Types of fireworks
Fireworks have come a long way from the red Firecrackers used to ward off evil spirits in ancient China. Now there seems to be a firework available to suit every need and occasion, from the Small to Big Rockets, Fountains and Catherine Wheels that you might use in your back garden to commemorate Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night), to the massive aerial display shells used at larger public displays and events. Nowadays you can even buy fireworks that are suitable for indoor use.
Here is a summary of the various types of firework available to the general public:
Compound Cakes are new to the UK market first introduced in 2016 due to changes in the law.
A compound firework starts out as two or more Single Ignition Fireworks or Firework Cakes; these can be small, medium or large sized fireworks. Each of these individual cakes can contain up to the following N.E.C.
These firework cakes are then linked underneath by a fuse; next, they are affixed to a wooden board predominantly plywood. Each compound firework has two fuses, The primary located on the first firework cake, is used to ignite and set off the firing sequence of the linked fireworks.
A backup or reserve fuse on the other end of the compound firework; this can be used to light the firework in reverse order in the event something goes wrong with the primary fuse, e.g. the firework stops part way through its firing sequence.
To learn more about compound fireworks please read our article: What are compound fireworks
The most commonly known type of firework, when launched into the air the Sky Rocket can climb to an enormous height. Depending on the type of rocket used, some can reach 100-200 feet before exploding with a loud bang (also known as a report). Two of our newest big rockets and most powerful in the UK are Notorious and Trident, each of these single big rockets contain 195g of power, the legal limit in the UK is 200g of powder, both Trident and Notorious whistle as they ascend approximately 40m up before exploding and providing their unique effect’s that spreads well over 100 ft wide. Rockets can be purchased either individually or as a multi-pack ranging from 2-5 rockets.
Single Ignition Fireworks, also known as Barrage fireworks, are pre-packed, ready Cakes that contain a mixture of firework types to create their own unique effect. It’s no surprising that these are some of the most popular firework products in the UK, as they allow people to purchase a brilliant display in one small package. As with Cakes, Barrages may contain a mix of fireworks, including Mines and Roman Candles. In a nutshell, people wishing to run their own display can purchase several barrages and simply ignite one at a time for a pre-prepared fireworks extravaganza.
To learn more about single ignition fireworks please read our article: What are single ignition fireworks
Roman Candles are typically made up of a cardboard outer casing and filled with individual balls which shoot out stars periodically after ignition. As with sky rockets, Roman Candles can be used both individually and as part of a Cake. Roman Candles can expel stars in just a single colour or a variety of colours. A number of noise effects are available for these fireworks, including hummers and crackles.
Fountains are a great option for those who want to experience the beautiful visual element of a firework but without the loud and often surprising sound effects, such as bangs and whistles. Fountains so-called as once lit, they release a shower of sparks. The composition of a Fountain may be in such a way so that sparks are released in just one colour or, by placing the powder inside in layers, different colour variations can be created, such as sparks of gold followed by sparks of green or silver – the possible colour variations are endless. The size of the Fountain container will dictate the size of the shower and how long it will last – some Fountains can last for several minutes in total.
Catherine Wheels get their name from St. Catherine who, according to legend, was to be martyred upon a spinning wheel. The legend states that when Catherine touched the wheel it broke into many pieces, as if by a miracle. The Catherine Wheels of today are made up in a couple of ways – one being of a tube filled with powder which is then coiled. When the fuse is lit, the wheel rotates at speed thus producing a spiral effect of coloured flame and sparks.
The other style of Catherine Wheel is made up with several small rockets attached to a cardboard frame, with a fuse running between each rocket. The propellant within these small rockets is designed to create enough thrust to spin the cardboard frame. In order to use the wheel safely, it must be pinned to a stake in the ground. The noise effects associated with Catherine Wheels include crackles and whistles, which are emitted as the coil spins. Catherine Wheels are great to watch on their own but they can also be set up in different arrangements, such as the ‘five-wheel’ setup, in which five individual wheels are pinned into stakes to form a cross with one wheel in the centre.
The effect of a Mine firework may be short-lived but it is certainly dramatic and spectacular, to say the least! Also known as ‘pot á feu’, the mine is shot from a mortar shell at ground level and shoots coloured stars into the sky with a variety of flashes and bangs. Mines are generally the loudest of all fireworks, with noise levels sometimes reaching as high as 120 decibels.
Of course, how could we forget the sparkler – a nostalgic childhood reminder for many UK adults of cold Novembers made entertaining thanks to this very simple, humble form of firework. Sparklers consist of a small, handheld metal stick which, when lit, emits a constant stream of sparks. Waving the stick around outside creates dazzling shapes in the evening dark. Once the solution that feeds the sparks has been depleted, the sparkler will go out. Modern varieties may be constructed from wood with a paper tube attached and, when lit, emit sparkles that change colour thanks to using different ingredients. Regardless of the type of sparkler used, no 5th of November evening is ever complete without the sight of people donning these classic handheld fireworks.
To learn more about sparklers please read our article: Sparkler how are they made