Welcome to "Secrets of Professional Fireworks Displays"
Welcome to the SkylighterFireworks.com newsletter, "Secrets of Professional
Fireworks Displays." We are blessed to have one of the most competent fireworkers
in the US, Ned Gorski, writing an article every two weeks for this newsletter. We
hope you enjoy them and find them useful. Please let us know what you would like
to read about and learn. We're wide open to suggestions. We'll be sending this
newsletter to both Skylighter.com subscribers as well as SkylighterFireworks.com
subscribers. But after January, unless you have subscribed to this newsletter, you
won't see it anymore. So subscribe now, if you want to continue to receive it.
It's free, of course.
Just a reminder, if you need fireworks for New Year's Eve, your order must be
received here no later than noon, Monday, December 22nd. After that, there will
not be enough time to get the order to you for your New Year's Eve display.
Use Wholesale Fireworks for Your New Years Fireworks Display
By Ned Gorski
Why I Create Fireworks Shows
I'm Ned Gorski, and I love fireworks.
I suppose that would be how I'd introduce myself at a "Fireworks Anonymous" 12-step
But, the truth is I don't want to stop playing with fireworks. I just want to do so
safely, sanely, and ever more creatively.
Like many of us, I've loved fireworks since I was a kid playing with toy soldiers, and
creating mock battles in the sand with firecrackers.
I remember as a kid, about 50 years ago, when my Dad would buy cherry bombs, silver
salutes, and M-80's and we'd light 'em and toss 'em into the Lake of the Ozarks on
Honestly, those fond memories do make me shiver a bit today. Knowing what I know now
about the power of those bygone devices, I would never hold one of them in my hand and
light the fuse before tossing it. And I would certainly never allow my kids to.
Looking back, I remember when Dad decided to see what an M-80 would do if placed in a
metal garbage can filled with water. That can was placed out for the trash man to take
away the next week, split wide open and ruined.
It's great that the safety and consistency of consumer fireworks, along with their variety
and artistry, have come so far in the past decades.
Writing for Skylighter Fireworks
For a while now, I've been writing how-to articles for Skylighter.com, which sells
supplies to fireworks hobbyists who are interested in making their own fireworks.
It has been a pleasure to do so, and I appreciate this new opportunity to share my
insights in essays about consumer fireworks here at SkylighterFireworks.com.
For about 15 years Skylighter has been a great place for fireworks hobbyists like me to
buy the supplies we need to pursue our passion.
But, now this latest aspect of Skylighter, with actual fireworks for sale, and the
opportunity to buy consumer display fireworks for personal and competition fireworks shows,
and to do so at wholesale fireworks prices, is pretty exciting.
There's one problem, though. There's so much to choose from when I'm picking product for my
Fourth of July firework display, or my New Year's Eve fireworks celebration, that the choice
One of my main goals, as I write these articles about consumer fireworks for you, is to
accurately describe what each type of device does, and to highlight some of the product
As I'm picking product for fireworks displays, information such as the length of time
each device fires, along with photos and videos of the devices, is vital to my show
This is the information I will be focusing on as I shine a light on these fireworks,
along with fireworks safety.
My Experience in Display Fireworks
For about 20 years I've been passionate about learning how to make various fireworks
devices, from rockets and fountains to aerial shells as large as 16-inches in diameter.
I have a Federal manufacturing license and have competed nationally with my hand-made
devices, and have been fortunate enough to have won the Pyrotechnics Guild International's
(PGI) "Grand Master" award.
PGI's Grand Master Award
When participating in such competitions, there are two basic types of categories: device
construction, and show production.
One of the basic competitions at the national PGI convention, and also at regional fireworks
club events, is the production of Consumer Fireworks Displays.
In addition to making our own devices, many of us passionate fireworkers do enjoy the
challenge of producing an effective, complete fireworks display. But, a lengthy, complete
fireworks display would be difficult to produce using only homemade fireworks devices. It
simply takes too much time and effort for one person to manufacture that many fireworks.
That's where commercially manufactured fireworks come into action. We can go to our fireworks
distributor, purchase the various fireworks we want to employ in our show, and then apply our
own creativity to the production of the display.
As a licensed, professional, fireworks display operator, and as an active member of various
pyrotechnics guilds, I personally have participated in hundreds of professional and amateur
fireworks displays. I enjoy the creativity and potential for entertaining an audience with that
Many of us who do enjoy putting on such a display truly strive to be artists and entertainers.
Our goal is to evoke awe and emotion in an audience.
