Stars & Shell Inserts: Garnitures

Written by Harry Gilliam

Topics: How to Make Fireworks

“Garnitures.” Kind of an old-fashioned word, not heard very often in conversation. But, as used to describe the class of fireworks components we are about to look at, I’ll be darned if I can find a better word.

From “Traditional Cylinder Shell Construction, Part I” by A. Fulcanelli, found in Pyrotechnica IX:

“Garnitures. The general term “garniture” refers to the contents of a shell (e.g., cut stars, pumped comets, serpents, whistles, reports, tourbillions; essentially anything that will fit in a shell.”

Pumped-Star Garnitures Filling a Shell-Casing Hemisphere

And, from the dictionary, the root of the word “garniture” lies in the term “garnish,” which is defined as “to furnish with beautifying details.”

To furnish with beautifying details. Doesn’t that sound lovely? That’s exactly what we are asking of our various types of garnitures.

There are basically two “sub-assemblies” of a fireworks shell. The first assembly includes the shell leader-fuse, the lift powder, the time fuse, the shell casing, and the burst powder. That whole integrated construct, though, serves one purpose-that of getting the second assembly, the garnitures, up into the air and ignited. Without the garnitures, the shell wouldn’t really serve any purpose.

So garnitures refer to the contents of a shell, whether it is used as an aerial shell, a rocket heading, or as an insert in another shell. (In the case of a shell insert to be used inside a larger shell, I suppose the contents of that smaller shell could be referred to as “garnitures of garnitures,” or maybe garnitures squared.)

The contents of fireworks mines, and other ground devices-such as cakes, roman candles, and single-shot comets-would also be called garnitures.

Continue Reading: Stars and Shell Inserts…

24 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. justin says:

    Is there a specific or general size of the tube when you are making a hummer? or is it just simply how large and long you want it?

  2. fireram67 says:

    This is the first year that I’m making two inch and three inch paper ball shells. Can someone help me on the amount of whistler’s mix I need for the burst charge for the two of them. Thanks.

  3. Lyndle says:

    Great article as usual Ned. But you’ve just scratched the surface. We want more! and Details!

    One comment. I tried making whistle inserts like you showed but the small restriction from the blackmatch residue is enough to turn these into salutes almost 100% of the time. I’m using the same catalysed fuel I use for rockets with a few % Ti.

    Fuse these from the comp end and use the cavity in the top for a touch of flash and you’re good to go.

    • ned says:

      That’s interesting, Lyndle, on the whistle inserts.
      Sounds like the whistle fuel was too hot to be restricted at all.
      Maybe a thinner, hotter, and less-slaggy blackmatch would work better,,or a toned-down whistle composition.
      Sounds like you found a creative way to make them work, with an added ‘effect’.
      Thanks,,,and details forthcoming..

      • Lyndle says:

        That’s my guess too Ned,

        I don’t do anything special to my whistle but it is catalysed for rockets which does make it hotter. Reversing the fusing works, the sound and performance is great and I don’t have to make and store two different whistle mixes. I add the metal as I use it in small paper cup increments for safety. Whistle mix scares me more than flash so I’m very careful!

        BTW these are the favorite inserts of everyone that has seen my rockets. The effect lasts several seconds longer than hummers or tourbillions, The sound is awsome, Great spark trail, and a report at the end. What’s not to like?


        • Derek says:

          I would like some information on whistle inserts as well. Not so much rockets and things – there’s lots of good information out there (and on Skylighter) for those sorts of things. But I haven’t been able to find much regarding simple inserts. There are a couple of books in Skylighter’s library that I’m probably going to pick up in the near future, but I like to do plenty of research and it’s somewhat frustrating not having much internet-based material to draw from. Call me spoiled :)

  4. AZFIREBALL says:

    Great write-up!
    The only thing I can think of, to improve it, would be links to vids showing each of the effects you talk about.
    Nice to have all this info in one place. Thanks!

  5. swadesh chakraborty says:

    seeking the technic of a rocket(KNo3, C, S) which blust on the lofty sky and many stars are diverged with light.

  6. Gil Johnson says:

    Hello guys, thanks for the e-mail. I would like to say keep em coming. I sure would like to know more about making my own Gunpowder. I bought the three components but not happy with the way it burns. I am using Pyrodex to compare the burn rate and my efforts fall too short . I have way too much sludge left over and it burns twice as slow.
    I have pulverized the Potassium nitrate and the characoal to a fine powder like the sulphur. The formula is Nitrate 75%, Sulphur 10%, Characoal 15% (All by volume).
    What am I doing wrong? Maybe add a liquid, dry it, and put it thru a siev. Any ideas would be welcomed. Regards Gil

    • HEGilliam says:


      What I can’t tell from your note is how you are mixing your BP componenents. Have you read Ned’s articles on making black powder on our Fireworks Projects pages? Check them out for mixing instructions.

