Your Own Firework Show



On this page you'll find descriptions and images of all the different types of consumer fireworks, what they do, and what the typical prices are.  Please be aware that the prices listed are what the different items sell for at my firework stand, and may differ depending on where you live and which dealer you buy from.



Assortments are packages of fireworks that come in all sizes, prices, and types.  They can range from $10 to $300 in price.  Because all the fireworks come together in one box, they are much cheaper - for example, a $50 assortment might contain fireworks that would cost $80 if bought separately.  If you're new to consumer fireworks and not quite sure what to get, or you're planning to do your own display, an assortment will provide you with a nice variety of items that will save you time and money that you'd otherwise spend getting individual fireworks.

Assortments can always be selected according to your specific tastes - if you're doing a small backyard show for children and don't want much noise, you can buy a small family assortment which contains items such as fountains, sparklers, poppers, and smokes (which usually costs about $10-$30).  

Even if you're experienced with consumer fireworks and plan to do a full-scale neighborhood display, you can't go wrong with an assortment - larger ones contain a nice variety of shells, repeating aerial displays, rockets, and more.


Aerial repeaters, also known as "cakes", are one of the most popular types of fireworks next along with aerial shells.  They 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 long duration and variety of effects make them great crowd pleasers.  Repeaters usually consist of many tubes attached together, ranging anywhere from half a dozen to over 200.  Repeaters can be distinguished from fountains because a repeater always has a fuse on the lower side, rather than on the top like a fountain.  Each tube of a repeater is a tiny aerial shell- type devices.  A single fuse burns between the tubes.  When it reaches one, the lifting powder inside ignites and shoots the effects high into the air.  

Small, 7 shot repeaters usually cost around $8, while devices like the one pictured usually sell for around $15.  In the last few years a new type of repeater has been produced, which contains 500 grams of pyrotechnic content (the legal limit).  Such devices are often over a cubic foot in volume, and cost around $40 and up.


Reloadable shell kits 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 two tubes (mortars) and anywhere from 6 to nearly 100 shells.  The mortar can be made out of either High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), fiberglass or heavy cardboard.  Small kits, like the one pictured on the left, typically contain a single 12" long cardboard mortar and 6-18 standard single-break shells.  The price for such assortments typically ranges from $8-$15, depending on the quality of the shells.  "Artillery Shells", which come in different color boxes, are always a good choice because they have fairly decent bursts and are reasonably priced.  I personally recommend that you stay away from "Festival Balls" - although they're cheaper than any other shells, their performance is weak and fairly unimpressive.  

Larger shell assortments usually contain one or more 18" long HDPE mortars and 24+ shells that may have multiple breaks and effects.  These kits can range from $30 to nearly $200 in price, depending on what type of shells are in the assortment.  Pictured on the right is a triple-break shell assortment.  Each "shell" is actually three shells attached to each other that burst in quick succession in the sky.  Double, quadruple, and quintuple shells also exist.

Almost all consumer firework shells are 1.75" in diameter.  If you have the money, I recommend you buy the kits with HDPE mortars - they're safer, stronger, and can withstand much more shots than cardboard ones.  If you plan on launching a lot of shells, you may want to consider buying mortar tubes and building your own mortar rack.


Aerial display tubes come in two types - single and multiple tubes.  Single tubes are pretty much a pre-loaded aerial shell with some beautiful, exotic effect not found in most shells - for example, a purple comet, and green palm tree, a thick gold comet, or a giant red chrysanthemum burst.  They cost about $10-15.  The multiple-tube types contain several tubes with a single shell each, and are fused to fire a few seconds apart.  They can cost upwards of $50. 

Most display tubes contain a number in their name (such as "#200 Giant" Comet or "#900 Mad Dog"), but no one seems to know exactly what the number indicates.


