How to Make an Emergency Flare Canister

How to Make an Emergency Flare Canister

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One of the least-talked about aspects of being stranded or lost is how to attract the right kind of attention and get rescued.  People have died waiting to get rescued even though they notified contacts of their general location to alert authorities.  The most common reasons these tragedies occur are when a person went off-course or they weren’t able to get the attention of rescuers who were in the general area.  This is why signaling is so important, and you can never have enough tools at your disposal to direct help to your location.

Flares are one of the best solutions to have.  You can make your own out of some common material, take them with you, and have them at your disposal when necessary.  While you won’t be able to launch them into the air, they can burn bright and generate smoke from the ground. 

Required Material

Cardboard wooden match box

Good supply of sparklers

Plastic or PVC pipe

Zip ties

Electrical tape

Steel wire


Preparing the Material

The first step is to take the tube and cut two holes on opposite sides near the top.  You will stick some matches through it later in order to support the ignition system.  Next, peel off a 4-6 inch long strip of electrical tape and place it on the table with the sticky side facing up.  Place 5 wooden matches next to each other horizontally near the bottom section of the tape.  Leave about a ½ to ¾ inch of space before the end.  Next, take one of your sparklers and place it across the bottom edge of the tape.  Make sure the tip of head of the sparkler is resting about ¼ inch above the match heads.  Roll the tape and sparkler across the matches until they all get wrapped across the sparkler.

Next, take your steel wire and bend it into a pull-ring for the ignition mechanism.  Make it big enough for your finger, but small enough to be secure.  Cut off the striking surface of the matchbox.  Trim it so that all you have is an inch-long strip of the abrasive material.  Fold it in half so the two coarse sides face each other and then slide it over the bottom of the ring.  Tape it in place with a small strip that you secure the top of the material to the ring.  You want the bottom section to be open in order to fit over the match bundle.

Slide the ring and strike pad over the top of the match bundle until the heads are seated as close to ring as possible.  Take the zip-tie and wrap it around the center of the bundle and pull tight to secure it in place.  You want it tight enough that the matches will ignite when you pull the strike pad off, but you don’t want it too tight that it tears off the match heads as you pull the ring.  Tinker around and make a couple of test-runs until you find the right amount of tension.  You can also use the electrical tape instead of the zip-tie if you are able to pull it tight enough. 

Preparing the Sparklers

Take a handful of sparklers and shave the material off of the sticks.  Grind the pieces down as necessary in order to turn the material into a coarse powder.  Use enough sparkler material to fill the pipe or plastic tube about two thirds of the way up.  Pour the powder into the cylinder.  Next, insert the ignition system so that the top of the sparkler is resting just below the edge of the cylinder.  Pack as much tissue or paper towels as you can into the cylinder around the bundle, pushing down and compacting until you’ve reached the top.  Seal the top with electrical tape, but make sure to avoid taping down the pull tab.  Wrap the rest of the cylinder with tape once or twice and you’re good to go.

The extra tape will provide you with a couple of seconds of heat-protection if you are holding the canister before lobbing it somewhere.  It can also slow the burn rate of the material as well.  Keep in mind that the duration and intensity of the flare will depend on how much sparkler material you have, the size of the canister and the density of the paper pack.  You can experiment and scale up or down as necessary.  However, try to aim for a canister that will produce close to a minute of burn time.

You can also use some paper towel or toilet paper rolls instead of the plastic tubing.  However, they will get hot and burn very quickly, so you want to make sure that you ignite the signal without having to hold it in your hand for more than a couple of seconds.

Flares are something that you definitely want in your bug out bag, and this is another example of the benefits of having some sparkler material on hand as well.  Try this project out for yourself, and feel free to improvise in order to create a batch of flares that will suit your particular needs.

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