My 12 year old son Thomas and I took a three hour fire eating course yesterday in downtown Oakland at The Crucible. We found it through the excellent Workshop Weekend program, which offers many interesting courses. We were the only two students and our teacher, Patricia, gave us a great introduction to both the art and science of fire eating
Warning: fire eating is dangerous and an easy way to get hurt quickly. The information below is no substitute for proper instruction (it's incomplete too!). In other words... Don't do this at home!
After a comprehensive review of safety precautions, Patricia taught us how to make our own torches. These consisted of 18" aluminum rods with a wick at one end. Interestingly, the wick is made of a 12" long strip of kevlar and held in place by kevlar string. Kevlar has high heat resistance and is reasonably absorbent so it makes for a great wick.
For our initial foray into fire eating, we used rubbing alcohol as fuel because the flame is small. Maybe so but we were still more than a little apprehensive about putting a flaming torch in our mouths!
After the first try it became a lot easier and we soon graduated to white (camping) gas
which generates much bigger and brighter flames, as the pictures below show. We quickly conquered any fears we had and became pretty comfortable eating fire.
The science behind this art wasn't what I'd expected. I'd assumed that fire eating consisted of closing your mouth around the flaming torch to deprive it of oxygen and so stop it burning. Not so. You never fully close your mouth around the torch (burnt lips anyone?) instead you close them partially and exhale to extinguish the flame.
Once our basic skills were in place we moved on to art. Patricia taught us various tricks such as flame transfers and ways to light the torches. She was particularly impressed by Thomas who, in the six years she's been teaching the class, was by far her youngest student.
All in all it was indeed a glorious adventure and one we're going to practice ourselves, safely.