Fireworks have come a long way from the red firecrackers used to ward off evil spirits in ancient China. Now there seems to be a firework available to suit every need and occasion – from the small rockets, fountains and Catherine Wheels you might use in your back garden to commemorate Guy Fawkes Night, to the massive aerial display shells used at larger public displays and events. Nowadays you can even buy fireworks that are suitable for indoor use.
Here is a summary of the various types of firework available to the general public:
The most commonly known type of firework, when launched into the air the Sky Rocket can climb to an enormous height. Depending on the type of rocket used, some can reach 100-200 feet before exploding with a loud bang (also known as a report). One of the best-known varieties is the Colossus – a rocket designed by the brain behind the stunning New Year’s Display at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Colossus whistles as it ascends before exploding approximately 40m up in a variety of colours and effects, including whistling comet tails and crackling gold crossette stars. Rockets can be purchased individually or as part of a single ignition Cake.
Roman Candles are typically made up of a cardboard outer casing and filled with individual balls which shoot out stars periodically after ignition. As with sky rockets, Roman Candles can be used both individually and as part of a Cake. Roman Candles can expel stars in just a single colour or a variety of colours. A number of noise effects are available for these fireworks, including hummers and crackles.
Fountains are a great option for those who want to experience the beautiful visual element of a firework but without the loud and often surprising sound effects, such as bangs and whistles. Fountains so-called as once lit, they release a shower of sparks. The composition of a Fountain may be in such a way so that sparks are released in just one colour or, by placing the powder inside in layers, different colour variations can be created, such as sparks of gold followed by sparks of green or silver – the possible colour variations are endless. The size of the Fountain container will dictate the size of the shower and how long it will last – some Fountains can last for several minutes in total.
Catherine Wheels get their name from St. Catherine who, according to legend, was to be martyred upon a spinning wheel. The legend states that when Catherine touched the wheel it broke into many pieces, as if by a miracle. The Catherine Wheels of today are made up in a couple of ways – one being of a tube filled with powder which is then coiled. When the fuse is lit, the wheel rotates at speed thus producing a spiral effect of coloured flame and sparks.
The other style of Catherine Wheel is made up with several small rockets attached to a cardboard frame, with a fuse running between each rocket. The propellant within these small rockets is designed to create enough thrust to spin the cardboard frame. In order to use the wheel safely, it must be pinned to a stake in the ground. The noise effects associated with Catherine Wheels include crackles and whistles, which are emitted as the coil spins. Catherine Wheels are great to watch on their own but they can also be set up in different arrangements, such as the ‘five-wheel’ setup, in which five individual wheels are pinned into stakes to form a cross with one wheel in the centre.
The effect of a Mine firework may be short-lived but it is certainly dramatic and spectacular, to say the least! Also known as ‘pot á feu’, the mine is shot from a mortar shell at ground level and shoots coloured stars into the sky with a variety of flashes and bangs. Mines are generally the loudest of all fireworks, with noise levels sometimes reaching as high as 120 decibels.
Barrage fireworks are pre-packed, ready Cakes that contain a mixture of firework types to create their own unique effect. It’s no surprising that these are some of the most popular firework products in the UK, as they allow people to purchase a brilliant display in one small package. As with Cakes, Barrages may contain a mix of fireworks, including Mines and Roman Candles. In a nutshell, people wishing to run their own display can purchase several barrages and simply ignite one at a time for a pre-prepared fireworks extravaganza.
Of course, how could we forget the sparkler – a nostalgic childhood reminder for many UK adults of cold Novembers made entertaining thanks to this very simple, humble form of firework. Sparklers consist of a small, handheld metal stick which, when lit, emits a constant stream of sparks. Waving the stick around outside creates dazzling shapes in the evening dark. Once the solution that feeds the sparks has been depleted, the sparkler will go out. Modern varieties may be constructed from wood with a paper tube attached and, when lit, emit sparkles that change colour thanks to using different ingredients. Regardless of the type of sparkler used, no 5th of November evening is ever complete without the sight of people donning these classic handheld fireworks.