T-Shirt cannon pnuematic set ups

Hey everyone,

Our team is hoping to build a t-shirt cannon this summer, but need some help.

First, to those that have built one before, or have an idea as to how to do it, could you list the pneumatic (or sprinkler) parts used, including valve/solenoid, tubing/hose, connectors, and pump? We’ve seen tutorials with how to do it with things like a bike pumb and manual release knob/switch, but not an electric one. If you could also link where you got it, that would be great.

Second, is there a (cheap) way to attach a digital PSI sensor to the pneumatics? We would like to adjust the PSI output from the OI, but we aren’t sure if we can.

All help is appreciated.

I’m sorry that I don’t have any suggestions for pneumatics so I thought that I’d provide an alternative.

Well, I personally never built a t-shirt cannon with pneumatics but for an engineering class, I built an air cannon that could launch a nerf football through a goalpost. I felt that it was rather easier than pneumatics
imo. All I used was PVC piping, and a control valve (also PVC). We ended up launching the ball about 40 feet when the pressure was up to 30 psi, so it worked pretty well, and I’m sure would make a fine t-shirt launcher. If you decide to do this MAKE SURE YOU USE PRESSURE RATED PVC! I can not stress this point enough. If you want pictures or more detailed instuctions, just let me know.

Hope this helps.

Look into sprinkler valves, I think those are used quite often for this kind of application. If I remember correctly NItro used sprinkler valves.

Second, is there a (cheap) way to attach a digital PSI sensor to the pneumatics? We would like to adjust the PSI output from the OI, but we aren’t sure if we can.
I’m sure you mean analog. If you find one, just shut the pump off at the desired pressure.

How about not just PVC at all!!! It has been stressed many times on different threads; PVC is not meant to hold air at any pressure above the atmosphere pressure.

We used an empty freon tank for our air tank, put two compressors to charge it, and we can safely handle up to 120PSI. We are using a 24V sprinkler valve from Lowes. These will not switch with 12V, as you probably figured out already, but what we did is hooked up a relay to a spike that switches on 3 9V batteries (27V). The 3 extra volts does not hurt the valve, especially for the duration that we use it. We used flexible hose to transfer the air… it kind of looks like a sewage line for an RV, but we also bought it from Lowes.

As for a sensor, I believe they supplied one in the kit before my time (2004 maybe?) that was manufactured by Texas Instruments.

Also, like I said before, there are other threads, not just on the safety issue of using PVC, but there are many, many threads on T-Shirt shooters. Just use the search feature.

Here is a link to ours: http://www.chiefdelphi.com/forums/showthread.php?t=39324&highlight=fusion+t-shirt+shooter

As you can see, the first version had a PVC tank, and after 2 years, we deemed it unsafe and I rebuilt it last summer in our 95 degree plus summer temperatures in our garage.

I also just noticed the pictures aren’t working later on in the thread. I’m about to go look into it, so hopefully I can get it working.

We built one that runs off of just the kit compressor (fills tank in 10 seconds) and fires a shirt ludicrous distances, about 40 yards or so. Instead of a sprinkler valve, we used a pneumatically actuated gate valve (see it here) that unleashes air stored in an abs reservoir into our pvc cannon. Overall it’s a surprisingly simple and effective system, I’d suggest you look into it a little.

See the whole thread for our promobot here. Maybe squirrel or GUI or MattH can give you a better description of how it works if you have questions…

To emphasize my point about no PVC… earlier this week, one of the kids at school was making a potato launcher and charged it to 45PSI when it exploded right in his face. Luckily he was not hurt by the explosion. It failed not in the PVC pipe, but the thick joints. This goes to show even though many think thicker is better, it is not always the case.

This was the tank that was used on our t-shirt shooter before we converted to a real tank.

So again, please DO NOT USE PVC. People can be seriously wounded, or even killed (as evident by the hole in the roof).

