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DIY: Next Level, David Chew

Fire Puffers

By Travis Hoewischer

Published August 1, 2013

You can take an accountant to Burning Man, but you can’t take the Burning Man out of the accountant. David Chew, who spends most of his day performing financial analysis using database design, now gets to answer the question “What do you do?” with a much more engaging answer: FIRE.

Inspired by his trip to the desert for the annual San Francisco festival a few years ago, he and his wife, Carrie traveled to Atlanta and learned how to build his propane fire puffers, which were most recently featured at the final Agora art show in Columbus.

The towering bursts of flame produced by the long, thin pipes are an amazing spectacle, but ones produced by a fairly basic process. A simple valve connected to a propane tank controls the amount of gas that comes out, and a smaller tank on the end of a copper line creates a pilot light, so that when the base tank produces its 40-60 pounds of pressure, it ignites the pilot at the end, resulting in a Mad Max-style pyrotechnic that’s about as simple to put together as a backyard barbecue.

“It’s essentially your gas grill on steroids,” he said with a laugh.

Chew attributes his interest in the DIY movement to his early 20s, when met an engineer who collected arcade games, who then schooled him on ways to take apart consoles, computer boards and other old electronic technology. That led him to transforming into a “self-made handyman,” who had grown tired of not knowing how to fix things like the vacuum when they went busted.

“That’s kinda where [DIY] came along,” he said. “People of my generation – I’m 40 – got sick of throwing everything out and going to Walmart and buying another one. There’s got to be a better way.”

DIY, says Chew, only requires two things:

“Don’t be intimidated to start,” he says. “Because you get on the Internet and there’s always amazing things you can spend all day looking at, but you’ve got to start doing your own thing. No matter how small it is, the first step is doing it yourself.

“Second, you can get some amazing things done doing some very simple things. It’s like with dance: you need three steps; with guitar, you need three chords. Flame effects are just a couple of basic things, but the visual is stunning. People miss that simplicity in life; a few simple things together can become something very amazing.” •