The two main types are LYCOPODIUM POWDER and CUSTARD POWDER, and they are used for fire-breathing. Some magicians also use lycopodium for small flashes and fire effects. Lycopodium, which produces the brightest flame, is the spore of club moss, and resembles a fine yellow powder. Custard powder is the stuff you find in the market. Either can be blown into a cloud and lighted into a ball of flame. Powdered milk works too. The usual procedure with lycopodium is to hold a small amount in a tube which you blow through and light. (MSDS on Lycopodium is not very informative: it kills frogs at 6 gm/kg -- the equivalent dose for a 150-pound human is about nine pounds.) With custard, I’ve been told that you take a deep breath, pour a quantity into your mouth, and spray into a torch. Blowing through a tube would probably work too. As with all fire-breathing, the best way to learn how is directly from an expert.
The fire hazards of powder are obviously much less severe than those of liquid fuel. I haven’t heard of serious physical or medical injuries, though one user claims that lycopodium is poisonous. I have heard reports of asthma attacks by people with pre-existing conditions. I do know that prolonged breathing of coal dust gets you black lung disease and prolonged breathing of bakery flour gets you white lung disease, both of which are debilitating or fatal (as well as explosive). And I have too much imagination (and I’ve read too much science fiction) to be comfortable with putting any amount of a vegetable spore in my lungs, so I’ve never tried it. And I can’t stand the taste of custard. Lycopodium can be purchased through magic supply stores and in some pharmacies.
Magicians commonly use flash paper, flash cotton, or flash string to produce bright flashes of fire. These are all forms of nitrocellulose and are extremely dangerous. When not in use, all flash products should be stored in water in a sealed plastic bag, and locked in a fireproof box. Dry out only what you are going to use within 24 hours. Making your own flash stuff is exactly as safe as making your own dynamite, and there are a surprising number of fingerless ex-magicians who can tell you about it. Of course you can’t juggle flash paper, but you can fire it out of a “hand cannon” or from an electronically controlled pyro cannon or flash pot. Rock musicians do this all the time. They also have licensed pyro technicians do it for them because they are just entertainers, and not really suicidal maniacs.
Copyright © 1998 by Eric Bagai.
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