Also, I was not there when it happened, so I had no control over it. What appeared to happen was a crack rapidly developed in the joint, the glue failed, and then it shot the tank off like a rocket.

what seems to be popular now are what looks like modded paintball guns. They have a similar set up, with an adapted barrel to hold a rolled up t-shirt (most made out or poly carb). If you can find a painball gun with a common thread size (aka not Tippman) then you should just be able to fabricate a barrel and give it a shot! (not sure how much pressure you would need vs. what a stock paintball gun could give you or how far you plan on launching it)


Thanks for all the info an tips.

It’s giving us a good start, and well be sure to follow up on some of the stuff posted here when we start to actually build it. We haven’t actually started our off-season yet, we’ve just been gather ideas and plans.

we did one where it was PVC piping connected to 3 cylinders, you could strap it onto your arm, and it was connected to a battery pack and compressor in a backpack. very dangrous, but very cool. it could launch t-shirts one at a time, but we mainly used it for those little stress balls, ie the NI soccer balls that they had during te deminstration in the pits during championships.

also you might want to look into what diffrent sports teams use, i was at the magic game, and they had one built into a trash can, but it launched t-shirts rolled up into bals, with rubber bands.

Look into McMaster part number 8585K21 for barrel stock.

That’s the pipe I used on my muti-barrel tee shirt launcher. Although it is on the expensive side, I had to guarantee that the tee shirt launcher would be safe to operate around large numbers of people outside, and at temperatures which had a good chance of being below freezing.

There was absolutely no PVC used anywhere on my launcher for safety reasons; everything that held pressure was rated for high pressure gas use and below freezing operation.

I built a t-shirt cannon this fall, and we used it for some robotics promotional stuff. Took it to a basketball pep-rally, that sorta thing… Although PVC might not be the safest thing, you’re probably ok as long you make sure that not only the pipe itself, but also the fittings are all pressure rated. The only thing that isnt pressure rated in my setup was the sprinkler valve. We’ve managed to hook it up to 4 compressors, and load the reservoir all the way up to around 140PSI, and we can shoot t-shirts across our school’s gymnasium (two basketball courts side by side).
We had also planned to hook it up to a promo robot (similar to 1726), but we ran out of time in the fall… Maybe the team will hook the cannon up to a kit chassis with a mechanum drive or something this fall…


PVC is NOT AT ALL safe for pressurized use, as it is a very brittle material. If there ever is a leak in the material, the result will be a catastrophic explosion of PVC shrapnel. Just because it may have been used without problems does not mean that it is safe.

Please, for the sake of innocent bystanders who may be near the robot if the PVC explodes, don’t do it. Spending a little more money up front on better materials is well worth it if someone is severely injured from PVC shrapnel and decides to sue.

And please make sure its UL certified no matter what you use.

(Underwriters Laboratory)

I agree. As I read my previous post, I realized that it could be seen that I was advocating a PVC air cannon. In no way am I doing so. I was simply stating how I built an air cannon. (Just a little disclaimer)

PVC is dangerous folks, and shouldn’t be used for super-atmospheric pressures

Actually, 120 psi is a lot. There is a reason FIRST has us use only 60 psi. If you do make a pvc gun, please, please make sure that you don’t use pvc for the air storage or charging.

Wrapping the tube (barrel) in duct tape a lot and putting a bigger tube around it makes it a little safer.

be safe, Vivek

When originally designing our T-shirt cannon, We looked at the pressure ratings listed in the Engineering toolbox.( http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/pvc-cpvc-pipes-pressures-d_796.html )

It clearly lists that the maximum allowable operating pressure for 3" schedule 40 (which is what we used) is 158 Psi, and the minimum bursting pressure is 840 psi. Considering that that is 38 psi above what the exhaust valve on the pump we were using is set to, combined with the fact that we had the tank encased in a plexiglass shield and we wouldn’t be operating it in temperatures above 140F (thank God)… I’d say we were perfectly within the confines of what would be considered “safe”.

As for wrapping the barrel and/or tank in Duct tape, and placing it in a larger section of pipe, that would not only make it a little safer, it would virtually eliminate any safety hazard at all. No shrapnel means no major injuries… and the chances of the larger pipe bursting (if it is sealed) are minimal as well, because the largetr pipe would be exposed to a much smaller pressure PSI than the little one was.