Firecrackers are the earliest form of fireworks; invented by the Chinese and believed to drive away evil spirits.  They come in various sized packages - from strings of as little as 12 to gigantic celebration rolls of  up to 20,000.  Firecrackers are packaged in different sized cases that indicate the total number of crackers by a special code printed on the label, such as 6/80/16.  This means that the case contains 6 units of 80 packs of crackers each, and each pack contains 16 crackers fused together on one string.  Thus, the total number of crackers can be determined by multiplying the number.  Sometimes the packaging gives a number of "tau", which is not the total number of firecrackers.  Prices can range from $.25 for a string of a dozen to around $2 for a string of 200, and at the extreme end, $100 for a celebration roll of anywhere from 15,000-20,000.


Flying spinners are basically ground spinners with slanted wings.  As the device spins, the wings direct the air flow downward and lift it into the air, much like a helicopter.  At the end of its flight, a small burst charge ignites and ejects the colored stars inside.  Sometimes the whole thing explodes.  Helicopters can range in price from about $.50 for small ones and around $1-$2 for the device pictured at the right.


Fountains are devices that sit on the ground and emit showers of colored sparks upwards.  Unlike repeaters, they don't shoot effects high into the air - only about ten feet.  They provide wide displays of beautiful colors, and can greatly enhance and complement aerial displays (like repeaters and shells).  Nowadays, many fountains come in packs of 4 or more, but single fountains can usually be bought for $2-$10.

Larger fountains consist of multiple tubes fused to go off in sequence.  As mentioned before, they can easily be confused with repeaters by their shape, but your clue that they are fountains is that the fuse is on the top, not the side.  Like smaller fountains, they never shoot their effects over 10 feet in the air, but they provide much longer lasting displays (from 2-3 minutes!)  and can greatly enhance your show, especially when used in combination with shells or other aerial items.  Such fountains can cost up to $20.


Ground spinners spin around randomly at ground level, shooting out colored sparks and flames.  The most common type are "Ground Bloom Flowers", which spin furiously all over the place.  The flame changes color several times, and the unbalanced spin makes the device looks like a bright flower as it rotates.  Packs of 4 sell for about $.50.  

Another type of spinner is the circular type, where a tube of composition (or small drivers) burns to make the device spin around in a circle.


Not to be confused with the military device of the same name, firework mines produce upward, fan-shaped blasts of color and effects (look at the side of the box in the picture to get an idea).  They come in kits containing a tube and several mines (just like reloadable shells).  There are very few mine kits on the consumer market, but more and more have begun to emerge as the "mine" effect gains popularity.  A popular and excellent mine kit is the "Critical Acclaim". 


Novelties are small fireworks that usually look like some " real life" object (tanks, ships, cars, or animals) and often scoot across the ground.  They generally don't do much and aren't that impressive, but children always get a big kick out of them.  Kids also like these because they can use what's left over as a toy (or something to stomp on).  Novelties are fairly cheap: they cost about $.75 for a simple tank to no more than $2 or so for a more "elaborate" device such as ships and monster trucks.


Parachutes come in two different types - day and night.  Each type can be further broken down into single or multiple shots.  "Single" daytime parachutes launch a canister high into the air, where it bursts into one or two parachutes.  Sometimes the "paratrooper" is actually a little colored smoke canister which ignites on the way down and makes it easier to track.  These cost about $.50 to $2.00 each.  Multiple shot daytime parachutes look more like a tall, thin repeater consisting of many tubes just like those pictured on the left.  These devices can fill the air with nearly 100 different colored parachutes, which rain down everywhere.  They cost around $15-20.

Night parachutes are the same as daytime ones, except that the paratrooper has a strobe or colored star composition in it, which burns brightly as it slowly falls down. They cost about the same as daytime parachutes.


These devices aren't actually considered to be fireworks by most states and are sold year round in toy shops.  They are relatively safe and fun for children to use, so they are often sold along with fireworks.

