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@DDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD: PyroTechnics I-IV :DDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDY
"This is Part I-IV of a series of four files I acquired some time ago.
They seem fairly well-written, and although I admit I've never concocted
anything from these files, local Chem. Engineering majors assure me that
the ideas are more than fiction. If any of you download more than one of
these files, you will notice a fairly long set of safeguards at the beginning
of each file. This list is identical on each file, but I ask that it -not-
be deleted or modified for obvious reasons.
Not really knowing the legal bearing on this, I hereby absolve myself
of all responsibility of the consequences of following the directions on these
files. IMHO, anyone who is capable of using a mainframe system has enough
grey matter to decide what is dangerous and what isn't when using pyrotechnics.
Me, I've nowhere near enough experience in the field, and wouldn't
touch the ingredients with a eighty foot pole. I will refrain from posting
files 2, 3 and 4 until I get some public response. I will or will not post
the rest based on the responses I receive. Either way, enjoy, and don't do
something stupid like blowing off your head."
Part I. Preparation Of Contact Explosives
Pyrotechnic preparations and explosives are, by their very nature, unstable,
and subject to ignition by explosion or heat, shock, or friction. A clear
understanding of their dangerous properties and due care in the handling of
ingredients or finished products is necessary if accidents are to be avoided.
Always observe all possible precautions, particularly the following:
1. Mix only small batches at one time. This means a few grams, or at
most, an ounce or so. Don't go for big mixes -- they only make for
bigger accidents. The power of an explosive cubes itself with
every ounce. (9 Ounces is 729 times as powerful as one ounce.)
2. When weighing chemicals, use a clean piece of paper on the scale
pan for each item. Then discard the used paper into a bucket of
water before weighing the next ingredient.
3. Be a safe worker. Dispose of any chemicals spilled on the
workbench or equipment between weighings. Don't keep open
containers of chemicals on your table, since accidental spillage
or mixing may occur. When finished with a container, close it, and
replace it on the storage shelf. Use only clean equipment.
4. Where chemicals are to be ground, grind them separately, NEVER
TOGETHER. Thoroughly wash and clean equipment before grinding
5. Mixing of batches should be done outdoors, away from flammable
structures, such as buildings, barns, garages, etc. Mixes should
also be made in NON METALLIC containers to avoid sparks. Glass
also should not be used since it will shatter in case of an
accident. Handy small containers can be made by cutting off the
top of a plastic bottle three or four inches from the bottom. Some
mixes may most conveniently be made by placing the ingredients in
a plastic bottle and rolling around until the mixture is uniform.
In all cases, point the open end of the container away from
yourself. Never hold your body or face over the container. Any
stirring should be done with a wooden paddle or stick to avoid
sparks or static.
Powdered or ground materials may also be mixed by placing them on
a large sheet of paper on a flat surface and then rolling them
across the sheet by lifting the sides and corners one at a time.
6. Never ram or tamp mixes into paper or cardboard tubes. Pour the
material in and gently tap or shake the tube to settle the
7. Store ingredients and finished mixes where they will not be a fire
hazard away from heat and flame. Finished preparations may be
stored in plastic bottles which will not shatter in case of an
accident. Since many of the ingredients and mixes are poisonous,
they should be stored out of reach of children or pets, preferably
8. Be sure threads of screw top containers and caps are thoroughly
cleaned. This applies also to containers with stoppers of rubber
or cork and to all other types of closures. Traces of mixture
caught between the container and closure may be ignited by the
friction of opening or closing the container. Throughout any
procedure, WORK WITH CLEAN CONDITIONS.
9. ALWAYS WEAR A FACE SHIELD OR AT LEAST SHATTERPROOF SAFETY GLASSES.
Any careful worker does when handling dangerous materials. Be sure
lenses and frames are not flammable.
10. Always wear a dust respirator when handling chemicals in dust
form. These small particles gather in your lungs and stay there.
They may cause serious illnesses later on in life.
11. Always wear gloves when working with chemicals.
12. Always wear a waterproof lab apron.
13. If you must work indoors, have a good ventilation system.
14. Never smoke anywhere near where you are working.
15. Make sure there are NO open flames present, and NO MOTORS (they
produce sparks inside.) No hot water heaters, furnaces, or pilot
lights in stoves!! Sparks have been known to very readily explode
dust floating in the air.
16. ALWAYS work with someone. Two heads are better than one.
17. Have a source of water READILY available. (Fire extinguisher,
18. Never, under any circumstances, use any metal to load chemicals or
put chemicals in. Fireworks with metal casings are worse to handle
than a live hand grenade. Never use any metal container or can.
This includes the very dangerous CO2 cartridges. Many people have
been KILLED because of flying fragments from metal casings. Again,
please do not use metal in any circumstance.
19. Always be thoroughly familiar with the chemicals you are using.
Some information will be included in each file, but look for
whatever extra information you can. Materials that were once
thought to be safe can later be found out to be dangerous stuff.
20. Wash your hands and face thoroughly after using chemicals. Don't
forget to wash your EARS AND YOUR NOSE.
21. If any device you've built fails to work, leave it alone. After a
half hour or so, you may try to bury it, but never try to unload
or reuse any dud.
22. If dust particles start to form in the air, stop what you are
doing and leave until it settles.
23. Read the entire file before trying to do anything.
24. NEVER strike any mixture containing Chlorates, Nitrates,
Perchlorates, Permanganates, Bichromates, or powdered metals don't
drop them, or even handle them roughly.
These rules may all look like a lot of silly nonsense, but let's look at one
example. When the move "The Wizard of OZ" was made, the actress who played the
good witch was severely burned when one of the exploding special effects got
out of hand. The actress who played the bad witch got really messed up by the
green coloring used on her face, and the original actor who played the Tin Man
got his lungs destroyed by the aluminum dust used to color his face. The actor
we know of as the tin man was actually a replacement. The point is, these
chemicals were being used under the direction of people a lot more knowlegable
of chemicals than you are, and terrible accidents still happened. Don't take
this stuff lightly.
The contact explosives we will be describing use only a few chemicals. Some do
need extra caution to keep from causing trouble.
Though most people don't realize it, Iodine is not a brown liquid, but a
steel-grey solid. The tincture of iodine you buy at the drugstore actually
contains just a tiny bit of iodine dissolved in a jarful of inexpensive
alcohol, and resold at a huge mark up. We'll be using iodine in the crystalline
form. On contact with your skin, it will produce a dark stain that won't wash
off with soap and water. We'll talk about removing these stains later. If it
gets hot, it vaporizes into a purple cloud, that smells like the chlorine in a
swimming pool. This cloud is dangerous to inhale, since it will condense in
your lungs, and is corrosive. Since we won't need to heat this stuff, it is not
a problem, but you should make sure that you don't let any iodine crystals
spill onto a hot surface. If you don't touch it and keep it away from your
face, you shouldn't have any troubles.
This is just good old household ammonia. Be sure to get the clear kind. The
sudsy stuff won't be too useful. It is made from ammonia gas dissolved in
water, and every time you open the bottle, it loses some of its strength, so be
sure to use fresh stuff. We need it to be as strong as possible. Some of the
formulas given here use lab grade concentrated ammonium hydroxide. It is much
stronger than the supermarket kind, and is very unkind to skin or especially
the eyes. It is a good idea to wear eye protection with even the supermarket
grade. Though we don't usually worry about this when using household ammonia
for cleaning, we usually dilute it for that. Here we'll be using it straight
out of the bottle, and it is much more corrosive in that form. Never use this
material if you don't have real good ventilation, as the ammonia vapors can be
This is a reasonably safe chemical. You get Potassium ions in some of the fruit
you eat, and Iodide ions (usually as Sodium Iodide) are added to the table salt
you buy at the store. So, while you don't directly eat this chemical, you do
eat the components that make it up. Don't be scared of this stuff.
Otherwise known as photographic hypo. When dissolved in water, this will remove
the iodine stains left by touching iodine crystals, and exploding contact
explosive. Not particularly nasty stuff, but make sure to wash it off after
cleaning yourself with it.
This is a powerful and highly sensitive explosive. A dust sized particle will
make a sharp crack or popping sound. A piece the size of a pencil lead will
produce an explosion as loud as any of the largest firecrackers or cherry
bombs. It cannot be exploded by any means when wet, and therefore can be
handled and applied with safety. When dry, it will explode with the touch of a
feather, or a breath of air.
The strength of the ammonia water you use will have a direct effect on the
strength of the final product. If you use supermarket ammonia, the explosive
will work, but not as spectacularly as if you use a 15% or higher (10 to 15
molar) solution. The stronger it is, the better. You'll also need filter paper,
and a funnel. A properly folded coffee filter will do nicely if you don't have
the filter paper. If you're not sure how to fold filter paper, check an
elementary chemistry textbook.
