Monday, July 04, 2005

How Are Fireworks Made?

Today's the 4th of July, when we celebrate Independence Day in the United States of America. I'm not going to discuss all the standard topics which will be done to death in every other blog. Instead, I am going to talk about fireworks.

Years ago we met Troy. Troy works for a major travelling fireworks company. Typically they set up a month before the 4th of July in major cities that will allow it. They offer an amazing variety of fireworks that they design and manufacture themselves. It turned out that Troy was an excellent designer (called a pyrotechnician) who was excited to be heading for the Olympics (Yes! They have a pyrotechnic category in the Olympics!)

I had always wondered how fireworks were made. I'm sure many of you have, too. When you're a child, it's an awe-inspiring discovery to see a squiggle of flame spurt up from the ground and suddenly burst into something that defies your imagination. (One 4th of July when I was very young, I became so excited with anticipation that I got myself sick over it and couldn't go at all.)

Well, Troy took the time to explain fireworks. He talked animatedly, drawing on a paper napkin with a felt tip pen at a local Denny's one night. Basically, a cardboard tube is made to house the firework and it's plugged at one end with clay (to prevent the fireworks from shooting off in more than one direction). A little black powder charge is poured in and then small shells are placed inside. Those small shells together comprise the patterns that we see when the tube explodes. These patterns are put together very carefully. If you don't pour a pattern correctly, then it might not shimmer with the right colors, or spread into the proper visual (such as a dragon, or a chrysanthemum, or a palm tree).

It's really very mathematical. You need to know how to plan to scatter the shells in an equal distance from each other, and you need to be able to calculate their rate of fall and the timing of each explosion. It also can be quite dangerous when you're working around gunpowder. But despite all this, Troy adores fireworks and the magic that they bring to the crowds. I can't imagine him ever doing anything else.

So when you go to the displays tonight, remember the pyrotechnicians and the vast amount of planning that goes into each and every show that you see. And have a Happy and Safe 4th of July!


Tabasamu said...

Happy 4th of July to you, too, Saur!

Great article, very interesting. I had my boy read it. Thanks!

snicksnack said...

*I* want to be a pyrotechnician!

Saur♥Kraut said...

Happy 4th, TC! Glad you liked it.

Snicksnack, I know, sounds like a great gig, right?

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Happy 4th, Saur.

When I was 13, I got hit in the leg with a firecracker, and have somewhat of a fear.

I do appreciate their beauty from a distance, and thank you for hte information.

Saur♥Kraut said...


That would be scary! I don't blame you. Have a wonderful 4th!

red spice said...

Gracias! A very interesting post.

jevanking™ said...

Happy late 4th to you.

I have always wondered how they worked. I'm glad you could shed some light on this subject for me.

When I lived in Valencia, Spain, it seemed as if every night someone was setting off fireworks for no apparent reason. I'm going to blog about an experience I had with will be a little late for the 4th of July, but you have given me my idea for a blog post today. Thanks!

Saur♥Kraut said...


My pleasure! Glad you could use it. I'll go read your blog next!

Red Spice,

Thank you!

SmileDragon said...

I love fireworks. We even rushed back to the stand at 11:30 last night to get more, so we could have some for the future. They are just to beautiful.

Saur♥Kraut said...


They really are, aren't they? I never lose my fascination for them.