“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 a continuation of a series of articles that details the production of good, traditional, paper ball shells in a minimum timeframe, possibly at a three-day fireworks club event. I’m exploring the possibility of arriving at the meet with only a few chemicals, some other materials, some tools and equipment, but with no completed pyrotechnic compositions, and then producing these firework shells from scratch.
The original series of articles ran in 2007 in the Pyrotechnics Guild International’s Bulletins #152-155, and this is a somewhat revised and expanded re-issue of that series.
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.
The next article addressed ball milling materials, skills and techniques. (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.)
In Part 2, making black powder (BP) shell burst granules, black match, shell lift powder, and charcoal tailed stars were begun. Options for star rollers, drying chambers, hydraulic presses, star plates, and homemade shell casings were also discussed.
Today I want to check on how dry the items in the drying chamber are. I also want to granulate the BP pucks, prime the stars and finish drying them, make the spolette time fuses, assemble the shells and paste them in so that they can dry overnight.
I woke up this morning wondering how everything in the dryer was doing. I opened it up, took two stars out of the top screen, and tapped them together. I’ve learned that when they are pretty dry they produce a crisp, clacking sound like two stones being knocked together. The stars are doing just that.
I then took a couple of the stars out to a safe place and lit them one at a time with the propane torch, tossing them into the air when lit. They both ignited well and burned with nice spark trails, burning out just after hitting the ground. This is just how I want this star to burn.
Back in the drying chamber, under the star screens, I unearthed the screen with the BP pucks on it. I stacked the pucks up and weighed them. Yesterday, I started with 20 oz. of mill dust and added 2 oz. of water, so when the pucks are totally dry they ought to weigh 20 oz. again. They now weigh 20.2 oz, so they have just a bit to go. When the pucks are completely dry, they “clink” when they are tapped together, sounding like pieces of pottery or china. This morning they have a slightly duller sound.
I cut a 6″ piece of the black match off of the match frame and took it out into the field to light it. It was nice and stiff and it burned well and consistently.
And, from one of the bottom frames, I removed a very small handful of the burst granules. Putting them on a rock out in the field, I inserted a 6″ piece of the blackmatch and lit it. Great. A quick poof and the puffed rice cores disappeared in the flame. Good and dry.
Ah, life is good. Warning: I have a buddy who wanted to demonstrate how his BP rough powder burned. He made a pile of it and lit it with the torch. The whole backside of his arm got badly burned. Always test burn compositions and devices by installing a piece of fuse so that you can retreat before it all ignites.
Now I want to crush the black powder pucks and screen the granules into usable sizes. First, I put a puck in a little plastic baggie. Then I put the baggie on top of my 6×6 pounding post and whack it with a metal-headed meat-tenderizing hammer until the puck is busted into about 2FA (about 1/4 inch) size granules.