Spectacular Glitter Tailed Firework Rocket

Written by Harry Gilliam

Topics: How to Make Fireworks

What do I mean by a “spectacular” black powder rocket?

By this term, I am thinking of a great looking firework rocket, with a unique tail as it ascends, followed by a long-lasting, eye-catching heading. Maybe I have in mind a rocket that I wouldn’t know how to improve on. (Of course, I am playing with two-pound versions of this baby already, since bigger is almost always better, or at least different.)

Here is a link to a video of the glitter rocket we are about to make, to get your juices flowing, and so that you don’t have to read all the how-to information before you get to see what it is we’re trying to accomplish.



Click on the Photo for a Video Showing a Homemade Black Powder Rocket with Ascending Glitter Comet and Horsetail Header.



You’ll notice that the rocket does not fly into the stratosphere. It stays relatively low, allowing the audience to watch the graceful, arching glitter trail, and then to be close enough to the sparking horsetail header finish to be able to really appreciate it. This was all done by design, and I wanted this to be a really satisfying “fireworks rocket”, not a high-powered machine.

I described end-burning black powder rocket-and-girandola motors, in a past post, but this project will focus on core-burning rockets.

In Fireworks Tips #65, John Werner discusses the construction of core-burning, black powder sky rockets, specifically 1/2-inch ID (4 ounce) models. John is a master pyro craftsman, and his articles are well-written, detailed, and complete. This one is no exception.

Toward the end of his article, after describing the rocket’s construction in detail, John includes a “Troubleshooting” section, some options for “Modifications and Enhancements,” and answers to some “Frequently Asked Questions.”

I don’t believe in constantly reinventing the wheel, so I’ll simply use John’s article as a foundation and base of reference for this one. I will be constructing 3/4-inch ID, one-pound, black powder rockets in this project.

When I wrote my first article for Skylighter I focused on making clay nozzle and bulkhead mix, and I will be using those mixes in this project.

I discussed black powder techniques in Making & Testing High-Powered Black Powder
, and that BP will be used in the shell headers for these rockets.

I will be cutting and treating tubes, Skylighter #TU1065, as I described in Cutting and Hardening Fireworks Tubes.

I discussed making small plastic can firework shells and those small shells will be used as the headings on the rockets made for this article, with some minor modifications in technique.

I showed how to pump stars and make blackmatch in Firework Shells in 2-1/2 Days – Part 2, and how to prime the stars in Firework Shells in 2-1/2 Days – Part 3, and I’ll make stars and blackmatch using those techniques, with a special star formula for these rocket headings. (Flying fish fuse could also be used in this project with a nice effect.)

Quickmatch pipe was illustrated in Firework Shells in 2 1/2 Days – Part 4, and I’ll be using some of that this time around, too.

And, last but not least, I’ll be showing how to attach some glitter comets, to achieve an extraordinary rising tail with these rockets.

Special techniques for finishing the rockets will be described so that the finished product will be safe and look nice even before it is fired.

So, you can see that all the skills and techniques that have been described in the past years start to build on themselves and come together in this stunningly beautiful rocket I’m about to describe.

You have your homework. Fire up your printer, and get the above mentioned articles in front of you. Study them, and assemble your materials. Then we’ll get to work.

Note: One thing you’ll hear from experienced fireworkers is, “Always take good notes about your experiments and projects, and keep them in a good notebook for future reference. A year from now you won’t be able to clearly remember which of those experiments was the one that worked so well if you don’t take good notes.”

One of the extremely beneficial things about writing these Skylighter articles is that they then serve as my notes, when I might have been too lazy to follow the above advice otherwise. I also have access to the notes of others like John Werner. If you print out the articles, and then annotate them with your own modifications, they can serve as your notes as well.

In Firework Shells in 2-1/2 Days – Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4, I described the process of making “Nice Shells in 2 1/2 Days” at a fireworks event such as a local club gathering or the annual PGI convention.

I think I’ll approach this rocket project in the same way, wherein a fireworker travels to a pyro event with absolutely no complete pyrotechnic materials, and makes everything from scratch at the event, and only in the quantities needed for this project. This eliminates any worry about licenses, storage, or transportation.

In Fireworks Tips #111, Harry included a shot of him and me at the most recent PGI convention out in Gillette, Wyoming. One of the great things about the convention is the opportunity to work alongside others as fireworks devices of all sorts are constructed.

An Empty Room Transformed into a Pyrotechnic Playground

An Empty Room Transformed into a Pyrotechnic Playground

16-Inch Ball Shells Were Made and Shot the Next Day

16-Inch Ball Shells Were Made and Shot the Next Day

Members like Dan Thames Constructed Fancy, Two-Stage Rockets and Some Real Monsters

Members like Dan Thames Constructed Fancy, Two-Stage Rockets and Some Real Monsters

Tony Stader Building His 14-Foot Girandola

Tony Stader Building His 14-Foot Girandola

Kids Like Sarah Widmann Could Even Get in on the Act

Kids Like Sarah Widmann Could Even Get in on the Act

Speaking of kids at the PGI convention, the Junior Pyros there always plan and execute one of the best shows of the week. The next generation of fireworkers is nurtured and brought along slowly and safely. Where would I be now if I’d started in all of this at the age of 15 instead of 35?

So, let’s imagine we are bringing some materials and supplies to the PGI convention, and we are going to build a few of these fine rockets. I’ll actually scale this project so that 10 of these babies can be constructed in a two-day period.

I will arrive on site, and begin building on Friday morning, with the goal of flying some rockets Saturday night. I’ll want to plan my activities according to a time-line.

Before I even leave for the event, I accomplish a few things on the project:

  • Print out all how-to articles and formulae.
  • Unwind 40 feet of 16-ply cotton string with which to make black match.

    Untwisted 16-Ply Cotton String

    Untwisted 16-Ply Cotton String

  • Clean all my rocket tooling and lubricate with Sailkote (by Team McLube, available online or at sailboat distributors). This is a great lubrication product, which allows the tooling and spindle to release very easily from the rocket motor and tube. I also spray it on my star plates, comet pumps, and the aluminum rod I roll my match-pipe on.

    SailKote Spray Lubricant

    SailKote Spray Lubricant

  • Treat and cut my rocket tubes to 7-1/2 inches.

    Ten 3/4-Inch ID, 7-1/2-Inch Long, Rocket Tubes

    Ten 3/4-Inch ID, 7-1/2-Inch Long, Rocket Tubes

  • Roll twelve, 18-inch lengths of paper quickmatch pipe

    Paper Match Pipe for Quickmatch

    Paper Match Pipe for Quickmatch

  • Rip rocket sticks on my table saw. I like to rip sticks out of clear poplar from Home Depot. A 5-foot piece of 1×3 will yield 18 sticks, 5/16-inch square. It is also possible to use round wood dowels, but I much prefer square sticks. 5/16-inch square sticks are nice because I can rip a 5/16-inch wide by 3/4-inch strip off my 1×3, and when I rip that strip in half, my 1/8-inch thick sawblade leaves two 5/16 x 5/16 square sticks.

    Bundle of Freshly Cut Rocket Sticks

    Bundle of Freshly Cut Rocket Sticks

Tasks to accomplish on Friday:

  • Making 40 feet of blackmatch
  • Making 10.5 ounces of black powder for header-burst, and for star and comet priming
  • Mixing, dampening, screening, and drying the rocket fuel
  • Pumping and priming stars
  • Pumping and priming glitter comets

That ought to be a good day’s work, and after drying things overnight in the drying chamber, I ought to be able to assemble some rockets on Saturday.

Click here to learn how to make beautiful glitter tailed rockets

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