      From your note above, I can see oneHUGE problem–you’re measuring by VOLUME. You have to do it by weight. Virtually all formulas you see in our instructions require you to weigh the stuff.


    • Gunguy says:

      By volume? There’s the problem, all proportions should be by WEIGHT.

  7. steph says:

    That cheap Ammonium Perchlorate wore off hours ago. Who’s got the pint of ether?

  8. PyroWillie says:

    The description for ‘Farfalle’ sounds identical to ‘whirlwind’; was this the intention — or are the holes for ‘farfalle’ drilled on the same side of the device but tangentially as is the case for the hummers? (Think of a classic two-hole ‘tourbillion’ without the stabilizing flat wooden ‘fin’).
    Otherwise, excellent piece; well-written and thorough.

    • ned says:

      whirlwinds are designed to spin in flight, and that spinning is enhanced by vent holes on opposite sides of the tube, and as opposing ends as well, so the venting gasses spin/whirl the insert end for end.
      A hummer has tangentially drilled vent hole/s, which spin the insert on its long axis.
      Farfalle, on the other hand, have vent holes directly opposite each other on the two sides of the insert, which are created by directly drilling through the tube before it is filled.
      These directly opposing vents push against each other in flight, as your fingers would on a pencil if one finger was on one side, and another finger on the other.
      A wobbling, somewhat erratic spinning is created during the inserts flight, and the resulting spray of sparks ends up looking quite different than a whirlwind’s or hummer’s.

      And, thanks for the kind comments on the article.

  9. Twotails says:

    Awsome artical, can’t wait to read more, keep up the good work guys!

  10. ALec says:

    Ok so my stars are not bursting correctly I am getting a partial burn with roughly 30% or so of the material being burnt in the shell casing making a erratic flare not a star. I am using comercial lacured paper casings I am also having a problem with my mixture crumbling what binder is normaly used ? My pellets dont seem to hold together

    All that well.

    Lol not new to demo but new to fireworks and fireworks are way tougher then demo was.

    • ned says:

      for water-activiated star-binding, dextrin or SGRS (soluble glutinous rice starch, more common in Japan) is used.
      There are other non-water-activated binders which can also be used, though.
      You should be able to press a star between your thumb and forefinger until it hurts, without crumbling the star at all.

      And, yep, making fireworks successfully and safely, is a skill, like playing a musical instrument, which starts with basic smaller skills and builds those skills on each other.

      Starting small and simple, as in the Turbo Pyro course, can begin to instill those elementary skills on a small, economical scale, and then more advanced projects will build on those steps.

  11. Overwrought says:

    Ditto on the article. Any new techniques would be great. I’m using a home built rig that uses a 5 gallon bucket and a variable speed drill with a rubber drive wheel. I can adjust the roller speed to the core size and composition I’m “growing” to the core. It might be just me but I’m a little concerned with running the drill so close to the composition. You tube has some vids showing similar, easy to build designs.

    • Lightningrod says:

      The brushes in the drill do make sparks, which could ignite a finely powdered mixture, especially as dust in the air. I drive my roller with a small 15 rpm gearmotor. this is an AC induction motor, so no brushes or sparks. Look in the grainger catalog, and you’ll find a very wide selection of gearmotors. For a small roller, you don’t need a very big motor, and with the gear reduction, even the small motors produce a suprising amount of torque.

  12. Mike Youngblood says:

    Darned good article,extremely insightfull.
    I am trying the cut stars at the moment and will try the pancake method next.

  13. gary t says:

    would a modle rocket engines report set off stars, it blast out a chute

    • ned says:

      Gary, the ejection-charge top-portion of an Estes-type motor is designed to produce a little pressure,,enough to eject the wadding and parachute, but not much flame or heat.
      With a little added BP, and some confinement of the stars and burst in a little shell construction, it’s quite possible that a model rocket motor could be made to ignite a small star-shell heading.
      Worth some experimenting.

      • Lightningrod says:

        Kind of like a regular skyrocket, where there is no header or discrete shell casing. There, the stars and some burst / ejection powder are just dropped in the top of the rocket, on top of the bulkhead. If you extend the casing on a model motor, and add some BP and some stars, it ought to work. This will usually spray the stars out of the end of the tube, like a mine does. Mount a fused and primed shell, and you can get a nice round burst too…
        I use a long mortar tube (HDPE, NOT PVC) to launch my shell-headed rockets. It gives me containment if something goes wrong. Even a 2 inch shell is not too nice to be around at ground level.
        Long term, you might want to try making your own motors. They cost about 15% of the price of storebought motors, once you’re tooled up to make ‘em.

  14. Lightningrod says:

    Nice article – I am very interested in seeing your new star making technique.

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