FAQ

Ordering

Procedure

Just drop me a line and tell me what you want. For custom-sized items like chains and finger-wands, please tell me the size you want.

Payment arrangements

I can accept checks or money orders through regular mail (contact me for my mailing address), and I am also signed up with Paypal to accept credit-card payments. In most cases, I will ship your order the day after I receive your payment.

I accept international orders gladly. There are a few options for international payments: 1. In some countries, you can purchase an International Postal Money Order at the post office and mail that to me; 2. Travellers Cheques are another option—these are available from American Express and some banks; 3. Credit-card payments via Paypal; 4. Western Union (expensive and inconvenient, but fast).

Shipping

I will ship anywhere that has mail service. Normal shipments within the USA are by first-class mail, and costs $7 for most orders; if you want your order shipped faster or by other means, let me know and we’ll work something out.

I do ship internationally, usually through the mail using small-packet service. Postage will be calculated separately for each order. Please note that international shipping on staves will be extremely expensive (probably more than the staff itself).

Options and sizing

Chains

Chain length is entirely a matter of personal preference, but here’s a way to calculate a practical maximum length: Hold your arm straight in front of you, hand outstretched. Have a friend measure the distance from the base of your middle finger back to your chest. This is the total clearance you have for inside moves. To get the maximum chain length, take this number, and subtract the following:

  • 3″ for grip overhang.
  • The wick height: about 4″ for standard-size interleave wicks.
  • another 2″-3″ for attachment hardware and safety margin.

Again, this is a just a recommended starting-point. There is no rule that any particular length is better, and some of the best twirlers use much shorter or longer chains. And some people like to have two pairs of chains in different lengths for different styles. As a point of reference, I am 5’9″/175 cm and my chains are 14″/35 cm—these are slightly on the long side going by my own rules.

If you are getting ball-chain, I can ship it semi-finished cut to a length of 18″ (longer than most people use), with only one of the connectors permanently affixed. This permits you to experiment in order to find the right length and then lock it down (you will need pliers and a wire-cutter). Because of the special tools required for working with cables, I can’t offer this option with cables.

See also wick options, following.

Interleave wicks

You can choose to have your wicks made larger or smaller than the standard size (this may add a day or two to your order, and incur a slight extra charge for larger wicks).

You can opt to have quick-links built into the wicks in place of the attachment ring. This eliminates some weight, and cuts out about 1″ of overall poi length (unless you get longer chains). Pricing for this is the same as pricing for wicks plus quicklinks ($27 for standard, $25 for small wicks).

A more drastic option is integrated wick-and-chain (or wick-and-cable) combinations. This eliminates the attachment ring and quick-link, or about one ounce of weight (doesn’t sound like much, but is immediately noticeable, and eliminates a chief source of burns). This means that you will not be able to remove your wicks from the chains, or easily attach anything else to the chains. Due to the slightly more time-consuming construction, pricing for this is slightly more than chain+wick separately: $38 for standard wicks.

Wicks can be ordered with an attachment ring on the bottom, for hooking up double-wicks. I strongly discourage this except for wicks that will be used exclusively as double wicks, otherwise, you will have a big, hot ring of metal hanging off the bottom of your wicks, there to burn you. No added charge. A better approach to double-wicks is to order them as an integrated set. This is similar to integrated wick-and-chain option, but where the two wicks are permanently connected to each other by cable (your option, there are pros and cons to both). Inquire for pricing.

Finger wands

Finger wands can be made to any length within reason. I consider 4″ (10 cm) a minimum, 12″ (30 cm) a maximum. Bear in mind that lengths are measured from the fingertip to the wand tip, and there will be some variation in sizing.

You can opt to have 1″ or 2″ bands of wicking—2″ wicking can be a bit heavy to manage (especially on longer wands). I usually use a 7″-long band of wicking on each wand, but that can be adjusted up if you wish. Finally, the finger-guards are available in small, medium, and large sizes (and special sizes for thumbs).