As for the reasoning behind FIRST having the teams limited to 60 PSI, I doubt it has to do with the bursting pressures of PVC,but can more likely be attributed to them being overly stringent with their safety regulations… but as there have been no major pneumatic related injuries that I know of thus far in the program, I’d be an idiot to argue with their reasoning.

I’d say that as long as you have the tank well guarded from any shock, and you don’t abuse the thing, you’re safe to use PVC in a 120 PSI system.

I know a team built a tshirt cannon for use at one of our competitions this year that used PVC for air storage. They shot shirts on Thursday and part of Friday I believe before they were asked to stop because of danger.

If you aren’t concerned about your own safety, please be concerned for everyone else’s.

Even though these ratings are printed, for what type of application are they defining? Liquid or Gas?

Liquid does not compress very well, so the chance of PVC exploding with a liquid is very slim. However, gas does compress well, and therefore, the chance of the PVC exploding is much greater. You must also think about the size of the molecules and how they interact with the structural integrity of the PVC pipe. Liquid molecules in general are much larger than gas molecules, so liquid can be contained much easier.

Here is an example of what I’m getting to:
You have 2 balloons, fill one with water and one with gas. Wait a week and look at the size of both balloons. I bet the one with liquid is much larger than the one with gas. Also try popping both balloons. The one with air will be much more violent. This same concept applies to PVC pipe.

We’ve had our own accident with PVC exploding in a kids face, and he could have been killed very easily. He was well in the 120PSI zone (around 40PSI) when a coupling split in two pieces and made the whole tank shoot off like a rocket into the ceiling.

Also, PVC tanks do weaken over time from expanding and contracting. Water lines do the same, but most water lines remain compressed all the time, so the process is much slower. With an air cannon, it goes from 0PSI to xPSI every time it is shot.

There have been many horror stories of PVC exploding and people saying not to do it:

Okay, we finally got around to putting stuff together, and we are looking for tips on how to improve the cannon.

It actually has pretty decent range (shoots t-shirts about 30-40 feet), but it takes about a minute to fully pump up the tank. Now, this is pumping it to 80 PSI, but right now we are working at someone’s house, not the school, so we should be able to lower the PSI and still be able to get shirts into the stands.

Currently, the barrel and tank are both made of 3 inch diameter PVC (please keep reading) and are both about 30 inches long. We are pumping the tank with two of the KOP air compressors. It takes about 1 minute and 40 seconds to pump the tank full with one compressor.

Now, as for the PVC tank- Yes, we are aware it is dangerous. However, we are limited on funds (currently have NO sponsors), and don’t have many other options right now. We will be getting a different tank ASAP, but this is what we have right now. We have taken plenty of safety precautions (we stand around the corner from the tank, so if the tank explodes, it will explode into a wall and the person’s lawn).

Now, if someone could suggest how to get a better pump, a better tank, or another way to do this more efficiently/effectively, we would be much obliged.

EDIT- Just remembered, and thought I would mention- We are currently using a 24v sprinkler valve hooked up to a standard FIRST control system (i.e. a 12v circuit). Would this make the solenoid open slower, and thus give us less bang per shot, or would it really not affect it at all?

take a look at our development of a similar system which has been documented here on C.D. The sprinkler valve you mention has also been discussed on C.D. and even a very nice animated graphic shows how it works. It is a relatively slow opening with a membrane that does flap during exhaust. Does your cannon honk when it shoots? Ours did.

We currently use 1 inch black pipe with npt thread for air storage as it is rated for pressurized air and is available at hardware stores. Stainless pipe is also available. One could even use a 5 gallon Craftsman air tank with only cost $20. On our system, the valve is immediately after the black pipe so that the pvc tubing and barrel do not maintain pressure except during the shot. We got better results when going to the manual ball valve but the best results are with the valve rated for this purpose. The local Parker dealer donated the valve to our team as it lists for $100.

Craftsman air tank

Ball Valve

Parker Valve