Impact-ignited snappers go by about a thousand different names and come in small boxes of 50 for about $.50.  Bottle shaped, pull string "party poppers" shoot confetti and cost about $.50 for half a dozen


These devices blast up into the sky and eject some kind of effect; such as a report, crackle, or stars.  Rockets are stabilized by a long stick, and can be broken down into two subcategories: bottle rockets and skyrockets.  Bottle rockets are small, 1 foot long rockets that whistle/explode, and obviously can be launched from a bottle.  They come in packs of a dozen, which usually sells for less than $1.  Skyrockets are rockets that are greater than 1 foot in length (too big to be launched from a bottle) and contain more impressive effects such as stars, crackles, strobes, and even parachutes.  Huge skyrockets, which can be anywhere from 3-5 feet long (including stick), have large payload sections that actually contain aerial shells.  They usually come in packages and assortments, and range in price from $1.50 to $5.00 apiece, depending on the size.


Roman candles are a single tubes that fire many shots, unlike repeaters and shells that only fire one shot per tube.  The shots fire one at a time out of a tube.  The type of shots can range from a simple color star to more complex stars that flash, explode, whistle, and crackle.  Larger bore (diameter) roman candles even have shots the shoot out and burst like miniature aerial shells.  

Standard, star-shooting roman candles cost about $.75-$1; those with more elaborate effects cost $1.50-$2, and the thicker "shell" type candles cost about $5.


Smoke items are a good daytime item that are fun to play around with.  They most commonly come in the form of smoke balls, which cost  about $1.00 for a 6-pack.  The smoke comes in orange, blue, yellow, green, blue, and purple - though the purple ones almost always make white smoke.  

Cylindrical "smoke grenades" are also available, which create thick clouds of smoke for up to 2 minutes.  They cost about $1-$2


Most strobe devices (pictured at left) come in boxes of a half dozen, and they emit bright, disorienting flashing of light.  A box of strobes typically costs about $1.00  Snakes come in the form of small black pellets.  When they burn, they emit a long, brittle carbon ash, which looks like a snake coming out of the ground.  A box of 6 snake pellets costs about $.25-$.50.  


Sparklers are tiny hand held fountains that give off colored sparks from the burning tip.  They are the only firework meant to be held.  There are two types - metal rod (pictured at left), and "Morning Glory".  Metal rod sparklers are typically single-color (usually gold or silver).  They are fairly difficult to ignite, and cost around $.75  for a box of 6.  Morning Glories are attached to wooden rods and have 3 distinct burning phases - usually a red flame for about 20 seconds, then a crackle/snapping phase for 20 seconds, and finishing off with 20 seconds of a green/white flame.  They cost a bit extra ($1 per pack of 6), but are much safer than metal sparklers because they don't leave a hot wire behind.  Some companies manufacture very large sparklers known as "California Candles", which are basically a roman-candle sized fountain.


Wheels are fireworks that are designed to be attached to some sort of vertical support, usually by a nail.  When lit, they spin around their center emitting showers of sparks, crackle, and whistles.  They spin at incredible speeds, looking like a circle of blazing fire floating in midair.  Most wheels are powered by several engines (called drivers) which fire in sequence.  




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All of the information, images, and diagrams on Pyro Universe are copyright 2001-2008 by Colin Bradley, unless otherwise noted.  They are the sole property of Colin Bradley and may not be sold, reproduced, or distributed in any form without permission from the owner.  This includes inserting any information or images from this site into another web page.  Information on this site can be used for reports, research papers, or other school projects, as long as the author is given proper credit by mentioning Pyro Universe in the bibliography (click here to learn how).

Disclaimer and Conditions of Use of Information on Pyro Universe

The information on this site is for educational purposes only.  The diagrams and procedures on this web site are simply to show the viewer how fireworks function and how they should be used properly.   Viewers are cautioned that they must form their own opinion as to the application of anything found on this web site.  Fireworks are hazardous devices that must be handled with care and used with common sense to avoid injury.  The author of Pyro Universe does not advocate the use of fireworks for illegal, unsafe, disruptive, or destructive purposes.  By reading the pages of Pyro Universe, you acknowledge that the author takes no responsibility for personal injuries, damage, or legal trouble caused by fireworks or the application of any of the materials presented at this site.  The reader is solely responsible for observing his/her local laws before using fireworks or applying the information presented at this site.