I generally suggest getting two or three pairs of finger wands. One pair isn’t very impressive. If you want four or five, I recommend getting a set of fire-gauntlets. Fire gauntlets use similar construction to finger wands, but are built onto a set of gloves, and are a more satisfactory approach to this kind of apparatus overall. If interested, you will provide me with the pair of gloves. I will make permanent modifications to them to turn them into fire-gauntlets. I recommend a set of all-leather gloves that aren’t too loose (you shouldn’t be able to shake them off easily), but that you can remove fairly easily. Buckskin work gloves or motorcycle gloves work well. Contact me to make arrangements.

Batons

I can easily customize the amount of wicking on the ends up or down for little or no extra charge. Batons with a custom length and/or diameter are possible, but will involve some delay and upcharge.

Staff

You have numerous options when ordering a staff. The most important are diameter, length, and wicking.

Most people will probably be happy with a 1″ (25 mm) diameter staff. If you have very small hands, you might consider the 0.75″ diameter, but this feels a bit whippy to me (would be good for doing short double staves, though). The 1.25″ diameter is good for people with very large hands, or people who prefer the feel of more weight and bulk. Although these diameters vary by steps of 0.25″, remember that your hand is wrapping around the circumference: in those terms, the steps are more like 0.75″.

Length is a very personal issue: Some people use staves longer than they are tall, others use staves less than half their height. One rule of thumb is that the staff should come up to your sternum.

The length of the staff will influence what moves you can do, so another approach is to make sure you can do the moves you want at a certain length. Some moves will be difficult or impossible with a longer staff: If the staff’s midpoint is higher than your butt, behind-the-back passes will be difficult. If the staff’s midpoint is longer than your arm, it will affect how you do horizontal rotations. Conversely, there are some moves, like a waist-wrap, that can only be done with a longer staff of about five feet or more. It would be a good idea to get a broomstick and play with it to determine a good length before ordering.

You can order your staff with any wicking configuration you want. Wicking is available in 2″ or 3″ (50 or 75 mm) bands (I will consider getting 4″ wicking as well). 3″ x 24″ bands make for a nice, long-burning flame; 3″ x 36″ bands make for a very big, very long-burning flame, and is pretty heavy.

You can also order multiple bands of wicking (for some added cost), which can be spaced apart from each other
—early in the burn, this looks like a sheet of fire, later, after the flames die down, this looks like multiple fire-trails. Remember that multiple bands will add quite a bit of weight, and add rotational inertia even out of proportion to the weight, since all the extra weight will be near the ends.

Finally, you can order your staff painted ($5 extra) and/or with a grip applied (price varies). I have various options for grip type and color.

Grips

The palm straps on hand-harnesses are sized to each customer. Measure exactly the length of your palm, from the bottom of your middle finger down to the wrist (see sample). This measurement is about 4″/10 cm on most people. Also specify the circumference of your wrist (large/medium/small).

The standard versions of finger nooses and hand harnesses are both made with elk-hide for the finger loops. This is a very heavy, soft, and luxurious leather chosen for durability and comfort. Nevertheless, it will stretch and lose some of that comfort over time (more quickly for strong, fast spinners). The laminated leather finger loop option will solve that. This is a $10 extra. These are made of sturdy leather for durability, with a layer of deerskin for comfort laminated (glued) over the area that contacts your skin. This design holds up well, is almost blister-proof, and limits how tightly the finger-loops can snug down on your fingers. It also limits the pull-through problem that regular finger-loops are prone to.

The finger straps on deluxe grips need to be sized to your fingers. Most people fall roughly in the middle of the bell-curve and can take normal finger straps. I also offer “micro” straps: these are narrower to accommodate short fingers (normal straps tend to ride over the knuckles of short fingers) and are designed to fit a slenderer finger. Conversely, if you have very thick fingers, the deerskin pads on deluxe grips will not wrap all the way around them. Let me know if you want custom kielbasa-grade finger straps.

