Shop fireworks have changed little over many years,
although today's generation of adults buying fireworks for their
children will notice a few absences since the days of their own childhood:
bangers, jumping crackers and the like.
Today, there is a far
greater choice of effect and size, and a great improvement in
quality, availability and value for money.
Firework buyers now expect year-round availability
for weddings, birthdays and summer barbecues, and doorstep delivery
This section describes the most popular
types of firework, and the effects obtained.
Shop fireworks (or 'Shop Goods')
are those defined as:
• Category 2 (Cat2) 10m safety distance, or
• Category 3 (Cat3) 25m safety distance
So popular it needs hardly any
any description, the rocket shoots high into the air leaving a trail
of sparks. Most rockets today finish with an impressive burst.
Often called just 'candles',
these burn gently for a while, periodically shooting out stars, comets
or similar effects. Candles willl vary in size, giving bigger effects
as the size increases, or will be grouped in multiples in cakes or batteries
giving a faster rate of firing.
Exactly as its name implies the
fountain emits shower of sparks ('Golden Rain' or 'Silver Rain' are two
typical fountains). Often used in multiples, for instance in Set Pieces.
A variation of the fountain can be seen in the Waterfall, where the spray
The effect of a mine is short-lived
but usually very spectacular: a sudden eruption or burst from the mine
at ground level, shooting high into the air. In shop fireworks the mine
is almost invariably preceded by a small fountain which builds up the
anticipation of the main effect.
Better-known once as 'cakes' because of the shape of the earlier ones these are now usually referred to as multishots, barrages or multishot barrages.They are now a mainstay of most displays large and small. It is essentially
an assembly of tubes, usually single-shot Roman Candles,internally fused together
to fire a rapid sequence from a single external fuse.
SINGLE IGNITION UNIT
This is simply a large multishot barrage and
there is no real differentiation between a large multishot and a small Single
Ignition Unit.The reason why the distinction is made is because of the
Single Ignition Unit's value in putting on a decent display with the maximum
of simplicity. They are also popular as a self-contained Finale item for
a bigger display.
Each Unit comes in its own packing case and can be kept safe and sound
almost to the last minute. In a few seconds it is ready for action - a
perfect flourish for a birthday or wedding celebration.
In addition to the well-known Catherine
Wheel - a coiled tube around a wooden hub, wheels are found as an arrangement
of 'drivers' (similar to rocket motors) fixed radially on spikes, and
as Saxons - a tube nailed at one end to form a pivot so it spins when
the other end is lit.
A combination firework consisting
of an assembly of wheels or fountains to form a pattern. Sometimes small
fireworks called lances are grouped together to depict a simple image,
or to spell out words such as 'Goodnight'.
Need no description but are mentioned
here with a cautionary word: although the sparkler is a delightful firework
and rightfully popular with children, it is often forgotten that for just
a few seconds what is left is a piece of almost red-hot wire. Be careful.
So far the description of the main types of firework has been superficial
but what is most important is what comes out of the tube, broadly summarised
by the expression 'effects'.
In fireworks there are very few absolutes when it comes to descriptions
of effects. The beauty and thrill of a firework is created by subtle
blends of pyrotechnic compounds, and this is complemented by the copywriting
skills of the person composing the catalogue and label descriptions.
Here, then, are some of the most commonly encountered terms, grouped
together in a way which will give you a broad understanding: Visual effects:
- Stars. Small, glowing balls of fire, many coloured, used
in Roman candles and the bursts of mines and rockets. They may change
colour in flight, or finish with a sound effect.
- Bombettes are stars
which which finish with a small explosion.
- Comets.Larger than a star and glowing more brightly the
comet, just like its stellar counterpart has a bright tail. Splitting
comets fragment into several smaller ones.
- Trails. Many types of star will leave a trail of varying
kinds. Look for descriptions such as palm, willow or brocade.
- Blinking.Some stars will blink on and off at various intervals.
Strobe is a blinking effect which is very bright silver like a flash
and will descend very slowly through the sky.
- Serpents. These snake and wriggle through the air, usually
with accompanying sound effect. Sound Effects.
- Bang. No other description needed, except that in a firework
it may be described as a report, signal, salute or a maroon.
- Whistle. Again, the basic whistle needs no explanation,
although it might also be described as screamer, screecher or similar.
