How to Make Screen-Sliced, Brilliant-Red Rubber Stars

Written by Harry Gilliam

Topics: How to Make Fireworks

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.

You Must Have Java Turned On To View This Video

Brilliant Red Rubber Stars in a Rocket Heading

–Harry Gilliam

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.

Continue Reading: How to Make Screen-Sliced, Brilliant-Red Rubber Stars…

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

  1. boblangdon says:

    Beautiful stars!

    I started out with a little too much acetone (which eventually evaporated), and mt nitrile gloves literally melted off my hands, leaving blue chunks in the comp and leaving my hands all crusty and red.

    The stars turned out OK (and so did my hands :-).

    Is it because I didn’t follow directions closely and added too much acetone? Or do acetone and rubber gloves not mix?

  2. Eddie Cantu says:

    I picked up a book the best AFN vi answered a lot of my questions is their any pyro nuts in Jackson Michigan era

  3. Eddie Cantu says:

    Can you ball mill star formulas instead of the 40 mesh screen.?And can you ball mill the step primes. These stars are nice. Can we use hot prime on rice hulls for a harder break. With the gun meal. And can you make say three different star doe balls and then mix them together then slice then. Like one star with three different coolers without causing a reaction mixing the does. Love this stuff. You guys are great teachers.

  4. Dylan says:

    Can these be rolled in a star roller?

  5. Tom F says:

    WOW!! I just made my first batch of Brilliant Red Rubber stars.. They are fantastic.. The color IS brilliant.. I added Titanium Spherical CH3008 on my last mix… My new favorite. Can you help me out with a Blue as brilliant as the red?? Like a electric blue?? THANKS FOR ALL THE FUN TOM

  6. ALEX says:

    Hey i just made a batch of these and the stars burn terribly. I habe made batched before and they worked great but their is some problem and i dont know what it is.

    When i burn them they burn violently like the prime should and then the star lights and burns pretty normal for a second then it slows down and burns more like paper than a pyro. composition and leaves alot of melted mg/al slag.

    Im pretty sure i mixed the comp right and im wondering if maybe my strontium nitrate could have absorbed some water ( though i doubt it) or if someone can help me diagnose the problem.

    Sorry for any typos i did this on my phone
    Thx forany help~Alex

  7. Ian M.J. says:

    I know how precious MgAl is ($28/pound), so I found a prime that doesn’t need any of your precious MgAl, since it’s the first thing you run out of when making stars. It’s a recipe that comes from House ‘O’ Excess (

    Potassium perchlorate………………………..80
    Charcoal, fine………………………………15
    Red gum…………………………………….4
    Manganese dioxide (optional) …………………9
    Aluminum, (fine flake or pyro grade; optional)….4

    A good source of manganese dioxide is from alkaline batteries, I use ones that are already dead.
    I do put in the optional ingredients because they aid in ignition.

  8. Ian M.J. says:

    I sieved my magnalium and wanted something to do with chips, due to the fact that shipping what I had would cost more than its return value. I found something fun and kind of scary. Mixing the chips with either a powder or granular nitrate creates a mix that burns hot enough to melt steel, and bright enough to damage your vision! Very fun, but do at your own risk! Must be ignited by something hotter than matches and fuse (I use a handheld torch).

  9. jj says:

    question? for red rubber star? i love rolling my stars. if i were to add dextrin to the batch water/alc can it be rolled? will it effect the comp? someone plz share there thought.

    • jason8950 says:


  10. PopPopH says:

    I was just wondering. In this tutorial and in other star compositions, some recipies not on this site show a grid of mixtures such as Potassium 47.2
    baruim 28.3
    Red Gum 14.2 etc
    and they don’t say what size batch it is for (like an “8.0 oz. batch) What do those numbers mean? Is it just “parts of ingredient” per batch or can it be broken down into:

    4.722 oz
    2.83 oz
    1.42 oz

    Been out of School for a long long Long time now

    Thanks, Kurt

    • ned says:

      you’ll notice that I typically state my formulas in “factors” that add up to 1.00, such as the Brilliant Red Star Formula:
      0.53 strontium nitrate
      0.19 magnalium
      0.17 parlon
      0.11 redgum

      Those factors can be multiplied by any desired star batch size, to determine the weights of the individual chemicals in the batch.
      Let’s say we want an 8 ounce star comp batch size:
      8 x 0.53 = 4.25 oz
      8 x 0.19 = 1.5 oz
      8 x 0.17 = 1.35 oz
      8 x 0.11 = 0.9 oz
      rounding to the nearest 0.05 ounce.