Custom items

I am happy to discuss unusual custom items with you, such as a specialty item I call the “string o’ pearls”, two 42″ cables with 5 wicks each, progressively larger going from the top to the bottom.

What should I get?

A basic poi setup

A good basic poi rig would consist of finger nooses, ball-chain, quick-links, and standard interleave wicks. Total for this is $57 plus shipping.

Chains/cables

Both ball-chain and cable are significantly lighter than link chain (which I do not offer). Between ball-chain and cable, most twirlers will be happier with ball-chain, which is less prone to tangling, and easier to untangle. In terms of plain mechanical strength, cable has the edge, but this is essentially a theoretical advantage that I don’t imagine is really put to the test in poi spinning, and is countered by the fact that cables do kink and can fray. Kinks will develop whenever you have an entanglement; a kink may make the cable more prone to future entanglements and can develop frays. Cable has negligible weight and a minimal aerodynamic profile, so it naturally tends to spin faster (note that I don’t consider this an advantage). Cosmetically, cable is almost invisible when spinning.

Between the size 15 and size 13 ball-chain, size 13 feels a bit faster. I suspect this has a little to do with the weight, and a lot to do with the fact that the balls are smaller and therefore more aerodynamic. If you like a bulkier feel with more resistance to push against (good for slow work), go with the size 15. Size 15 seems slightly easier to untangle. Size 13 is a little better for wrist-wraps, as it can coil around a tighter radius. Cosmetically, the size 13 has a duller finish—together with the smaller size, it’s a little less visible.

Grips

The advantage to hand-harnesses is that you can let your hands go completely slack, and not worry about what they are doing, since you are securely connected. This can be a disadvantage, however, if you want to do release moves. Some people simply don’t feel the need for such a secure connection, and are satisfied with finger-nooses. And some actively dislike the feeling of being strapped in.

The only disadvantage to the laminated-leather deluxe grips is that they cost more. They are more durable and more comfortable, and are all-but necessary for swinging big wicks (monster or mega). The plain grips are pretty nice, they’re just not as nice.

Wicks

Unless you have a specific use for them, I generally recommend against the mini-wicks, as they require finer control and have shorter burn times. If you want wicks that are a little smaller than my standard wicks, try the small wicks (about 2/3 the height of standards). Conversely, monster wicks are extremely heavy, and a challenge even for strong, experienced twirlers. Unless you are prepared for them, you may well find them to be too much.

What else should I get?

An absolutely bare-bones kit

Apart from the firedancing equipment itself, much of this stuff can probably be scrounged from around the house. Purchased new, it would probably cost under US$20, total.

Firedancing equipment
Bucket
Soaking tank
This can be a clean paint can, a tupperware container, etc. Use a metal container if you are soaking in white gas.
Towel
Fuel
Lighter
Funnel
for returning fuel from your soaking tank to your fuel container
Spin-off bucket

This is simply a clean paint can on a rope with some kind of a screen mounted above the bottom to allow fuel to collect below the wicks. Use this to spin off and capture excess fuel. As an alternative, you can use a 2-liter soda bottle with a slit near the neck, and slide it over your wicks to catch the cast-off fuel.

Other things that are really good to have

Apart from the leatherman, most of this stuff isn’t too pricey either.

Type ABC fire extinguisher
First-aid kit
Bottle of aloe-vera
Tube of Ching Wan Hung
this is an amazingly effective burn ointment. Check Google for vendors; it’s also available through places that sell Chinese herbal remedies.
Dummy wicks
used only for practicing
Flashlight
Leatherman or similar multi-tool
A ground-torch.
Similar to a tiki-torch, but comes in a weighted sphere, not on a long stalk. Handy for lighting. Can be found in the garden section of the typical megalo-mart.
Chemical-resistant rubber gloves
for handling fuel and squeezing out some types of wicks.
A case or crate to carry this stuff in
I prefer to carry my “dry kit” (chains, tools, spare parts, etc) in a case and my “wet kit” (fuel, towel, ground torch, soaking tank, wicks, funnel) in the bucket.