Methods of Preparation
1.) Granular Explosive. This is the easiest kind, and the only kind that will
work reasonably well with supermarket ammonia. Crush enough iodine crystals to
make a pile of powder equal to the volume of a pencil eraser. Do not grind into
a fine powder. Put about 4 ounces or 1/2 measuring cup of strong ammonia water
into a small container with the iodine, and seal it for about 5 to 10 minutes,
shaking frequently. While the mixture is reacting, get your filter paper ready.
While it is best to consult a book that shows how to do this, you take the
circle of filter paper, fold it in half, fold it again at right angles to the
first fold, and then open it to form a cone. Open or close it as needed to make
it conform to the angle of the funnel, and moisten it a little to make it stick
in place. Place the funnel over a container that will catch the waste liquid.
Let the mixture settle long enough for the sediment to settle, and pour off as
much of the clear liquid as possible before filtering the sediment. Pour the
remaining liquid and sediment into the filter. The sediment (and the filter
paper covered with it!!!) is your explosive. The small amount you have made
will go a lot farther than you realize. Particularly if you used good strong
ammonia. Place the explosive in an airtight leakproof pill bottle. As this
explosive is unstable by nature, fresh amounts give better results than stale
ones that have been sitting around for a day or so. Best results are obtained
with small fresh batches. But as you'll see, there are a few tricks you can do
with this material that do require it to sit for a day or more.
The explosive should be stored and applied while wet.
2.) Paint type explosive. This will use up a lot of iodine crystals. Make up a
strong tincture of iodine using about 4 ounces or 1/2 measuring cup of rubbing
alcohol, denatured alcohol, or wood alcohol. Wood alcohol is preferable. Add
iodine crystals and shake thoroughly until no more will dissolve. Pour the
liquid into a fruit jar. Add the ammonium hydroxide and stir the mixture until
the mixture is a chocolate brown and shows a little of the original color of
the iodine. The amount of ammonia necessary will depend on its strength. An
equal volume of ammonia is usually sufficient for a 15% or higher solution. The
solution should be filtered at once, and shouldn't ever wait more than 10 or 15
minutes, because it starts to dissolve again.
The explosive again should be stored and applied while wet. This material is
chemically the same as the granular explosive, but because it was precipitated
from a solution, it is much more finely divided, and the reaction happens
almost simultaneously, so you can get it out before it all vanishes back into
3.) Paint type #2. Dissolve 1 gram of potassium iodide in about 90cc of
18%-22% ammonium hydroxide. Add 4 grams of pulverized iodine. A deep black
sediment should start forming. Let stand, and stir frequently for five minutes.
Then, filter as usual. While the potassium iodide is not an integral part of
the chemical reaction, the dissolved potassium iodide will allow the iodine
crystals in turn to dissolve, and its common ion effect will cause less iodine
crystals to be wasted. Since the iodine is by far the most expensive
ingredient, you'll save money in the long run by using it.
Care in Handling And Storage
Because this material is so unstable it deteriorates quickly. Don't make any
more than you need to use in the next 24 hours. If you can't use it all
immediately, the container you keep it in should be recapped tightly after use
and the mouth wiped clean. The explosive can cause dark stain damage to things
as rugs, clothing, chair seats, wallpaper, and light or clear plastics. A
strong solution of sodium thiosulfate is effective for removing stains from
hands and clothing before they set. Never leave the container of explosive in
direct sunlight for more than a few minutes, as it will weaken the strength. Do
NOT attempt to make a large explosion as it is dangerous and can cause
deafness. All equipment used should be thoroughly washed and the used filter
paper flushed down the toilet. Under no circumstances attempt to handle the
dried material which is extremely explosive and hazardous. If you can avoid
storing the material in a container at all, there will be no chance that a
loose stopper will let the material dry out and become a potential bomb. Tiny
bits of this can be great fun, but it has to be handled with care.
Although largely a scientific curiosity, this explosive finds itself well
suited for practical jokes. It may easily be painted on the bottom side of
light switches, sprinkled on floors, painted in keyholes, pencil sharpeners,
doorknobs and in hundreds of other unsuspected places. It is also ideal for
catching locker thieves and desk prowlers. It will leave a dark stain on his
hands when it explodes, and only you will know how to remove it.
Ammonium Ammonium Nitrogen
Iodine Hydroxide Iodide Tri Iodide Water
3I + 5NH OH ---> 3NH I + NH NI + 5H O
2 4 4 3 3 2
The theoretical yield of explosive from pure iodine is 54.1% by weight. The
remainder of the iodine may be recovered for reuse from the ammonium iodide
waste product by evaporating the waste liquid and treating with chlorine if a
chemistry lab is available. The contact explosive is Ammonium Nitrogen
Tri-Iodide, which explodes into iodine, nitrogen, and ammonia.
Tri-Iodide Iodine Nitrogen Ammonia
2NH NI ---> 3I + N + 2NH
3 3 2 2 3
Some Clever Uses For This Material
1.) Contact Explosive Torpedos. Get some gelatin capsules, the kind pills are
made of. Fill the small half with uncooked dry tapioca until it is half full.
Then place a wet blob of contact explosive about 4 times the size of a straight
pin head on top of it. Either the granular or paint type explosive will work.
The capsule is then filled the rest of the way up with tapioca until, when the
capsule is put together, the grains of tapioca are packed tightly, and none are
loose. If this is not done properly, the torpedos could go off prematurely, and
the joke would be on you. The torpedos are then moistened at the joints to seal
them and stored until the next day. They are not sensitive enough until the
next day and too sensitive the day after, so plan your activities accordingly.
These torpedos are the most fiendish devices made. You can lay one on top of a
door, where it will roll off when the door is opened, and it will explode on
contact with the floor. If you toss one some distance away it will appear as if
someone else was responsible for the explosion. These torpedos are ideal as
booby traps or for pulling practical jokes with. They may be carried in a small
box filled with cotton until needed. Just treat the box gently, and all will be
2.Contact Explosive Booby Traps. Prepare a small amount of contact explosive.
Cut strips of newspaper 1 1/2 inches wide and 1 foot long. Cut a piece of
string 1 foot long. Put a small amount of wet contact explosive on the strip of
paper 1 inch from the end. Double the string. Now pull one end of the string
back until there is a double loop in the string about 1 inch long. Do not tie.
Lay this double loop across the wet contact explosive and tightly roll the
paper and glue the end. Put away for a few days until thoroughly dry. When dry,
pull the ends of the string and the booby trap will explode. The strings, when
pulled, rub against the dry contact explosive, and make it explode.
Getting The Materials
There are quite a few chemical supply houses that you can mail order the
materials you need. You'll have to sign a form stating that you're over 21 and
won't use the chemicals for the types of things we're learning here. Note that
the people who run these supply houses know what Iodine Crystals and Ammonium
Hydroxide can do when mixed together, and if you order both from the same
place, or in the same order, it may arouse some suspicion.
Check the classified ads in the back of magazines like Popular Science for the
current supply houses. Order as many catalogs as you can find. Not all sell
every chemical that you may want for this series. Also, you can break the
orders up so as not to look suspicious. Lastly, some houses are used to selling
to individuals, and will provide chemicals in 1 or 4 ounce lots, while others
prefer to sell to large institutions, and sell their wares in 1 or 5 pound
jugs. Split up your orders according to the quantities of each item you think
you will be needing. An ounce of Iodine Crystals will cost three or four
dollars an ounce, and an ounce bottle of iodine is pretty tiny, but it goes a
long way. If you had to buy that by the pound, you might just want to forget
the whole thing.
Part II. Touch Paper, Self Igniting Mixtures, Percussion Explosives
We will be using many more chemicals this time, and some can be quite
dangerous. Please read the following information carefully.
Sodium Azide - NaN
This white powder is very poisonous. It is also a bit unstable, so treat it
Lead Nitrate - Pb(NO )
This contains poisonous lead and is very water soluble so your body will
absorb it quickly, given the chance. The government has banned leaded paints
and is phasing out leaded gasoline because the stuff slowly accumulates in
your body and can screw up all sorts of important innards. If you are careless
with Lead Nitrate you can do a few lifetimes' worth of damage in one
Ammonium Nitrate - NH NO
Commonly used as fertilizer, this stuff is somewhat dangerous in large
quantities, particularly if it gets very hot. (Entire shiploads of this
material have been known to go up all at once.) When heated gently, it
decomposes into water and nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Farmers sometimes use
it to blow up tree stumps by mixing it with fuel oil and setting the gunk off
with a detonator. We'll have a very different use for it here.
Potassium Nitrate - KNO
Also known as saltpeter, this is commercially used as a diuretic for animals.