      Formulas stated in such factors, adding up to 1, are the easiest to convert into quantities of individual chems in a particular size batch.

      If the factors/percentages/parts of a stated formula do not add up to one, they must be converted to factors that do add up to one before determining the weights of the individual chemicals.
      Eliminating such conversions is why I state my formulas in terms of the factors that add up to one.
      I hope that helps.

  11. Mike Actisdano says:

    You comment that we should not screen metals but the instructions say to screen the whole mix (color comp) which has magnalium in it. Am I still supposed to screen it? What’s the best way to clean the screen after use?


    • ned says:

      I should have specifically stated to avoid screening compositions containing coarse, hard metals, like Ti or FeTi, Mike.
      The fine MgAl is fine to screen with the comp, as would be fine Al.
      I find hosing my screens off with a nozzled hose works best to get them nice and clean, and to remove any stuck particles in the screen openings.

      • Mike Actisdano says:

        Thanks for clearing that up Ned.

        One more quick question regarding the storage of finished stars that are NOT going into a device right away. I believe you mentioned storing them in regular Tupperware containers but I have been reading on pyro websites that there is a concern for static discharge when opening the “plastic-on-plastic” lid. Can you just spray the closed container with static guard before opening it and solve that problem?

        What’s your take on this?

        • ned says:

          I don’t live in a particularly “staticky” location, Mike, but plastic static can be a problem in some locations.
          I’m not sure solid stars would be susceptible to static discharge ignition, as would be flash powder or perhaps fine BP powder, though.
          But, storage in a paper bag, inside plastic containers, could isolate the pyro stuff from any potential static sparks.
          Commercial stars were typically stored in paper boxes, lined with paper or plastic bags.
          The spray of static guard may dissipate any potential static problem, but I’m not sure of that.
          I’ve always stored my stars in plastic tubs, or plastic ziplock baggies, and haven’t experienced any problems, so I’ve not thought about the static problem in depth.
          There are paper cylindrical containers available commercially, or able to be handmade, which would eliminate the plastic from the equation if one is concerned with it, and lives in a particularly dry environment.
          My local container company sells such paper drums in a range of sizes.

      • PopPopH says:

        Thanks Ned, You folks are top of the line when it comes to instructions and tutorials and the reason why I keep hanging out here. I did see a recipe on another site the did not add up to 1 or 100, IT was called a “Hardt Green Star #2 Pumped and it shown like this (ingredients are just examples)

        Barium 50
        Potassium 28
        Red Gum 6
        Shellac 6
        Charcoal 28
        Stearine 2
        Dextrin 4

        Total ……….. 124 Add 25% alcohol / 75% water

        This example is why I asked the question. I have red your instructions for the Red Rubber Stars so many times that I can almost recite the instructions from memory and I appreciate your time. It is not my intention to waste your time, my questions are because just like all of my other intrests the reason why I have not just one book on edible plants but 5 books on edible plants, a dozen books on rebuilding the same type of car engine and why Betty Crocker isn’t the only source for my Baked Bean Recipes

        • ned says:

          That formula would have to be clarified as to what barium, nitrate or chlorate, and what potassium, nitrate or perchlorate or chlorate, is used in it, first of all Pop.
          I own a copy of Hardt’s “Pyrotechnics”, and his Green Star formula #2 on page 150 is that same as the one you cite, using barium chlorate and potassium chlorate, except the parts of charcoal that are spec’d are 4 instead of 28.
          I’d have to suspect that whoever transcribed that formula on the site you were perusing used the pot chlorate 28 parts for the charcoal parts, instead of the correct 4 parts.
          With the correct 4 parts, the formula does add up to 100, as do almost all the formulae in Hardt.
          Mike Swisher and Barry Bush wrote the Fireworks chapters in Hardt, after his passing, and provided almost all of those traditional formulas as far as I know.
          Mike is available on for questions concerning them.

