How to Make a Water Bottle Rocket a Step-by-stem guide for making a water powered rocket from a soda bottle


In order to build a bottle rocket several items must be acquired. The most important item is a two-liter soda bottle. Just go to a store and buy any brand soda that you want, or better yet, the bottle that looks the best to you. This soda bottle will serve as the body of the rocket. You will also need a piece of 3/32" balsa wood for the fins. Other materials include a rubber based cement and a manila folder is needed for the nose cone. You are now ready to construct your bottle rocket

fig 1. The Water Bottle Rocket
fig 2. The Water Bottle Rocket Launch Pad



Building the bottle rocket may look and sound complicated, but it is not. The first and most important step in rocket construction is to empty the bottle of its contents. After that is done just follow the steps listed below. Happy drinking!

  1. Remove the label from the outside of the bottle. Take a cloth and some paint thinner to remove the sticky portion of the label. This may take a while and a lot of rubbing.
  2. Decide how many fins you would like. Four fins are easier than three, but if done correctly either way works well. The fin shape is also up to you. See the diagram for the easiest fin shape. Next, trace the fin design out on the balsa wood sheet and cut the desired number of fins out from the sheet. Make sure that the grain of the wood is running parallel to the leading or trailing edge of the fin. If this is not done, the fin may rip apart in mid flight. Lightly sand the fins so they become smooth.
  3. Now, it is time to mount the fins onto the rocket. Take a piece of paper and wrap it around the lower portion of the bottle (near the opening end). Mark the circumference of the bottle where the piece of paper overlaps its self. Remove the paper and measure the distance to the mark that was just made. This will tell you the circumference of the bottle. If you are planning 4 fins, divide the circumference by 4. Use this number to divide the piece of paper into four equal sections and mark the sections. If you are planning for 3 fins, use the same process, but this time divide the piece of paper into 3 sections. Wrap the piece of paper around the bottle as before and secure it with a piece of tape. Take a felt marker and transfer the section marks on the paper to the bottle. These marks designate where the fins are to be placed. Make sure everything is perfectly even, or the rocket will not fly well.
  4. Next, take a straight edge (ruler) and draw a line through the mark that was made so you will have a guide-line for fin mounting. Apply a rubber-based cement to the fins, carefully aligning the fins with the straight lines you have just drawn. Press the fins down onto the bottle and use a piece of tape on either side of the fins in order to keep them straight while the glue sets. It is best if only one fin is done at a time and the fin is kept vertical until the glue has set. Make sure all of the fins are perfectly straight.
  5. The final step is to cut the manila folder into a cone so that it will fit over the top of the bottle rocket. This will be the nose cone. Cement the nose cone to the top of the rocket. If you wish, a parachute can be added.

The rocket is now finished. Make sure all glues have dried completely and the fins a securely attached to the rocket before it is flown.

The launcher

Before the rocket can be flown, a launching device needs to be built.

  1. Cut two 2x4 blocks. These blocks should be about six inches long.
  2. Cut a 1/2 or 3/4 inch thick piece of wood so that it is about 1 and 12 feet long and six inches wide.
  3. Using wood screws, screw the 2x4 blocks into the ends of the 1/2 or 3/4 inch thick wood.
  4. Take a standard electrical "knock-out" junction box and screw it into the middle of the wood base that was just constructed.
  5. Drill a hole into the bottom of the junction box and the wood base so that a #4 test tube stopper with a hole in it will fit.
  6. Cut a piece of copper tubing and fit it snuggly into the hole in the test tube stopper.
  7. Using a hose clamp, secure the copper tubing to the hose going to the air pump.
  8. Bend a piece of 1/8" or3/16" steel into a "U" shape "pull pin" and fit it into the holes on the junction box. Tie a long piece of string to the pull pin.
  9. Drill a hole on one side of the launcher so a rain gutter nail (a very long nail) can fit through. This will be the device that secures the launcher to the ground.


Flying the Bottle Rocket

Now that your rocket your rocket and launcher are built, it is time to fly. Flying bottle rockets is a lot of fun, but you must take safety precautions because it could be dangerous. Before the rocket is even put on the launch pad, make sure that the fins are on securely. When launching the rocket, make sure that all people, in the area that you are launching the rocket, know that a rocket is about to be launched. When pressurizing the bottle, do not stand over it; the rockets leave the launch pad at speeds over 100 mph. Count down before you pull the pin and stand back at least ten feet from the pad. Keep your eyes on the rocket while it is flying to make sure that the rocket does not hit somebody while it is falling back to earth.


Preparing the Rocket for Flight

To fly the rocket, you are going to have to put water into the bottle so it will work properly. After putting some water (2 - 3 cups) into the bottle, place it onto the launch pad and slide the pull pin over the flanges on the nozzle. Then, Turn on the air compressor and pressurize the rocket. For the first flight, we recommend that you only pressurize to about 45 psi (pounds per square inch). After the first flight, we recommend that you do not go past 75 psi, otherwise you may risk the possibility of the bottle exploding. 75 psi will make the bottle rocket fly very high and very fast.


Launching the Rocket

Make sure everybody is aware a rocket is going to be fired. Then count down from five so that everybody can hear. After one is reached, give a firm pull on the pull-pin line and watch your rocket fly high. Do this as many times as you want or until something is damaged.

Happy Flying!