It also works as an oxidizing agent in various pyrotechnic mixtures. That is,
when heated it provides the oxygen needed to make the rest of the mixture
Nitrate Nitrite Oxygen
2KNO ---> 2KNO + O
3 2 2
Potassium Chlorate - KClO
A much more spectacular oxidizing agent than Potassium Nitrate. It not only
yields more oxygen than Potassium Nitrate, it does so more easily. Pyrotechnic
mixtures containing this chemical will require much less of it, and yet burn
more fiercely. Even percussion can readily set the mixtures off. This can be
useful, but it sometimes makes the mixtures more sensitive than you'd like.
Mixtures containing this chemical must be handled carefully. Potassium
Chlorate is also poisonous.
Chlorate Chloride Oxygen
2KClO ---> 2KCl + 3O
Very finely divided aluminum. When put in a glass jar, it almost looks like a
solid piece of grey metal. In this form it is flammable. Also, it can
seriously damage your lungs if you inhale it. Be careful not to stir up any
clouds of dust, and it goes without saying that you shouldn't use it near an
Very finely divided zinc. Not quite as flammable as Aluminum Dust, but still
worth handling carefully. Can also damage your lungs if inhaled.
This is very finely divided carbon, usually obtained as a soot from other
manufacturing processes. It is much more effective in pyrotechnic mixtures
than powdered charcoal. Tiny spots of this are almost unnoticeable, but they
stick to your hands and smear incredibly far. If you're not very tidy you
should expect to find black smears all over your face and hands after using
A yellow powder used as a reducing agent in many pyrotechnic mixtures. Buy
this in the finely powdered form. You can also get it in hard lumps, but these
will just waste extra time as you have to grind them yourself.
An oxidizing agent that's somewhat less vigorous than others mentioned here.
Not usually used in pyrotechnic mixtures because it's more expensive and less
effective than some of the alternatives. There are a few cases when it's just
the right thing. Don't let this accidentally come in contact with glycerine.
If such an accident happens, the resulting mess should be immediately wiped up
with wet paper towels and buried or flushed down a toilet. It should NOT be
thrown away in a dry waste receptacle!!!
A white powder which is mixed with water to make a glue like substance. Useful
for coating various mixtures or binding them together into a solid mass.
A very strange and dangerous oxidizer. Don't let it get wet and don't let it
touch your skin.
A thick liquid, chemically similar to rubbing alcohol. Though harder to get
burning, it will burn in the right circumstances. Fairly safe stuff.
Pure Iodine is a steel grey solid, which is poisonous and which produses
poisonous vapors when heated. Smells similar to the chlorine used in bleaches
and swimming pools. If you accidentally should drop some on a hot surface and
notice the odor, you should leave the area.
This is an easily made material that acts like a slow burning fuse and is
ideal for testing small amounts of a pyrotechnic mixture. It is made by
soaking a piece of absorbent paper, like a paper towel, in a saturated
solution of Potassium Nitrate. (A saturated solution means that you have
dissolved as much of the chemical in water as is possible.) Hang the paper up
to dry, and be sure to wipe up any drips. When dry it is ready. Cut off a
small strip and light the edge to see how different it acts from ordinary
paper. This will ignite all but the most stubborn mixtures, and will ignite
gunpowder, which will in turn ignite most anything else.
Don't dip the towel in the Potassium Nitrate solution a second time to try to
make it "stronger". This will actually make it less effective. Some of the
fancier paper towels don't work too well for this. Best results are obtained
from the cheap folded paper towels found in public restrooms everywhere.
Self Igniting Mixtures
Pulverize 1 gram of Potassium Permanganate crystals and place them on an
asbestos board or in an earthenware vessel. Let 2-3 drops of glycerine fall
onto the Potassium Permanganate. The mixture will eventually sizzle and then
flare. Potassium Permanganate is the oxidizing agent. The glycerine is
oxidized so quickly that heat is generated faster than it can be dissipated.
Consequently, the glycerine is ignited. Because this mixture takes so long to
catch on fire, it is sometimes useful when a time delay is needed to set off
some other mixture. If you lose patience with this test, DO NOT THROW THE
MIXTURE AWAY IN A WASTEBASKET!!! Either bury it or flush it down a toilet. I
know of at least one house fire that was started because this was not done.
Given time, this stuff WILL start to burn.
This demonstration produces a very nice effect, but sends out a lot of
poisonous fumes, so do it outside. Make a mound of equal volumes of iodine
crystals and aluminum dust. Make a small indentation at the top of the mound
and add a drop or two of water and move away. It will hiss and burst into
flame, generating thick purple smoke. The fumes are Iodine vapor which is
very caustic, so make sure you are upwind of the fire. Since this is set off
by moisture, you should not store the mixed material. Mix it immediately
before you plan to use it.
Shred a small piece of newspaper and place on it a small amount of sodium
peroxide. Add two drops of hot water. The paper will be ignited. CAUTION: Keep
Sodium Peroxide from moisture and out of contact with organic materials (your
skin, for example.)
Ammonium Nitrate, 5 grams, 1 gram of Ammonium Chloride. Grind these
SEPARATELY, and add 1/4 gram of zinc dust. Form a cone and add 2-4 drops of
water. A bright blue flame with large volumes of smoke forms. Depending on the
quality of your zinc dust, you may need to increase the quantity of zinc.
Since this is ignited by moisture, you should not attempt to store this
This section will not only introduce a couple of mixtures with interesting
possibilities, but it will also demonstrate how sensitive mixtures containing
Potassium Chlorate can be. Keep in mind that Chlorate mixtures can be a LOT
more sensitive than the ones shown here.
Mix 1 part by weight of Sulfur, and 3 parts Potassium Chlorate. Each should be
ground separately in a mortar. They should be mixed lightly without any
pressure on a sheet of paper. A small amount of this mixture (less than one
gram!!) placed on a hard surface and struck with a hammer will explode with a
Mix the following parts by weight, the same way as above,
Potassium Chlorate 6
Both of these mixtures are flammable. Mix small quantities only.
Lead Azide Pb(N )
Unlike many explosives that must be enclosed in a casing to explode, and
others that require a detonator to set them off, Lead Azide will explode in
open air, either due to heat or percussion. Mixed with gum arabic glue, tiny
dots of it are placed under match heads to make trick exploding matches. The
same mixture coated onto 1/2 " wood splinters are used to "load" cigars. In
larger amounts, it is used as a detonator. A moderately light tap will set it
off, making it much more sensitive than the percussion explosives already
mentioned. It is very easy to make.
Take about 1.3 grams of sodium azide and dissolve it in water. It's best not
to use any more water than necessary. In a separate container, dissolve about
3.3 grams of Lead Nitrate, again only using as much water as needed to get it
to dissolve. When the two clear liquids are mixed, a white precipitate of Lead
Azide will settle out of the mixture. Add the Lead Nitrate solution, while
stirring, until no more Lead Azide precipitates out. You may not need to use
it all. Note that the above weights are given only for your convenience if you
have the necessary scales, and give the approximate proportions needed. You
need only continue to mix the solutions until no more precipitate forms.
The precipitate is filtered out and rinsed several times with distilled water.
It is a good idea to store this in its wet form, as it is less sensitive this
way. It's best not to store it if possible, but if you do, you should keep it
in a flexible plastic container that wont produce sharp fragments in case of
an explosion. (NO MORE THAN A GRAM AT A TIME !!!!) Also, make sure that the
mouth of the container is wiped CLEAN before putting the lid on. Just the
shock of removing the lid is enough to set off the dry powder if it is wedged
between the container and the stopper. Don't forget that after you've removed
the precipitate from the filter paper, there will still be enough left to make
the filter paper explosive.
Lead Azide is very powerful as well as very sensitive. Never make more than a
couple of grams at one time.
Lead Sodium Lead Sodium
Nitrate Azide Azide Nitrate
Pb(NO ) + 2NaN ---> Pb(N ) + 2NaNO
3 2 3 3 2 3
Don't try to salvage the Sodium Nitrate that's left over (dissolved in the
water). Sodium nitrate is cheap, not really useful for good pyrotechnics, and
this batch will be contaminated with poisonous lead. It's worthless stuff.
Dump it out.
To demonstrate the power of a little bit of Lead Azide, cut out a piece of
touch paper in the following shape
Where the size of the wide rectangle is no more than one inch x 1/2 inch, and
the length of the little fuse is at least 3/4 inch. Apply a thin layer of wet
Lead Azide to the large rectangle with a paint brush and let it dry
thoroughly. When done, set this tester out in the open, light the fuse at the
very tip and step back. If done properly, the tiny bit of white powder will
produce a fairly loud explosion.
