Fire Twirl with Steel Wool

This video tells the story of how I made a spinning ring of fire with burning steel wool. It is video #39 of my #100videoclips project.

I’ve read and watched videos about this technique many times but never tried it. The #100videoclips project is my motivation to get all of those old “someday” projects out of the closet, and this one came to be next in line.

The Inspiration

I don’t have a particular video for inspiration, as this is primarily a photographic technique. I’ve seen lots of photographers use it, however. A quick search on flickr will get you dozens of examples.

What I Did

For the photograph, the basics of the technique are demonstrated in the video:

  1. Make a secure “cage” that you can spin and that will hold the burning steel wool.
    1. I thought using a coat hanger would work well, but as you see, it didn’t work so well.
    2. Common advice is to contain the steel wool in a wire whisk attached to a chain. I found that the bent coat hanger handle worked fine.
  2. Put a fluffy ball of very fine steel wool into the wire cage.
  3. Take it outside to a dark location free of flammables.
  4. Light it on far and make it spin!

I used about half of a standard bunch of steel wool each time, and they burned about 30 seconds. The first 10 or 15 seconds were much more dramatic than the final ones.

Of course, there are flaming sparks flying all over the place, so safety and fire prevention need to be a top concern. I found that wearing a cap was a good idea as well.

For the photographs and videos, I included in the vc039 video the camera settings that I used, but the keys are:

  • Put the camera on a tripod.
  • Pre-focus, using a flashlight on a subject at the right location.
  • Use all manual settings on the camera.
  • If working alone, set an automatic shutter timer so you have time to get in front of the camera.
  • Be prepared to experiment a number of times to get a good shot.

loops made with burning steel wool

In the shot above, I did a 60-second exposure, but the steel wool was mostly burnt out by 30 seconds. I used the last 30 seconds to walk back and forth with a flashlight in a purple plastic box, which resulted in the purple streaks in the photo.