What is the Safest Way to Use Flash Paper?
Despite its regular use by all types of magicians, Flash Paper is still a fire product that can be quite dangerous if used improperly. Today, we explore the safest ways to use Flash Paper.
Know What You’re Using
Before you grab some Flash Paper and light it up, it’s best to understand what’s actually in these special pieces of paper.
Flash Paper is a distinct form of Nitrocellulose, a highly-flammable chemical compound created by introducing cellulose to a strong nitrating agent like nitric acid, or some combination of nitric acid and another acid like sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid. When ignited by a lighter, match, or a candle, Flash Paper bursts into a brilliant, instant-burning flame that leaves behind no smoke or ash.
Get Comfortable First
Before you even consider implementing Flash Paper into your magic tricks, it’s essential that you feel completely comfortable with it. To do this, buy a large batch of Flash Paper and burn it all. You can even rip off small pieces and burn those before working up to a full piece of Flash Paper.
We would strongly suggest holding the Flash Paper with tongs and lighting it with a long match or grill lighter before using it in your hand. Also, avoid lighting the Flash Paper anywhere near your face and be EXTRA careful if you’re wearing hair spray or other hair products as they tend to be quite flammable. As an extra precaution, you may also choose to wear safety goggles when first starting to use Flash Paper.
Stay Outside if You Can
When burning Flash Paper, it’s always best to do so outside in a large area with minimal wind that allows you to stay distant from flammable sources like propane grills or dry shrubs.
The use of open flames indoors is becoming increasingly unpopular among building owners and property managers. Many of them have begun banning magicians from using fire products like lighters and Flash Paper all together. Do not use Flash Paper inside unless you have explicit permission to do so and are performing in a well-ventilated room far away from anything flammable such as drapes or rugs.
Don’t Get Too Close
If using Flash Paper for close-up magic like a coin trick or production, make sure to take two “extra” steps beyond what you would consider a “safe” distance from your audience. Flash Paper can tend to surprise people, and the last thing you want is for someone to be startled and flail their arms when there is an active fire in front of them.
Don’t Throw It
When first using Flash Paper, many magicians tend to “throw” the lit piece. This dangerous habit is typically caused by a gut reaction to a piece of paper burning in your hands (see above about the importance of being comfortable with Flash Paper).
The best way to use Flash Paper is to simply open the fingers as it’s lit. This allows the Flash Paper to safely burn while offering a nice, visual “climbing flame effect”.
Having a loose grip on the Flash Paper will allow you to quickly release it when you’re ready. Holding the flash paper too tightly, or for too long, may cause you to get burned. This is also why you should avoid rolling the paper into tight wads or balls.
Don’t Dry It Until You’re Ready
All Flash Products are shipped wet and should be stored this way. When you’re ready to perform, let the Flash Paper dry out in a cool, dry spot up to 24 hours ahead of time.
This drying area should be away from direct sunlight and heat sources like a radiator or oven that may cause accidental ignition. After performing, take any leftover Flash Paper and wet it with water before placing it back in storage. (NOTE: Due to the chemical composition of Flash Paper, distilled water is preferred over tap water.)
Always Test New Paper
Even if you’re completely comfortable using Flash Paper, it’s always best to light a test piece when you get a new batch. Everything from the manufacturer, to the age of the paper and how dry it is, can affect the speed at which the Flash Paper burns.
How much Flash Paper you use also makes a huge difference. Some magicians use multiple sheets for a bigger flash. However, it’s crucial to add paper in minor increments until you find out exactly how much you need for the flash you desire.
At the end of the day, there is truly no foolproof “safe” method for using a fire product. However, making a diligent effort to follow safe practices can go a long way in reducing the dangers.
No matter where you are performing with Flash Paper, there should always be an easily-accessible fire extinguisher nearby. Inform everyone you’re working with from your assistants or crew, to employees of the venue, that you intend to use Flash Paper and make them aware of the fire extinguisher’s location in case of an emergency. And never try to make your own Flash Paper, it can kill.