How To Choose Fire Fans
Nowadays every fan maker claims that his fans are certainly the best as they were made of a super alloy of mithril with dragon glass, forged in depths of Orodruin mount and quenched in the flames of Smaug. However, the fan makers are rarely adequate as they do not spin fans themselves, or at least are seldom exceptionally good at it. As for myself, well, I’m not a specialist in metal alloys or welding, but I do spin fans occasionally and have tried many different constructions over the past several years. Here I’ll discuss the main points you need to know choosing your fire fans.
Cold war of the rings
“One ring to rule them all. One ring to find them. One ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them”
There are two main types of fan handle (or grip): large ring and small ring(s). In fact, there are plenty of different names and constructions, but they all can either be reduced to these two or excluded from consideration as useless (e.g. folding fans, or fans without even a ring).
Large ring (aka Russian grip) – the type of the handle that suggests that your entire palm can be easily placed inside the ring. This type of the handle is most convenient for poi-like technique used by most Russian spinners, hence the name Russian grip. So the large ring suggests almost constant spinning, while static moves are relatively rare, yet still possible. It is important to understand that should the ring be a bit smaller than your palm (say only fingers can be placed in the ring), you may forget about “Russian technique”, at least in full sense of the term.
Small ring(s) (aka American, Chaos, Doodle, Pistol etc.) – a ring that is smaller than your palm, so that only few (or even only one) of your finger can be placed inside. Sometimes there is more than one ring, but it is rather a matter of design, as mostly one ring is actually used. There exist different names like Chaos, Doodle, Pistol and other grips, named after the producer, but conceptually they are all small ring grips with minor differences. The fans with small rings are popular in the West, especially in the United States, and suggest a somewhat static, double staff-like or club-like technique. It is usually easier to hold fans with small rings statically, as compared to the fans with large rings, so the whole technique does not rely on spinning as much as on creating geometrical patterns.
My personal opinion about the ring dilemma is this: there is no move one can do with small rings that one cannot do with the large, ceteris paribus, but the opposite is false. If you still hesitate remember the rhyme of lore:
Leather, blood and suffering.
“Thank you Mariana Ten! It’s been a long time I wanted to learn flowers. And maybe one day our hands won’t feel the pain anymore!” – a thankful student.
Often you hear that the handles of true fans must be covered with leather of puppies or painted with unicorn’s blood. Well, it all depends on individual preferences, quality of the work and breed of the puppies. Good thick leather is a good option, because it’s usually softer than metal, quite smooth, absorbs fuel and looks nice (especially Dalmatian). But badly handled thin leather is worse than no leather at all. However, even the good leather will eventually decay and you will need to fix it. The same is true about the paint. A thick layer of a good paint will make the handle smooth, but a bad paint will stay on your hands (see the picture below). Unfortunately, there is no way to know if the paint is bad until you buy the fans and try it out. You can also use a plastic tube to quickly cover the handle.
In my opinion, the safest option is probably just well-polished metallic handle without any paint of cover. It may be a bit hard, but most likely you won’t have any other problem with it. Most importantly, handles must be perfectly smooth! Should there be any roughness or imperfections, blood of the unicorn will soon be layered with that of your own. Try to spin a bit and make sure your hands feel good in the handles. Under any circumstances, do not purchase fans with the leather or some tape simply rolled around the ring, or fans that suggest that even you should use gloves to spin them (using gloves is a bad idea anyway).
Health concern: beware that using someone else’s fans or just dirty fans can result in skin (and potentially other) problems, especially when you have some scratches on your hands, so keep your hands and handles clean. Try not to just throw your fans on the dusty ground of a fire jam space and then pick and spin again.
Long or thick?
“I'm beginning to wonder if my arms are too short and my boobs are too big to properly execute this move?” -– a fan spinner
Often large rings go with large fans with long spokes, and small rings with small fans, but it does not have to be this way. My “Russian” fans, for example, are relatively small. The classical logic is that if you do poi-like moves, you need some momentum, which comes with heavy and large fans, whereas holding fans statically you naturally want to reduce the weight and make the fans smaller. However, it is true only at the beginner level, with practice you can spin any fans.
In fact, even Russian technique is easier with small and (relatively) light fans. So if you do not have any experience, look for small and light fans. How small? Well, not too small, my formula is this:
The length from the center of rotation (center of the ring) to the tip of the fan should not exceed the length of you forearm.
Or definitely should not exceed much. One of my fan sets is actually 2 - 3 cm longer, another set is few cm shorter. If the fans are much longer than you forearm, it will be difficult to handle them and some moves will be hard to do nicely (if at all). But if the fans are much shorter than you forearm, then you kind of lose the “beauty” of the fan (and momentum). It’s like everybody adores tennis players, but no one cares about ping-pong, even though it is much more “techy”:)
However, note also that there are certain moves that are possible (or worth doing) only with small or only with large fans (which is not the same as small or large ring!).
