man in uniform put a pole into a cannon

Make a Bang!

Make a bang takes a look at Newton’s Three Laws of Motion when firing a cannon.

Discover the scientific laws of ‘force’ and ‘motion’ in a fun and interactive way, with our Make a Bang area at Elizabeth Castle.  Make a Bang is sponsored by Ogier.

The Master Gunner at Elizabeth Castle is one of the most popular Living History characters, he regularly fires a cannon and ‘Make a Bang’ taps into the science behind this.

Here you can learn about Newton’s Three Laws of Motion and how to fire a cannon.

A cannon fires a cannon ball using gunpowder and the science of force.

What is Force?

A force is a push or a pull.

What can force do?

  • Make an object move
  • Change the direction of an object
  • Make a moving object speed up
  • Make a moving object stop
  • Change the shape of an object

To fire a cannon, the cannon ball needs to be shot out of the barrel at a fast speed so that it can hit a target. Force has to be applied to the cannon ball to push it out of the cannon.

Types of energy and force

Kinetic Energy – the energy of motion or moving. Every object that moves has kinetic energy. A ball rolling across a table has kinetic energy. The heavier the ball, the faster it moves, the more energy it carries.

Heat Energy – energy created by temperature changes can be kinetic energy. The temperature of something is a direct measurement of how fast the particles inside it are moving. Warmer air has faster moving particles and colder air has slower moving particles.

Chemical Energy – energy created by chemical reactions will release heat energy and create a kinetic force.

Velocity – the measurement of the speed and direction of a movement. To cause an object to change velocity, a force needs to be applied to the object.

Newton’s Three Laws of Motion

A cannon being fired follows Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. Sir Isaac Newton is famous for his three laws of motion, which form the basic principles of modern physics.

1. Light the fuse – heat energy

2. Heat and fire travel to the black powder – kinetic energy

3. Black powder explodes – chemical energy

4. Transfer of force from the chemical energy of the explosion to the cannon ball

5. Cannon ball moves forward very quickly – kinetic energy and velocity

6. Cannon moves backwards because of the force of the cannon ball moving forwards

A drawing of a cannon with a cannon ball

Dip a long stick with a sponge on the end in water. Push it down the cannon barrel to get rid of any sparks. This also helps to make sure that there is nothing in the barrel that shouldn’t be.

six uniformed men stand around a cannon

One soldier must cover the air vent at all times while preparing to fire to suffocate any sparks that might ignite. If air is allowed in through the vent this might create a spark and fire the cannon at the wrong time.

One man in uniform holds onto a cannon

Next you need to make sure that you have a cartridge (bag) of gunpowder. Push the gunpowder cartridge down the barrel of the cannon. This should be jammed in place using a ramrod (a long wooden or metal stick).

Two men in uniform stick a long pole into a cannon

Push the cannon ball down into the barrel of the cannon using the ramrod again. The cannon ball is usually made of iron or stone, both strong materials. These were very heavy and could be used to shoot at people or enemy ships.

a man in uniform pushes a cannon ball down into a cannon

Pour black powder into the chamber. This will help to make sure that the gunpowder cartridge catches a spark and explodes, pushing the cannon ball out.

five men in uniform watch as one puts black powder into a cannon

Open the air vent and insert the special wire called a fuse. This is what is going to be lit and start the chain reaction that fires the cannon ball. The longer the fuse, the longer it takes.

three men in uniform light a touch paper for a cannon

Stand way back from the cannon. Use a linstock (a large stick with a burning rope on the end) to light the fuse. Using a linstock means that you can be at a safe distance from the cannon when it fires.

four men stand around a cannon as smoke comes from the lit fuse


a man in uniform walks away from a cannon firing with shot coming out the front of the cannon