Cremora Fireball Tips

Cremora Fireball Tips

Written by Harry Gilliam

Topics: Fireworks Displays

Lots of people used Skylighter’s free project to make Cremora Fireballs for the July 4th fireworks displays.  But one of our customers, Jon M., really took the fireball project and ran with it. And ran with it. And ran with it…

After creating over 100 fireballs of his own, Jon offered to share  some of his tips and tricks to share with us all. Here’s what he says:

Hello!

I have contributed to discussions in the past, but I was just browsing over some old articles I hadn ‘t read in a while and felt I should comment on this if it’s of any use.

I guess I’m still considered a youngster among most of the Grand Masters and so forth. But I’ve been a member of PGI, WPAG and worked professionally in fireworks for about 14 years now, so hopefully my 2 cents is helpful to someone.

Finding the Perfect Fireball Fuel

Here are a few pointers/ideas for anyone looking for the best “Cremora” fireballs possible, or  a more inexpensive way to make them.

As you already stated in your article, some of these creamers or other “flammable powders” can get to be very expensive (ie. $180 for a 50 lb. bag!)

Like you we have tried just about everything, and I think we finally found not only the BEST powder for a very nice, large and hot fireball – but also the cheapest!

I get my supply from a crew member I work with. He buys 55 gallon drums of “Powdered Milk Fat” from a nearby dairy farm/producer which is in the range of 95-98% fat content (higher fat content = better fuel = better fireball!)

Similar to the “Floor-Sweepings” mentioned in the article, this is a mix of what I can only assume is the same, because we have to filter the “scraps and dirt” out of it first with a simple window screen.

From a 55 gallon drum, we end up with about 1/2 to 3/4 of a full 55 gallon drum left over.

Here’s the kicker… a full 55 gallon drum only costs $20!

Using Empty Propane Tanks as Containers

This may contradict what you’ve heard about using metal containers, but I use old charcoal grill sized propane tanks that have been decommissioned.

They don’t hold up to the stringent standards to hold propane any more. But done right these work absolutely wonderfully, and the metal is MUCH thicker and stronger than something like a coffee can!

Simply cut off the top and you have a perfect container with a “bowl like” bottom and stand to keep it off of the ground. Again I saved the best for last…you can pick these up from local propane dealers for FREE!

Building Better Lift Powder
with Scrap Quickmatch

Anyone who’s been making/shooting fireworks long enough has probably had a bag full of scrap black match and/or quickmatch left over after a show.

As we’re all aware, 2FA, 4FA, etc. is like gold to many pyros! It isn’t always the easiest to make – especially for beginners without fancy equipment – and it can cost a fortune ($10-$20/lb. – if you can find a place to buy it!). Well guess what? All that “junk” black match just became your best friend!

We have done a lot of testing of different combinations, but the best we have found is a 2:1 ratio of “stripped” black/quickmatch to 2FA.

Our “Propane Tank Cremoras” for example use approximately the same amount of lift as a 5 gallon bucket — 8 ounces of 2FA.

Well one day, my 2FA  was at a short supply, So someone got the idea to find other sources of BP (other than cutting open aerial shells’ lift bags!  LOL). So he took a bunch of what would normally be “junk” or “scrap” quickmatch left over from leaders, finale chains, etc.

He took a pair of non-sparking electrician scissors and cut the ends off and pulled the BP coated string out of the surrounding paper. It turns out that it works exactly the same as the harder-to-get and expensive 2FA/4FA!

* Because of the weight of the string however, you must use twice as much black match as you would 2FA. For example, our Cremoras use 8 ounces of 2FA, so we would need to use 16 ounces of scrap quickmatch.

** While using 100% scrap quickmatch will work, I advise against it. After extensive testing (we probably tried over 100 Cremoras – although I’m not sure if this was all for testing purposes or just for fun LOL!), we found that using 2 parts scrap quickmatch to 1 part 2FA still worked better. And actually was better than 100% 2FA!