- Hummers. Vary from the gentle tones of the humming bird
to the angry note of swarming bees.
- Crackle. Really a gentle bang but when dozens or even hundreds
are heard almost all at once an entirely different effect is produced.
2. An introduction to some of the terminology of
Although it has been said above that fireworks descriptions
can sometimes be angled towards enticing the customer, it must be said
here that in the world of professional fireworks terminology is precise
and rather more prosaic. BATTERY
A battery is a collection of
fireworks, often of different types, assembled together and fused in sequence.
Usually used as an opener or a finale.
consisting of a loosely woven string impregnated with black powder. Match
is often supplied wrapped in a paper or plastic tube - piped match or
A line of powder on a Sellotape type material is known as tape match.
A variant of tape match called sticky-match has recently been patented
in Australia in which the line of powder is covered by a second piece
Black powder is the mainstay of
pyrotechnics. At a basic level it is a mixture of potassium nitrate, charcoal
and sulphur. However, simply mixing these ingredients together will not
produce proper black powder. It merely produces a much milder version,
which itself is used extensively in pyrotechnics, and is commonly called
True black powder takes advantage of the extreme solubility of potassium
nitrate by mixing the very fine milled ingredients into a dough with water,
then using strong compression to force the water out of the mixture, so
that tiny crystals of potassium nitrate form in and around the particles
of the other ingredients. This produces a product that is far fiercer
than the simple meal powder.
The discovery or development of black powder is generally attributed to
the Chinese, probably around 1000 AD. See also: [
BLUE TOUCH PAPER
A common fuse
for garden fireworks, the expression 'light the blue touchpaper and retire'
has entered the English language as a colloquialism.It is never used in
display fireworks having no accuracy of timing.
The break is the explosion of
an aerial shell. Some shells are multiple
break, up to 4 is common. A 4-break shell effectively consists of four
heads on one lifting charge. It is very important to have a good fit in
the mortar to ensure plenty of height, and to allow plenty of clearance
from the audience as multiple breaks are often quite low by the time of
the final break.
Many of the best shells and rockets
have a single break which changes colour or effect. This a double, or
The charge in a shell or rocket
which is ignited by the lifting charge at the top of its ascent, exploding
the firework and igniting the stars or other effects.
In general terms the case is the
tube containing a compound. It usually refers more specifically to a component
of a Waterfall. Thus a Waterfall
will be quantified for instance as a 24 case fall. Each case designated
according to its weight e.g. 'a 1lb case'
Since the publication in 1988
of the Health and Safety Executive's Standard for Outdoor Fireworks, all
fireworks in the UK have been divided into categories which govern their
supply, handling, storage, transport and use. These, very briefly, are:
Generally, Shop Goods.
Requires a safety distance of 25m
to be observed, and a manufacturing specification which ensures that
no burning material will fall within this distance.
Only to be used by Explosives factory, or Explosives
magazine licence holders and their employees.
The narrowed part of a rocket
case. It forces the gasses formed by combustion to be expelled at speed
thereby generating the motive force to lift the rocket.
The favourite shell of many pyrotechnic
enthusiasts, and a speciality of the Japanese manufacturers. The chrysanthemum
shell emits its stars in a perfect circle and the brightness intensifies
as the circle grows in size creating a magnificent simulation of the eponymous
A composition giving off hardly
any light when it burns. It is used in stars to give a winking effect,
or to separate colour changes.
Daylight fireworks concentrate
less on light and more on noise, coloured smoke and novelty effects such
as parachutes and flags. There is not the degree of variety available
for a long display but daylight fireworks can be used to great effect
as a brief but spectacular flourish to announce special occasions.
A tube of slow burning compound
inserted into a fuse run to give a timed delay.
Also called a motor this provides
the motive power for a wheel, either singly or in multiples.
A rocket, usually only small,
with a fast fuse. They are packed loosely in a metal cone and just one
is ignited. The trail from this ignites those adjacent, which then do
likewise so that all ascend in a few seconds. Although each individual
rocket is small, forty or fifty make a real sky-filler.
The fuse transfers combustion
from the source - a portfire or pyrotechnic igniter - to the compound
inside the firework.
Shop goods use Blue Touchpaper but display fireworks often have naked
match, or the touchpaper is removed and another fuse inserted. Individual
fireworks are then connected together in sequences with timing created
by the use of fast or slow fuses and delays.
