Pyrotechnic Chemicals

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Acetone (2-Propanone) [C3H6O]
Flammable liquid used as a solvent in pyrotechnics (i.e., in mixtures that can’t contain water).  Nitrocellulose can be dissolved in it to create nitrocellulose lacquer, which can be used as an adhesive or a waterproof coating.  Acetone is hard to work with because it evaporates so quickly, thus making the composition cold and causing water to condense.

Hazards:  Extremely flammable.  Evaporates rapidly and creates heavier-than-air vapors which are also flammable.

Aluminum [Al]
Most widely used fuel in modern pyrotechnics; produces a brilliant, bright flame.  The particles come in several of different shapes, such as flakes and grains.

Hazards:  Dust can be harmful if inhaled into the lungs without a proper dust mask, and can be explosive if too much of it gets into a combined space.  Can react with nitrate mixtures and make enough heat to spontaneously combust, especially in wet conditions.

Ammonium Chloride [NH3•HCl]
Used in white smoke compositions.  When burned, it decomposes into HCl and NH3, then quickly re-combines in the air to form a fine smoke of ammonium chloride particles.

Hazards:  The smoke is irritating to the eyes/lungs due to leftover gaseous HCl or NH3.  Ammonium Chloride itself is not toxic.

Ammonium Nitrate [NH4NO3]
Oxidizer used in high explosives (such as ANFO), but not commonly used in fireworks due to its hygroscopicity.

Hazards:  Not very sensitive; known to spontaneously detonate only in large amounts or when mixed with chlorates or metal powders.

Ammonium Perchlorate [NH4ClO4]
Slow-burning, widely-used oxidizer.  Though many rich colors can be made with it, the burn rate is too slow for use in star compositions.   However, it is ideal for use in lances and torches, where slow-burning is an advantage.  Since all of the decomposition products are gases, it is also used in rocket propellants (such as the Solid Rocket Boosters on the Space Shuttle).

Hazards:  Similar to ammonium nitrate, it can detonate by itself, but isn’t very sensitive.  It becomes more dangerous when mixed with chlorates or metal powders. handled with extreme caution using gloves and a mask.

Antimony Trisulfide (Antimony Sulfide, realgar) [Sb2S3]
A fuel sometimes used in glitter and fountain compositions to create the color white.  At one point it was used in flash compositions, but it was poisonous and extremely sensitive to shock and static electricity.  Comes in two forms – “Chinese Needle” and “Dark Pyro”.  The former is used in glitter compositions and white comets/stars.  The latter is used to sharpen the report of salutes and increase the sensitivity of flash powder.

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves and a mask must be worn when handling it.  Becomes friction sensitive when mixed with chlorates or perchlorates.

Barium Carbonate  [BaCO3]
Functions as a green color agent when burned with chlorine present (from the formation of BaCl+), burns white by itself (with oxygen, creating BaO).  Can also be used to reduce acidity in chorate-based color compositions.

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves/mask must be worn at all times when using it.

Barium Chlorate  [BaClO]
Used as an oxidizer in green color compositions.

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves/mask must be worn at all times when using it.  Extremely reactive; must be mixed with compounds that will reduce sensitivity to shock and friction.  Must never be mixed with compounds containing sulfur or phosphorus.
Barium Nitrate [Ba(NO3)2]
Can be used as both a green color agent and an oxidizer.  Functions as a green color agent when burned with chlorine present (from the formation of BaCl+), burns white by itself (with oxygen, creating BaO)

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves/mask must be worn when using it.  Shouldn’t be mixed with metal powders due to possible spontaneous combustion, especially when moist.

Barium Sulfate [BaSO4]
Used as a high-temperature oxidizer in metal-based green color compositions.

Hazards:  Unlike other barium compounds, barium sulfate is not very toxic because of its low solubility in water.