A Lead Azide Booby Trap
Get some string that's heavy enough so that it won't break when jerked hard. A
couple of feet is enough to test this out. You may want to use a longer piece
depending on what you plan to do with this. Fold a small "Z" shape in the
center of the string, as shown in figure 1. The middle section of the "Z"
should be about one inch long.
Figure 1. Fold string into a small Z
Next, twist the Z portion together as tightly as you can. Don't worry if it
unwinds a bit when you let go, but it should still stay twisted closely
together. If it doesn't, you will need a different kind of string. Figure 2
tries to show what this will look like.
Figure 2. Twist the Z portion tightly
Next, apply some wet Lead Azide to the twisted portion with a paint brush. The
Lead Azide should have a bit of Gum Arabic in it to make it sticky. Cut
out a piece of paper, two inches by 6 inches long, wrap it around the twisted
portion, and glue the end on so that it stays put. You should now have a two
inch narrow paper tube with a string sticking out each end, as shown in figure
Figure 3. The completed Booby Trap
You should now set the booby trap aside for at least two weeks so that the
Lead Azide inside can dry completely. Don't try to speed up the process by
heating it. When the two ends of the string are jerked hard, the friction in
the wound up string will set off the Lead Azide. The booby trap can be
attatched to doors, strung out as tripwires, or set up in any other situation
that will cause a quick pull on the strings. Be careful not to use too much
Lead Azide. A little will go a long way. Before trying this on an unsuspecting
soul, make a test booby trap as explained here, tie one end to a long rope,
and set it off from a distance.
The paper wound around the booby trap serves two purposes. It keeps the Lead
Azide from flaking off, and it pads the stuff so it will be less likely to get
set off accidentally. A good vigorous swat will still set it off though, so
store these separately and keep them padded well.
Getting The Chemicals
As always, be sure to use your brains when ordering chemicals from a lab
supply house. Those people KNOW what Sodium Azide and Lead Nitrate make when
mixed together. They also know that someone who orders a bunch of chlorates,
nitrates, metal dusts, sulfur, and the like, probably has mischeif in mind,
and they keep records. So break your orders up, order from different supply
houses, get some friends to order some of the materials, and try to order the
things long before you plan do do anything with them. It's a pain, and the
multiple orders cost a lot in extra shipping charges, but that's what it costs
to cover your tracks. DO it!
Part III. Stars, Flares, and Color Mixtures
We will be using the following materials this time. Get familiar with them.
Some can be highly dangerous.
Aluminum Dust (and powder) Al
An element used for brilliancy in the fine powder form. It can be purchased as
a fine silvery or gray powder. All grades from technical to superpure (99.9%)
can be used. It is dangerous to inhale the dust. The dust is also flammable, by
itself. In coarser forms, like powder, it is less dangerous.
Antimony Sulfide Sb S
Also known as "Black" Antimony Sulfide. (There is also a "Red" form, which is
useless to us.) This is used to sharpen the report of firecrackers, salutes,
etc, or to add color to a fire. The technical, black, powder is suitable. Avoid
contact with the skin. Dermatitis or worse will be the result.
Barium Chlorate Ba(ClO ) * H O
3 2 2
Available as a white powder. It is poisonous, as are all Barium salts. It is
used both as an oxidizer and color imparter. It is as powerful as Potassium
Chlorate and should be handled with the same care. Melting point is 414
Barium Nitrate Ba(NO )
Poisonous. Used as an oxidizer and colorizer. The uses and precautions are the
same as with a mixture containing Potassium Nitrate.
A form of the element carbon. Used in fireworks and explosives as a reducing
agent. It can be purchased as a dust on up to a coarse powder. Use dust form,
unless otherwise specified. The softwood variety is best, and it should be
black, not brown.
Copper Acetoarsenite (CuO) As O Cu(C H O )
3 2 3 2 3 2 2
The popular name for this is Paris Green. It is also called King's Green or
Vienna Green. It has been used as an insecticide, and is available as a
technical grade, poisonous, emerald green powder. It is used in fireworks to
add color. Careful with this stuff. It contains arsenic.
Copper Chloride CuCl
A color imparter. As with all copper salts, this is poisonous.
Copper Sulfate CuSO *5H O
Known as Blue Vitriol, this poisonous compound is available as blue crystals or
blue powder. Can be purchased in some drugstores and some agricultural supply
stores. Used as a colorizer.
This can be purchased as a white or yellow powder. It is a good cheap glue for
binding cases and stars in fireworks.
This is another form of the element carbon. It is a very finely powdered black
dust (soot, actually) resulting from the burning of crude oils. It is used for
special effects in fireworks.
Lead Chloride PbCl
Available as a white, crystalline, poisonous powder, which melts at 501
degrees. As with all lead salts, it is not only poisonous, but the poison
accumulates in the body, so a lot of small, otherwise harmless doses can be as
bad as one large dose.
Mercurous Chloride HgCl
Also known as calomel or Mercury Monochloride. This powder will brighten an
otherwise dull colored mixture. Sometimes it is replaced by Hexachlorobenzene
for the same purpose. This is non poisonous ONLY if it is 100% pure. Never
confuse this chemical with Mercuric Chloride, which is poisonous in any purity.
Potassium Chlorate KClO
This, perhaps, is the most widely used chemical in fireworks. Before it was
known, mixtures were never spectacular in performance. It opened the door to
what fireworks are today. It is a poisonous, white powder that is used as an
oxidizer. Never ram or strike a mixture containing Potassium Chlorate. Do not
store mixtures containing this chemical for any length of time, as they may
Potassium Dichromate K Cr O
2 2 7
Also known as Potassium Bichromate. The commercial grade is used in fireworks
and matches. The bright orange crystals are poisonous.
Potassium Nitrate KNO
Commonly called Saltpeter. This chemical is an oxidizer which decomposes at 400
degrees. It is well known as a component of gunpowder and is also used in other
firework pieces. Available as a white powder.
Potassium Perchlorate KClO
Much more stable than its chlorate brother, this chemical is a white or
slightly pink powder. It can often substitute for Potassium Chlorate to make
the mixture safer. It will not yield its oxygen as easily, but to make up for
this, it gives off more oxygen. It is also poisonous.
Rosin similar to shellac and can often replace it in many fireworks formulas.
Red Gum is obtained from barks of trees.
An organic rosin made from the secretions of insects which live in India. The
exact effect it produces in fireworks is not obtainable from other gums. The
common mixture of shellac and alcohol sold in hardware stores should be
avoided. Purchase the powdered variety, which is orange in color.
Sodium Oxalate Na C O
2 2 4
Used in making yellow fires. Available as a fine dust, which you should avoid
Strontium Carbonate SrCO
Known in the natural state as Strontianite, this chemical is used for adding a
red color to fires. It comes as a white powder, in a pure, technical, or
Strontium Nitrate Sr(NO )
By far the most common chemical used to produce red in flares, stars and fires.
Available in the technical grade as a white powder. It does double duty as an
oxidizer, but has a disadvantage in that it will absorb some water from the
Strontium Sulfate SrSO
Since this chemical does not absorb water as readily as the nitrate, it is
often used when the powder is to be stored. In its natural state it is known as
Celestine, which is comparable to the technical grade used in fireworks.
A yellow element that acts as a reducing agent. It burns at 250 degrees, giving
off choking fumes. Purchase the yellow, finely powdered form only. Other forms
are useless without a lot of extra and otherwise unnecessary effort to powder
Zinc Dust Zn
Of all the forms of zinc available, only the dust form is in any way suitable.
As a dust, it has the fineness of flour. Should be either of the technical or
high purity grade. Avoid breathing the dust, which can cause lung damage. Used
in certain star mixtures, and with sulfur, as a rocket fuel.
The Chemistry of Pyrotechnics
Most pyrotechnic mixtures follow a very simple set of chemical rules. We'll go
over those now. Most mixtures contain an oxidizing agent, which usually
produces oxygen used to burn the mixture, and a reducing agent, which burns to
produce hot gasses. In addition, there can be coloring agents to impart a color
to the fire, binders, which hold the mixture in a solid lump, and regulators
that speed up or slow down the speed at which the mixture burns. These are not
all the possibilities, but they cover most all cases.
Oxidizing agents, such as nitrates, chlorates, and perchlorates provide the
oxygen. They usually consist of a metal ion and the actual oxidizing radical.
For example, Potassium Nitrate contains a metal ion (Potassium) and the
oxidizing radical (the Nitrate). Instead of potassium, we could instead
substitute other metals, like sodium, barium, or strontium, and the chemical
would still supply oxygen to the burning mixture. But some are less desirable.
Sodium Nitrate, for example, will absorb moisture out of the air, and this will
make it harder to control the speed at which the mixture will burn.
In the following examples, we'll use the letter "X" to show the presence of a
generic metal ion.
Note that Nitrates are stingy with the oxygen that they give up. They only give
one third of what they have.