Another common fuse is igniter cord, especially green or slow, which is
used for leaders.<
A pyrotechnic fuse, also known as a pyrotechnic igniter or electric match,
is a fuse ignited by an electric current. Sometimes incorrectly referred
to as a 'detonator', and known in the US as a squib.
A shorthand term for 'effects'.
Any given effect might be fired from a mortar by a mine, projected intermittently
by a Roman Candle, or seen in the sky bursting from a shell.
These are pyrotechnic sprays,
often referred to as fountains or flower- pots. They consist of a tube
full of composition, sealed at one end and with a nozzle at the other,
similar to a rocket. Unlike a rocket, they are not designed to move anywhere,
so all the emphasis is on making the nozzle exhaust as long as pretty
as possible, with large amounts of sparks, nice colours etc.
The sparks are produced by metal powders or coarse charcoal in the gerb
composition, with coarse titanium powder being the chemical of choice.
Gerb compositions in a thin tube set up in a spiral arrangement are used
as wheel drivers, for spinning fireworks e.g. Catherine wheels.
A fuse consisting of a wire core
(usually) with the pyrotechnic compound covered by a plastic outer layer.
This gives excellent protection from damp, and igniter cord is very reliable
in wet weather.
Green igniter is slow - about 1 second per inch or 25mm, brown is fast
- about 1 second per foot or 300mm.
A lance is a thin paper tube containing
a pyrotechnic composition. These are most commonly used in large numbers
to make writing and pictures at fireworks shows - this is referred to
as lancework. The tube is thin so it burns completely away as the lance
burns, so as not to restrict light emission from the burning section.
A firework which produces a single
loud report , often used to announce the start or end of a display. An
aerial maroon is a shell, and a signal maroon a rocket.
Like a shell the mine is fired
from a mortar, but emits directly from the tube. The lift charge sends
up a bag full of stars and a bursting charge, with a short fuse set to
spread the stars relatively close to the ground. Because the bag has much
less strength than a shell, the stars are not spread as far, and the final
effect is that of a shower of stars moving upward in an inverted cone
A tube, sealed at one end for
firing shells and mines. In the US they like to call mortars 'guns' and
to 'shoot' displays.
A long thin tube which burns with
a bright flame, used to ignite other fireworks.
A mainstay of many a display the
Candle projects a variety of stars, comets or other effects. Often fired
in batteries with mixed and matched effects.
An effect produced, usually with
flash powder - a single loud report and flash.
An effect consisting of erratic
streaks, often humming or whistling.
An assembly of components, usually
fountains, wheels and lances. Set pieces are often pictorial or graphic.
The shell is a sphere or cylinder
of papier mache or plastic which contains stars and a bursting charge,
together with a fuse. It is fired into the air from a tube using a lift
charge, usually black powder. The time the fuse takes determines the height
above the ground at which the shell will burst, igniting and spreading
A star is the bright burning objects
you see ejected from Roman candles, shells, mines etc. consisting of a
pyrotechnic composition fashioned into pellets.
The pyrotechnic composition is mixed with a binder and a small amount
of solvent to make a doughy mass which is then fashioned into stars.
The usual methods are to make the composition into a flat pancake or sausage
and cut it up into stars ("cut stars"), pushing it through a tube with
a dowel, cutting it off at regular intervals ("pumped stars") or rolling
cores of lead shot coated in fire clay in a bowl of the composition ("rolled
Cutting and pumping produce cubic or cylindrical stars, while rolling
produces spherical stars. Pumped stars are the most suitable for Roman
candles, because it is easy to get the correct width. The stars are often
dusted with a primer, usually meal black powder, to ensure ignition.
Pressed stars involve the composition being pressed extremely hard into
a mould with a hydraulic press or similar.
One of the newer aerial effects
consisting of a cluster of slowly descending bright silvery lights, twinkling
on and off.
A rocket consists of a tube of
rocket fuel, sealed at one end, with a choke at the other end. The burning
fuel produces exhaust gases, which, when forced out of the choke, produce
thrust, propelling the rocket in the other direction. At the top of its
flight most rockets burst displaying a variety of effects to rival many
A rocket is not a projected but a powered one. Not only will it not describe
a parabola, but a wind will catch the stick causing the climb to become
flatter and, unlike the rest of the display the rocket will ascend into,
not with the wind. Once the motor is spent the remains of the rocket
will then descend with the wind, returning to the ground , sometimes exactly,
at the firing point.