Benzoic Acid [C6H5COOH]
Used to make metallic benzoates.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Bismuth Trioxide [Bi2O3]
Used as a non-toxic alternative to lead tetraoxide to make crackling stars.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Bismuth Subcarbonate [(BiO)2CO3]
Also used as a non-toxic alternative to lead tetraoxide to make crackling stars.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Boric Acid [H3BO3]
Weak acid in a powder form which is added to compositions containing aluminum or magnesium and a nitrate.  Metals react with nitrates to form amides, which can further react with the metal powder to create a highly exothermic reaction which could spontaneouly ignite the compound.  Even a few percent boric acid added to the mixture will neutralize any amides that form.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Cab-O-Sil (fumed silica, colloidal silica) [SiO2]
Used as an anti-caking agent and to prevent hygroscopic chemicals from absorbing water from the air.  Sometimes used in flash powders.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Calcium Carbonate (chalk) [CaCO3]
Used as a color agent in orange star compositions, or as an acid-absorber.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Calcium Sulfate [CaSO4• xH2O, where x = 0, 2, 3, 5]
Calcium sulfate anhydrate (where x = 0) can be used as a high temperature oxidizer in orange color compositions or in strobe compositions.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Charcoal (Carbon) [C]
Charcoal is used very widely in pyrotechnics.  Charcoal is the by-product of the burning of organic substances.  It contains impurities which make is more reactive, and therefore is used more often than pure carbon in fireworks.  It can be made from many types of wood.  Charcoal from soft woods, such as grape vine or willow, is good for fast-burning compositions like black powder, whereas charcoal from hard woods like pine are used to create long-lasting spark effects.  Very fine charcoal is known as air float.  Another type of fine charcoal called lampblack.

Hazards:  Fine charcoal dust can easily be breathed in, so a mask must be work when working with it.

Clay (bentonite, sodium aluminum silicate)
Powder used for plugs and nozzles in fountains, drivers, rockets, and other devices.  Can also be made into a paste if mixed with water.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Confectioners Sugar (sucrose, table sugar) [C12H22O11]
Can be used with an oxidizer such as potassium nitrate to create smoke devices or rocket fuel.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic (well, we all EAT it…)

Copper Acetoarsenite (paris green) [Cu3As2O3Cu(C2H3O2) 2]
The best blue color agent.  It is extremely poisonous, however, and is hardly ever used in modern pyrotechnics.

Hazards:  Extremely toxic; gloves/mask must be worn when using it.

Copper Benzoate [Cu(C6H5COO)2]
Can be used as a fuel in blue color compositions.  Not often used because it is expensive

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves/mask must be worn when using it.

Copper(II) Carbonate [CuCO3]
Light green powder used as a blue color agent.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Copper Chlorate (Hexahydrate) [Cu(ClO3)2•6H2O]
Used as an oxidizer is blue color compositions.

Hazards: Extremely reactive; must be mixed with compounds that will reduce sensitivity to shock and friction.  Must never be mixed with compounds containing sulfur or phosphorus.

Copper(II) Chloride (campfire blue) [CuCl2]
Brownish-yellow compound used as a blue color agent.

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves/mask must be worn when using it.

Copper Chromite [CuCr2O4]
Can be used as a catalyst in rocket propellants.  It is added in small quantities (1-5%) to rocket fuels and whistle compositions to increase the burn rate.

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves/mask must be worn when using it.

Copper(II) Oxide [CuO]
Black powder used as a blue color agent.

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves/mask must be worn when using it.

Copper Oxychloride [3CuO•CuCl2•3.5H2O]
Green powder used as a blue color agent.

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves/mask must be worn when using it.

Copper(II) Sulfate (Pentahydrate) [CuSO4•5H2O]
Anhydrous form is used as a blue color agent.

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves/mask must be worn when using it.

Copper Benzoate [Cu(C6H5COO)2]
Used as a fuel and as a blue color agent.

Hazards:  Toxic; gloves/mask must be worn when using it.

Cryolite (sodium fluoaluminate) [Na3AlF6]
White powder used as a yellow color agent.

Dechlorane [C10Cl12]
Used as a chlorine donor.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Dextrin [C6H10O5]
Commonly used, water-activated pyrotechnic binder used to hold compositions together or as a paste.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol) [CH3CH2OH]
Commonly used as a solvent for compositions containing organic fuels/binders such as shellac and red gum.