All fans must die
Let us proceed to the questions of life and death. Well, if you plan to defend Minas Tirith with other “archers”, you probably don’t need to worry about these things. Otherwise, if you goal is to spin or even throw your fans, they will eventually fall. In this case you have to understand: Whatever vendors tell you about their Valyrian steel, magical welding, stress compensation and technicolor dream coats, all fans are mortal.
Do not have illusions, all fans will sooner or later break, start drinking and leave you with the kids. Often sooner than you might think. For example, even having my, somewhat reliable, fans, I still have to change them very often, as they become completely destroyed over the course of a single year. Not to mention some test fans that I could destroy in just a few weeks!
But let’s make it clear. What is dead may never die. Of course theoretically one can make a real true heavy metal fans which are impossible to break whatever happens to them, but their incredible weight makes them completely useless. So here we are talking about real fire fans with light thin spokes made of metal (not plastic or wood). In this kind of fans, whatever is the construction, kinetic energy of a falling fan will always find a week spot to be released. Such is a tragic destiny of every fan. Here are some typical problems with fan constructions:
Bending. If material is relatively soft, the construction will tend to bend rather than break. On the one hand, you can always bend it back, on the other hand, you cannot do it forever, and eventually it will break. If material is too soft, it can almost never actually break (seriously, once I saw titanium fans like that), but unbending wicks after each drop is very annoying.
Breaking in the joints. If material is hard, it might seem more stress resistive, at least for a while, but as the material will still internally degrade (because kinetic energy cannot just disappear), they will sooner or later break in the weakest spots – the joints where the spokes are welded to the ring or to each other. Once it happens, you may try to weld it back, but, as a rule, it is seldom as good as original welding. Besides, however hard the material is, the fans will still bend little by little, just in this case you won’t be able to bend it back without (really) special tools.
“Original design ideas” dye young! The reason why most Russian fans look very similar is the same as why all planes look quite the same ) There is really nothing to add or remove. Typically, when people try to add some elements like leather grip and unnecessary connections, or try to base their construction on screws and tapes, or make some kind of portable fans, you can be sure that this will break first and very quickly.
Lifetime warranty, crash tests & unbreakable vows.
Renewed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king!
Many vendors now promise various forms of “lifetime warranty”. Don’t be fooled, it’s just a marketing trick. In the actual fact, you are usually required to pay for materials, used to fix your broken fan, and shipping to the store and back. All in all, it’s nearly the price of a new set of fans. I was foolish enough to find it out from a personal experience.
You should also know that even if they weld your broken wick back, most probably it will soon be broken again, because the material is already damaged and thus weak. Nobody will actually give you a brand new pair of fans for free (unless you are Maria), so paying any money to prolong the lifetime of already doomed fans is not very wise. If you don’t have a friend with a welding machine, there are several ways to quickly fix fans yourself.
Also often we can see so called “crash tests” that aim to prove that the fans are immortal or something. You need to understand that few drops in front of the camera, even from the roof, don’t prove anything. Fans break because of the constant and systematic drops for several months, so it is quite difficult to design such crash test properly, let alone compare in to other fans. So it also just a marketing trick.
By this point you’ve probably already grasped the main point of the article, and this paragraph will not be an exception. Yes, all the talks about the balance is bullshit too. Not completely, but there is nothing like “perfect divine balance”. So how the weight should actually be distributed? It is true that it’s better if the center of mass is not too much shifted to the wicks or to the handle, but stays somewhat in the center. However, it doesn’t have to be precisely the center. It’s a matter of your personal preference, style and technique.
For example, it is easier to do flowers when the mass is located nears the wicks, whereas geometry is easier when it’s near the handle. So choosing the fans I’d mostly ignore this parameter and have focused on other aspects.
Stoppers are the additional parts of the fan handle that serve to facilitate the control and stop the rotation, hence the name stoppers. The stoppers might be an important part of you fans if you plan to do a lot of geometrical moves, so that a precise control is essential. But if you do mostly poi-like spinning you might need a very small stoppers or no stoppers at all.
In the times before elves left for Valinor, everybody had triangular stoppers. After a certain number of fingers had been broken peoples recognized the problem and tried to make the stoppers less lethal. Nowadays, most good stoppers on the Russian fans look like a thicker lower part of the ring or an additional semi-ring. Western civilization is still exploring various shapes of stoppers, so today there is still a big variety of stoppers for the small-ring fans.
So how to choose the fans?
How indeed? As various fan makers and models born and die every day it’s hard to recommend a certain maker. What I definitely do not recommend is posting on facebook a public calls like: “Guys, which fans are the best, what should I buy?!”. These requests are so often that real spinners rarely bother to answer, so the comments you get is 100% filtered ads from vendors.
The best strategy here, is to watch fan videos, find artists you like and you want to spin like. Then try to contact them. If they spin well, they most probably already tried several fans, so they can give a reliable recommendation, or at least the fans they have will be fine for the moves you want to learn.