Growing up in Ohio, except for the professional displays on the 4th of July, fireworks pretty much meant sparklers. My first summer in Oregon I was told that you could buy fireworks there. I was very excited as I entered a big tent of all sorts of fireworks. As I looked around I realized... everything I saw was the same...some sort of fountain, and the few that looked interesting were $20 and up. I decided that year that there had to be some way of making these types of things much cheaper, as well as "good" fireworks (you know...things that shoot into the sky). So I began scouring the internet. There were only a few sites that explained how to make the kind of things I was looking for, but it was enough to get me started. My hobby grew as I learned more and more. It was fun because it combined construction with chemistry, physics, and art. The following links are some of my projects and ideas. They are not meant as a tutorial on making fireworks, nor am I encouraging anyone to try to repeat my experiments.
I must note, however, that I am no longer involved in the hobby. After accusations of bomb-building from my ex-wife and thousands of dollars in legal expenses, I got out of the hobby. It still interests me and I will leave this portion of my site active for other pyrotechnic enthusiasts. I also have an archived version of Dan Williams' Pyrotechnic Page here. To read about the legal case against me, click here.
If you decide to enter the world of pyrotechnics, there are a few things you should do/have before anything else:
- Tom Perigrin's book, Introductory Practical Pyrotechnics - This is an excellent source for anyone new to the field of pyrotechnics. It starts at the beginning and helps you build your skills as you progress through the various projects. Available at Skylighter.
- Good dust mask and rubber gloves - Pyrotechnic construction can create a lot of dust and you don't want the chemicals all over your hands and in your lungs. Get a large quantity of latex gloves and a NIOSH respirator mask.
- Scales - I used a triple beam balance scale and a digital postal scale, both of which can easily be found on E-bay. All composition formulas in pyrotechnics are listed in parts by weight so you'll need to be very accurate.
- Mixing screens - The finer the individual chemicals, the better your compositions will perform. I recommend a set from 10 to 100 mesh. You can get these at Skylighter as well.
- Rammers - You'll need rammers for things like drivers, fountains and rockets. You can use hardwood dowels, but I recommend aluminum. You can find aluminum rods on most pyrotechnic sites, but what a markup! You're better off ordering from Online Metals. You can find all the aluminum you need, there's no minimum, and they custom cut.
- Tools - In addition to good general tools, some specific ones you'll need are a drill press, a dead blow hammer, and a hot glue gun. Other handy items to have would be a table saw and band saw.
- Grinders - Browse through your local thrift store or just bite the bullet and go to Wal-Mart, but you'll want a couple of coffee grinders for processing individual chemicals. They sure beat using a mortar and pestle.
These are some basic and other tools that are needed or handy. I don't have specific instructions for the more advanced ones, but there are some links with good info.
Here is a list of my favorite formulas for stars and more. There are many more you could use, but these have worked well for me.
Pics & Video
Passfire - A subscription website, but for $25 a year you get great project and tool tips complete with detailed instructions and pictures. The site is updated monthly and prior months are all available in their archives.
American Fireworks News - A great site that offers a monthly newsletter as well as loads of great instructional books and videos.
Pyrotechnics Guild International - Membership info. Members can attend the annual week long convention.
Dan Williams' Amateur Pyro Page - The first site I came across and in my opinion one of the best. A lot of my work has been based on Dan's.
PyroSupplies.com - carries lots of shell building and other supplies that are hard if not impossible to find anywhere else. Check out their virgin kraft paper and selection of twine.
Wolter Pyro Tools - When you need to purchase pyrotechnic tooling, you can't do better than Richard Wolter. Great quality items at very fair prices.
Skylighter - Chemicals, paper, plastics, and just about anything else you need to build fireworks. Best selection of books and videos too.
FireFox - also carries chemicals and other components. Generally a bit less expensive than elsewhere.
Discount Pyro - carries chemicals and supplies at lower prices. Check out their current specials.
Precocious Pyrotechnics - has consumer fireworks, but more importantly, a good selection of shell building materials including imported Japanese paper hemispheres.
Hobby Fireworks - Quality made pyro tools like presses and star rolling machines.
United Nuclear - has information on making display items and also sells various chemicals.
Dimock's Pyro Page - has information regarding licensing and the PGI convention. A lot of links, though some are outdated.
Kastner Mortars - sells HDPE mortars.
Online Metals - The Small Quantities Specialist - If you're lucky enough to be able to mill metal (or even have a friend who can) you can make a lot of your own tools at a reasonable cost. I bought enough aluminum here to make 2 complete sets of rocket tools with enough left over for several rammers, and it cost me less than a 4oz. rocket tool kit ready-made.