Tag Archives: how fireworks work

How Fireworks Really Work

Have you ever wondered how fireworks work, well we found the perfect infographic called ‘Beyond the Boom’?

The firework infographic looks at the up and coming 4th July celebrations and explains mind-boggling facts, for example, did you know that the American firework industry makes nearly $1 BILLION annually.

Beyond the Boom – How Fireworks Work
Infographic by Ghergich & Co.

It also dissects a firework to show how they work in the night sky, how high they go, the different speeds and the performance of the different sized shells.

Another interesting aspect is the breakdown of some of the biggest and amazing fireworks displays around the USA like Macy’s firework spectacular.

The video below by Dr Nikolay Gerasimchuk, who is a professor of chemistry at Missouri State University, explains a little more about the chemical reactions of propellants and explosives inside fireworks.

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Back To School With Rev Ron Lancaster

Here are some very interesting videos by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) hosted by Reverend Ron Lancaster from Kimbolton fireworks – who was recently presented with a plaque in honour of his “services to pyrotechnics” for over 50 years.

The video below is the full 90-minute lecture of Reverend Ron Lancaster’s amazing “Chemistry of Fireworks”.

For those of you that don’t have the time to watch the full 90-minute video, here are some of the best bits we thought you might like:

The different types of Catherine wheels.

The different types of rockets.

The different types of Roman candles.

The different types of lancers and cakes.

The different types of firework shells.

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Ron’s ‘love affair’ with fireworks began at a very early age. He was raised as a child in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, and coincidently, his house was located between two of the leading fireworks companies at that point in time, Lion Fireworks and Standard Fireworks. During the second world war, Ron would wander into the firework factories after school and be intrigued by watching the firework technicians working on military pyrotechnics. At weekends, when the firework factory was closed, Ron would collect up the used parachutes from the military flares and the empty cases – like most young children back then, they were fascinated with pyrotechnics as there wasn’t much else to do.

Something I can completely relate to 🙂

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How Fireworks Work

How Fireworks Work !

How are fireworks made?

Rubber, plastic, penicillin, Teflon, super glue, Coca-Cola, Cornflakes, fireworks …. What’s the connection?

All these common products were invented accidentally!!

It is believed that around 2000 years ago a Chinese monk named Li Tian was mixing up some commonly used kitchen items. Saltpetre, also known as potassium nitrate (created from purifying poop!!) charcoal or possibly sugar as the fuel and sulphur in very specific quantities were all combined. The Chinese people named “Huo Yao” or fire chemical. This mixture became the basis for gun or black powder and hasn’t changed since and is still used today as a lift or burst charge for the “stars”.

Marco Polo was the first European to witness this new advance and immediately saw its potential passing it onto the crusaders in Europe to bring back over to the UK.

Roger Bacon, another monk and noted 13th-century alchemist first looked into the composition and concluded that the elements had very specific purposes. He concluded that charcoal or sugar was used as the fuel to enable the burn to take place, while saltpetre works as an oxidiser removing electrons from the equation, sulphur sits on the fence as a binder slowing down the nitrates reaction.

Add to this the holy grail for the passionate pyro professional …. FLASH POWDER. Flash powder burns at a much faster rate than black powder and is more common these days being added to the mix in the early 1900s and was used initially in ‘flash’ photography. The rules in relation to flash are simple, the more you use the faster the reaction. This may be a good time to mention that 1.3g fireworks can contain up to 25% flash powder whereas 1.4g only contains up to 5%. Ergo 1.3g is up to five times better. Add to the mix a few chemicals to give you some colour, Barium will give you a nice green starburst, where strontium will produce a vivid cherry red.

The stars (or to the non-pyro-head the effects) are made by combining the black powder with other elements, originally formed as a sort of slurry, they are then heated up to in some cases boiling point, then the additional chemicals to produce the different effects are added. This mix is then dried out and milled into balls or cut it cubes (think of an OXO cube and you are not far off). Pack the stars in a coat of black powder coated rice husks, pack tightly into a tube or shell casing and hey presto you have a firework.

Since the early 1500’s fireworks have been used to celebrate Royal weddings, birthdays, coronations and New Year (in fact any occasion you can possibly imagine has at some point been celebrated with fireworks) all from a relatively simple chemical reaction.

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