There is no more sure-fire way to entertain a small audience than with a well-planned consumer
fireworks display. The gratification I get when I hear the crowd roar in appreciation at the
end of the show is unsurpassed.
And in the guild competitions, I get to put my display choreography and production skills up
against other highly skilled pyros. There are large competitions, which span the width of the
whole field, and small, compact ones where all the devices are required to fit on one 4-foot
by 8-foot piece of plywood, with only one fuse being lit at the beginning of the show. Points
are sometimes awarded for the display, which comes the closest to a pre-set time, such as 5
The opportunities for creativity, artistry, entertainment, technical expertise, and plain old
enjoyment are almost endless when one begins with a vision and a few cases of consumer
Different Types of Consumer Fireworks Ready for the "Big Show"
Legalities of Amateur Firworks Displays
The consumer fireworks devices sold by reputable outlets are regulated for safety and manufacture
by federal agencies and fireworks laws. Therefore, these are federally legal fireworks.
But you need to know if you are legal locally. You should check your local and state laws and with
authorities before planning a show and purchasing your fireworks. Often, if they know what you are
doing, they will be on your side. You can have peace of mind knowing you're not going to get in trouble
for your pyrotechnic efforts.
It goes without saying, though, that the quickest way for a fireworks display to go awry is to have
a police car with flashing lights pull up and to have an officer tell us to "shut it down."
Safety in Your Fireworks Show
OK, this is the section many are tempted to skip in the enthusiasm and excitement about getting
on with the show. But, if I stop for a moment, close my eyes, and imagine my fireworks display
damaging some property, injuring me or, God-forbid, injuring some member of the
audience--especially some innocent kid--then the motivation to think about firework safety issues
all the way through becomes apparent.
Some thought and planning can ensure a safe, enjoyable and memorable fireworks display. What
follows is, of course, not an all-inclusive safety checklist. It pays to thoroughly imagine what
could go wrong and plan for those possibilities. What I like to do is to sit down and visualize
every step of the show, every action that will be taken, and try to imagine what could go
PGI Display Fireworks Operator Certification Study Guide
Storage of Fireworks
I'll be purchasing and receiving cases of fireworks prior to my planned event. Where will I be storing
them safely before I take them out to use? Maybe I'll be using some of the fireworks today, and the rest
in two months. How can I store them 'til then?
None of us plan on a house-fire, but if I have one and I have cases of fireworks stored in my residence,
then disaster is just around the corner. A clean, dry, lockable, non-residential storage location is
A shed with a good lock would be a good idea. You can also rent a small, lockable, enclosed trailer
for storage. Some folks buy lockable, metal tool storage cabinets.
You get the idea. You don't want kids or thieves getting into your fireworks stash, so a good lock
is necessary. Don't store fireworks under the bed or next to the water heater or furnace. If there
is a fire, you don't want to jeopardize your home or safety.
Planning Your New Years Eve Fireworks Display
When I am planning a fireworks display, I accept a responsibility to do so carefully and
thoughtfully. Unless I'm willing to take this responsibility seriously, I'd be better off going
back to watching TV.
Where will you be setting up the display? What sort of distances will there be to the spectators,
automobiles, residences, dry fields and trees, etc? Is there a particular fire hazard because of
recent weather conditions? Do you need to have folks move their cars so any burning fallout won't
There are some commonly accepted general guidelines when it comes to determining safe separation
distances between fireworks and audiences in a commercial display. These can serve as guidelines
for consumer fireworks use, too:
75 feet for ground display devices like fountains, strobes, small wheels, etc.
125 feet for large ground devices and for smaller multi-shot repeater cakes
70 feet-per-inch of tube ID for aerial shell mortars (i.e. 125 feet for 1.75-inch artillery
shells, 210 feet for 3-inch aerial shells)
Maintaining these safe distances when I plan and lay out my display can go a long way toward ensuring the
safety of the audience and personal property.
Bystanders are curious and love to walk around inside a fireworks display area, while the show is being
set up. Erecting a safety barricade with some plastic safety barrier tape and fence posts can keep
bystanders out of the display area as the show is being prepared.
Erect a Caution Tape Barricade to Isolate Shoot Site
Day-of-the-Show Safety Precautions
Some basic safety gear and precautions can make the day of the show a safe and enjoyable one.
If it's going to be a hot day, do I have plenty of water and cold, non-alcoholic beverages for my
helpers and me? (Hopefully, it goes without saying that the consumption of alcohol by display
operators should be saved for after the show and its cleanup.)
