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Fireworks Dictionary

Fireworks A To Z~A Pyro's Dictionary

Aerial - Any fireworks item that shoots flaming balls into the air, such as a multi shot cake or artillery shell.

Artillery Shell – A reloadable aerial, also known as a mortar shell. The shell is made to be inserted into a mortar tube and ignited by the fuse extending out of the top of the tube. The shell and tube must be of the correct size to work properly.

Ash Can – Another name for a silver salute. True ash cans became illegal in 1966. Legal ash cans today contain only 50 milligrams of flash powder.

Assortment - A collection of fireworks items, sold together in one package that may include any of the following: fountains, sparklers, rockets, aerials, cakes, firecrackers, novelties or any other fireworks item.

Barrage - A rapidly fired sequence of aerial fireworks.

BATF – Formally known as ATF, Stands for Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also known currently as the BATFE, including explosives. This government entity regulates all above items and investigates arson crimes.

Battery - A group of similar items that is constructed as a single bundle, such as a missile battery or a roman candle battery.

Black Match – Used in the manufacture of fireworks, black match is a type of fuse that is made by saturating cotton string in black powder. Unconfined, black match burns at an approximate rate of one inch per second. When confined in a craft paper covering it is called Quick Match and burns at a rate of 60’ (feet) per second.

Black Powder – Also known as gun powder, and not to be confused with smokeless black powder, black powder is a mixture of potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulfur. It is the principal ingredient in most fireworks because it is not sensitive to shock and its burning properties are predictable and slow. Generally used as a propellant (also known as a lift charge) to shoot flaming balls (mortar shells or cake effects), and in the manufacture of stars for aerial effects.

Bottle Rocket - A small rocket that is approximately the size of a standard firecracker, one and one-half inches long, with a thin stick attached to it that is approximately 12 inches in length. Bottle rockets can contain whistle effects. The average bottle rocket flies into the air and ends with a report (bang), but can also come with a whistling known as a whistling bottle rocket.

Bouquet Pattern – A floral shaped aerial pattern of stars, usually in a spherical shape. Video

Brocade - A spider like effect in the sky, much like fine lace. The brocade effect is generally a silver tail effect, and is brighter than the willow or tiger tail effect. Most brocade effects use glitter to produce the long brocade tails. Video

Burst – To break, break open or fly apart with sudden violence. Also known as a break.

Cake - Sometimes referred to as "repeaters" or "multi-shot aerials", a cake is an item that has a single fuse which is used to light several tubes in sequence. Cakes can have a variety of intricate aerial effects, including spinners, fish, flower bouquets, comets, crossettes, salutes, brocade. Cakes are basically a little firework show all in one piece, so all you have to do is light the fuse, then sit back and enjoy the show.  Their variety of effects makes them great crowd pleasers.  Cakes usually consist of many tubes attached together, ranging anywhere from half a dozen to over 200.  Cakes can be distinguished from fountains because a cake always has a fuse on the lower side, rather than on the top like a fountain.  Each tube of a cake is itself an aerial shell-type device.  A single fuse burns between the tubes.  When it reaches one, the lifting powder inside ignites and shoots the effects high into the air. Cakes come in different shapes and sizes and come filled with different amounts of pyrotechnic powders distinguishing them from one another as 200 gram, 300 gram and 500 gram aerial repeaters. Any cake containing more than 500 grams is not considered Class C (1.4g) but is considered Class B (1.3g) and are to be used by licensed pyrotechnicians only.

Candle - Another name for roman candle (see definition below).

Chain Fusing – A series of two or more aerial shells fused to fire in sequence from a single ignition. No additional fuse is needed for this arrangement. The end of the first fuse id attached, using tape, to the fuse of the next shell. This type of fusing is normally used with mortars.

Cherry Bomb - A cherry bomb is a round firecracker, red in color, and approximately one-inch in diameter, with a green water proof fuse sticking out the side. The original cherry bomb contained more than one gram of flash powder and was very powerful. These were declared illegal in 1966 by the federal government.

Chrysanthemum - A flower-like aerial pattern, usually resulting from a cake or mortar. Video

Comet - A type of star that leaves a long trail of sparks as it flies through the air. Comets are constructed much like aerial display shells, with attached lift charge ready for loading into mortars. The actual mortar does not get lifted into the air to explode at a certain height, but rather detonates inside of the launching tube and the effect flies upward. This effect has been described as looking like an upside down Christmas tree. Video

Cone - A type of fountain in the shape of a cone.

