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How Are Fireworks Made? (Part 1)

Posted July 03, 2008 12:01 AM by frankd20

How are fireworks made? I want to know the real details - stuff about the individual chemicals and how they're put together. That's what I was telling myself after watching a TV show about fireworks the other night. Maybe you've got some questions of your own, too.

In the United States, the Fourth of July is a celebration of our independence. It's also a day when Americans watch loud, colorful fireworks displays all across the land. So, to get a head start on the festivities, I tuned-in to that TV show about pyrotechnics – how fireworks are made and where the technology is today. The history portion talked about how the technology behind fireworks used to be a secret, and was once considered to be magical and powerful. The show went on to summarize how fireworks were made, but offered no real details.

That's where this blog entry comes in. But be careful. Check your state and local laws before applying anything about fireworks that you learn on the Web. Plus, you might want to think about how you could wind up on some watch list for the FBI. You think I'm kidding, right?

The Engineer's Perspective

As an engineer, I want to know how things work. I'm not satisfied with some 10-mile high view like you get on a TV show. So, using the Internet, I discovered that fireworks are made by large companies with closely-guarded formulas, and by small groups or individual hobbyists with published or private recipes. There are many large fireworks manufacturers, often with Italian names such as Zambelli, Grucci, and Bartolotta. On the hobbyist side, there is a whole subculture dedicated to the art of making fireworks. One leading group, Pyrotechnics Guild International, consists of members and clubs from all over the country. If you really wanted to learn the art, you could join one of these groups and learn from some knowledgeable people.

Alternatively, you could read some books or watch some videos on the topic. Books such as the "Complete Art of Firework-Making" by Thomas Kentish, "Fireworks: The Art, Science and Technique" by Takeo Shimizu, and "Introductory Practical Pyrotechnics" by Tom Perigin seem to be popular. There are also many videos with demonstrations of how to build pyrotechnic devices. If you really get into it, you may want to keep up on the latest technologies and goings-on. You could even subscribe to a fireworks publication such as American Fireworks News.

One thing I learned in my research is that both hobbyists and large companies build fireworks by hand since machines can generate sparks and be dangerous. So, before you continue on to Part 2, remember two things: be careful, and check your state and local laws. (My editor made me say that, but I don't want you to get hurt either.)

Editor's Note: Part 2 of this two-part series will run tomorrow, right here on CR4.

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Popular Science - Weaponology - Scapolie, new member.

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#1

Re: How Are Fireworks Made? (Part 1)

07/04/2008 10:41 AM

Most fireworks use balck powder as their driving element, and to produce a sparkle effect they use iron filings and aluminium filings. To broduse the colours they had various oxides and chemicals, for red they use Strontium oxide, for green they use barium oxide, the others I do not know.

Spencer.

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#2

Re: How Are Fireworks Made? (Part 1)

07/05/2008 12:57 PM

A better question to ask in keeping with the 4th of July is: How was gun powder made for the muzzle loaders and cannons that made Independace Day possible?

Forget the razzle dazzle fireworks of today and explore the technology of days long past.

Start with "Look for a bat cave or cave where bats had lived...

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Guru
Popular Science - Weaponology - Scapolie, new member.

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: How Are Fireworks Made? (Part 1)

07/06/2008 6:29 AM

Hi Stirling Stan,

By looking in a bat cave I presume you mean looking for the bat droppings as a means of obtaining KNO3?

Here in the middle ages we used to use urine as a scource of the same material, in fact this was used up until the 19th century. Charcoal for the carbon was easily obtained, but the sulphur was not so easily obtainable in the UK.

We also used to mine vast quatities of K-Alum, which was then treeted to produse the KNO3, in fact here in Birmingham there is a district called "Alum Rock" where they mined K-Alum for this purpose during the Napoleonic wars!

Spencer.

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#4

Re: How Are Fireworks Made? (Part 1)

07/07/2008 5:28 AM

In the UK the manufacture & modification of any firework is strictly controlled and the rules seem to get tighter every year. There are also additional restrictions imposed by the insurance companies who are willing to provide cover for the storage & lighting of fireworks.

There are some UK companies such as Essex & Kimbolton who manufacture fireworks but, sadly, not as many as there used to be.

Having said that, I've been involved in staging firework displays for almost 20 years & hope to continue for some time yet, it is fantastic fun.

I have links to sites about making fireworks at home & will see if I can post some suitable ones tonight.

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#5

Re: How Are Fireworks Made? (Part 1)

07/08/2008 1:49 AM

marking it.

China is the one of the largest output country for its wonderful firework.

We learned how to make it in our middle school chemistry class. as well as neon lamp.

very interesting, verious kinds of color. good look.

every celebrition days, we play it. oh, most of them expensive.

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#6

Re: How Are Fireworks Made? (Part 1)

07/09/2008 7:40 AM

I too saw a special last week on the History Channel on fireworks. One of the things that intruiged me the most was the replacement of potassium nitrate in the gunpowder formula with another chemical to slow the burn rate. I forgot its name, CRS you know.

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