Firework Shells in 2 1/2 Days – Part 4

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 final installment in a series of articles chronicling my efforts to produce two traditional 8″, Tiger-Willow, paper ball shells, including handmade stars, burst powder, spolette time fuse, lift powder and quickmatch, all at a weekend pyro event.

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 Charocal, detailed the charcoal options for this project. It included the production of homemade charcoal to be used in the various components of the firework 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.

In Part 2, production of the 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.

And then in Part 3, I addressed granulating the black powder, priming the stars, making spolette time fuses, and assembling and pasting the firework shells.

Now it’s time to finish these shells up and get ready to put them into the air.

Well, the shells are dry in the drying chamber. Today I will “lift and leader” them, and tonight fire those babies up, two and a half days after starting this project.

Making Match Pipe

My 8″ mortar is 42″ long on the inside, so I’m going to want two quickmatch shell leaders about 48″ long. The leader is the fuse which leads from the shell at the bottom of the mortar, up and out of the mortar (the “gun”). The leaders for large aerial fireworks shells are typically made of quickmatch, which is black match inserted into a paper tube called match “pipe.”

To make match pipe for these leaders, I roll 3″ x 34″ pieces of 40# virgin kraft paper around a 3/8″ x 36″ aluminum rod (or you could use a wooden dowel), gluing the edge of the paper down with white glue. This will produce double wall pipe.

First, I tear a 34 inch long sheet from my kraft paper roll. Then, I fold the paper in 3 inches from the edge, make a crease, and slice it off in the crease with my sharp knife. I then make a fold the length of this strip, about a half-inch in from the edge. I lay the aluminum rod into that fold, then roll the paper around the rod, pressing and rolling it on my table a few times till the paper is snug around the rod. At this time, I glue the edge and press it down.

Cutting Kraft Paper to be Rolled around an Aluminum Rod Rolling Kraft Paper around an Aluminum Rod
Cutting Kraft Paper and Rolling It around an Aluminum Rod

6 Finished Quickmatch Pipes

6 Finished Quickmatch Pipes

If you look at the bottom of a typical Oriental ball-shell, you’ll notice that the shell lift powder is contained in a conical, paper covering called a shell lift cup.

I have made a little former and template to use in making the shell lift cups.

Former, Pattern, Disc, and Kraft Paper for Firework Shell Lift Cups

Former, Pattern, Disc, and Kraft Paper for Firework Shell Lift Cups

These are based on the lift cups I have seen on some commercial Firework shells. I use the template to cut out a pattern of 60# kraft paper. Then I stick a 2″ chipboard disc on top of the former, wrap the kraft around it, and hot glue the kraft to itself and the disc, creating lift cups as shown.

Finished Shell Lift Cups

Finished Shell Lift Cups

Continue Reading: Firework Shells in 2 1/2 Days – Part 4…

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