So, using the same example of our “Propane Tank Cremoras,” it would require the following:

8 Ounces – 2FA Black Powder

OR

16 Ounces – Scrap Quick Match

OR

Scrap Quickmatch and 2FA in a 2:1 Ratio
(4 Oz 2FA x 2 = 8 Oz Quickmatch)
8 Ounces Scrap Quickmatch + 4 Ounces 2FA

I cannot for the life of me explain why, maybe one of the experts here can chime in on this, but using a mix of 2FA + Scrap QM actually works *Better* than using 100% pure 2FA!

Transporting Your Cremora Fireball

Finally, while the method for making a Cremora Fireball listed in this article works great – anyone who has ever had one not work for whatever reason (bad e-match, visco, firing module/battery, etc.) knows what an absolute mess it is to try to clean up, and how it’s nearly impossible to recover your BP unless you sift it right there on site.

For easy and safe transportation, setup, ATF and DOT Reg’s, etc. you can try what we do. Use a very thin and Seal-able plastic bag and weigh out your BP ahead of time (whether you use the scrap quickmatch method I described, or pure 2FA or 4FA).

Press as much air out of the bag as possible and seal it. When you arrive at the site try to spread out and flatten the bag as much as possible. Then, poke a tiny hole in it and and insert your e-match. While pressing down to keep as much air as possible out of the bag – cover the hole with masking tape.

Being sure to use a few pieces of tape to hold the wire to the bag, press it gently around the edges and sides of your container covering as much of the bottom as possible. You want the black powder lift charge to be as thin and evenly distributed on the bottom of the container. Then, simply pour your creamer/milk-fat/sawdust or whatever fuel on top of it. If you have a bad e-match or field module, or it doesn’t ignite for whatever reason, you can simply (and safely) pull the bag of BP out of the container and dump the creamer! Or put a top on it and take it back home to be used another day.

Thanks again for everything you provide on Skylighter, I have found great resources there over the years, and I’m sure your site and “how-to’s” have helped a LOT of other hobbyists (and pro’s) as well! Hopefully you or other enthusiasts find some of this information helpful!

Thank You,

Jon M.

PS:  Don’t Use Flash Powder, Use Black Powder!

One thing made me feel a bit uneasy regarding safety was something that is not mentioned.

I know of a man (who shall remain nameless), who is now out of jail(!) that sent 4 people to the hospital making a “small” cremora out of a metal coffee can!

After attending his first PGI Convention many years ago, he quickly ran to the supply building and bought what he *thought* he needed to make a Cremora fireball…

He wasn’t savvy enough yet to create his own BP, so he figured he would use a small amount of FLASH POWDER instead!

I was getting ready to head over to my friend’s house for a Memorial Day BBQ when I heard an explosion like I had never heard before. I started driving toward my friend’s house when I realized that about 20 emergency vehicles were all rushing in the same direction.

The Explosion I Heard Was 5 Miles Away!

His “Cremora” exploded so violently that it literally broke the neighbor’s glass storm door and sent shrapnel into the siding of 2 different homes, and 3 of the people at the barbeque, and burned one other! Luckily, no one was severely injured or killed. But had the shrapnel hit a friend of mine 1″ further to the right, he would not be here today.

If you don’t have Black Powder, or are unsure of yourself please DO NOT attempt to make Cremoras using some different propelling charge!

Even using BP instead of Flash, I have still seen some of the weaker metal cans explode and I highly advise against using anything metal unless you know exactly what you are doing!

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

  1. Boophoenix says:

    I did some tinkering with small test creamoras using spent pro line comet tubes and found Brian’s 1.5 times diameter to be pretty accurate to prevent blowing them blind.

    For a five gallon bucket they make a stainless salad bowl that sits in them nice and snug that directs the lift nicely. Lift bag as Brian uses works well with this setup.

    To alter the effect a little atomized metals in small quantities can be interesting. I added about 7% 325 atomized Al to this small one. It was a little much I’d say so cutting back to 2 – 5% might look better. You can mix it in or do thin layers.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyb5TPaZgO8

  2. Thomas S Pingenot says:

    No, no and it’s a bad idea: Ref: “Using Empty Propane Tanks as Containers.”