Solid fuel rockets can be one of two types - end-burning, where the fuel
is solidly packed into the tube, so the fuel can only burn at one end
- and core-burning, where there is a central core longitudinally through
the fuel, so the fuel can burn down its full length. At the top of the
rocket can be a smoke composition, so it is possible to determine the
maximum height ("apogee") of the rocket, or a burst charge and stars.
The path of a projected object.
Under normal conditions the trajectory of a projectile is a parabola.
The major effect which causes this to vary is the wind.
These are similar to gerbs, but
usually do not spray as far. They are usually mounted horizontally in
banks of several tubes, placed some distance above the ground. When ignited,
the effect is like a brilliant waterfall of sparks.
A beautiful aerial effect created
by excess charcoal in the composition of a star. This gives the star an
extra long burning time which creates bright amber falling streaks, simulating
the form of a weeping willow tree.
There is an excellent glossary with much more
technical and chemical detail on Tom Smith's web site. [
click here ] 3. Indoor Fireworks
Generally used as stage, film, TV effects, and for military use and battle
re-enactments. Some terms have already appeared above but the actual device
will be physically different. Indoor and Outdoor must never be confused
or interchanged. NOTE: these effects are often used in very close proximity
to people and to scenery and drapes which must be adequately fireproofed.
A simulated bullet hit can be as lethal as the real thing. They must only
be used with extreme care.
A device consisting of a packet of pyrotechnic powder, an electric
match, and in some cases small pyrotechnic stars designed to simulate
aerial fireworks when suspended in the air.
Any effect designed to create the illusion of bullets impacting, or
ricocheting off of props or actors.
A pyrotechnic device designed to create the effect of a bullet hitting
a prop or actor.
A ready-made effect in a pot complete with igniter and electrical
contacts. When inserted into its pod it is ready to fire. The pod is
wired to a firing box. The whole is a modular effects system using standard
pots and interchangeable cartridges.
A tubular device containing a large pellet of pyrotechnic compostion
that is propelled into the when ignited. This device produces a bright
rising effect with a long tail.
A type of flash powder specifically designed to produce a very loud
A low voltage supply for firing igniters, usually with multiple circuits,
a test facility, key operated security etc.
Nitrated paper. This material is very easily ignited and may be used
to produce a ball of fire, or flash of light.
A pot using theatrical flash powder to produce a bright flash of light
and color with an audible report.
An explosive composition typically containing potassium perchlorate
and powdered aluminum that when ignited produces a bright flash of light,
usually with a loud audible report.
This device is made up of nitrated sting that can been dusted with
various pyrotechnic powders to produce a sparkle or flickering effect
A device consisting of a heavy tube filled with composition and having
a choke or restricted orifice. Upon ignition, the device emits a shower
or spray of sparks and fire. dt class="txtred"> Igniter or Electric
A device used to ignite pyrotechnic material. Electric matches commonly
consist of a wire terminating at a relatively high-resistance bridge
wire surrounded by pyrotechnic composition. Sending the proper amount
of current down the wire to the pyrotechnic component activates the
device. This generates enough heat to ignite the pyrotechnic material
at the end of the match and create a small flame.
This product is the spore of the plant. When aerated it can be ignited
to produce a column of fire.
A cylindrical pyrotechnic device designed to project many ignited
stars and / or other effects into the air.
The part of a modular firing system which holds the cartridge. See
above: cartridge, firing box.
A device made of steel or suitable material, in a variety of shapes
and sizes, utilized to hold and display pyrotechnic compositions.
A type of flash powder that when ignited produces a flash of light
accompanied by a shower of sparks.
Made primarily for loading shotgun shells. This powder is used in
the making of flame projectors.
Photo Flash Powder
A type of flash powder designed to create an extremely brigh flash
of light. This effect may be accompanied by a loud report in some situations.
A term more often encountered in the US to differentiate between indoor
and outdoor display fireworks. Includes situations such as concerts,
theatrical performances and similar.
Spark Producing Device (SPD)
Manufactured device to simulate a short circuit or bullet hit effect.
A device that when ignited produces a large billowing cloud of smoke
in a variety of colors, usually with a loud report.