Nitrate Nitrite Oxygen
2XNO ---> 2XN0 + O
3 2 2
Chlorates are very generous, on the other hand. They give up all the oxygen
they have. Furthermore, they give it up more easily. It takes less heat, or
less shock to get that oxygen loose. Mixtures using chlorates burn more
spectacularly, because a smaller volume of the mix needs to be wasted on the
oxidizer, and the ease with which the oxygen is supplied makes it burn faster.
But the mixture is also MUCH more sensitive to shock.
Chlorate Chloride Oxygen
2XClO ---> 2XCl + 3O
Perchlorates round out our usual set of oxidizing tools. Perchlorates contain
even more oxygen than Chlorates, and also give it all up. However, they are not
as sensitive as the Chlorates, so they make mixtures that are "safer". That is,
they're less likely to explode if you drop or strike them.
Perchlorate Chloride Oxygen
XClO ---> XCl + 2O
Reducing agents, like sulfur and charcoal (carbon) simply burn the oxygen to
produce sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. It's usually best to include a
mixture of the two in a pyrotechnic mixture, as they burn at different speeds
and temperatures, and the proper combination will help control the speed of
combustion. Also, when extra fast burning speed is needed, like in rockets and
firecrackers, metal powder is often added. The finer the powder, the faster the
burning rate. The proportions change the speed, as well. Magnesium powder or
dust is often used for speed. Aluminum dust works, but not as well. Zinc dust
is used in some cases. Powdered metal, (not dust) particularly aluminum or
iron, are often used to produce a mixtire that shoots out sparks as it burns.
In rare cases, it is desirable to slow down the burning speed. In this case,
corn meal is often used. It burns, so acts as a reducing agent, but it doesn't
burn very well.
Coloring agents are very interesting. It's long been known that various metals
produce different colored flames when burned in a fire. The reasons are buried
in the realm of quantum physics, but the results are what matters, and we can
present them here. Note that if we use an oxidizing agent that contains a
colorizing metal, it can do a double job. It can produce oxygen and color.
Barium -Barium salts give a pleasant green color. Barium Nitrate is most
Strontium -Strontium salts give a strong red color. Strontium Nitrate is a
very convenient material for red.
Sodium -Sodium salts give an intense yellow color. So intense in fact that
any sodium compounds in a mixture will usually wash out other
colorizers. As has been said, Sodium Nitrate absorbs moisture from
the air, and so is not really suitable to impart color. Instead,
Sodium Oxalate is usually used. This does not absorb lots of water,
but has the disadvantage of being very poisonous.
Copper -Copper salts are used to give a blue color. Blue is the most
difficult color to produce, and it's usually not too spectacular.
Usually Copper Acetoarsenite (Paris Green) is used. This compound
contains arsenic, and is very poisonous. Since it still doesn't
produce a very memorable blue, it's often used with mercurous
chloride, which enhances the color, but is also poisonous, and
expensive, to boot.
Potassium -Potassium salts will give a delicate purple color, if they'e very
pure. The cheaper lab grades of potassium nitrate often contain
traces of sodium, which completely obscure the purple color. In
order to get the purple coloring, very pure grades must be used,
and you must be very careful to mix it in very clean vessels, and
scoop it from the supply jar with a very clean scoop. The color is
certainly worth the effort, if you can get it.
Some mixtures that burn in colors also contain binders, that hold the mixture
together in a solid lump. These lumps are usually referred to as stars. The
balls fired from a roman candle or the colorful showers sprayed from aerial
bombs are examples of stars. Depending on the mixture, the binder is either a
starch called dextrine or finely powdered orange shellac. A shellac-like
material called red gum is also used on occasion. In some mixtures, the shellac
powder also helps produce a nice color. Shellac mixtures are moistened with
alcohol to get them to stick together. Dextrine mixtures are moistened with
If the colored mixture is to be used as a flare, it's just packed into a thin
paper tube. If it's to be fired from a roman candle, it's usually extruded from
a heavy tube by pushing it out with a dowel, and the pieces are cut off as the
proper length pops out. Stars fired from an aerial bomb are usually made by
rolling the moist mixture flat, and cutting it with a knife into small cubes.
Stars that are extruded are often called "pumped stars" those that are rolled
out are "cut stars".
The following are formulas for mixtures that burn with various colors. Parts
are by weight.
Potassium Chlorate 9
Strontium Nitrate 9
bind with shellac
dissolved in alcohol
Potassium Chlorate 9 This one is inferior
Copper Acetoarsenite 2 Potassium Chlorate 12
Mercurous Chloride 1 Copper Sulfate 6
Sulfur 2 Lead Chloride 1
bind with dextrine Sulfur 4
in water bind with dextrin in water
Barium Chlorate 8 Barium Nitrate 3
Lampblack 1 Potassium Chlorate 4
Shellac Powder 1 Shellac Powder 1
bind with alcohol Dextrine 1/4
Bind with alcohol
Potassium Chlorate 8 Potassium Chlorate 8
Sodium Oxalate 3 Sodium Oxalate 4
Lampblack 2 Shellac Powder 2
Bind with shellac in Dextrine 1
alcohol or dextrine Bind with alcohol
Potassium Nitrate 6
Antimony Sulfide 2
bind with dextrine in
Strontium Nitrate 36
Sodium Oxalate 8
Potassium Chlorate 5
Shellac Powder 5
Bind with alcohol
Purple (ingredients must be very pure)
Potassium Chlorate 36 This one has more of a lilac color
Strontium Sulfate 10 Potassium Chlorate 38
Copper Sulfate 5 Strontium Carbonate 18
Lead Chloride 2 Copper Chloride 4
Charcoal 2 Lead Chloride 2
Sulfur 12 Sulfur 14
bind with dextrine in bind with dextrine in water
Potassium Perchlorate 12
Aluminum Dust 4
Bind with water
Golden Twinkler Stars - Falls through the air and burns in an on and off
manner. The effect is spectacular. A pumped or cut star.
Potassium Nitrate 18
Aluminum Powder 3
Antimony Sulfide 3
Sodium Oxalate 4
Bind with water
Zinc Spreader Stars - Shoot out pieces of burning zinc and charcoal. These
stars are much heavier than usual, and require larger charges if they're to
be fired from a tube.
Zinc Dust 72
Potassium Chlorate 15
Potassium Dichromate 12
Granular Charcoal 12
bind with water
Electric Stars - Stars that contain aluminum powder
Potassium Nitrate 15 Potassium Chlorate 60
Aluminum, fine 2 Barium Nitrate 5
Aluminum, medium 1 Aluminum, fine 9
Black Powder 2 Aluminum, medium 4
Antimony Sulfide 3 Aluminum, coarse 3
Sulfur 4 Charcoal 2
bind with dextrine in Dextrin 5
water bind with red gum in
Potassium Perchlorate 6
Barium Nitrate 1 Potassium Perchlorate 4
Aluminum 20 Aluminum, medium 2
Dextrin 1 Dextrin 1
bind with shellac in bind with shellac in alcohol
Simpler Zinc Spreaders
Potassium Nitrate 14 Potassium Chlorate 5
Zinc Dust 40 Potassium Dichromate 4
Charcoal 7 Charcoal, medium 4
Sulfur 4 Zinc Dust 24
bind with dextrine in bind with dextrine in water
Willow Tree Stars - Use large amounts of lampblack -- too much to burn fully.
Gives a willow tree effect.
Potassium Chlorate 10
Potassium Nitrate 5
bind with dextrine in water
In future files, we'll look at using these mixtures to produce roman candles,
aerial bombs, and other effects. As always, don't forget that it's just plain
stupid to go buying all these materials from one chemical supply house. When
you buy it all as a group, they know what you plan to do with it, and they keep
records. If anyone goes investigating the source of homemade fireworks and
checks with your supplier, there will be a lead straight to you. Be sure to
cover your tracks.
Part IV. Casings and General Construction
One of the biggest complaints I hear about firework formulas goes something
like, "This $@#!!* thing doesn't work! I wish someone would actually try the
things out before they upload them and waste my time!" Sometimes, I agree.
There are formulas for fireworks and explosives that have no chance of working,
and others that are downright dangerous. Many were obviously thrown together by
kids who never really tried them out, but thought they would look "big" in the
eyes of their friends if they wrote some "anarchy" files. Others copy formulas
from old manuals on pyrotechnics or explosives, or even old encyclopedias.
These will often work, but many were written before anyone thought about
safety, and were abandoned after enough people got blown away. Modern
literature on pyrotechnics often warn against some of these old formulations,
but they get copied anyway by people who either don't know or don't care that
they're dangerous. These files can then get passed around the country by others
who don't know of the danger.
