How to Safely Use Fireworks

Spread the love

I can’t even count how many people have told me stories of how they loaded a shell into the mortar incorrectly, only to have it explode and blow burning stars and debris all over the place and into the spectators.  I’ve also witnessed many cases where a firework that wasn’t braced properly tipped over, shooting its effects at people and starting things on fire.  The tips here outline how to properly use each type of firework, including how to brace the more powerful items to prevent them from tipping over. 


For safety, always place tall repeaters within a concrete cinder block or surround it with bricks so there’s no chance of it tipping over.  Shorter, fat repeaters are pretty stable themselves, but they should still be braced just in case.  The fuse is always located somewhere on the side of the device.


All artillery shell kits come with one or more mortar tubes, which should always be braced before launching shells..  You can do this several ways:  bury it in dirt, stack rocks/bricks around the mortar, or build a mortar rack.

Shells are packaged with their fuses wound up over the top.  To fire one, carefully unwind the fuse, and lower the flat end of the shell into the mortar.  This is the lift charge – it needs to be facing down so the explosion it creates will lift the shell out of its tube.  NEVER STAND OVER OR LOOK INTO THE TUBE.  Shells shoot up at several hundred feet per second – not something you want to get hit in the face with should it accidentally ignite.  Fuses on aerial shells burn more than two times faster than regular visco, so light the fuse and run away quickly.  Before firing another one, wait about 30 seconds, then turn the tube upside down and kick it or hit it against the ground to empty out any burning debris (if there was something still burning in the tube, there’s a chance of it immediately igniting the lift charge of the next shell you load in!).  The shell should fit into the tube with no more than 1/8 inch or so between it and the tubing.  If there is too much space, the gas will escape and the shell will not go as high.  When a shell bursts, everything inside burns up.  The only “fallout” that comes back to earth are harmless little strips of the paper casing


Firecrackers come in long strings that are made of braided gray fuses, but law requires them to have a slow-burning piece of visco fuse on one end – this is the fuse that you light, because it gives you time to run away.  Don’t light the gray fuses.  For best effect, tie them up or use them together with strobes.  

Do not light and throw firecrackers from your hand.  The fuse sometimes burns more quickly than usual, which can turn into a real nasty experience when it burns your hand or fingers.    A great deal of fireworks related injuries result from this.  Don’t risk it.


These type devices also require a very flat surface to launch from.  It needs to spin around freely just long enough to create lift and take off.  Most of the time they can  take off if placed on asphalt, but it’s better to use a flat plywood “launch pad”. It’s also crucial that you position such devices correctly so they actually become airborne instead of flopping around randomly on the ground.  Usually they have “this side up” written somewhere on them, but if they don’t, just look for the fuse hole.  Follow the fuse and find where it enters the tube of the device, and make sure that hole is facing towards the ground.  This assures that when it starts thrusting, it will spin in the right direction.  


Though fountains seem tame, they should still be either glued down to a piece of wood or braced with bricks. 

The fuse can always be found on the very top (you might have to dig under sever layers of tissue paper), as opposed to on the side like a repeater.


All ground spinners need a flat surface to move around on.  Tube type devices such as “Ground Bloom Flowers” can easily spin around on asphalt or even compacted dirt, but circular type devices need a flat surface such as a piece of plywood or a metal pie tin.


Since there are hundreds of types of novelties, the fuse is never in any certain spot, but it’s not hard to find.  Moving novelties have tiny, sensitive wheels that can easily get caught in the indentations found in asphalt – it’s best to use them on a piece of plywood so they have the freedom to move.


Parachute tubes contain a powerful lift charge and therefore need to braced with rocks or bricks to prevent them from tipping over.  The fuse is always located at the bottom of the tube near the base. 


These devices  usually have a wooden base with enough surface area and weight to prevent it from falling over, but it’s still a good idea to put a few bricks on the base anyways.  The fuse can be found at the bottom of the tube near the base.


Both bottle rockets and skyrockets should be launched from a plastic or metal pipe aimed at no more than 20 degrees from vertical.  Set the rocket at the end of the pipe so that the stick goes in but the body and fuse stays out.  Never launch rockets by sticking them in the ground – most of the time they will tip over an shoot off horizontally, or remain stuck in the ground and blow up.

Missiles much be launched with extreme care.  In the first few milliseconds of lift-off, the device is aerodynamically unstable because it is not yet traveling fast enough for the fins to stabilize its flight.  Since it is during this time that the missile is most likely to tip over, it must be launched from a very flat, level surface.  Even so, you need to be prepared to run once you light the fuses of one of these.

The fuses on these devices can be found at the end up the tube opposite the nose cone.  Sometimes they’re buried under layers of tissue paper or a plastic cone that must be removed.  Don’t just light the tissue paper on fire – the flame may ignite the fuse too close to the nozzle, giving you almost no time to retreat.


Roman candles can be stabilized by sticking sticking them in the ground, in piles of rocks, propping them up with bricks, taping them to something secure, or putting them in a short pipe (like one that is used to launch rockets).

Roman candles are another firework that people think are safe to hold.  DO NOT hold them.  Roman candles have a very complex and fragile construction.  Even a slight bend or malfunction with the tube could cause a star to get jammed, igniting the rest of the composition and causing a blowout through the side, which could severely burn your hand. 

The fuse can be pretty difficult to find because it’s usually very short and is buried under the wrapper at one of the ends.  Tear the wrapper off at each end until you find it.


Sparklers are the only type of firework that are meant to be held.  There are two types – metal rod and stick.  The stick type is much safer because it burns away harmlessly, whereas the metal rod type leave behind a glowing red-hot piece of metal.

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, give sparklers to young children!  Parents often give sparklers to their toddlers under the impression that they’re “safe”.  But the tips can burn at up to 1000�.  They can cause horrible 3rd degree burns, and are responsible for a large number of fireworks-related injuries.  Small children will often try to cup their hand over the burning end.

“California Candle” sparklers are safe to hold, but reader Joe Zastrow warns that they can emit quite a powerful spray of sparks, and can sometimes burn all the way down to the very end, which could scorch the fingers of a distracted pyro – so don’t hold them too long!


Smoke devices should always be lit on the ground, never in the hand.  They seem harmless, but if the pressure inside of a burning smoke bomb got too high, it can explode with quite a bit of force.  This hasn’t been known to happen very often, but there’s always a chance that something could go wrong during manufacture.  Also, be sure to use them in an area free of flammables.  If something gets in the way of the jet hole, it will create a torch-like flame instead of smoke, which can start things on fire.

Smoke bomb fuses are easily found sticking out of the top (like on the background of this page), and canister smoke grenades always have their fuses on one of the ends.  


The best advice for snakes: don’t eat the pellets.  A kid did this a few years back after buying snakes from a store, and ended up getting quite sick..

Strobes usually look like little cupcakes with a stiff fuse sticking out of the top.  They produce intense bursts of heat which can actually dry out and ignite wet flammable materials.  Keep them away from anything that could burn.  Never look directly at the bright flashes of light because of risk of possible eye damage.  


Make sure wheels are securely attached to their supports so they don’t fly off when you ignite them.  Sometimes they come with a nail taped to the packaging.  Put the nail through the center hole and hammer it as far as you can into a piece of wood without restricting the devices ability to move.  The fuse can be found at the end of one of the drivers.  Never ignite a fuse that runs between two drivers – their thrusts may cancel each other out and prevent it from spinning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *