  When soot heats up, it releases light.  The higher the heat energy, the hotter the soot and the whiter the light.

The smoother the wick, like ropes, the harder it is for the fuel to get into the air.  less fuel means a more ideal mix and bluer flames.  But for big, nasty, yellow/white flames we needed a surface that was heavy on surface area.  More surface means more places for the fuel to jump off into the air.  Hence the “spikes” on the death stars.

So, Back to Burningman.  One year after making Dan the Solaris, he came back.  And again, he says, “I need something bigger”.  This would be about 2003.  So, back to the drawing board.  I wanted a cathedral based design that had a truly prodigious airflow, but held enough fuel for at least 2 minutes.  Fortunately, I had a lot of stuff with me: bolts and wire and a roll or two of kevlar, so I went at it.  Three blasted days later, I had a pair of death stars.

Dan lit them up.  Fortunately they were on long chains.  We had NO idea how big these flames would be.  Then he spun them and the flames almost tripled in length!  These were unreal.  And in no time at all, they were a hit.  Size queens everywhere wanted the big bad boys.

Now, a couple years later, I get told that a certain competitor has Death Stars of their own.  Well, So many things have been … acquired from our site that we’re really getting used to it.  But few have the huevos to just steal the name and all.  *sigh*  Turns out they’re selling kevlar-shelled, stuffed toys made to look like mediaeval morning-stars at almost FOUR TIMES THE PRICE!!!!  Wow.  [Facepalm]

Anyway, so, over the years, we haven’t really dared to make anything bigger than the Death Stars.  The closest we’ve come is the Helix line.  But for certain special orders, we were asked to make double-size death stars, which, really, were much to big to swing without shoulder injury.  However,  we recently discovered the wonders of 1.5″ wide wicking and started making both the Solaris and the Death Stars in “tall boy” configurations.

Tall Boys.  the idea behind this was to keep the weight the same, but reduce some of that core that holds fuel for so long.  So, same volume of wick, just 1.5″ wide and more of it, instead of the standard amount of 2″ wide wick.  For example a foot of 2″ wick is 24 square inches (2×12).  If you divide 24 by 1.5 you get 16, or basically, 16″ of 1.5″ wick is the same amount of wicking as a foot of 2″.  So, apply this to the cathedral formulas for the solaris and death stars and you get a taller version that’s the exact same weight and fuel requirements.  But the taller and skinnier profiles mean MORE FIRE with a slightly shorter burn time.

“But how are the tall boys different from the lanyard weave stuff?  Aren’t they just knock-offs?”  No.  Lanyard weave poi are NOT Cathedrals, they do NOT have a bolt running through each layer of kevlar, holding everything together.  Most lanyards have only staples running part way through the folds to hold them together.  Invariably, after much fewer spins than the tall boys, this staple gives out and they “sproing” open.  Some are even designed to open up, exposing single layers of kevlar to flame on both sides, dramatically reducing overall lifespan.  Buy them if you must, but a tall boy will last a lot longer.

Leave a Reply