Let me make my feelings clear. People who write such trash are dangerous and
should be treated the same as anyone who tried to slip you a computer virus or
trojan horse. At least a trojan will just screw up your hard drive. That can be
repaired, but you can't go buy a new set of eyes or fingers! If you don't
thoroughly understand what you're doing, go learn some more, first. There are
enough bad text files out there that taking the time to learn about dangerous
materials and mixtures will be your only defense against getting seriously
But a formula may be completely correct and as safe as a pyrotechnic mixture is
expected to be, and you still may have trouble making it work. Often the reason
is that the kids who wrote the text files don't know how to package the
materials to get the proper results. Or they didn't know that it takes more
than just mixing chemicals to make some of the compositions work. If you've
ever mixed together the ingredients for gunpowder and watched its feeble
fizzling compared that to the hard flash of commercial gunpowder, you've seen
how important the proper processing can be. Sure, the first time you mixed a
few chemicals together it was a real kick just to set fire to a small pile of
it and watch it burn. But to make any kind of decent firework requires that a
properly designed casing be used to hold your magic powders, and then those
powders have to be made properly. A poorly designed casing or improperly
processed composition will louse things up as much as any lousy formula.
There don't seem to be any text files out there that discuss casings or
processing, though I've personally downloaded hundreds that contain formulas
for pyrotechnic mixtures. Now we can change all that.
So what's the big deal about casings? Just a paper tube, right? No, not
quite. A roman candle casing has to be able to handle repeated bursts so as
to fire its stars like a rifle does bullets. But if all the burning materials
inside change the inside diameter of the casing by too much, then the puffs
of gas that fire the stars into the air will escape around them and not push
them very high. Some of my early attempts didn't fire the stars out at all. A
skyrocket casing has to be light, strong enough not to burst even though the
pressures inside can be tremendous, and if it has a nozzle it has to grip it
tightly enough that it doesn't get blown out of the casing. A firecracker on
the other hand, has to be flimsy enough to burst yet strong enough to grip
its end plugs rather than let them rip loose and fire off of the end of the
casing. There are dozens of other examples, and if the casings aren't built
right then you've just built a dud.
So, learning all about various papers and glues isn't nearly as sexy as
playing with chemicals, but until you do you may as well just go lighting up
little piles of powder. You'll save a lot of money, and the results will be no
less spectacular. But there's a lot more to this than we can cover in the size
text file that's been typical of this series. We'll break this topic up into a
group of files that are a bit larger than usual. This will just be part 1 of
the discussion on casings and construction.
So, now that I've shamed you into wanting to learn about paper and glue,
let's get down to business. There are two kinds of paper tubes available.
These are called spiral wound and parallel wound. If you've ever tried to
wrap a sheet of paper around a dowel, pencil, or broomstick handle, you
produced a crude parallel wound casing. We'll be sharpening our skills in
this area. Spiral wound casings are made by wrapping thin strips around a
round dowel form in a spiral pattern. Tubes used to hold wrapping paper,
paper towels and toilet paper are made using this method, so check one of
these if you have trouble picturing the method. Spiral wound casings are
almost useless in fireworks as they have much less strength. Only
firecrackers like M-80s use spiral wound casings, and that's because they're
not supposed to be strong. So if you happen to come across some spiral wound
tubes that are the right size to cut up for M-80s, you may be able to use
them. Otherwise, they're probably not all that useful, even if they seem
Just so as not to worry anybody, you don't NEED a spiral wound tube for
M-80s. A suitably thin parallel wound tube will do the job just fine. Spiral
wound tubes are frequently used wherever possible because they're cheaper to
make. Machines that handle thin strips of paper don't make as many wrinkled
tubes as machines that have to handle wide sheets. Since we'll be doing our
work by hand, this need not bother us.
The good news here is that the materials won't be nearly as hard to come by
as some of the pyrotechnic mixtures mentioned in earlier installments. There
are different types of glue formulas, most being variations of flour paste,
which you can select, depending on what's convenient to you. If you don't
feel like doing the slimy work needed to make this muck, I'll mention that
I've had some success with commercial white glues, like Elmer's Glue All,
though this tends to make a casing that doesn't accept certain types of end
plugs very tightly. I wouldn't use it for rocket casings, and firecrackers have
to be specially constructed. It's also going to cost a lot more than flour
paste. You can experiment with it for small batches, if you like. It's also
possible to get passable results with batches of white school paste, thinned
down with enough water to make it flow. But if you're going to make a
reasonable number of casings, you'll need larger batches of glue, and you can
make it fairly cheaply and simply.
A good, homemade glue that will make strong casings is made by adding 4 1/2
cups of flour to 3 cups of boiling water and then adding 1/8 ounce of alum
(aluminum potassium sulfate). Stir this combination until it is consistent in
blend. When it's cooled, it's ready to use. The flour is the actual glue. The
alum helps fireproof the mess and helps act as a preservative. This is
important, as wet flour will eventually spoil, and so this mess has to be
used up fairly quickly. Don't count on saving it for more than a couple of
days and especially don't try storing it in a jar or other closed space. The
flour will spoil by fermenting, producing lots of gas, bursting your jar.
But if spoilage is a real problem, can we let the flour spoil BEFORE we make
the glue? This is not as silly a question as it sounds. By doing this, we
make a slop that can be kept a month or so, if it's also kept in a reasonably
cool, dark place. Just don't make it on a full stomach.
Pour anywhere from a few cups to a few bucketfulls of flour into a container
large enough to cover it with a good layer of water but still be only a third
full. How much water you use doesn't matter too much right now, as most of it
will be poured out later. Just make sure that you're making a batter, instead
of a dough. Stir it up good, but don't worry too much about little lumps.
That will be corrected later.
Now for the revolting part. Let the stuff sit for 2-3 days in a warm (90
degrees F) place and check it after then. If it hasn't begun fermenting by
then, drop in a few pinches of instant yeast. When the fermentation is finished
and there are no more bubbles forming, the flour will have settled as a gooey
layer at the bottom of a pool of revolting brownish liquid. Get rid of the
brown slop and note how much batter is resting in the bottom of the container.
Boil enough water so as to have a volume that's twice the size of the batter,
and pour it in slowly, stirring the flour briskly. It'll start out being easy
to stir, but will get thick in a hurry. If you're only making a few cups at a
time, it won't be heavy enough to hold still while you're trying to stir it, so
you might want to have the container clamped down solid.
If you did it all right, you should have a batch of clear, smooth paste that's
plenty sticky and fine for sticking your casings together. Since it's already a
spoiled batch of flour, it can't go bad a second time and needs no
If you plan to use any Chlorates in your fireworks you should also add some
potassium carbonate dissolved in water to your glue before using it to make any
casings. I always put it in, no matter what I plan to do. The reason for this
is that glue tends to deteriorate slightly, producing a slightly acidic
material. Old paper used in the casings can also become acidic. Any Chlorate
that comes in contact with an acid will produce tiny amounts of Chloric Acid,
which can ignite if you do anything more vigorous than just thinking about it.
Potassium Carbonate will counteract the effect of any acids, making your final
masterpiece much safer than it would be otherwise. After that, it's still
common practice to design fireworks so that no Chlorate bearing portions
actually touch any glue.
A super hard pyrotechnic cement can be made by mixing finely powdered Calcium
Carbonate (powdered chalk) with Sodium Silicate solution. The proportions will
vary depending on the amount of water in the Sodium Silicate, but you can make
a few small test batches to check what works best for your materials. The
Sodium Silicate should be thick enough to remind you of maple syrup, and can
either be thinned with distilled water or allowed to thicken by evaporation, as
needed. Stir in the Calcium Carbonate until you've got a thick, sticky mess.
When this stuff hardens, you won't be able to clean it off of your utensils, so
use items that you won't mind throwing away.
This material makes nice end plugs in large firecrackers, and can be mixed with
sawdust and a bit of red powdered tempra paint to make that nice, solid shell
that coats cherry bombs. But this stuff is rock hard and turns into a shower of
skin and eye piercing shrapnel once it bursts. Keep this in mind as you design
your little gems.
What Was That About Chlorates?
Materials like Potassium Chlorate and Barium Chlorate are among those that you
love and fear to use. Unlike the Perchlorates, which are much safer, Chlorates
form Chloric Acid in the presence of moisture (like humidity) and any kind of
acid material, and this can cause your mixtures to ignite on their own. If that
igniting mixture is inside a salute that's piled in a box with other salutes,
you can expect the whole thing to go up at once. Impressive to watch from a
distance, but if it was in the trunk of your car, you should expect to have to
answer a lot of questions to the authorities. And pay higher insurance. Yes,
there's nothing like Chlorates to make fireworks so thoroughly spectacular.