    As an ancient propane dealer and has also helped with ‘buckets’ I would never sell, give or pay anyone to take my non-recertifiable grill cylinders. Far too many people have been badly injured or lost their lives by “Simply cut off the tops” There’s a strict process to follow.
    I’d much rather use good 5 gallon HDPE buckets. (Handle removed) They nestle well for storage and transportation and can be easily obtained for free. (dry wall mud containers or food pails for instance.)Yes, they need a bowl, plastic or metal, for deflection.

    But, using propane cylinders_______NO WAY!!!

  3. Reggie says:

    Ok I have been doing this long enough that I would not even think of using flash for the propelling charge, however I have not been doing this long enough to wonder about using BP coated rice hulls for the charge. But I am smart enough to ask Harry what he thinks BEFORE I try doing it! What is your recommendation Harry? Let me add that using a small (2 1/2″) mortar and ball milled and corned BP in the 2FA range I did not get lift of more than 3 feet.

    • Brian says:

      >> BP coated rice hulls

      Rice hulls will work in larger devices, but for a 2-1/2 inch shot it would not be reasonable. Stick with a mix of 50/50 2FA\2FG for really small devices like this one. RG BP will work well also.

      >> Using a small (2 1/2″) mortar

      If you using a full length mortar (12-18 inches) you are likely to have problems. Typically I like to use a container that is 1.5x its ID. So for 2.5-Inch gun would be cut to 3.5-4-inches long (inside length)

      >> 2FA range I did not get lift of more than 3 feet.

      If that’s the case (and I read the gun length above correctly) it may be that you do not have a good barrier between the BP lift and the creamora fuel. Using a single layer of tissue paper should work fine. The purpose is to keep the creamora from filling the voids in the BP layer hindering propagation. To be clear you’re not looking to “shoot” the material up into the sky just lift it and the heat of combustion will carry it up.

      • Reggie says:

        Thanks Brian, I’ll try adding more small granulation BP, 2 or 3 Fg. I should have included the mortar length, that was a boneheaded mistake, it is 3″ so would a bit more length help?

        I experimented with the barrier quite a bit. Single layer of tissue, single newsprint, paper towel. Then I thought increasing the (in a firearm cartridge it would be called “pull” how tightly the casing grips the bullet increases the resistance to movement causing the chamber pressure to reach a higher amount thereby increasing bullet velocity) I’ll just say resistance. So I added more layers of paper, 5 total then I packed in aa whole paper towel with a 1/4″ passfire in the center and that achieved more height, about 8 feet, but most of the creamer would not ignite.

        Possibly I am expecting too much from such a small creamora but I was hoping for about 8 to 10 feet to the top of the fireball.

        Looking back at my notes I see that for reasons unknown, I did not weigh the lift charges but put an even 1/4″ layer on the bottom of the cylinder. I usually weigh everything so when I start this project again I will have to take my new scale (batty power!) out to the firing area.

        • Harry Gilliam says:

          The additional 1-inch will not make much of an impact.

          You may also want to experiment with other fuels such as AF charcoal (airfloat).

          • Reggie says:

            Clarify that for me Harry, you are talking about adding some AF to the BP right? I admit I have never put fire to just AF, does it burn so fast it could be used alone? Certainly a fine powder if it is airborne it will flash – flower mills testify to that but in a pile? I might get to try that if the rain holds off this weekend.
            Thanks to both of you,
            Randy

  4. George says:

    Any suggestions on how much the lift charge needs to be contained / compacted to ensure a nice lift effect? Ideas on barrier material between lift charge and the cremora fuel?

  5. Mike H. says:

    I am new to pyrotechnics, would someone please explain to me what a Creamora Fire Ball is. Thank you

  6. Jesse says:

    There is an excellent fire ball fuel and cheap too. It is sold at a local feed store. It’s called Super Lamb instant milk replacer. It is made by Merrick’s. Well worth a try…nice super high fireballs.

  7. Weston says:

    Hi,

    Where do you get the 55 gallon drums of powdered milk fat? I would like to get some for my own!

    Also – Is it possible to use Pyrodex in place of BP? As it is a BP substitute? I know that they are not the exact same but have to be atleast similar? Maybe use some % less/more of pyrodex per the required amount per bucket dia.?

    Thanks

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