Consumer Fireworks - Fireworks that have been approved by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Also called 1.4G or Class C. Fireworks that are approved by the CPSC must be able to withstand 350 degree temperatures for two days, must not be able to explode with mechanical shock, are limited to 500 grams of composition, and cannot contain aerial bursts that have more than 130 milligrams of flash powder. If the item has not been approved by the CPSC, it cannot be classified as consumer fireworks.

Crackle Effect - A fireworks effects that sounds like hundred of snaps or crackles, usually accompanied by an aerial gold lace visual effect. Video

Crossette - A type of comet that breaks into multiple comets, usually forming a cross shape. Video

Dahlia - A shell that produces a starfish like shape. Video

Day Time Effect - A type of fireworks that can be enjoyed better during the day time than the night time. Including but not limited to confetti cakes and novelties, smoke items, sky lanterns, firecrackers and parachute items.

Display Fireworks - Professional fireworks that are regulated by the ATF and generally require a special license to buy, store, and use. Also called 1.3G or Class B. These fireworks are commonly seen in large displays sponsored by a city or other large organization.

Display Permit - A special permit that is granted by the local authority having jurisdiction to allow you to shoot fireworks legally. Not all areas require such a permit to use fireworks legally.

Dud - Any devise in which the fuse or igniter fails to ignite the main pyrotechnic charge. The term “dud” is said to have originated as an acronym for dangerous unexploded device.

Electric Match – A device that is used to ignite fireworks using electrical current. These items usually consist of a small nickel-chromium wire with a pyrogen coating. An electrical current causes the wire to heat up, igniting the pyrogen and starting the fuse or work like a small light bulb about ¼” long that is made to blow out when electrified, igniting the fireworks fuse or lift charge.

Electronic Firing System – A system used to light fireworks using a remote control.

Explosive – A substance or mixture which, when submitted to shock, friction sparks or flame can undergo rapid decomposition with the production of a considerable quantity of heat and large volumes of gas.

Exploding Targets - Binary (meaning 2 separate components) targets are sold as 2 powders that by themselves are harmless and non explosive. When mixed properly these become a form of high explosive.

Falling Leaves – A beautiful aerial effect that consists of glowing embers that tumble slowly in the air, flickering back and forth as they fall back to earth. Video

Fallout Area – The designated area in which hazardous debris is intended to fall after a pyrotechnic device is fired.

Finale – A rapidly fired sequence (barrage) of aerial fireworks typically fired at the end of a display.

Firecracker - A fireworks item containing flash powder and wrapped in paper with a fuse attached. When the fuse is lit, it burns down inside the paper until it reaches the flash powder. The deflagration of the flash powder results in a loud bang. Legal consumer firecrackers are limited to a maximum of 50 milligrams of flash powder.

Fire – (verb) to ignite pyrotechnics by using electric match, by lighting a fuse or any other means.

Fireworks – Any composition or device for the purpose of producing a visible or audible effect by combustion or detonation, and that meets the definition of consumer or display fireworks.

Fish - An aerial effect that looks like a swarm of objects squirming though the air. This effect usually lasts only a few seconds. Fish are actually a type of fuse that propels itself through the air, creating a swimming effect. Often called Bees. Video

Flare - A cylindrical device containing a composition that burns for set amounts of time. Flares are generally 12 inches or longer in length, and are commonly used to light display fireworks. Flares are also used as safety devices for automotive emergencies (known as road flares). Normal burn time can be anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes.

Flash Powder - A silvery chemical mixture usually consisting of potassium perchlorate and finely powdered aluminum. It is used as the explosive component of firecrackers, aerial salutes, and the reports in rockets and roman candles. Flash powder is very dangerous to manufacture.

Fountain - A ground device that emits showers of sparks and noise effects. These may be packaged to look like an aerial repeater, but does not shoot flaming balls into the air or have reports. The different colors, sparks, shapes and noises have many unique combinations and length of display. Fountains also have a maximum powder content of 500 grams.

Fuse - An item resembling a string or wire that is used to light a fireworks device.

Glitter - A tail effect that contains flashes of light and small explosive bursts lasting several seconds. Video

Ground Item - Ground items are any item that is lit on the ground and does not shoot objects into the sky. This includes fountains, sparklers, snaps, snakes, pops, ground spinners and smoke balls, among many other items.

