reading by the fire

Bottle Up and Explode

By Darren

(Disclaimer: Be safe. Use your head. Don’t burn the forest down.)

In a previous post, I told you about the joys of bottle melting. Now I’m going to tell you about a simple way to send a cork into the next campsite.

Once again, I cannot take credit for this activity. This is another one of those Now-Why-Didn’t-I-Think-of-That?! things Steve has shown me over the years. But it’s simple, it’s fun and it’ll give you plenty of enjoyment around the campfire.

If you’re camping right, you’ll have some empty wine and/or whiskey bottles lying around your site. And unless you’ve loaded up on Manischewitz and Heaven Hill, those bottles came with corks. Did you save them? Good! Move on.

Take the cork and jab it back into the bottle as far as it will go. Unless you’re dealing with an especially stubborn cork, you should be able to force it back in there completely. Now, place the bottom of the bottle into your campfire with the neck on the edge of the fire ring so that the bottle is resting at a roughly 50-degree angle. Make sure the cork has cleared the fire ring and that there are no immediate obstacles in front of the bottle or this next part will be pointless.

As the fire heats the air inside the bottle, the pressure builds. After a minute or two, the pressure’s going to force the cork to come shooting out, firing it a distance of a good 20 or 30 feet.

Want to know what that looks like? Check this out:

Awesome, right? Want to know what it looks like when you put several bottles in the fire at once?


Before you try this yourself, here are some tips:

  • Fire off your corks before it gets too dark so you can retrieve them later. Remember what Woodsy the Owl used to say: “Give a hoot. Don’t…” Something, something…
  • Don’t let the bottle fire if the cork is on fire. Do everything you can to knock the bottle into the fire so the cork will be contained in the fire ring when it goes off. So help me god, if you set Yellowstone on fire, I’m never going to forgive you.
  • If the fire risk in your area is high, find some other way to entertain yourself.
  • Don’t point the bottle at another living thing. I know it’s tempting, but just don’t.
  • Although synthetic corks will work, I wouldn’t recommend using them. There’s a good chance they’re just going to melt before they get a chance to go off.
  • This one’s really important: Don’t wedge the cork back inside the bottle until you’re ready to shoot it off. We learned this the hard way. We got the idea that we’d save our bottles up over the winter so that when the next year’s camping season began, we’d do a “21-Cork Salute” during our first camping trip. What we didn’t take into account is that when you jam a cork back into an empty bottle and leave it there for weeks or months, the cork swells and becomes lodged in the bottle so tightly that no amount of pressure is going to push it back out. Shortly after placing such a bottle in our campfire, the bottle exploded, sending shards of hot glass in all directions. One piece of glass nicked the bridge of my nose, missing my eye by a few millimeters. I mean, if you’re going to lose your eye, that’d be a pretty awesome way to do it, but still.

You’re probably thinking, “Shooting corks sounds like a lot of fun, but is there any way to make it, I dunno. More fun?”

Yes.  Yes, there is.

Like a “MythBuster” host, the Outdoor Types are always looking for ways to take something to the next level, which is how I developed the idea of putting a small amount of lighter fluid in the bottle before re-corking it. When I say small, I mean maybe an ounce at the very most. We’ve only done this once at Death Valley because you would have to be out of your mind to attempt this in a wooded area. It went like this:

Now you’re ready to give cork firing a try yourself. Again, be creative! Have cork races. Make wagers. Go for distance. And be ready to be a source of fascination among your neighbors. On more than one occasion, the repeated Pop!-“Yay!”, Pop-“Yay!” sounds coming from our campsite have attracted the attention of nearby campers. They always head back to their own campsite inspired. I hope I have done the same for you!