Flash Pots II
In previous articles, I've compared making special effects to cooking. Expanding that analogy, I'd have to say that the flash pot is very much like a good frying pan. That is to say, it's an essential component that can be useful in a wide variety of situations; one that will, if cared for properly, provide many years of use.
I realize that when many people think about a flash pot, they immediately think of flash powder and the effect it creates. There are, however, many other uses for your flash pot, on stage and off! The first "alternate use" that most flash pot owners attempt is burning colored smoke powder. Smoke powder is a slow-burning powder that produces thick clouds of colored smoke, as compared to the white smoke that a flash powder charge creates. While smoke power may seem very similar to flash powder, it creates its effect differently and must therefore be handled differently.
As I just said, smoke powder burns much more slowly than flash powder. While a flash powder charge will be entirely consumed less than a second after the igniter is sparked, smoke powder will burn for a second or two before it even begins to make smoke, and will continue to burn for several seconds more. What this means to you as a user is that you'll have to time the firing of the pot so that the smoke is at its thickest just when you need it.
There are three things you can do to ensure you get the best smoke effect possible. First, order enough product at an early enough date that you can rehearse with it several times before your performance. You wouldn't expect your actors to give a five-star performance without rehearsal, so why should you expect it of your special effects?
Second, make detailed notes of your rehearsal including how much powder you used, what sort of igniter, how much smoke was produced and how long the powder burned before it produced enough smoke for your effect. Through rehearsal, you'll find the best effect for your needs and, by using your notes, you'll then be able to re-create that effect whenever you need it.
The third thing that you can do to ensure a great-looking smoke effect is to contain the powder inside a nest of slow cotton or flash paper. Either of these two products will ensure that flame spreads evenly across the surface of the powder, which increases the amount of powder that actually burns.
No matter what you're burning in your flash pot, you should take a few simple steps to make sure it's in good working order. After you've fired your flash pot a few times, you'll probably notice a build-up of ash in the powder chamber. Normally, this ash won't do anything other than make your flash pot look used but there is a chance that some unburned powder may still be left over, just waiting for your next shot. I've found that this is especially true of Electric Sparkle Additive, which seems capable of popping up again in shots long after you've forgotten that you ever used it. To prevent these unexpected "bonus ingredients" from changing your effects, you should clean the powder chamber of your flash pot periodically, at the very least between shows.
There are many more uses for the flash pot that I hope to cover in future articles. In the meantime, keep your pots clean, and your powder dry!
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