Basic safety gear for shooters includes: safety glasses, hard hats, gloves, long-sleeved cotton
shirts and pants (synthetic clothing will melt onto skin if it is exposed to heat), and hearing
protection. All of these items and others I'm about to mention are readily available at local
stores such as Home Depot. I like thin leather gloves which protect my hands but allow me to feel
shells and fuses as I'm reloading during a show.
A 5-gallon bucket of water can immediately cool a burned hand, and it and a couple of pump-up
garden sprayers can douse fires in spent fireworks devices, or grass-fires. The most common
source of fire during a display is cake devices that continue to burn after firing. A quick spray
of water can nip those fires in the bud before they get out of control and spread.
Fireworks Display Fire Control: Pump-Garden-Sprayers, 5-Gallon
Bucket of Water
A first-aid kit with bandages and burn ointment is absolutely necessary to have at the
Using flashlights while fireworks are being ignited helps locate the fuse, and prevents the
operator from tripping over other devices in the dark. I personally like to use a
ball-cap-bill-mounted flashlight, which provides hands-free illumination as I'm working.
These cost about 5 bucks at Home Depot. This light will also mount on the brim of a hardhat.
Cap Mounted Flashlight, Thin Leather Gloves Used In Fireworks Displays
On pavement, many devices, like large multi-tube repeaters, are stable and require no additional
reinforcement. But on most other surfaces, many devices are prone to bouncing and tipping over
when they fire, which can create a dangerous situation if they happen to be pointing toward a
shooter or the audience. So, on grass or in a field, stakes and tape are needed to stabilize
devices to keep them from tipping over during the display. Stakes and duct-tape, or bricks, can
be used to stabilize devices as they are set up.
When staking and taping a cake, remember to leave the fuse exposed on the front of the item for
easy ignition during the display. If the cake is being set up on wet or snowy ground, placing
some plastic under it will prevent the firework from absorbing moisture as it sits there.
Stabilized Repeater Cake and Single-Tube Mortar, With Stakes-and-Tape
and Bricks, Cake-Fuse Exposed and Ready to Light
Large plastic, lawn-and-leaf bags and plastic sheeting or tarps are a good thing to have on hand in
case of inclement weather prior to firing the display. The bricks can be used to weight the plastic
down in a wind.
Store aerial shells, which are to be reloaded during the display, in a fireproof container such as
a plastic cooler. This will protect them from accidental ignition from burning fallout during the
display. Keep this "ready box" closed except when a shell is being removed from it. If there are
different size shells, such as 1.5-inchers and 1.75-inchers, store them in separate containers in the
vicinity of their matching-sized mortars to avoid confusion during reloading. The fuses should be
unwound and ready for reloading during the display.
Ready-Box with Aerial Fireworks Shells Ready to Be Reloaded During a
Lighting Your Display Fireworks
All the fuses on the devices should be pointing in one direction for easy ignition by the operator
during the display.
All of the mortars should be cleaned out prior to the show if they have been used previously. Paper
wrapping and "lift cups" can be left in the bottom of them from previously fired shells. During
the show, prior to reloading new aerial shells, this debris should be cleaned out by either turning
the mortar upside down and dumping out the trash, or by using a thin, long cleanout stick with a
nail in the end of it to grab the trash and pull it out.
Every device should be ignited with the assumption that it will begin firing immediately, even
though the safety fuse "should" provide 3-5 seconds of delay after ignition before the device
fires. Never place any body part over the device during or after ignition. Fireworks mortar tubes
are, in effect, very powerful cannons.
If you've ever tried to light a fuse with a match in the wind, or have had the burning "spit"
from a safety fuse burn your thumb when you've lit it with a small cigarette lighter, then you
know there has to be a better way. I only use trigger-operated propane or butane torches to light
fireworks devices. They allow my hands to be out of the way. They provide strong, positive, quick
ignition, and some light in addition to my head-flashlight. I especially like the little butane,
Self-Igniting Butane & Propane Torches For Lighting Fireworks
A "hang-fire" shell is one where the fuse ignites and burns, but the shell does not lift out of the
mortar. This creates one of the most dangerous situations for the operator. The way to handle this
situation is to assume the shell can launch at any moment. Cease using that mortar, and let it sit
as-is for at least 30-60 minutes. Everyone on the display site must be made aware of the location of
the misfired shell. After the waiting period, using the 5-gallon bucket of water, completely douse the
shell in the mortar, filling the mortar half full of water. After the defective shell has been sitting
in the water for a while, dump it out and save it to be burned in a trash burn-pile at a safe, later
After all the devices have been fired and you've taken your bows in front of the appreciative audience,
get a cold soda pop, and wait 15-30 minutes before beginning the site cleanup. This allows things to
cool down, and ensures that no un-noticed misfires launch during clean up.