Helicopter – A term for a device that spins quickly and then lifts high into the sky, and may or may not explode or burst into a special aerial effect. These are also called planes, UFOs, aerial spinners and sky flyers.

Illegal Fireworks – This includes any firecracker with more than 50 milligrams of flash powder, such as the original 1960’s version of the M80, cherry bomb, silver salute or quarter stick. Consumer fireworks also may not contain any high explosives, more than 130 milligrams of flash powder in an aerial report, or more than 500 grams of total composition for the piece, generally meaning a cake.

Jumping Jacks - Similar in appearance to a firecracker, jumping jacks spin rapidly and emit red and green sparks.

Lift Charge – The composition that propels (lifts) the pyrotechnic into the air. Normally made of black powder.

Low Level Fireworks – (Also ground-to-air-fireworks) Any of a class of fireworks devices that either perform below approximately 200 feet or begin their display at ground level and rise to complete their effect. Some examples would are comets, mines, roman candles as well as many other consumer fireworks.

M80 - The original M80 was a military simulator that was sold as a firecracker. M80s are red in color, one and one-half inches long, 5/8 of an inch in diameter, with a green waterproof fuse sticking out the side. It contained two grams of flash powder and was responsible for hundreds of serious injuries due to its powerful blast. These items were banned by the CPSC in 1966, and made illegal for consumer sale, use or possession by the BATF.

Mine - An aerial device that shoots stars into the sky in an upward spray pattern. Not to be confused with the military device of the same name, firework mines produce upward, fan-shaped blasts of color and effects, similar to an upside-down Christmas tree. The mine shell breaks inside the tube sending showers of stars high into the sky. Excellent mine effects can be found in the popular mortar kits Critical Acclaim and All Up With Graceful Mine as well as in the 500 gram cakes Too Hot to Handle and Dream Catcher. Video

Missile - In fireworks, a missile is a sky rocket that does not have a stick for guidance. Instead, it may rotate to give it some stability as it lifts off, or may be shot from a tube (like Saturn Missile Batteries).

Mortar Rack – A sturdy wooden or metal frame used to support mortar tubes in an upright and stable position. These are usually set above ground and can be used to light mortar shells off one at a time or, as in a finale, using a fusing method to light off many at the same time.

Mortar Tube - A mortar tube is a cardboard, fiberglass or HDPE tube that is made to contain a shell with a long fuse. The shell has a lift charge on the bottom that helps propel it into the air. Once in the air, the shell explodes, opens and releases stars and other effects that streak the sky with various designs. Note: It is unwise to make your own mortar tubes. Many injuries have occurred by homemade designs because of incorrect size, poor integrity and use of unsuitable materials such as PVC.

Multi-Shot Aerial - This is another name for a cake or repeater with multiple shots preloaded by a manufacturer using mortar tubes of variable sizes.

Novelty - Fireworks items that are ground devices, not including fountains or sparklers, such as snaps, snakes and poppers. Often these items are made in the shapes of animals, boats, planes, cars and other vehicles.

Palm Tree - An aerial effect that produces a gold or silver stem as the shell rises into the sky (known as a rising tail), followed by a brocade or willow effect that creates palm fronds. It resembles a gold or silver palm tree in the sky. Video

Parachute - A paper projectile that is expelled from a mortar tube either as a single-shot item, or as a multi-shot effect in a cake. After expelled the device opens up and floats back down to the ground.

Peony - An aerial effect that looks like a spherical ball of colored lights in the sky. A very common aerial effect on most fireworks displays. Video

Pistil – A ball of stars in the center of another ball of stars. Another way to describe this effect is a small peony inside a larger peony. Video

Planes – A term for a device that spins very fast and lifts high into the sky, and may or may not explode or burst into a special aerial effect. These are also called helicopters, sky flyers, aerial spinners or UFOs.

Proximate Fireworks – The formal name for indoor fireworks. Indoor fireworks are used for concerts and public events like wrestling and their use is heavily regulated in most states by state and federal law. The word proximate is used as “close” to the spectator. Non proximate fireworks are fireworks used at a long distance from spectators.

Punk - A punk is a bamboo stick with a brown coating that burns slowly. These look identical to incense sticks, but do not have a distinctive aromatic effect like incense does. Punks are generally used to light consumer fireworks and also commonly used by adults as outdoor insect repellant. Layman’s definition: Any flammable or explosive device used visually or audibly for pleasure or entertainment.

