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The fire parasol was one of those things that kinda sat on the back burner for quite a while. It’s always been a problem getting ahold of an all-metal body for fire tools of this nature. But I never imagined how popular this tool would get. So, I never made it a real priority until there was pretty much an actual order for it.

So, like I said, the problem with most umbrella bodies is that they have plastic parts at the hub.  So, even if you’re very careful to use only small wicks and keep them far away from the hub, there’s still a good chance that they’ll heat things up enough to cause the whole assembly to fall apart in just a few uses.  This produced the need.

I got inspiration for the construction of the hub from a beach umbrella.  But it took me a while to get it all figured out. First, we had to build an 8-sided hinge. Next, it had to be all metal. Then, we played with buttons for a while, and they had two real problems. First, they are vulnerable to heat, all springs are, so they slowly fail over time. Second they require a certain kind of precision that isn’t really necessary for this tool. Ultimately, we just learned how to make them metastable, so there’s no hard stop buttons it just stays open. Now they very much resemble bamboo parasols from china.

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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.

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March Sale (?)

“Hey, I thought you guys didn’t do sales”

Yes, you’re right. As a general rule, we don’t.  But we’ feel this one is a little different.  First, it’s not really a “get this stuff out of here” kind of sale.  This has a nobler purpose: we’re supporting the NAFAA tool check day on March 31st.  The only things that are ON sale are the things we think relate to that: cut kevlar and poi grips.  You may have notice we charge a bit more for cut kevlar than for whole rolls.  Why, you may ask? Well, because there’s a little bit of labor that goes into the cutting and over the period of a roll, it adds up.  We gots to pay our little elves somehow.

As for the grips, well, there’s two things about that. 1) we don’t feel like a lot of people click down into that section as frequently as they could.  So this is a nice way to let folks know about the variety of the various grips we have in stock.  And 2) in the name of fire tool safety, we’re willing to take a little hit to have more poi spinners using fresh grips.  Really, of all the fire tools, poi grips are the biggest single point of failure, and one of the biggest sources of flying wicks.

Okay, and, yeah, we’re kinda hoping that when folks stop by for fresh grips, they’ll look at the poi section and just upgrade.  But we don’t wan to pressure.  We do want safety and that’s why just the grips (and only the safest ones) are on sale.

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The Pyrojax were one of the longest running tools in the development stage. Usually, we put something on the board and it’s off in under a year. The Pyrojax spent several years on the dev. table before we were happy with the design.

I know, they look stupid simple, and in many ways they are.  But you’ll notice they don’t look anything like their their non-fire counterparts: Astrojax.  And that’s what took so long.

By trying to come up with a design where the string went through the wicks AND had a smooth flowing action that didn’t destroy the string immediately, we hit a number of walls.  Even when we managed to get a toroidal (donut shaped) design that had a decent flow, the fire cooked the strings, ropes, wires, etc. And getting a flow that got approved by the makers of Astrojax was damn difficult.

So, the biggest issue was that circular wicks form a convection current that’s very hot on the inside.  We couldn’t get a string that was high enough heat to resist these temps yet still have a nice smooth play. That’s why the change in the design.  Just that little metal loop was enough to separate the flame enough to take the heat off the string.  But it brought us back to a design that kinda looks a lot like a bunch of other tools.  *sigh*

Another good long drink from the Cup of Get Over Yourself.  :)

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Sunhoop ring

The sunhoop ring has a long and strange story.  When we first introduced them, we tried getting local hoopers to try them. One person cut hers up in a pattern that became the Quad, one let it get damaged in a car accident, another demanded that it be destroyed, declared it “evil” and converted to hardcore christianity.  We shipped a couple.  The last one to ship ran us several times the cost of the hoop to get there.  Since most people don’t want to spend $400-500 for shipping across the country, we decided to cancel the model.

Well, years go by, and we picked up a few tricks.  Even make a Sunhoop Quad with removable spines.  This lead me to finally take a crack at Cyr wheels.  We’ve converted two wheels to fire Cyrs (look for the conversion kit on the site soon).  And that effort pulled together all the tools and tricks necessary to re-introduce the Sunhoop Ring.  Good timing too, since abuzz about them was started by a hooper on Glee.  Turns out, she might have been using one of the one’s we shipped.

So, we re-introduce them now.  First, we start with a collapsible hoop with 3 quick-connects.  This allows the hoop to break down into manageable pieces.  Next aluminum 9″ spines for light weight (don’t get me wrong, it’s still a heavy hoop, but we didn’t want to make it heavier), sufficient separation and we have managed to make them removable too.  Each bank of wicks and spines connect across the hoop breaks to the next bank making one solid wick going round.  Standard 1/4″ – 20 wing nuts connect everything together and make it ready to use.

We threw up a video of the one hooper to master the Sunhoop Ring, to our knowledge (before the Glee video).  She says the experience is pretty intense.  What you can’t see in the video is her hair lifting up from the convection updraft.  This thing gives off a LOT of heat.  Plus, there’s no where to grab the hoop that isn’t near the heat.  So, good, fire resistant clothing, gloves and wet hair are recommended.

Seriously, this thing is freaking dangerous.  Don’t take this lightly.  The video is titled “Death Hoop” for a damn good set of reasons.