Guide to IGNITION


Proper fusing of fireworks and knowing which type of fuse to use is one of the most crucial parts of a fireworks display.  Though using fuse seems to be easy, the consequences of careless or incorrect fusing can result entire sections of a display firing prematurely or not at all, neither of which you want to happen.  Itís terribly embarrassing to have a rack of shells, a portion of repeaters, or a letter of a set piece fail to fire in front of friends and family, all because of something simple like a fuse not being connected right.  Below you will learn about several types of fuse, how they are made, their pros and cons, and how to use each one effectively.  All of the methods of ignition listed below have been tested and used by me personally time and time again, and I find them to be extremely reliable.

 

  Visco (a.k.a. safety fuse, cannon fuse)

This type of fuse goes by all three names mentioned above, but I always call it Visco.  It is usually sold in gun shops under the name ďcannon fuseĒ, because it was once widely used by antique black powder cannon enthusiasts.  It consists of a black powder-soaked thread thatís been wrapped in layers of twine and coated in nitrocellulose lacquer to make it waterproof.  It comes in 3 colors (green, red, and a red-white-blue combination) and burns at about 2.5 seconds per inch (not the other way around).  This is the type of fuse used in all consumer fireworks, but it usually lacks the waterproof coating.  Visco is primarily used to create delays, which can be as simple as adding a piece of it to another fuse just to give someone a longer time to get away after lighting it.  It can also serve as a delay between the ignition of multiple fireworks.

Advantages:  Visco is a very reliable fuse because itís nearly impossible to extinguish once lit.  It can burn in rain, submersed in water, in wind, and even with tons of tape wrapped around it.  It also burns without shooting sparks and molten pieces everywhere (known as side spit), and is easy to ignite other pieces of fuse with.

Disadvantages:  Hard to ignite unless the black powder core is exposed.  Burns incredibly slow, so itís not ideal for lighting fireworks separated by a long distance (but thereís other fuses for that).

Connecting Visco to Visco
*sorry for the crappy drawings.  The image on the left side shows the placement of the fuses, and the image on the right shows what it would look like after electrical tape (shown in gray so it won't be confused with the black match) has been applied.

Overlap the two fuses that are to be connected by at at least 1 inch, and tape them tightly together with electrical tape.  Make sure the tape covers the very ends of both fuses.  Visco becomes very hot and molten while burning, and easily ignites another fuse that is touching it.  The electrical tape also holds in the heat, insuring ignition.

Connecting Visco to Black Match

Overlap the two fuses by about an inch and a half, then tape them in the middle.  DO NOT tape them over the entire overlap section.  Black match doesn't burn well (or at all) when taped.  This just holds the black match close enough to the Visco so that it can be lit.

Connecting Visco to Quick Match

Cut a little bit of paper pipe off of the quick match so the black match inside sticks out.  Insert a piece of Visco at least 1 inch into the pipe.  Crunch the paper down around the Visco and black match, and cover it in electrical tape.  When the burning end of the Visco enters the pipe, it will immediately ignite the black match and send fire racing down the tube.

 

Black Match

Black match consists of a cotten string impregnated with a solution of black powder.  Just as Visco is used in all Consumer Fireworks, black match is used in all professional (display) fireworks.  It can be used just as it is as a slow-burning fuse (about 1 inch per second), or be made into quick match (which can burn hundreds of feet per second).  The former is only used to delay the ignition of a firework device, such as when the fuse is lit manually by the pyrotechnician (giving him time to run away).  Black match is easy, fun, and cheap to make.  Click here to learn how to make your own. 

Advantages:  Takes fire very easily.  Even a spark from another fuse is enough to ignite black match.  Burns at a reasonable speed, and good for connecting devices like fountains and repeaters that are about a foot or so apart.  Easy to make.

