After hearing much discussion of “silk flames” or “faux flames” on the
Halloween-L and HOWL2000 lists, I decided to undertake the project.
After understanding the concepts and playing with the materials, I came
to the conclusion that a flaming pot was too boring. I realized that I
could use a skull rather than a pot for the base of the flames.
My original concept was to use the bottom half of a Bucky skull (sans
jaw) and have the flames coming up out of the open skull cavity. I
wanted to use a 120Volt AC fan to simplify the prop. After some
searching, I located a 4”x4”x1 ½” fan at Radio Shack and decided to
work with that. Because of the size of the skull, I could not fit the
fan into it, so I was forced to locate a smaller one. After a visit to
2 other Radio Shack stores, I was able to locate a 3”x3”x1 ½” fan that
does fit into the skull, but with no room to spare. Being tired of
searching for parts, I decided to do the best I could with the 3” fan.
placing the fan into the skull, I realized that it protruded up out of
the top and therefore I would have to devise a way to hide the fan. I
resorted to routing a hole in the top of the skull cap with a Dremel
and placing it back on. This change made a big difference in the way
the prop looked and behaved, so some other adjustments were necessary
to get it to perform to my satisfaction.
After assembling the unit, I decided that I wanted the light to be
visible through the front of the skull. The density of the Bucky skull
prevented it from glowing the way I wanted, so I reverted to a plastic
model skull that I had lying around. The Bucky skull still works very
well and is easier to come by, so I’m using it is the basis of this
1- 4th class Bucky Skull - (Anatomical Chart Company, P/N:CS-20/4, $5.50)
1- 3" x 3" x 1 ½" 120VAC fan - (Radio Shack, P/N:273-242, $19.99)
1- C7 (Christmas) light - (Electronics Goldmine, P/N:G2121, $1.00)
1- C7 bulb, orange - (taken from string of unused lights)
1- AC Power Cord - (Electronics Goldmine, P/N:G1784, $0.56)
1 sq. ft. chicken wire - (Home Depot)
1 sq. ft. Silk Essence fabric, white - (Jo-Ann Fabrics, $2.99/yd )
1 sq. ft. Aluminum foil
Clear plastic tape
Dremel with cut-off wheel bit
Tin Snips (for cutting chicken wire)
Pliers (for assistance with bending chicken wire)
remove the skull cap. My Bucky skull cap was held on by a hook closure
and a screw. I removed both the screw and the hook closure. Next, I
removed the jaw. This part is necessary only if this suits the look you
desire. I did this for two reasons: because I like the look, and
because I wanted the angle of the bottom of the skull cavity to be less
severe. If you decide to remove the jaw, you can remove the screws that
hold the springs that keep the jaw in place and the jaw will come right
NOTE: Because of the nature of the 4th class skulls, the one you use
may differ from the one I used (it may not have closures, jaw springs,
a Dremel with a cut-off wheel, cut a hole in the top of the skull. I
marked the hole with a pencil first to make the cutting easier. The
size of the hole affects the dynamics of the flame, but adjustments can
be made to counteract this (as discussed later). I cut the hole small
enough and back far enough so that it could not be seen easily from the
front, and so that it was directly above the fan. (I tested this by
placing the fan in the skull “brain cavity”. If you are not certain of
the appropriate size, start small, because you can always make the hole
bigger if necessary.
Next, I had to “adjust “ the inside of the skull with the Dremel in
order to get the fan to seat well inside the cavity. The amount of
routing you need to do will depend on the fan and the skull that you
use. In the bottom of the Bucky skull, there was a plastic “ball joint”
where the skull connects to a spine. It was necessary to remove this
plastic, by taking out the screws that held it in place.
The Fan and Light Assembly
Because I actually cut the C7 lamp
from a string of Xmas lights, I was able to leave a bit of cord on
either side of the lamp, so I
the light in the middle of the cord between the plug and the fan. Using
electric tape, I connected the assembly and plugged it in to test it.
Next, I wrapped the cord around the fan and secured it with some craft
wire. I built a mini “reflector” for the bulb using aluminum foil. I
made the reflector small enough so that it did not interfere with the
flow of the fan. I fastened the reflector to the top of the fan with a
small piece of duct tape.
Then I affixed the lamp to the top of the fan using more craft wire so that the bulb was directly above the reflector.
I threaded the cord through the hole in the bottom of the skull and then inserted the assembly into the brain cavity.
At this point, I was really anxious to see this thing work, so I cut my
fabric pieces according to patterns on Wicked Beernut’s website.
(http://www.wickedbeernut.com/Halloween/index.htm) and taped them to
the inside of the skull cap using clear plastic tape so that the peaks
were protruding from the hole in the skull
This part involved much trial and error, and I realized soon that I
needed something to keep the fabric from both the hot bulb and the fan
blades. Before I proceeded with adjusting the flames, I stopped to
build the “safety cage”.
Using approximately one square foot of chicken
wire and the skull cap as a mold, I fashioned a cage that fit over the
fan assembly. The cage served to protect the fabric from the fan and
light and also assisted in keeping the cap on the skull during testing.
With the safety cage in place, I resumed my testing.
Going with the flow
are many factors that affect the dynamics of this unit: the size of the
fabric flames, the placement of the flames, the size of the aperture,
the shape of the skull, the output of the fan. To get the most
favorable action from the airflow, I had to use three smaller flames
rather than two larger ones. I also had to cut one of the flames
thinner and place them in an irregular pattern along the inside of the
Additionally, because this three-inch fan has half of the output (32
CFM) of the four-inch fan, I had to make the best of the airflow. Using
about one square foot of aluminum foil, I covered the cage.
one at a time, I punched holes in the foil using the gaps in the
chicken wire as a guide. This gave me the “baffles” that assist in
creating the vortex that moves the fabric in a realistic fashion. It
also helped to concentrate the airflow on the aperture. To make the
small adjustments, I would punch one hole, test the unit, punch another
hole and test, etc. until I got the desired effect.
Below is the finished project.
NOTE: For the purposes of testing and demonstration, I used clear
plastic tape to hold the cap (lid) on the skull. I intend to use a more
secure (and still undetermined) method of fastening the cap to the
skull, while still allowing easy access to the electrical components.