WARNING AND DISCLAIMER:  If you are underage, then consult with your parents or guardians before attempting any of this.  You are on your own - I'm not responsible for your actions or harm you may bring to others because of your actions.  Making the items described below  can result in injury or death to you or people in your vicinity. Some things mentioned here may be illegal to make in your city, county, state, or country so check the laws that apply to you before you attempt anything described here. These notes are not complete on purpose. If you are reading them and new to pyrotechnics, then you are making a mistake. Stop now - this page is not for you. Get a beginning book on fireworks (see Skylighter or American Fireworks News (very quick shipping)  for a start) and read up. You can't make any of this work without more information so read up or join a club or ask someone to help you.

Making Benzolift

I've decided that Benzolift is much safer for me to make than whistle or flash and can be used as a substitute for either of them for breaking shells and making small salutes.  HOWEVER - Don't take my word for it.  You should decide if you want to use Benzolift and whether it is safe for you.

I'm not the originator of Benzolift - indeed, a couple of us have been trying to find out who it was so we can give credit. The nearest I can tell, a guy/gal named Espinella posted the formula first in 1998 but that is unconfirmed. If you know, email me (my address is on the index page - http://www.wichitabuggywhip.com/fireworks )

Here is my way of making it - hopefully, the result is both safer and more effective than previously described techniques.

BenzoLift is a relatively recent addition to the pyro's formula base. It is a vigorous burning powder that does not detonate in small batches. Benzolift can be loosely defined as an homogenous mixture of 70% whistle and 30% BP. However, the mixture is quite carefully produced so that the dangers of making a whistle mixture are reduced.

Above is 100 grams of Benzolift in a plastic tub

This is the shot - it looks worse than it was

This is the tub afterwards. It wasn't in too bad shape.

To test the 'does not detonate' claim, I decided to burn a batch of it to see if it would self-contain. The above pictures illustrate a a test of 100 grams of material -  the Benzolift simply burned with a 'whump'.  Here is a movie of 100 grams of whistle - note the near detonation and very vigorous burning: extra/100gramselfconfinetest.wmv

Note that not a lot of testing has been done with Benzolift and any numbers or results quoted (including the propensity to detonate as illustrated above) may be wrong in the general case. It is important that you follow instructions and use caution. 

Various explanations of how to make Benzolift have said you could just use BP ingredients and not have to use finished meal or ball milled BP to make it.  When I first experimented with making Benzolift this way, I had trouble with the results - the Benzolift was always poor quality. After a bit of experimenting, I think I stumbled onto a way to make very good Benzolift that is quite safe during mixing, and that can be made from scratch in about 20 minutes (not counting drying time). The trick is to mix the ingredients in stages and mix them very thoroughly. Read on!

 Use the following chemicals to make a 330 gram batch (which is plenty for most of us hobbyists). There is no dextrin in this version of Benzolift. When made according to the instructions, the grains will be quite crunchy and sturdy.

  1. Charcoal 15 grams (Skylighter airfloat works fine)
  2. Potassium Nitrate 75 grams
  3. Sulfur 10 grams
  4. Sodium Salicylate 70 grams ( you might try substituting potassium or sodium benzoate - but best results are with salicylate)
  5. Potassium Perchlorate 160 grams

Those who know pyro/chemistry know that the above chemicals could be combined into some pretty powerful mixes that would be quite dangerous. One goal in the mixing of these materials was to make the process safer. To do that, the mixture was kept very wet from the beginning right up to the last drying stage. It was so wet that there was no stage of mixing that would support ignition until after the first drying.  When mixing, be sure that each stage is complete with no 'dregs' of chemicals on the sides of the bowl or spoon. Everything should be uniformly mixed before going to the next stage.

Stage one -  mix the charcoal, potassium nitrate, and sulfur (screened to get the lumps out) into enough hot water to make a thin gravy.  The mixture should be almost the consistency of commercial tomato soup when properly prepared.  Stir this for at least 10 minutes and let sit for another five minutes or so - then stir again. The intent is to uniformly mix the ingredients - the charcoal needs to combine with the KNO3 enough to make the mix reactive when dry. The mixture should be perfectly smooth. 

Stage two - Add in the sodium salicylate. The mixture will still be soupy at first but will rapidly thicken up as the salicylate absorbs the moisture. The mixture should turn into an oatmeal-like mush. If it is thinner, that is ok. If it is thicker,  then consider adding just a bit of water. Remember, it should be oatmeal like your mom used to make -- before the oatmeal dried on the stove.

Stage three - Add in the potassium perchlorate. This will take some arm strength but you should end up with a doughy mixture that will not readily pour out of the bowl but still squeeze through your fingers like slow natives through elephant feet. It takes about five minutes of vigorous mixing to get this stage. Knead the resultant dough with your hands until it is well mixed.  I use nitrile gloves to protect my hands - you can go with naked hands but it will take a while to get clean afterwards.

Stage four - Spread the gooey mixture on an aluminum or non-sparking pan and make criss-cross marks in it with a spatula. Dry for a couple of hours. Crystallizing potassium nitrate will start to turn the outside of the mix white. Mix again when the consistency is heavy dough and get it uniformly colored.  Dry until the mix is pretty solid, screen it once or twice enough to make it uniform in color again. Dry for the final time.

During stage four, the mix will take fire after it dries the first time but it will not be vigorous. It will only be dangerous after it is dried the last time.

I wanted to relate all this because the result was some very good Benzolift and it was done without too much hassle and no ball milling.  Previous attempts to make it with green mix involved combining all the ingredients except the perc and then adding in water -  the mixing was unsatisfactory and the result was inferior in all ways.

An alternative way to make the mix - that also yields a faster and more dangerous brew:

You might have figured out that you could use lacquer thinner instead of water to make the gravy. If you do, be careful! Mix it outside since the fumes get pretty tough to handle. Dry once - do not screen more than once and only if the mix is damp with lacquer thinner. This will yield a small batch of benzolift in about 1 hour including drying time. However, it won't be as hot as you think - unless you:

 Use meal-D or ball milled BP powder instead of KNO3, charcoal and sulfur. The meal-D will makeup 30% of the mixture. For the other 70%, use whistle mix with 1% iron oxide as a catalyst. Use lacquer thinner or acetone as the wetting agent.  This will make the most powerful version of benzolift - the stuff actually whistles so you know it is honking. I use this mix as an augmentation increment for red magnalium rocket motors. It gets them ignited and off the pad in the blink of an eye. Here are the ingredients:

  1. meal-D or ball milled BP (as hot as you can make it)  100 grams
  2. Sodium Salicylate 70 grams ( you might try substituting potassium or sodium benzoate - but best results are with salicylate)
  3. Potassium Perchlorate 160 grams
  4. Iron oxide - 2.3 grams


Using variations on the 70/30 mix and the above recipes, you can make a myriad of different characteristics. However, as with almost all things in pyro, you should settle on a proven version and use that until you know it inside and out. I would suggest making the very first version a few times before branching out. Be careful - please!