Pyrotechnics – Controlled exothermic chemical reactions that are timed to create the effects of heat, gas, sound, and dispersion of aerosols, emission of visible electromagnetic radiation or a combination of these effects to provide the maximum effect from the least volume.

Quarter Stick - The original quarter sticks were similar to M80's, but were larger in size and contained 10 grams or more of flash powder. Quarter sticks were made in many sizes but got their name in reference to a stick of dynamite and had green waterproof fuse sticking out the side or top. These items were so powerful that they could dismember and kill people who misused them. Quarter sticks were banned by the CPSC in 1966, and made illegal by the BATF.

Quick Match – Also known as Instantaneous Fuse. It is Black Match encased in a loose fitting paper or plastic sheath that makes it burn extremely rapidly. Quick match burns at a rate of approximately sixty feet per second (very fast). It is used for aerial shells and for simultaneous ignition of a number of pyrotechnic devices.

Reloadable Aerial - A reloadable aerial is an aerial mortar that includes one or more mortar tubes and several reloadable aerial shells. The shells are placed inside the mortar tube, a long quick-burning fuse is lit, and the item is fired into the sky. These items are consumer versions of the mortar-based fireworks used in professional display fireworks.

Reloadable Shell Kits (mortars) have become one of the most popular types of consumer fireworks available today.  When ignited, the shell is propelled high into the air, where it bursts into a beautiful pattern of colors, much like the fireworks seen at professional displays.  These assortments contain one or more tubes and anywhere from 6 to nearly 100 shells. The mortar tube can be made out of either High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), fiberglass or heavy cardboard.  Consumer use mortars (1.4g) have to be smaller than 2” in diameter and cannot contain more than 60 grams of pyrotechnic composition.

Repeater - Sometimes referred to as "cakes" or "multi-shot aerials", a repeater is a cluster of aerial tubes with a single fuse. The name "cake" was attributed to these because the cluster of tubes looks similar to a dessert cake in size and shape. Once the fuse is lit, each of the tubes is fired in sequence. Cakes can have a variety of intricate aerial effects, including spinners, fish, flower bouquets, comets, crossettes, reports, and other aerial effects.

Report - A report is another name for a bang or boom. Items with reports explode with a bang for loud audible effect.

Ring Shell - A shell that produces a ring as its aerial pattern.

Rising Tail – A gold or silver tail effect that is created when a shell is shot into the sky.   

Rocket - A rocket is a tube-like pyrotechnic device made out of a paper tube that propels itself into the air in order to fly. There are many different kinds of rockets, including sky rockets, bottle rockets, and missiles.

Roman Candle - A paper tube filled with composition that shoots flaming balls out one end of the tube. Most roman candles have five or more balls. Roman candles should never be held in your hand. Instead, they should be planted securely in the ground and pointed straight up into the sky away from people and flammable objects. A good way to shoot roman candles is to get a five gallon pail and fill it with kitty litter or sand. The roman candles can be easily inserted into the bucket of kitty litter and fired safely.

Safe and Sane - This is a term for fireworks that do not have aerial effects that shoot into the air by a propellant or explode. Items that are classified as Safe and Sane include sparklers, snaps, smoke balls, fountains, snakes, and wheels. Items that are not classified as Safe and Sane include firecrackers, rockets, mortars and cakes. These items are ok for Pennsylvania residents to purchase without a special permit or permission.

Safety Gear – Any equipment used to make shooting fireworks safer for the shooter. This includes protective eyewear, safety glasses, ear plugs, gloves, boots, hard hat, headlamp, cotton clothing, fire extinguisher and/or water hose. Being safe is very important for the shooter and also the audience. This ensures everyone’s fun and that the show goes smoothly.

Salute - A salute is an item that explodes. It is an item designed to produce an explosion sound as its primary effect. This term is most frequently used in regard to aerial items, although some people refer to firecrackers as "ground salutes". When a salute explodes, it is referred to as a "report". Reports are highly regulated by weight of pyrotechnic chemicals in consumer fireworks. Salutes are dangerous and will cause harm or fatality if detonated close to any living being.

A.    Aerial Salute – A salute that functions in the air.

B.    Ground Salute – A salute that functions from a stationary or secured position.

Set Piece – A ground item consisting of many colored lances that is used to draw a picture. Common examples include American flags, the Liberty Bell, The Statue of Liberty and many other types of signs. These pieces are time consuming, expensive and hard to build. It is not unusual for a single set piece to cost several thousand dollars. There are ways to make your own smaller versions. Click here for instructions<