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How many times have you been sitting around at home thinking - "I really need something that looks like a flickering fire from a distance...". Ok, me neither, but anyone who works in theatre probably has needed something like this at some stage (no pun intended). Plus its a really interesting project to build.


This unit gives a really nice effect with a relatively low cost. It looks really good under a cauldron at hallowe'en or anytime you need a fire on stage. You can build this with all second hand parts or you can go and buy it all from a hardware shop.


- Design

Before you start - How big does the unit need to be, and what are the viewing angles - sketch out the layout of the unit now. You need a minimum of two lamps for this to flicker. The more lamps you include the more area the unit can cover. A good medium sized unit with a good effect can usually be achieved with 5 lamps.

- Theory

Very simply, the flickering is achieved by inserting a Fluorescent Light Starter in series with each lamp. If you go and switch a fluorescent light on you will notice that it flicks a few times before it comes on. With a normal lamp this flickering just keeps going. Each lamp will flicker diferently. Color can be added with colored lamps or cellophane (thin colored crinkly plastic)

- Quick notes

THIS PROJECT INVOLVES MAINS POWER. Mains power can be fatal. It may be illegal to build this project in your area. The instructions and pictures (pend) below are for and using New Zealand Parts and power. I assume that similar products can be acquired in your country and that they work in a similar way. Don't assume that if you follow these instructions you will be safe and the project will work. (Especially if you live in NZ)

--== US If you have any tips or corrections for a specific country please add them like this ==--

What you'll need

Part QTY Link
Lamps - 25w Pigmy or Pilot lamps (DO NOT use anything brighter or the cellophane will melt and burn) 5 &nbsp
Lamp bases (We call them batten holders) 5 (1 per Lamp) &nbsp
Fluorescent light starters 5 (1 per Lamp) http://home.howstuffworks.com/question337.htm
Fluorescent light starter holders 5 (1 per Lamp) &nbsp
Wire - The same sort that you'd find in a power or extention lead should be fine. ~10 metres &nbsp
Junction Box 1 &nbsp
Screws and screw drivers lots / one &nbsp
Wood for base - Whatever you can find depends on layout &nbsp
Power lead or plug 1 &nbsp
Wirecutters / strippers 1 &nbsp
'Chocolate Block' (connector strip) OR Power Bus Strips 2 (bigish) &nbsp
Cellophane - Red and Yellow (maybe a little blue) 2 (bigish) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellophane


1. Wire the lamp base.

Strip about 2 cm / 1 inch of insulation and then strip about 1cm of each wire (positive and negative) at one end. The exact amount to strip will depend upon the connections of your lamp base.

Insert each of the wires into the appropriate connections in the lamp base. If they're a bit too long you can fold them over - I usually do this anyway to get a better connection. Do up the screws.

2. Attach the Starter Holder

There are two methods for connecting the starter holders. I'll start with the hard way.

Option 1: The Hard Way

Figure out how long you will need between the lamp and the starter. You will probably want everything screwed down so make sure that you have enough lead to reach to a logical point on the base. Strip the insulation in the middle of the length of wire just a little bit longer than the width of the holder. It should look like this:

Stripping the wire in the middle

Cut the positive wire in the middle and cut back and strip the wire so that it just fits nicely in the holder, something like this:

Connecting the starter holder in the middle of the lead

That's the hard way, but it looks really nice and professional.

Option 2: The Easy(er) Way

Cut the lead to (a little bit more than) the required length and strip the insulation from one end. (Enough that the colored wires are a little longer than the starter holder.) Cut and strip the Positive wire near the insulation, insert the holder and then strip the off cut and insert it in the other end - cut and strip both ends to the same length.

(Pictures (pend) will make this clearer...)

3. Connect the Lamps to the power source

Sources and inspiration

This is a fairly common idea - check out the rec.arts.theatre.stagecraft faq for more discussion

Further Ideas

Put the starters in a hobby box and put some plugs (IEC maybe?) on the front. Then make up some lamps with plugs and plug in as many or as few as you want. You could also plug things like christmas lights into it for a wierd effect.

You can buy some really nice effects using fans and silk which look really realistic. You can also make these...

Put fuses or circuit breakers in the project for extra safety. If you are going to use it a lot, this would be a really good idea.