          But, in any case, with the formula that you cite, which is probably incorrect, or with the corrected formula, if the formula is spec’d in parts, no matter what they total up to, converting them to Factors which do add up to 1.00 is easy.
          Divide each chemicals parts by the total, to obtain the factor for each chemical. This is how it would be done for the corrected forumula:
          Barium chlorate 50 parts, 50 divided by 100 = 0.50
          Potassium chlorate 28 parts, 28/100 = 0.28
          redgum, 6 parts, 6/100 = 0.06
          Shellac, 6 parts, 6/100 = 0.06
          Charcoal, 4 parts, 4/100 = 0.04
          Stearin, 2 parts, 2/100 = 0.02
          Dextrin, 4 parts, 4/100 – 0.04

          The Factors add up to 1.00
          Simply multiply those factors by your desired total comp batch weight, for the weight of the individual chemicals to include in it.

          • PopPopH says:

            Howdy Ned, Thanks! Maybe they transcribed the formula incorrectly. Here is the link:

            your answer (as always) makes sense. This site from what I can see is like Wikipedia where anybody can go in and edit if they know how.

            Just killing some time and I will be busy as I have all of your Rainbow ingredients using Carbonates. I don’t think I will be going much closer than these stars for quite a while.


            • ned says:

              at the end of the Brilliant Red Rubbers Stars project, I mention the options of using Barium Nitrate for green, and a 3:1 mixture of barium nitrate:strontium nitrate for yellow. (2:1 makes a deeper, golden amber yellow, and 55:45 makes a nice orange, too.)
              Skylighter can now ship barium nitrate, and I highly recommend these simple variations of the Brilliant Red Rubber stars for all those colors.

              • PopPopH says:

                Thanks Ned, I got a little ahead of myself as a newbie and when I went to buy the Barium Nitrate, right under the product description, Barium Chlorate was listed and described as “Making The Best Green” Not knowing what the hell I was doing, I bought 2 lbs of the Barium Chlorate…….Which is sitting on my shelf collecting dust. When my funds replenish I will buy the Barium Nitrate. Also, before I knew about Skylighters…….I also bought 10 lbs of “Sodium Nitrate”….which is also sitting in a box collecting dust. So much for Newbie Enthusiasm. I bought a plain old grade school Copy Book and have hand written all of your Rainbow Mixes as well as the Yellows, Orange, Chartruse etc. It’s raining here today and will probably attempt to make my first batch of stars. BTW, and with a bit of humor here is something to ponder. This morning I had to refill the Toilet paper. The spindle inside It is the spring loaded type with a hole on each end about the size of 3/8″……….now I’m sitting there thinking I could slide a dowel down through there and leaving a little recess on one end and make a nifty spring loaded Star Pump. I suppose the wife will be real happy with this new invention.

                Thanks for your help, Kurt

                • ned says:

                  Using the chlorates will be getting a little ahead of yourself, Kurt, but that barium chlorate makes a gorgeous green flame projector, with a little of it sprinkled on top of some “dot” smokeless powder in a can inside a mortar, lit from the top of the powder.
                  The sodium nitrate,,very hygroscopic,,attracts water like crazy, will clump into one solid mass, and is very tough to use in pyro devices because they become wet quickly.
                  It is used in some exploding target formulas, though, so hang onto it until you get to the stage of exploring such things..
                  The toilet paper dispenser… I’ll stay out of the middle between you and your “honey-bunch” on that one.. (-:
                  and good luck with the star batch.

  12. PopPopH says:

    Hello, For the Green Stars can Barium Chlorate be used instead of Barium Nitrate?

    • ned says:

      No, I would not assume that making such a substitution would be safe, Pop.
      Working with chlorates requires special safety considerations, and specific formulas tailored to their use.

  13. PopPopH says:

    I just found your website the other day and I am facinated by your instructions and final product. How do you make the Red Stars blow apart once they reach altitude?

    • Lightningrod says:

      Well, you don’t want the start themselves to blow apart. He-he.
      You want them to fly out away from the shell while burning. That little chore is handled by the burst charge, a load of some kind of pow-powder in the center of the shell. usually black powder, flash powder, or some other mix. Google “burst powder” or similar. Skylighter’s newsletter archive has several nice articles on making shells. Give it a try, you won’t be sorry.