What to do? I normally avoid them, but have no problem with passing on formulas
that use them, as long as you realize what you're getting into. While there are
some places they should never be used, Chlorates are sometimes used in stars
that get fired from a roman candle or aerial bomb, because the speed with which
they get ejected can actually blow them out. Chlorate based mixtures just don't
blow out. If you want to use them, use small amounts and don't try to store
your creations over long periods of time. Keep them away from other fireworks.
We can neutralize an acid by adding a base (a Hydroxide) but bases tend to
absorb atmospheric moisture and screw up the burning of your mixture. A group
of compounds that act much like bases (Carbonates) also can counteract small
traces of acids. Make sure that your glue contains carbonates to counteract the
effect of any acids that may form. If you want your eyes and fingers to last a
lifetime, it's also a good idea to add some sort of Carbonate to the firework
mixture. This will counteract any acid, but adds nothing at all to the
performance of the powder. Furthermore, they can change the color that the
powder burns. We've covered the elements that add color in an earlier file, and
know, for example that Strontium salts give a red color. So adding Strontium
Carbonate to the mixture can at least give us some coloring. Barium Carbonate
can give a green color. While Sodium Carbonate might give us a yellow though,
it also absorbs atmospheric moisture and will keep your mixture from burning
The use of carbonates is particularly important if your mixture contains both a
Chlorate and Sulfur. Sulfur can form both traces of Sulfur Dioxide and Hydrogen
Sulfide, and BOTH of these become acidic in water. One of the earlier files in
this series showed how a mixture of just Potassium Chlorate and Sulfur will
explode when you strike them. The trace amounts of acid that are always present
in sulfur in the air can form enough Chloric Acid to explode when hit. Now, if
you let it sit by itself for a long time, it may decide to ignite by itself.
Then again, it may not. A potassium Chlorate-Sulfur bearing pyrotechnic mixture
may behave properly the first 99 times you try it, and then bite you on the
hundredth. If you want to experiment with Chlorate-Sulfur formulas, use small
amounts only, add a carbonate before using them in any real fireworks, and
absolutely avoid any of the ancient formulas that use Chlorates and Sulfur in
firecrackers. For that matter, Chlorates mixed with anything in a firecracker
are a bad idea.
Commercial Safety Fuse
This handy item consists of a string coated with gunpowder, which is in turn
gwrapped with light twine, and finally coated with a red or green varnish. The
varnish is apparently applied without a great deal of thinner in it, because it
covers the twine layer without actually soaking into it. This waterproofs the
fuse, and it can get quite moist for a long time and still work, provided that
you don't crack the varnish layer by bending it too severely. If you do, the
fuse will still work fine as long as it stays dry. This type of construction is
built around its being made by machine. You wouldn't want to make it this way
by hand, though we'll talk in a minute about a way to make a somewhat inferior
The red and green varnishes are more than just decorative. They tell you
something about how the fuse works. All fuses will spit a stream of burning
crud from their ends as they burn. Sometimes people who are the first to
describe things have no imagination, and it must have been the case here,
because this property is known as end spit. Some fuses also spit sparks to the
side, and not surprisingly, this is called side spit. Consider that a fuse that
has little side spit may not light some of the more difficult to ignite
mixtures until it burns to the very end of the fuse and fires its last spit out
of the far end. Some of the very difficult to ignite mixtures may not ignite at
all. Fuse with side spit will be blasting away at the mixture its inserted into
through the entire length of its insertion. Unfortunately, the fuse with side
spit isn't nearly as tough as the fuse that only has end spit. If you have a
choice of fuse types, you can make your selection according to what you have
available. Fuse with mostly end spit is colored red, while fuse with a good
amount of side spit is colored green. (And I'll bet you thought it was just a
Black Match and Quick Match
These items have nothing to do with the matches you strike to light your
fireworks. In the jargon of pyrotechnics, match is a simple fuse made around a
string core. Black match is used much like you would use ordinary fuse. That
is, it gives a time delay before the firework actually goes off. You should
want this to happen most of the time. Quick match is just the opposite. It
burns from end to end very quickly. This is used where you want to start
several fireworks at once, but light only a single fuse. This happens most
often in commercial fireworks displays, where a large array of various colored
flares (lances, in pyrotechnic lingo) must all be lit together to form a
picture of some sort on a wooden framework set on the ground. You may not have
much need for quick match, but it's interesting information, and if you know
why it works you don't cause it to happen accidentally.
To make black match, you start with cotton twine. Different
thicknesses will give different results. Thicker twine will hold more powder
and will burn better, but heavy cord is too much. Try as many kinds as you can.
Avoid synthetic fibers; they can keep your match from working properly. If you
aren't sure wether or not the twine is synthetic, try to burn a small length of
it. Cotton will burn with a tiny flame and leave a very mundane ash. Synthetics
will clearly melt as they burn.
The prime ingredient of black match is meal powder. This is the name used in
the pyrotechnic field for an unprocessed gunpowder mixture. You can just powder
the ingredients by hand in a mortar and pestle (do each one separately!) and
then just mix them in a plastic bowl. There's no need to use a powder mill, as
will be described below. The black match formulation consists of 10 parts meal
powder and one part of either gum arabic or dextrine. These are two different
types of glues, and you should make your selection based on the humidity. Gum
arabic is better in dry climates and dextrine is better in higher humidity. Add
water and stir the mix until all the grains are wet. It will probably take a
bit of work to get it spread all around, as the fine dust likes to form dry
patches. After you think you've got it all damp, let it all sit for a few
minutes so that any dry areas too small to see will have a chance for the
moisture to soak in. After this, add lots more water and a bit of alcohol stir
until you have a disgusting black mush. The amounts of liquid will be roughly a
pint of water and an ounce of alcohol for every pound of meal powder, but you
may need a bit more or less, depending on the thickness of the string you use.
Don't take these proportions as an indication of the size of your first batch,
though. Start small.
Take a 2 or 3 foot length of the string and stir it up in the mush, squishing
it in so as to get it completely soaked. Slowly draw it out, dust it with some
dry meal powder and hang it to dry. Be careful while stirring, making sure that
you don't wind the string into knots. If you do, discard the string and start
again. Since this piece of garbage will become very flammable when it dries
out, I'd suggest either burying it or cutting it into shorter lengths and
flushing it down the can.
Don't hang up these things anywhere there's an open flame or a chance of a
spark. If one goes off, the sparks it spits off should have a reasonably good
chance of setting off any others hanging nearby, and if you don't end up
starting a fire, you'll at least lose a lot of hard work in a hurry. If you
need longer lengths of this stuff, you'll have to modify your technique, but be
assured it's been done by others, and you can too. As I've never needed more
than a few feet at a time, I can't speak from experience, though. Just use your
head and you'll surely work out a good technique.
This material, when dry, is black match, and will burn as a crude fuse. If you
try to bend it, the powder will crumble off, leaving spot where the fuse may go
out. Obviously, you can't use this everywhere you'd use waterproof safety fuse,
but there are times where it's useful.
All right then, if this stuff is so fragile, why not enclose it in a sort of
tube, to beef it up? That should protect it from crumbling, right? Well, it'll
certainly protect it, but it will also act entirely different. The match will
burn erratically, sometimes normally, sometimes in fast jumps. If the tube is
wide enough, say, 3/16 to 1/4 inch inside, the sparks that the burning powder
spits out will fly down the tube, igniting more powder, and causing the flame
to flash from one end of the tube to the other in almost no time at all. This
is called Quick Match and the tubes can be made by rolling a few layers of
newspaper over a 1/4 inch steel rod and quickly pulling the tubes off to dry.
You can then run a length of black match through the tube, and wherever you
want to attatch a firework to the tube, just poke a small hole and insert a
piece of black match.
Don't try to wrap a tighter tube around a piece of black match to try to
strengthen it. You won't be able to count on any sort of predictable behavior
out of the thing, and if you were counting on having a little time to head for
cover and the flame just flashes through the tube, well, that could abruptly
change your plans for the next few months. Safety fuse isn't hard to get and
it's not all that expensive. Use it where it's needed.
If you absolutely can't get safety fuse, you can coat the black match with
spray on plastic, available from handicraft stores, and when that's dry, brush
on a layer of liquid rubber mold compound, which you can often get from the
same place. One or more layers of the rubber will keep the powder from
crackling off, but absolutely don't skip the spray on plastic, first. The
plastic will put a temporary waterproof coating on the powder, which is needed
since the liquid rubber is water based, and will wet the powder and then dry on
the surface, sealing in the water. Such fuse would be very likely to go out at
an inopportune time. Feel free to experiment with various brush on varnishes as
a waterproofing, but the convenience of spray application has many advantages.