Hazards:  Very flammable; burns with a nearly invisible blue flame.  Evaporates quickly, creating heavier-than-air vapors that are also flammable

Ferrotitanium [60/40 ratio of Fe and Ti]
Alloy of iron (ferrum) and titanium, used to create yellow-white sparks in fountains and star compositions.

Hazards:  Flammable, dust mask should be work when handling to avoid inhalation


Gallic Acid
 
[C7H6O5•H2O]
White powder used to create whistles.

Hazards:  Sensitive, may explode when mixed with chlorates

Gum Arabic
Vegetable gum used as a water-soluble binder

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Hexachlorethane (carbon hexachloride) [C2Cl6]
White powder used as a chlorine donor and in smoke compositions

Hazards:  Carcinogenic; gloves/mask must be worn when using it.

Hexamine (hexamethylenetetramine, methenamine) [C6H12N4]
Used as an low reactivity fuel in blue star compositions

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic.

Iron [Fe]
Gray metallic powder used to create yellow branching sparks, mainly in sparklers and fountains.  Iron alloys rich in carbon work best.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic, but it reacts over time with water or air to form useless iron oxides.  Iron must be coated with wax or linseed oil first to protect it before it is used in any pyrotechnic compositions.

Iron(II) Oxide (ferrous oxide) [FeO•Fe2O3 or Fe3O4]
Black powder used as a high-temperature oxidizer in thermite compositions.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic

Iron(III) Oxide (ferric oxide) [FeO•Fe2O3 or Fe3O4]
Red powder used as a catalyst in rocket compositions, as a high-temperate oxidizer in thermite compositions or ignition compositions.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic

Lactose (milk sugar) [C12H22O11•2H2O]
Which powder used in smoke compositions and as a low reactivity fuel in blue color compositions.

Hazards:  Not particularly dangerous or toxic

Lampblack (carbon black) [C]
Extremely fine form of charcoal obtained from the burning of crude oils.  It is used to produce long lasting, finely dispersed orange sparks.

Hazards:  Must be handled with care (and gloves) as to prevent the fine dust from flying everywhere and making a huge mess.  A mask should be worn to prevent inhalation.

Lead Dioxide (lead(IV) oxide) [PbO2]
Used as an oxidizer in friction-sensitive ignitor compositions, such as matches.

Hazards:  Carcinogenic and a neurotoxin; any direct contact with skin should be avoided.   Gloves, repirator, and protective clothing must be worn when using it.

Lead Tetraoxide [Pb3O4]
Red powder most commonly used to make crackling stars, sometimes in high-temperature primes.

Hazards:  Carcinogenic and a neurotoxin; any direct contact with skin should be avoided.   Gloves, repirator, and protective clothing must be worn when using it.

MAGNESIUM [Mg]
Highly reactive and flammable metal used to brighten flames without decreasing color quality.  Also used in flash powder, strobe formulations, and flares.

MAGNESIUM-ALUMINUM (MAGNALIUM) [Mg/Al]
Alloy of magnesium and aluminum, with properties of both metals.  Not quite as reactive as magnesium, and not as hard to ignite as aluminum.  Used primarily in glitter and strobes, and to brighten flames.

NITROCELLULOSE LACQUER [C6H7N3O11]
Flammable liquid binder used for waterproofing fuse.

POLYVINYL CHLORIDE (PVC) [C2H3Cl]
Used primarily as a chlorine donor (color enhancer), sometimes as a  fuel and binder.

PARLON
Chlorinated rubber used primarily as a chlorine donor and sometimes as a binder.

POTASSIUM NITRATE [K]
Potassium compounds are used as oxidizers.  Forms of it include:

POTASSIUM BENZOATE [C6H5·CO·OK]
POTASSIUM CHLORATE [KClO3]
POTASSIUM DICHROMATE [K2Cr2O7]
POTASSIUM NITRATE [KNO3]
POTASSIUM PERCHLORATE [KClO4]
POTASSIUM SULFATE [K2SO4]

RED GUM
Reddish brown powder from an Australian tree used as a binder and fuel.

SODIUM [Na]
Yellow color agent.  Forms of sodium include:

SODIUM BICARBONATE [NaHCO3]
SODIUM NITRATE [NaNO3]

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