      • PopPopH says:

        Thanks for your reply. Sorry I took so long to respond to you but it seems like every time I come in here I see something that catches my attention and follow it, then another link, then another and so on. I have found the Pow Powder and even 1/16 of a tsp creates a “What the hell you making now” response from the wife. Perhaps you might know this so I will ask you. When searching for a Green Star mix, one place said that Barium Chlorate produced a brighter and Greener star than Barium Nitrate. I asked in here before and the reply wasn’t very detailed and the only reason that I haven’t experimented because of an unwanted chemical reaction using the recipe in the Variations of the Red Star mix in here. Will using the Chlorate instead of the Nitrate have any unwanted reaction in the wet mixing stage?

        • ned says:

          Working with any chlorate requires more care than does working with nitrates or perchlorates, Pop.
          I do get outstanding results by replacing the strontium nitrate with barium nitrate in the Red Rubber Star formula, as noted in the project.

          • PopPopH says:

            Wow Ned, Your reply was faster than some file downloads that I got when I was on Dial-up. The reason I ask is because I already bought 2 lbs of Barium Chlorate and I have already spent so much on:

            2 flying fish mine kits
            1 Stinger Kit and extra Stinger Tubes
            1 Red Star Kit
            1 10lb Black powder kit
            1 40 mesh screen
            1 Black Powder Rocket kit
            1 100 mesh screen
            1 3″ Mortar Kit
            scale and Laquer, Acetone, Laquer Thinner…..etc

            My wife is about ready to neuter me, so I need a quick recipe that uses the Barium Chlorate. I did find another site that mentions it but I am quite happy with the expertise I have found on Skylighters. Just trying to remain a loyal customer and make some green stars cause I have black ball milled powder coming out the ying right now and I would like to start making stars and testing my Mortar………….The leaves on the Money Tree are gone untill next Spring.

            Thanks again for your quick response, Kurt

            • ned says:

              Harry’ll be happy to suck ya dry, until you blow away with the leaves this Fall, Pop..
              (I know he’ll be reading this sooner or later…)
              Of course, there are many formula for organic-green barium chlorate stars, since that was how greens were made prior to the advent of metals and other oxidizers, from what I know.
              The problems with chlorates arise from sensitivies when in contact with sulfur-bearing BP type compositions, in the damp state, and when in contact with ammonia compounds such as ammonium perchlorate. It also must not be used on contact with aluminum powder.
              I’d recommend Ofca’s Technique in Fire Manuals, Volume 4 “The Condensed Fireworks Chemicals Reference Manual” and Volume 10 “Working Safely with Chlorates”.
              There is a lot of expertise on these matters on
              Bottom line is that I’m not comfortable telling you any one given process or formula is safely a no-brainer, since you are entering a realm of an increased need for safety consciousness, education, and processes.

              • PopPopH says:

                Thank you very much. That is the exact reason that I did not blindly proceed with just a substitution of the Barium Nitrate with The Barium Chlorate. Ok, so I have 2 lbs of Barium Chlorate for my next yard sale and I will risk the family jewels (ain’t using them much these days anyway) and buy the Nitrate…….but thats all, just the Barium Nitrate and tell Harry not to tease me with the old line, “People who bought this might also be interested in this stuff routine” And I do have a $10.00 coupon, so in reality I will actually be saving some money. I suppose that while I am waiting for my next shipment from Skylighters to arrive it wouldn’t hurt to have a look at the info you just gave me………you know….just in case in the future

                • ned says:

                  Now, Pop,
                  I’m not sure where or how you got your Ba chlorate, but Skylighter does not ship either chemical. If purchased, it must be picked up at the warehouse.
                  In the follow-up project to the Red Rubber Stars, “A rainbow of stars colors” in the rubber-stars method, I do have a pretty good looking green which used barium carbonate, though. You might check that out..
                  and while your checking it out,,get all the rest of the chemicals necessary for all those great colors…
                  ned (harry junior..)

                  • PopPopH says:

                    Well Ned, there are two places where you can get all you want but I will not post it here. You can get my email from Harry and I will list the places where I got that some some other stuff you don’t carry.

                    • PopPop,

                      Both barium chlorate and barium nitrate CAN be shipped by Skylighter now. Don’t yard sale your barium chlorate. You’re gonna need it soon…


    • PopPop,

      Watch your email closely. We’re gonna show you VERY soon how to make those stars fly….


