Smoke Bomb Smoke Ring Launcher – SICK Science

With few simple tools, you can launch puff-perfect smoke rings from a homemade vortex generator.

You’ve seen ways to launch tiny smoke rings with small, plastic cups and shoot huge rings from a giant smoke ring launcher made out of a trash can. Here’s a way you can build a medium version with simple materials. Combine an empty plastic container with a smoke bomb and you’ll be creating swirling vortexes of smoke in a few minutes. Besides the awesome smoke rings you’ll make, you’ll gain a better understanding of how a vortex generator works.

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Experiment Materials

  • Large, empty plastic container with a lid
  • Utility knife
  • Smoke bomb
  • Lighter
  • Adult supervision

Experiment Videos



Trace and then cut out a circle of plastic from the bottom of the container. The cut doesn’t need to be perfect but the more centered and circular the hole is, the better your smoke rings will be. You could smooth and round it with a little sandpaper.


Go outside to light the smoke bomb in a safe location. Allow the smoke bomb to begin smoking.


Cover the smoke bomb with the hole in the bottom of the container. It won’t take long to fill with smoke.


Point the hole away from you and tap in the center of the lid to generate rolling smoke rings.

How Does It Work

The correct name for the air cannon, smoke-ring device is “vortex generator”. The “ring” of air that shoots out of the cannon is actually a flat, vertical section of of air. The outer edge of this moving air is rolling backwards on itself. This vortex of air is generated because the air leaving at the center of the hole is traveling faster than the air leaving around the edge of the hole. That swirling or vortex motion can be observed if a little smoke is in the container before giving the lid a tap. This activity demonstrates that air occupies space and the rolling smoke rings are an added bonus.

Take It Further

  • You can change the size of the rings by changing the size of the hole.
  • What might happen if you use a hole that’s not round?
  • The plastic lid may be too stiff to generate rings easily. A substitute might be a couple layers of plastic wrap held on and pulled snug using rubber bands.

Safety Information

Whether you choose a traditional smoke machine or the much more exciting smoke bomb technique, the rule is the same: never blow smoke into a face – either of a person or an animal! Aim the rolling rings of smoke into the air.

Also, do this activity outside or be prepared for the smoke alarms to go off. It’s always interesting to have to explain the smoke rings to the fire marshall who’s standing in your space in full fire fighting gear. Been there, done that, and don’t want to do it again.

When you’re talking science, it’s important to use correct terms and to use them correctly. The plural form of “vortex” is either vortices [vor teh sees] or vortexes. Use the one you prefer.