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Written by Harry Gilliam

Topics: How to Make Fireworks

Realgar & Orpiment

My old pal Bob Winokur has been doing some pyro-sleuthing and came up with a small stash of two pyro chemicals which are largely unobtanium now: Realgar and Orpiment, both arsenic compounds.

He was able to supply us with a little of each. You can order it below.

This has been an interesting process. Both of these chemicals are naturally occurring minerals. They are often found together, as you can see in the photo below:

Orpiment and Realgar (from Peru)

The reddish crystals are realgar, and the yellow stuff is orpiment. They occur together and are very close to the same chemistry.

The powder we have was produced by first harvesting crystals of both chemicals and then grinding them into very fine powder. Suffice it to say, the whole process is mostly manual, expensive, and time consuming, and not much of it is available. To my knowledge, neither of these chemicals is produced synthetically in the US, if anywhere.

Realgar was most commonly used to produce white flames in fireworks before powdered metals such as aluminum, magnesium, and titanium became widely available. It was also used with potassium chlorate to make impact explosives. I have heard of crackling stars being made with it as well.

I do not suggest that you come to rely on either realgar or orpiment for any formulas that you want to make on a regular basis. They are both poisonous, of course, and I don’t know if we can or will continue to stock either chemical. Best to consider both of these as exotic pyro antiques, more a curiosity than a practical ingredient.

CAUTION: Both realgar and orpiment are sulfur compounds and will explode when mixed with chlorates. They are both arsenic compounds and highly poisonous. The resulting ash from burned pyro compositions is likely to contain water soluble arsenic oxide, which is considerably more toxic than either of the sulfides.

In addition to the information listed with each chemical on, here is some historical info Dr. Winokur worked up on these two very old pyro chemicals.

You should treat the units of measure given in the tables below as parts by weight, unless otherwise noted. They do not necessarily add up to 100 in each column.

Continue Reading for Formulations Containing Orpiment & Realgar…

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

  1. Chris Rucker says:

    Thanks for making these chemicals available. Nowhere else was I able to secure them to replicate the 1864 recipes for blue light, as used by the crew of the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley. You can see the results on YouTube: “Burning Blue Light” and “Making Civil War-Era Blue Light.” While other, less toxic ingredients might have been substituted, for historical accuracy it was vital to use the originally specified composition.

  2. Steven says:

    Sounds good tell me more, thanks, Steven

  3. Mark says:

    Someone must have recently imported a ton realgar to the USA or found a ton sitting around a basement somewhere because there were at least 3 vendors selling this at the convention. While it’s pretty nasty stuff it’s a trivial amount that would be released into the environment and if you had bad intentions you can get worse easily at Home Depot.

  4. Bert says:

    Michael, what am I going to substitute for Shimizu’s crackle cores? For pull string snaps? For cracker balls and torpedoes?

    And have you checked the toxicity of the common Barium compounds used for green stars, compared to Arsenic?

  5. I want. I want. I want, some really I do. Just to save and put in my colecction of rare stuff is great, and if a little bit found its way into my anoying neighbors coffee whats wrong with that?

  6. James Farrell says:

    Realgar!!! AWESOME!!! Now I can finally try and make Dr. Shimizu’s dark relay for color changing stars and get that great all off…all on color change that only comes from a low light output changing relay. Not used much in the states but still very much alive in Japan. In the orient they produce a lot of “red explosive compound” for many noise producing class “C” items.

  7. travis says:

    m. david………….don’t get all upset… i just make for my family to enjoy… yea there are nut’s out there… but there is nothing better than seeing YOUR OWN DISPLAY.. go on.! and there is the …. (gov) are watching any terror peaple out there.. and you can get bigger stuff to do that at lowes.>>????? see what i mean? no harm in being an american!

  8. Hamid says:

    it is fantastic but very toxic

  9. Fearless says:

    HEY was this stuff used in old Mole/Goffer smoke bombs ? Think it would be a killer (LOL) Thanks

  10. Michael David says:

    I use your company and love the many items you have available, and your commitment to the art of pyrotechnics. However, making these chemicals available seems very irresponsible. They are toxic before and after burned, so using them in pyro compositions means polluting the environment unnecessarily. I’m no tree-hugger, or global warming reactionary, but making these chemicals available, and especially providing formulas for their use, gives opponents to our craft some real footing to protest. Why draw needless attention to our hobby with these toxic chemicals when other, more benign alternatives are available that are just as effective? I know that your motives are good, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Please reconsider making these chemical available, so we don’t give our adversaries any opportunities to shut down the sales of pyro chemicals to the general public.

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