Fire & Fuel

Posted on January 31, 2013 by


This article reprinted from a February, 2009 post on our former Temple of Poi blog.

By request, I’m writing this article about fuel choices and my experiences therein.

To begin, I take this excerpt from my fire safety page:

To this day, I am still incredulous about my first exposure to kerosene. When I first learned how to fire spin, I hired Tim West, a wonderful man from New Zealand who had, at the time, been working with fire for 12 years. As he was educating me about fuels, he poured out some kerosene into the dipping bucket, and held a lighter to the top of the fuel. Much to my surprise, the kerosene did not catch. His demonstration was effective because it took me a year and a half before I was willing to try other fuels!

I recommend kerosene to the beginner because there are so many ways to mis-throw your rig when you’re first starting out that you want to make the experience as safe as possible. Other fuels are less safe than kerosene. White gas, for example, could have lit. Fuels like lamp oil (paraffin) are actually fairly safe, though the flame is too blue for my taste when it is spun alone and it doesn’t offer you nearly the impact of kerosene. Aside from that, it leaves a very slippery and nasty residue on the ground which becomes slippery and dangerous.

Fire Dancing Fuel

Apart from the safety aspect of these fuels, I thought I would distinguish a few other things in this neat little table based on my personal experiences over the years — your mileage may vary, of course, though it’s nice ot have a point of reference for these things. Photo Credit: Lacy Anderson


Quality Kerosine Parafin (lamp oil) White Gas
Brightness Medium Least Most
Color Orange/white Bluest Whitest
Smokiness Most Medium Least
Odor Most Medium Least
Residue (soot) Most Most Least
Residue (spin out) Medium Most and dangerous (slippery especially on slick surfaces) Least (evaporates best)
Temperature Medium Coolest Hottest
Cost Least Most Medium
Flame Size Medium Smallest Biggest
Burn Duration Long Longest Shortest

Overall, if you don’t mind a little residue, my personal preference was for a 60-75% white gas to lamp oil mix for several years of spinning. I think it gives a longer burn without too much residue, cools down the flame which is useful for buzzsaws and interior work (especially earlier in the set) and provide a nice colored flame as well. By having more white gas than lamp oil, the light time is also a bit quicker which is important when doing multiple burns during a professional show especially and/or in cold weather. Also, with this ratio, especially on the 75% white gas end of things, there is much less possibility of lamp oil residue making the performance surface slippery.

After I really got into working with fans, I found the residue on the fans prohibitive to my practice so I switched to 100% white gas. Plus, when doing performances in Union Square and on other big stages, because of the slipperiness of lamp oil, spinning with white gas only became a requirement for the overall safety of the show.

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