Most of us know what a firework looks like and what to expect when they go bang, but how much do you know about how this happens? Some displays are extremely complex, and we can all take them for granted, but how do firework manufacturers ensure you can get different colours, effects and sequences included? Here, we look at the science and method behind firework effects in your favourite fireworks.
How fireworks work
You can talk about firework effects without knowing the basics of how a firework actually works. The good news is they are relatively simple pyrotechnics and both fireworks and sparklers share the same methodology. If you think about popular fireworks for sale in the UK, you’ll probably conjure an image of a rocket. This is one of the most common types of fireworks available and consists of a simple five-part structure.
This includes the stick the firework is attached to, making it easy to stick into the ground, as well as the fuse that you will light with a match. The fuse feeds into the charge or motor, which is the explosive part. The charge is full of black powder, usually a mixture of potassium nitrate and other chemicals, depending on if they are traditional or modern designs. The purpose of the charge is to launch the firework into the sky high enough for everyone to see from a safe distance. This is where the effect and the head of the rocket, which are both above the charge, provide the spectacular colours and patterns, exploding on a time-delay fuse.
Common effects and their names
The effect and head of the rocket provide the payoff; the reason why fireworks exist as a way to celebrate, rather than just being a loud bang. The names of the effects all differ, but how many would you be able to name? The average person would struggle to name one, especially if you have never thought about it, so here are a few common ones you may recognise:
Comet - as per the name, these leave a long trail effect behind a bright star, fanning through the air like a comet and are usually seen as part of a multiple launch.
Chrysanthemum – another that has a helpful visual name, this effect creates a large spherical shape that then has a time delay on the individual lights, creating lots of mini-explosions.
Brocade – another popular choice at displays, this effect creates many spectacular lights that spider out into the sky, like lots of smaller comets that leave long trails that linger.
Strobe – this effect provides flashing lights that rain down from above, strobing with visible trails. Similar to Palm Tree fireworks, but with the strobe effect for a big finish.
Next time you see a display, you’ll more than likely see some of these and now be able to name them. There are many others and some even more complex, with designs being created over the years. The way the different effects are achieved is by adding different star pellets inside the effect shell, which are spread out depending on when you want them to be released.
Multibreak shells allow for the more complex display combinations and may contain extra ingredients such as glitter or other metals such as aluminium, steel, magnesium etc, to create brighter sparks or shimmers. This is all tightly packed inside the payload and extensively tested to ensure the correct time release.
Hopefully, this quick overview of firework effects will pique your interest to learn more about the complex nature of fireworks. This will provide added enjoyment at your own curated displays in future.