Free 1979 Manual






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About the manual

This is a manual that explains in detail how to make model rocket engines at home using homemade black powder.  I experimented for months (actually years, starting in about 1963 -- see "History" link below) in developing a method to make model rocket engines myself at home instead of buying commercial model rocket engines.  After completing the manual early in 1979, I started selling it through a classified add in Popular Science magazine (this was long before internet).  The brief add went something like this: "Home built model rocket engines.  For more information send SASE to:" and the address. An eight page brochure was then returned explaining more about the manual and an order form.  The manual was first sold for $4.50 but was soon raised to $7.95.  It was originally 40 pages (not counting the cover, title page, and contents page) but four pages of updated material were added at the end in December of 1979.

Note:  I know that what propels most amateur rockets is a motor, not an engine but at the time I wrote the manual, I hadn't thought about the distinction.

Copycats, Technique Thieves or Inevitable Evolution

As I obtain other manuals and books from different people and surf the internet for information about homemade rocket engines, I find that a lot of my techniques are showing up in other people's writings.  I can't help but wonder how many actually had a copy of this manual or got the information from others who did.  My ego would like to think that I was the first and developed the techniques first.  Then I come back to reality.  The techniques I ended up using or very similar techniques would be the inevitable outcome of anyone experimenting the same way I did.  I imagine that others came up with similar things even before me but at that time, information was just not as readily available as it is now with internet and I was never able to find that kind of information or locate people doing similar experimentation.  So, sadly, I will have to give up my ego trip and not claim to be the originator, just an independent experimenter.

Updated Pages

The updated material actually brought it up to methods still used today by most people making black powder engines today. The big changes were:

  • Sodium silicate used instead of white glue for making the casings.  This was a huge improvement because it made the casings strong enough that the outside containment portion of the mold was no longer necessary.  Actually, this is the one technique not commonly used by others as far as I can determine).

  • Dry clay was used instead of choking the casing or using wet clay.  Most people today know that dry clay can be rammed in a casing to form a good nozzle but that information was not readily available back then.  I discovered this myself just through experimenting.

  • Commercial air-floated charcoal was used instead of charcoal made from charcoal briquettes.  The briquette charcoal required a formula of 68% KNO3, 20% charcoal, 12% sulfur.  This was due mainly to the additives (binders, etc.) in the briquettes.  After finding a source for the air-floated charcoal, the standard 75-15-10 ratio could be used and created a more powerful black powder.

Tools required

I was a young engineer with a family in 1979 and didn't have a lot of money (still don't).  I grew up on a farm and so had access to my father's shop at the time which included an acetylene torch, arc welder, drill press, grinder, and hand tools but that is all.  A lathe was just a dream.  The piercers (that is what they were called at the turn of the century -- 1900) were made from steel rod chucked in the drill press and were tapered by using the 7" hand power grinder.  It was not an accurate method and was pretty tedious.   Nevertheless, the final results after all the experimenting were pretty reliable rocket motors.

What is obsolete?

This was written 29 years ago and the manual itself as offered here has not been changed or updated (see What Now for current info).  So obviously the suppliers listed are almost for sure out of business.  The books referenced are probably all out of print and nearly impossible to get.  It would be nice if the prices listed in the appendices for the supplies and cost to make the engines were still the same today but again, obviously time has moved on and prices have moved up.  Other than that, if you go by the updated pages, the information is for the most part just as applicable today as it was then.

Crude drawings?

You may be critical of the drawings and the quality of the manual as a whole.  First, I am providing this free so don't look a gift horse in the mouth.  This manual was created not only before internet but before personal computers.  It was still the era of the IBM 360 main frame and punch cards (younger people won't even know what those were).  So this was done before CAD (computer aided design) was even thought of.  The drawings were done by hand (I'm not an artist, I am a mechanical engineer) with ink on vellum.  The text was typed by my sister-in-law who had access to an IBM Selectric typewriter that produced very nice crisp clean print for the originals and I glued in the ink drawings.  I had the manuals printed by a print shop but the finished product was still not that great.  And now I took those originals (I save everything forever) and scanned the pages.  To keep the file size down, I used B/W which degraded the original drawings. OCR was used to convert the scanned text to electronic text rather than images.  The recreation of the manual to electronic format is therefore not perfect and you will probably find OCR errors that I didn't catch.

NOTE: You may view, download, print, give copies away in any format but you may NOT PUT THIS MANUAL ON ANY OTHER WEBSITE or sell it without written permission from the author (me) (not that anyone would want to).  Thanks for your cooperation.

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The impulse recorder

The brochure.  This is not the format that was originally sent out.  The pictures, graph, and order form were scanned and the text was retyped.  It was all then reassembled into html format for this web site in a reasonable facsimile of the original except that the original was black and white.  I still had the original color pictures that were used to make the B&W brochure so used those.  They scanned much better than the black and white version.  NOTE: I haven't lived at the address in the brochure for more than 20 years so don't try using that address.  If you want to contact me... contact me.

History of my development of rocket engines. (to be added)

Making Model Rocket Engines Today.  Making your own rocket engines today is much more common than back in 1979 but it has been an outgrowth more of Large Scale Rocketry and is called Experimental Rocketry or Amateur Experimental Rocketry (AER).  Actually it has been renamed "Research Rocketry" by the national organization Tripoli which is one of two organizations, the other being NAR (National Association of Rocketry).  Tripoli actually sanctions rocketry with home made motors but you have to have a level II certification to fly them at sanctioned Tripoli launches.  I have a complete section on this web site now about experimental rocketry.  Click on the Experimental Rocketry link below to go there.

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