Troubleshooting Flash Guns
One of the first gadgets that Theatre Effects offered, the Electronic Flash Gun, remains one of our top-selling items and one of my favorites. It's not hard to understand why, either. The Flash Gun is a beautifully simple device that creates a visually stunning effect. Although the instructions for use are pretty clear, I'd like to offer a few hints to help you when things don't work as planned.
One of the most common complaints we hear from first-time users of the Flash Gun is that the paper is being ejected from the barrel without igniting. Nothing's more embarrassing that setting up an effect, only to have a wadded-up piece of paper flop onto the stage floor. The most common cause of this type of misfire is the use of too large a piece of flash cotton.
Many people mistakenly assume that it's the flash cotton that drives the paper out of the barrel of the gun -- this is not the case! The flash paper is propelled from the barrel by the gasses that build up as the paper itself starts to burn. Flash cotton is only used as a primer to get the paper burning. Too much cotton will shoot the paper out of the barrel before it's had time to ignite, resulting in a "dud" shot.
So, how much cotton should you be using? The answer is "as little as possible, yet enough to cover the glo-plug coil at the bottom of the barrel." A piece of cotton the size of a pea, or about the size of a pencil eraser, or the same amount of cotton you'd find on the end of a cotton swab, should work fine; however, you'll find that the best way to determine how much cotton you need is through practice. If at all possible, you should order your effects in time to rehearse several times before performance. Not only will this help you determine the best load for your effect, but it will also make you more comfortable with the device, creating a better overall performance.
Another common problem is the device that doesn't fire at all, or that doesn't fire consistently. There are a few causes of this problem, but the most common is a weak or dead battery. I can't stress enough the importance of using a fresh battery for every performance. Think about how much a AA battery costs you, now think about the cost to your show should your effect not work perfectly. I think you'll agree that it's worth the cost of a battery to guarantee a good show. I'm not suggesting that you throw out that battery, use it in your camera, GameBoy(tm) or in your Walkman(tm) but don't use it in the Flash Gun again.
Another possibility when the device refuses to fire is that the glo-plug has had it and needs to be replaced. (Although a glo-plug will last you a good, long time, it won't last forever. Always keep a spare on hand.)
Replacing a glo-plug is not at all a difficult procedure. First, find a comfortable place to work and spread a dark-colored towel -- you'll see why in a moment. Pull off the power connector at the rear of the barrel being careful not to lose the small white washer on the glo-plug. That washer is necessary for the operation of the flash gun but if you lose it, don't worry, there's another in the replacement glo-plug package. Carefully remove the washer and set it aside. If this is the first time you've removed the glo-plug from this device, it will be very reluctant to come out. The method I've found that works best is to grasp the barrel of the gun with a pair of pliers, and the glo-plug with another pair of pliers or a socket wrench. Once you've removed the glo-plug, simply screw in the new plug, replace the white washer and re-connect the power connector. Put a fresh battery in the device and (making sure it's not loaded first) look into the barrel of the gun. With the red button depressed, you should see the glo-plug glowing brightly. This is the sign of a happy device ready to provide you with more spectacular effects!
Theatre Effects Customer Service Department
Theatre Effects, 1810 Airport Exchange Blvd. #400, Erlanger, KY 41018
Phone: 1-800-791-7646 or 513-772-7646 Fax: 513-772-3579