  14. william says:

    I’ve tried making these stars and they work great but I dont get round stars, There square and sometimes the stars fall apart when I’m swirling them aroung in the plastic tub. Any solutions on the problem? also the blue stars burn way longer. Is this because I’m not using the lactose?
    I’m using the Rainbow Stars (High Magnalium & Carbonate System)

  15. THUNDER BOY says:


    RED #1
    RED #2
    BLUE #1


    • ned says:

      Really nice, T-Boy.
      It’s also great to have such an appreciative audience.
      You might try the suggested trick of adding Ti or FeTi to that yellow star. I think you’d really like the spark-tailed effect.
      Thanks for sharing your efforts.

    • HEGilliam says:

      You’re more than welcome, Thunderboy. And thanks to YOU for sharing your work with us all.

  16. Newby says:

    Why does the 3+ pounds of material in the kit only produce 1 pound of stars?

    • HEGilliam says:


      That’s a good question. To come up with that kit, we simply assembled our Off-the-shelf packages and their quantity to make up the kit. Later on, we caught on to this problem, and with subsequent kits, we’ve been including chemical quantities which make the total composition output be pretty close to the total weight of the chemicals.

      All that being said, if you continue to make fireworks, believe me you will use up the rest of the chemicals in that particular kit.

  17. Lightningrod says:

    Them ‘ol plastic easter eggs make dandy shell casings. just fill ‘em up with a few of them dang rubber stars and whamm-o. You got firewurks!

  18. THUNDER BOY says:


  19. mike says:

    any idea where to purchase thoes plastic bowls ned uses in making red stars,i looked everywhere and all i see is thoes cheap flimsy plastic ones,and not the right size.thanks.mike

    • ned says:

      Mike, I got mine at a Biggs Grocery Store, which had a nice kitchen-gadgets aisle..
      A Target, Walmart, or KMart might have them.
      IIRC, these were Rubbermaid ones, so you might look online for them.
      A flat-topped/bottomed cake-storage plastic tub lid might work well, too.
      Good luck,

  20. Richard says:

    The color was great on these stars and the screen idea was interesting. However, after trying the red stars and the others given in the “Rainbow of Colored Stars” article, I found myself going back to the old cut star method. I found that trying to push the parlon/red gum mixture through the screens (I used 3/8″ stucco screen) caused them to start sagging and end up in a teardrop shape that rolling in prime only partially compensated for – i.e., the finished and dried stars ended up looking like little tubular globs with one bulbous end. I experimented with various quantities of acetone and the drier mixtures did sag a little less but still ended up a funny shape. Thoughts guys?

    • ned says:

      When one departs from the spec’d procedures, Richard, it’s a bit hard to troubleshoot the differences that result. I’m not familiar with the ‘stucco screen’, but I’m imagining the diamond-shaped, expanded-metal screen that I’ve seen used in plaster and stucco applications. I can imagine that type of screen producing much different shaped stars than the square-hole, welded-wire, stainless steel screen that is spec’d for cutting these stars.
      When I make a putty-ball of the star comp that resembles the consistency of Play-Do or Silly Putty, flatten it, and screen-slice it, followed by the priming/rolling process, I get stars that are almost spherical.
      So, I think the type of screen, and the consistency of the dough-ball, is what is resulting in the differences you are seeing.
      I’ve found these acetone/parlon bound comps to be sticky, and difficult to cut with the standard star-cutting methods.
      I also like how the screen-slicing embeds the initial prime into the surface of the stars, resulting in the first step of a step-priming process..
      But, having said all that,,with pyro it always ends up being “to each his own” when it comes to the final processes.
      A lot of the fun of this art, for me, is the development of those tailored, individual methods, and the creativity involved in that.
      So, I certainly don’t discourage experimentation,,,it’s just that if you try something different, and different results occur,,it might be due to the different methods you tried..
      At one time, I was slicing strips of patties of this type of comp/putty,,rolling the strips into long ‘snakes’, and slicing cylindrical stars off of the snakes..
      Lots of ways to skin the cat..

Leave a Comment

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

Plugin from the creators of iPod :: More at Plulz Wordpress Plugins