Disadvantages:  Takes fire very easily - can be ignited prematurely by another spark/flame unless protected.  Brittle; pieces of black powder can break off, which can make the fuse stop working.  Can be ruined by water.  Gives off LOTS of side-spit (as shown on the picture at left), which can burn your hand or set off other fireworks or fuse prematurely.

Connecting Black Match to Visco

This type of connection is kind of tricky due to how difficult Visco is to ignite.  First off, cut the Visco at an angle to expose more of the powder core inside.  Bend the black match back on itself about an inch, making sure it touches the powder core in the Visco.  Tape it, but not too tightly. 

Connecting Black Match to Black Match

Overlap the two fuses by at least an inch and a half.  Then just tape the two together like you would two pieces of Visco, but don't do it quite as tightly, and don't tape over the ends of each fuse.  Black match doesn't always burn well when wrapped completely in tape, so this allows a little extra room for it to burn to be sure the fire transfer takes place within the tape.

Connecting Black Match to Quick Match

Pretty much the same as connecting Visco to quick match.  Stick the black match about 1 inch into the quick match paper pipe, then crunch down the paper around the fuses and tape it.  Don't tape it very tightly, just enough to make it stay in.  If there's too much pressure, the black match may just fizzle out once it gets to the taped point.

 

Quick Match

Quick match is just black match that has been fitted with a loose paper "pipe" in order to force hot gases forward to accelerate the burning speed.  It is used in all professional fireworks displays.  The main purpose it is used for is to ignite dozens or hundreds of fireworks at virtually the same instant - such as shells, lances on set pieces, or clusters of fountains/repeaters if you're putting on a show using consumer fireworks.  It can be made just as easily as black match, but with just one extra step (putting on the pipe)

 

 

Connecting Quick Match to Visco

Basically the same thing as connecting visco to quick match, only reverse.  In fact, I just used the same picture, but flipped it in order to look like I drew a whole new one!  The only difference is that you should make a small vent hole at the end to prevent the hot gases from just blasting the visco out of the end like a projectile without igniting it.

Connecting Quick Match to Black Match

Once again, just the same as connecting black match to quick match.  Once again, don't tape it too tightly or it will choke off the flame and extinguish it.

Connecting Quick Match to Quick Match

Strip about 1/2"-1" of paper off of either end of the pieces of quick match.  Crease down one side so that you're able to slide it into the other pipe (as shown at right), and attach with tape or a small amount of glue.

 

Electrical Igniters (e-matches)

Electrical igniters are the safest and most reliable way to ignite fireworks.  When a small electrical current is passed through the leads, a thin filament heats up and ignites a compound that gives off very hot flames and sparks.  Pyrotechnicians can use them to ignite fireworks from hundreds of feet away using an electrical control panel.  Because of this, there's no need for someone to be right up next to the fireworks lighting them off with a flare.  E-matches can be connected to fuse, an shown below or wired directly into the burst charges of shells/mines.
Advantages:  Besides being easy to use, e-matches are reliable and produce more then enough sparks necessary to set off any type of fuse.

Disadvantages:  The only bad thing about these is how expensive they are to buy (more than $1 apiece).  If you plan on using many of these in your show, it's a lot cheaper and easier to make your own.    

Connecting Electrical Igniter to Visco

Cut a angled slit in the fuse to expose the core.  Overlap the lead wires of the igniter over the fuse, then bend it back around so that the match composition touches the powder core of the fuse.  Tape this tightly, so that the hot gases produced by the e-match are trapped inside and ignite the visco.

Connecting Electrical Igniter to Black Match

Same as above, but try to wrap the end of the black match around the e-match head to insure ignition, then tape as shown.  A much more reliable method would be to connect the e-match to a short length of quick match, then connect the quick match to the bare black match.

Connecting Electrical Igniter to Quick Match

Cut about an inch of the paper pipe off of the quick match, and bend the exposed fuse back on itself and push it inside.  Stick the e-match in at least and inch, and tape the end tightly.  It's nearly impossible for this type of connection to fail.

 


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