After that waiting period, and wearing all appropriate protective gear, check all multi-tube cakes and
shell-mortars for misfires. Place all unfired, defective devices in a safe location and douse them
completely with water. Burn them at a safe time and location in a trash burn-pile.
Assume that empty cakes can catch fire during the night, so stack them in a safe location, and not in
garbage cans in your garage. For the same reason, do not transport them in a vehicle that night. If
the trash it to be put out for the garbage service to remove, make sure it has no duds, misfires, or
live product of any kind in it.
The shoot site should be cleaned up and inspected thoroughly the night of the display for duds before
the general public is allowed onto the site. Then the area should again be checked the following
morning in the daylight to locate any other unspent devices, which could fall into the hands of
curious children and possibly injure them.
Trash should be raked up, and any holes in the ground should be filled in. Leave the site like you
With planning focused around all of these subjects, a successful, relatively stress-free, safe and
enjoyable fireworks display can be produced. Most folks will never realize the amount of work that
goes into a good show, but they also will never get to experience the satisfaction that comes from
creating such a work of art and hearing the audience's cheers during and after it.
You Can Do This New Year's Eve Firworks Display
New Year's Eve presents some unique opportunities and challenges as far as fireworks displays go.
In my neck of the woods it will be very cold that night, so my audience won't be willing to stand
outside for long. If I want to shoot my "stuff" at midnight, I really don't want it to be
tremendously loud and annoy neighbors who might have retired earlier than us revelers.
With these considerations in mind, I chose four different devices to celebrate with this year. All
of these are currently available from SkylighterFireworks.com and can be delivered to you in time
for your show if you order by December 22nd. If you order them before December 31st, you can even
get free shipping.
I'll start with some "luminaries" fountains lining the driveway, on the lawn alongside
it, and ignited as my guests arrive. For this effect I'll use Hawaiian Rainbow,
If sober guests want to have some fun by lighting their own devices during the evening,
I'll have some roman candles available. I really like American
Lancers, #2RC1003, and I'll have some used artillery shell mortars for them to place the
candles into prior to lighting them.
I plan on placing the bricks and fountains every five feet, in a line 10 feet off the edge of my
driveway, on the downwind side. As my guests arrive and park on the street, I'll light the "luminaries"
fountains starting at the street-end of the line and let my guests walk up the driveway, enjoying the
unique greeting, making sure they stay well away from the flames and smoke.
American Lancers - 8 Shots
These patriotic roman candles each pack 8 powerful shots of alternating red, white, and blue stars
Duration: 14 seconds
Height: 50-70 feet
Quantity per case: 36/4. 4 candles per pack, 36 packs, 144 candles per case.
Single-tube, 8-shot roman candle
Nice, consistent roman candle with good variety between the four different effects:
red, white, blue, and crackle
Although it was done for decades, it is no longer recommended that roman candles be held
in the hand. It is best to place them into a hole in the ground, tape them to a stake, or
insert them into a reloadable-artillery-shell mortar. Four of the American Lancers will fit
into a 1.75-inch ID mortar, and can be lit simultaneously to create a multi-tube repeater
American Lancer Roman Candles Inserted in 1.75-Inch Artillery Shell
Mortar for Safe Operation
Three great rockets with varied effects: whistling tail to delayed crackling, red whistling tail
to crackling flowers, and green whistling tail to crackling.
Quantity per case: 72/12. 72 packs of 12 rockets for a total of 864 rockets per case.
864 rockets in a case, for less than 20 cents per rocket. Well, this is a no-brainer. Enough howling, whistle rockets for a year.
There are three different rocket-effects in each package: howling whistle to a crackling starburst; a howling whistle motor which ejects small red stars as it rises and ends in a crackling starburst; and a howling whistle motor which ejects small green stars as it rises and ends in a crackling starburst.
The rockets can be comfortably launched from pieces of PVC plumbing pipe, which have been driven into the ground.
These are light, small rockets, so fallout from them ought to have minimal impact. Just the same, I want to make sure that I fire them in a direction which ensures that spent rockets and fallout lands away from buildings, vehicles, or spectators.
Well, there are my plans for the New Year's Eve celebration, and the four cases of product I can order from SkylighterFireworks.com to make my audience happy.
Have a great, safe holiday season and a Happy New Year.
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