At a certain point, whether for fireworks aerial-shells, mines, roman candles, or rocket headings (or all of these), you’re going to need stars, and lots of them. In addition to spark-producing charcoal and glitter stars, you are going to want to be able to produce brightly colored stars to enhance and add variety to your pyrotechnic palette.
In this article, I’m going to get you started down this path by showing you a simple, easy-to-master technique to make brilliant red stars without any special or expensive equipment. These stars are ready to test in minutes, and dry and ready to use in just a few hours.
This is a breakthrough method of making stars. And I don’t say that lightly.
Why? What makes the screen-slicing method so special?
- Simple equipment: All you need is a screen. Forget about expensive star rolling machines, loaf boxes for making cut stars, and tricky-to-use star pumps, and plates.
- Cheap: A framed screen can be had for $30 or less.
- Fast: You can test your stars as soon as they are made, before they are dry. And star drying time is a couple of hours, max.
- Easy: Absolutely no special skills are needed. If you can play pattycake, you can make these stars. And they are almost impossible to screw up.
- Water Resistant: These stars are water resistant. You can store them longer.
Whether these are the first stars you ever make, or even if you are a seasoned fireworks veteran, screen sliced stars are faster and easier than any other star you can make.
Brilliant Red Rubber Stars in a Rocket Heading
There are an almost infinite number of colored-star formulas out there using a wide array of different, sometimes difficult to find chemicals. In this project though, we’re going to focus on a simple, four-chemical formula which uses commonly available materials. The red formula we’ll start with here, called “brilliant red,” is about as eye-catching a star formula as there is, showing up well even if it is shot during the daylight. When folks call this star “brilliant,” they mean brilliant. I won a best-red-star competition at a large regional fireworks-club event one year with this star.
Among all the different methods that can be used to make fireworks stars-cutting, rolling, pumping, pressing the composition in tubes for box-stars, layering composition between sheets of paper for falling-leaves stars-each method has its advantages and disadvantages, and is appropriate in certain situations. The method I will show you here, screen-slicing, may be the fastest, simplest, and easiest way to produce a finished batch of color stars ever invented.
In this particular project, stars will be sliced through a 3-mesh screen which has three openings per inch (nine openings per square inch). The individual openings in such a screen are about 5/16-inch square. A 3/16-inch thick patty of star composition will be pushed through that screen to cut the patty into cubic stars. Since the composition extrudes through the screen openings as it is forced around the relatively large screen wires, the stars end up being about 5/16-inch thick.
Once these stars are primed using the process described below, they end up being almost spherical and about 3/8-inch in diameter. This size is nice for rocket headings, mines, and aerial shells in the 1.75-inch to 4-inch range.
Using a larger 2-mesh screen (four openings per square inch) and a thicker patty (say 5/16-inch thick), and using more composition per patty (say 24 ounces) will produce finished stars in the 5/8-inch diameter range. These stars would work in 5- to 8-inch shells and devices.
Some advantages of this rubber-bound formula and manufacturing process include:
- Even before drying, these stars can be test-fired out of a star gun immediately after production to check their color. After 2-3 hours of drying in a warm breezy location or in a drying chamber, these stars are ready to be used in devices.
- These stars are relatively water resistant, with no water used in their manufacture. They are rubber-bound, which inhibits water absorption by otherwise hygroscopic chemical ingredients such as strontium nitrate.
- Rising tails for rockets or shells which exactly match the color of these stars can be manufactured at the same time the stars are made.
- Different varieties of colors and effects are possible using this method. More colors and effects will be presented in a follow-on project.
- Particles of metals such as titanium or ferro-titanium may be added to the color composition to create a silver-spark trail behind the burning colored star.
- You can produce just the right quantity and size of these stars for a particular size shell or other device, so you’ll have no leftover stars requiring magazine storage.
All of these attributes make these stars ideal for on-site manufacture at fireworks events where devices are made from scratch in a limited amount of time, and where no excess stars requiring transport and storage are desired.
Acknowledgements: Troy Fish, in Pyrotechnica VII, authored a detailed article on rubber-bound stars, “Green and Other Colored Flame Metal Fuel Compositions Using Parlon.” This article has inspired many explorations into this rubber-star-binding process, and recently Gary Smith has shared his experiences with one variation on this process, the screen-slicing method of cutting these stars. Without these two sources of inspiration, this current project would not have been possible.