Hey, Baby! Wanna Woof?

Fun with backyard pyrotechnics
Fun with backyard pyrotechnics

I’m not talking about barking, but I’m also not sure the groovy pastime I’m about to describe is actually spelled “woofing.” That’s what the word sounded like when I first heard it back in 1990, but I’ve never seen it written down. I just spent twenty minutes or so clicking all over various search engines, but all I’ve found is a couple million pages about dogs and people who look like them. I tried “whuffing” and “whoofing,” which did at least turn up some references to fire, but also led me to “huffing,” which is definitely not the direction I wanted to go.

While I find it impossible to believe that no one has described or demonstrated the art I call woofing on the Web yet, I also can’t find any pages or videos of people sitting around in the dark with a glass Sparkletts bottle, a fifth of 151-proof rum, a yard of aquarium tubing, and a large supply of matches. If that’s really true, it’s my obligation to rectify the situation. Woofing is fun, legal, and not necessarily dangerous.

First, you have to get your hands on one of those old glass five-gallon Sparkletts bottles. (Please don’t try this with a plastic one.) Then get a yard or so of plastic aquarium tubing, a bottle of 151-proof rum or 90% isopropyl alcohol, plenty of matches, some friends to impress, and wait until dark.

Ready to woof: Sparkletts bottle, plastic tubing, 151-proof rum, plenty of matches, and operational lungs
Ready to woof: Sparkletts bottle, plastic tubing, 151-proof rum, plenty of matches, and operational lungs

Ready? Pour a jigger or two of the alcohol into the Sparkletts bottle. Swirl it around to coat the sides. Insert one end of the tubing into the bottle. Blow into the other end to add oxygen. Strike a match and drop it into the bottle. If you’re lucky and the mixture of air and alcohol is right, you’ll achieve your first woof. If you aren’t lucky, don’t be discouraged. Keep swirling the alcohol around, adding oxygen, and tossing matches in. Eventually, you’ll find out why woofing got its name, and you’ll also see why you shouldn’t put your face too close to the neck of the bottle when you drop in a lighted match.

Once you’ve achieved a good woof, you need to add oxygen. Three lungfuls is usually enough for a five-gallon bottle, but you’ll have to experiment. Things definitely get more exciting as the bottle warms up.

Maybe someday I’ll have a video to share, but for now, the accompanying photos are all I’ve got to give you an idea of how much incendiary fun you can have with a few inexpensive ingredients. Not only will you delight all your pyromaniac friends, you’ll also entertain those who enjoy making jokes about “big bongs.”

Click on the images below to get an idea of how pretty a good woof can be:

Comments

19 responses on “Hey, Baby! Wanna Woof?

  1. I’m a bit of a Whuff Master — but I spell the practice of creating barely controlled explosions — in a glass bottle — siting directly in front of me — “W-h-u-f-f-i-n-g” because of the unique whuff sounds these sometimes controlled explosions make…

    Here’s a slightly more technical explanation of the science of “whuffing”. This is from a support blog about wood stoves, but the underlying theory is the same:
    “…If you cut down the supply of air too abruptly, the fire instantly consumes the available oxygen, creating a powerful vacuum inside the stove. If strong enough, this vacuum can reverse the flow inside the chimney, pulling a “gulp” of air back down the flue into the firebox. When this pocket of air hits the fire, a mini-explosion occurs, and the resulting sudden extreme pressurization inside the firebox forces smoke out through the draft control, door gasketing and other tiny openings that exist in even the most “airtight” woodstoves. This brief period of pressurization is followed immediately by extreme depressurization (because the explosion consumes all the available oxygen in the firebox), and another gulp of air can be pulled down the chimney, causing the process to repeat. We call this “whuffing”, due to the accompanying sound of muffled explosions. In extreme cases, these repeated explosions can cause the stove to actually dance around on the hearth!…” More information from the Chimney Sweep site here.

    Mark

  2. For the “Barking Dogs” experiment, I notice the first items listed under “materials” are “lab coat, heavy rubber gloves, and approved safety goggles.” I understand the gloves and goggles, but… lab coat? Is it *required* that you look like a mad scientist when you play with fire?

  3. Kudos to Manny Mendoza for locating and saving our current Whuffing Bottle. Glass “Sparklets bottles” are an artifact of the past. Nearly all such water bottles are now made of plastic. A plastic whuffing container would concern me a bit…

  4. Eric — I don’t have a good video camera, but woofing is definitely a good candidate for a short subject. The colors are great, and the sound’s nice, too. And if we wore lab coats…

  5. I had no idea that my life had been so sheltered from scientific experiments.

    I am not sure I’ll add this to my list of things to do before I die (the thought of the shipping costs likely to be demanded by an Ebay seller for such a large glass bottle scare me), but I will concede that this would be one of the more unusual items on the list.

  6. To the best of my knowledge, woofing was originated by Susan & Jan Nikolai of San Diego. But the fuel they used was genuine woof juice. An offer by a chemist (not Al!) for some more potent brew was turned down in the interest of safety. An attempt to import the practice to Beverly Hills did not receive much interest, however.

  7. Thanks for adding the history, Tom! Do you know what the ingredients of “woof juice” are? The dude in the pic above is a chemist – he didn’t seem to be too nervous about sitting close to the bottle. I, however, almost lost my eyebrows by getting my face too close to the top of the bottle when I tossed in a match. I no longer get close to any of this stuff. Being a voyeur is enough for me.

  8. I found that impurities in alcohol bring out richer colors and effects — but we’re going to have to experiment to reproduce some of the most vivid colors we created back in the early 1990’s in Pasadena!

  9. By the way, I know the term “woofing” goes back farther than the Nikolais. When I told my father about it, he told me about doing it back in the early ’40s. His “woof juice” was whiskey. He had only done it it with regular-sized bottles, though. The 5-gallon carboy is a brilliant innovation — maybe we have the Nikolais to thank for that.

  10. Thanks, Jay! I wa surprised by how well the images came out, too. Tiny lens and no tripod… what were the odds? I got quite a few totally black frames, so I’m glad I kept shooting.

  11. Next time I think we should bring our big glass bottle to the party. The shape might be different enough to affect the flames. Too bad these are still photos. The creepy crawly effect of the flame is totally rad!

  12. Oh, and in case it wasn’t obvious, one should remove the plastic tubing from the bottle before dropping the match in. The very first time alcohol is added you don’t need to also add air — in fact, the alcohol tends to conflagrate rather vigorously and may produce a very loud noise with shooting flame. That might be what many people are trying to accomplish with woofing, but personally, I prefer the soft burning and fascinating slow flame front characteristic of subsequent woofs resulting from about three lungfuls of air blown into the five-gallon bottle. The video is brilliant, even if rotating the movie changed the aspect ratio and “squished” the five-gallon bottle.

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