Firework Shells in 2-1/2 Days – Part 2

Written by Harry Gilliam

Topics: How to Make Fireworks

“Give a person fireworks, and you make them happy for a day.
Teach a person how to make fireworks,
And you make them happy for a lifetime.”

This is the second part of a series of 4 articles detailing the production of ball shells in a minimum timeframe, possibly at a 3-day fireworks club event. The original series ran in 2007 in the Pyrotechnic Guild International’s Bulletins #152-155. This is a somewhat revised re-issue of that series.

In this series I’m exploring the possibility of arriving at the fireworks event with only a few chemicals, some other materials, some tools and equipment, but with no completed pyrotechnic compositions, and then producing good traditional paper ball shells from scratch.

One might ask, “Why paper ball shells? Couldn’t you make plastic shells, or maybe pasted or rinfasciature cylinder shells?” (A. Fulcanelli, in the often-referred-to Pyrotechnica IX and XI series on cylinder shell construction, describes rinfasciature as “a traditional method by means of which shells may be made with dry paper wrap in lieu of pasted wrap.”)

I could, but I like paper shells because they employ such simple, traditional, biodegradable materials. In the long run, I think there will be fewer and fewer places where we are welcome to shoot plastic shells.

I also like ball shells for the nice, round, symmetrical breaks that are possible with them. But, of course, these are just my ‘druthers.

Part 1 – How to Make Charcoal, detailed the charcoal options for this project. It included the production of homemade charcoal to be used in the various components of the shells. The charcoal-making step of the process would occur at home prior to travelling to the pyro get-together.

In the next article ball milling materials, skills and techniques were addressed. (Ball milling will be put into immediate action once we arrive at the site and begin actual production of these shells in this part of the series.)

Well, I’ve arrived on site at our pyro event with homemade charcoal and all the other supplies and equipment I’ll need. At the end of this series of articles I’ll include a complete checklist of all the materials and tools I’ve used in this project.

A pop-up tent is useful for shelter from the sun and possible rain. A couple of folding tables and a chair are also necessary. I like to bring an extra chair or two because the manufacturing area always becomes the place of choice for socializing and educational experiences.

If electric power is not available at the site, a small, portable generator will be required, along with a can of gas for it. In either case, a few 100′ extension cords will be needed. It can be nice to barricade the sound from the generator with a sheet of plywood. (Honda makes some nice, very quiet generators, but they’re not cheap.)

I organize the tools on my table, and I set up the ball mill and associated barricading in a safe, remote location.

First of all, I am scaling this project to the production of two 8″ Tiger Willow ball shells. The first manufacturing order of business will be to ball mill a batch of black powder (BP) with dextrin in it for use in the making of burst powder.

I run a 100′ extension cord to the mill, plugged into a timer at an electric outlet or at the generator. I set the timer for a one-hour mill run time.

I use a small ball mill, with the jar half filled with ball milling media. This mill/media combination is very efficient, turning out very finely milled black powder in an hour. For this project I’ll typically mill a 40-42 ounce batch at a time. (Please see How to Use a Ball Mill Safely and Effectively
article and/or Lloyd Sponenburgh’s Ball Milling Theory and Practice for the Amateur Pyrotechnician, for more information on ball milling.)

Note: Normally, as I indicated in the article on ball milling, I only charge the mill jars with 20-21 ounces of materials to mill black powder. This is the optimal charge for these one-gallon jars to achieve the most efficient milling. But, for this project, I have doubled that material charge amount to speed up the process. This produces powder whose performance is adequate for this endeavor.

I mill a batch of BP with 30 oz. of potassium nitrate, 6 oz. of homemade airfloat charcoal, 4 oz. of sulfur, and 2 oz. of dextrin.

While this batch is milling, I continue to unpack and organize my tools and materials.

When the milling is done, I separate the powder from the media using a 5 gallon bucket separation screen, inserted in another 5 gallon bucket.

I now fill the mill jar with the next 42 oz. batch of BP chemicals to be milled, put the jar in the mill, and set the timer for the second one-hour mill run. From 10:15 – 11:15 am, I run the mill for second batch.

Continue Reading: Firework Shells in 2-1/2 Days – Part 2…

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