How long will my equipment last?

Chains/cables

Nickel-plate ball-chain can wear out eventually, but should be good for at least a year of regular use. Please take a look at my report on this. I have seen two instances where ball-chain broke. Specifically, the rod passing through the connector snapped, in one case, at the hot end, in the other, at the cold end. Both failures occurred after more than a year of hard use. This does not seem to be a heat issue, but a matter of the rod flexing against the connector and wearing out.

Anecdotally, stainless chains seem to hold up better than nickel-plated steel ones.

Grips

As far as I am aware, my grips will last indefinitely if treated reasonably well. On standard models, the finger-loops are made out of elk-hide, which is soft but heavy. They will stretch, and if abused (exposed to water or fuel, etc), the leather will stiffen and be less comfortable, and may crack (requiring replacement). If you’d like to have the finger-loops on your grips replaced with new leather, let me know and we’ll work something out.

Wicks

Sooner or later, your wicks will either deteriorate past the point of usability or will give such short burns that they need replacement. This is inevitable. How long this will take is hard to say, but burning with lamp oil, you should still be getting burns in the 4-5 minute range after 100 burns.

I have had one report (since I began selling wicks in 2000) of the cable that holds my poi wicks together failing by wearing through. I don’t know how old the wick was. It’s possible that there have been similar unreported incidents. This should be considered a real possibility, though rare.

Staff

As with poi wicks, the wicking on a staff will abrade and/or get exhausted. When that happens, you may need to cut the screws with a hacksaw to remove them—these are standard parts that can be replaced at a decent hardware store. Contact me if you need assistance.

I am aware of two failures with the wooden shafts on staffs that I had made: one occurred on a slim (0.75″ diameter) staff after about a year of use, and seems to have resulted from repeated drop-kicks at the centerpoint. The other occurred on a 6′ x 1″ staff after fairly little use, and resulted from swinging the staff hard like a baseball bat as a way to cast off excess fuel.

Fuels

In theory, just about any flammable liquid could be used. In practice, your options are more limited. There are a few practical options, each with various pros and cons. Broadly speaking, there are “fast” fuels (high volatility) and “slow” fuels (low volatility). Fast fuels light quickly, burn hot, and have short durations. Slow fuels are stubborn to light, burn relatively cool, and have long durations. Because slow fuels can b
e so stubborn to light, it is a good idea to either mix in some fast fuel, or dip a corner of your wick in a fast fuel, just to help the wick light more easily.

Please note: These comments relate only to fire twirling. Fire-eaters and fire-breathers have different needs and considerations.

Kerosene
This is a cheap, slow fuel that is very smoky and sooty. It costs about $4/gallon. In my testing, I could get burns over 8 minutes.
White gas/Coleman gas
This is a fairly cheap, fast fuel. It burns clean. In my tests, I got burns up to 5 minutes. Costs about $3/gallon
Lamp oil
Comes in several variations. All variations are slow fuels, but some are scented, some are mixed with citronella oil (which is very smelly and somewhat sooty, but seems to burn especially long). I prefer the expensive stuff, which costs about $13/gallon (when you can find it in gallon jugs, which is rare), and is the “Ultra-Pure” oil from Lamplight Farms. The advantage to this is that it has very little smoke, odor, or soot. I have not done formal tests to determine burn duration, but my impression is that it burns for about the same length as kerosene.
Charcoal starter
I haven’t worked with this myself. The main advantage to it is that it is readily available just about anywhere. Seems to be a fast fuel.

Things not to use: Gasoline or diesel fuel (very volatile and dangerous). Alcohol (weak flame, easily extinguished just by twirling).

I want to publicly heap praise/scorn upon fire-gear. How do I do that?

I’ve started a group on tribe.net where customers can discuss fire-gear equipment. Flame on!