Glossary of Firework Terminolgy
Ever been to a fireworks display or event and heard other people talking firework using technical terms that sound like utter jargon?
Our primary goal here at the Fireworks.co.uk, help you learn and understand more about fireworks!
The firework glossary below will help you to understand what each technical term means so the next time you are at a fireworks event or display you will b able to join in with those others talking shop!
Firework Glossary: Consumer Fireworks
Consumer fireworks or 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 for convenience.
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) 8m safety distance
Category 3 (Cat3) 25m safety distance
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 to display a variety of effects to rival many shells.
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 flattered 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.
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 cascades downwards.
SINGLE SHOT MINES
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.
SINGLE SHOT MINES
A multi-shot mine is basically multiple single-shot mines all fused together in one package usually with varying effects.
MULTI SHOT BARRAGES / CAKES
Better-known once as ‘cakes’ because of the shape of the earlier ones these are now usually referred to as multi shots, 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 BARRAGES / CAKES
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 that 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.
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.
PORTFIRES / TAPERS
A long thin tube which burns with a bright flame, used to ignite other fireworks.
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’.
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:
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 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 stars 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.
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 hummingbird 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.
PROFESSIONAL DISPLAY FIREWORKS
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.
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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 of tape.
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.
Modern fireworks now use a plastic igniter cord.
- 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:
- Category 1: Indoor Fireworks.
- Category 2: Generally, Shop Goods.
- Category 3: Requires a safety distance of 25m to be observed, and a manufacturing specification which ensures that no burning material will fall within this distance.
- Category 4: Only to be used by Explosives factory, or Explosives magazine licence holders and their employees.
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.
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.
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