The tiny firecrackers that come in packs of 20 or more, all braided together,
show the most unusual fuses. A thin tissue tube that has been somehow filled
with the tiniest string of powder. Most texts on fuse give this item a quick
mention as being difficult to make and suggest that their authors tried to do
it and gave up. As it turns out, these are not all that difficult to make once
you get the procedure right. We'll start out making a fuse that's about twice
as thick as those tiny things, and as you develop the proper technique, you'll
be able to scale it down to make something that looks and acts like the real
thing. Most attemps fail when the individual starts out trying to make the fuse
as thin as the commercial version, and eventually gives up. What you really
need to do is first develop the basic skills on something larger. After that,
it's easy to work your way down. To be honest, this kind of fuse is not widely
useful considering the time needed to make it, but for those times when you do
have a use for it, this knowlege can be very handy.
It's very important to start with the right kind of paper. The paper used in
the orient is not availabe here, but reasonable substitutes can be found.
What's needed must be tissue-thin, yet fairly firm and strong. The papers used
in facial tissues and toilet paper are far too flimsy. The real dedicated model
airplane builders who work in balsa wood have used various tissues, and one
material, called silkspan, can get reasonable results. But a perfectly adequate
paper can be scrounged for free. That crackly kind of tissue paper that's used
by stores to pack clothing into gift boxes so that it doesn't flop around in
the box will work just fine. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's
time you graduated up from blue jeans and T-shirts.
You'll have a difficult time of it if you don't start out by making or getting
a few simple tools. The first item you'll need is a piece of bent sheet metal
or a piece of metal angle. Angle is sturdier and is easier to use. The item
should be about 8-10 inches long. If you use sheet metal, make it about 2
inches wide and bend it down the middle along its length. You should have a
long trough with an angle of 90-100 degrees. Next, you'll need a cradle to hold
the trough so that the bend can be at the lowest point. Two strips of wood,
attatched to a base, will do the job. Finally, you'll need tiny, spoonlike
tools for dispensing and spreading the powder. Some biological supply houses
sell a stainless steel spatula that's ideal. It consists of a thin metal rod
about the thickness of a coat hanger, with one end flattened out into a 1/4
inch wide paddle that's great for spooning out tiny amounts of powder. The
other side has a more pointy paddle that makes it much easier to spread out the
Make a weak glue by dissolving a bit of dextrine in water. Find a SHARP pair of
scissors and cut out some pieces of the crackly tissue about 3 inches long and
3/4 inch wide. Get pieces that have no wrinkles. The pieces should be quite
straight, which you'll have trouble doing if the scissors are not really sharp.
Fold the tissue along its length, as shown;
|<----------------- 3 inches ------------------>|
| | 1/4 inch
---------- |-----------------------------------------------| ----------
/� | / | /�
1/2 inch | / |
�/ | fold here |
Unfold the sheet and set it down into the trough, as shown in the cross
section. The picture is angled incorrectly, since typewritten characters give
only a limited ability to show graphics. The trough should look like an
"arrowhead" pointing downward.
... / /
powder ------> .... / /
...... / /
paper ---> _______________________________/ /
sheet metal -----> __________________________________________/ <---- First
or metal angle fold
Use the wider of the spoon tools to put a crude line of freshly mixed meal
powder along the length of the fold. Next use the pointier tool to try to
spread the powder out evenly. A few properly placed taps should cause the
powder to spread out uniformly. This works much better if the trough is made of
angle instead of sheet metal. It's not likely to work at all if the meal powder
is a day or more old, since any humidity will probably have started it to cake
together. It's difficult to describe how much powder to put in, but it's easy
to describe what it will look like when it's done. Lift the paper out of the
trough and refold the tissue, holding in the powder. Once folded, the powder
should fill the folded section about halfway.
| | Crease and
| | <---- fold here
| ******************************************************* |
| ********************* powder ************************** |
----------------------------------------------------------- <--- First
Next, crease the paper right above the powder and fold it upward, enclosing the
powder in a second fold. This may take a little practice, but it's not as hard
to do as it might first appear.
| ******************************************************* | <--- First
| ********************* powder ************************** | fold
----------------------------------------------------------- <--- Second
Next, roll the folded powder section up into the remaining paper. Don't worry
if it's not perfectly smooth, but try the best you can. Give the slender tube
you've made a gentle, rolling twist. Don't twist it too tight, or you'll rip
it. When it's about as thin as it's going to get, dip your finger in the
water/dextrine mix, and quickly run it along the length of the fuse. Be careful
not to use too much. It should not be soaked, just dampened along one side.
Leaving the fuse twisted, set it down with a small weight on each end to keep
the twist in the fuse. The weights will flatten the ends, and when it's dry
you'll want to cut off at least 1/4 inch from each side. These parts won't have
You can experiment with making longer lengths of fuse. Three inches is a
reasonable size to learn on, and you'll probably be able to add another inch or
two, though you may not find the extra effort to be worth it. It's better to
practice making thinner fuse. What you've just made is probably about twice as
thick as is found in commercial packs of firecrackers. Work your way down to
papers only 1/2 inch wide, using a smaller amount of powder. You are now an
Gunpowder is one of those items that every budding pyro knows something about,
but few really understand. The standard formula shows this to be 75% Potassium
Nitrate, 15% Charcoal, and 10% sulfur. But just powdering and then mixing these
ingredients makes a powder that's just a weak parody of real gunpowder. Real
gunpowder is made using certain commercial processing methods that make it burn
much more fiercely. While we can't copy these methods exactly, we can make a
pretty decent approximation that can be used in place of gunpowder in most
fireworks formulas. By the way, the unprocessed mixture that most people think
of as gunpowder is known in the pyrotechnic trade as "meal powder".
One secret of good gunpowder is in making the individual ingredients as finely
powdered as possible. Just running them around in a mortar and pestle for a few
minutes won't do it. The other secret of good powder is to mix the ingredients
thoroughly. Both of these must be done better than can be done by hand. Simple
mechanical means will be used.
If you've ever looked at commercial gunpowder, you've noticed that it comes in
rock-hard granules of various sizes. It looks nothing like the gray meal powder
you're probably used to making. If the ingredients are properly ground and
mixed, then a tiny amount of water can be added (just enough to moisten it all)
and the wet mass is pressed into a cake about 1/2 inch thick to drive out any
air that may remain. The cake is kept pressed until it's dried solid and is
very hard. This may take several days to a week. During this time, the moisture
in the mix has dissolved a tiny bit of the Potassium Nitrate, which is very
soluble in water. When the particles are tiny enough and the air between the
particles is driven out, the Potassium Nitrate will actually RECRYSTALLIZE
AROUND the particles of Sulfur and Charcoal, and will become very hard. It is
then crushed with wooden tools (or brass or aluminum tools -- no iron or steel
-- it can produce sparks!!!) and the particles are sorted by size by running
them through various mesh sized screens.
Mixing and powdering the ingredients requires you to make or buy a simple
machine. Happily, the same machine can be used for both operations. The machine
is a gemstone tumbler, and for small amounts of powder, a 3 lb. tumbler is
about right. This will allow making 1/2 pound batches of powder. The reason a 3
lb. tumbler is being used for mere half pound loads, is that it will also
contain about 2 pounds of brass pellets that you'll have to cut from half inch
brass bar stock into 1/2 inch lengths. Don't cut the brass by hand with a
hacksaw. If you have access to a power hacksaw, use that, otherwise, find a
local machine shop that can do the job for you. You'll be glad you did, trust
me. While bars of iron or steel are more readily available and cheaper, they
will also make sparks and blow up your powder mill. Brass won't spark at all.
Don't use anything else. After your pellets are cut, you'll want to smooth off
the burrs on a belt sander or, shudder, by hand filing. This is all a lot of
work, but you only have to do it once.
If you want to try making your own tumbler, you'll want to be rolling a soft
plastic bottle about a quart in volume. Don't even think of using metal, glass,
or hard plastic. In either case, an explosion would send deadly shrapnel
flying in all directions. While the hard plastic might not be quite as deadly
as metal, it has the added disadvantage of not showing up in an X-Ray. Think
The bottle should roll at perhaps 10-12 RPM. The usual way to roll a bottle for
mixing purposes is to have a roller attatched to a low speed motor, and another
free rolling roller a couple of inches away. When the bottle is placed on top
of, and parallel to the two rollers, all three will turn. Don't forget that
electric motors make sparks and sparks can touch off powder. Make the shaft
from the motor to the roller as long as you can, enclose the motor as best you
can, and keep EVERYTHING as clean as you possibly can.
If you buy a gemstone tumbler, make sure it has a solid rubber barrel. There
are metal barrels available, but you should realize by now why you'd avoid that
kind. Some cheap tumblers have plastic barrels. Again, you should avoid hard
Once you have the proper equipment, put the brass pellets into the barrel and
dump in the Potassium Nitrate. Now, run the mill for four (yes, I said four)
hours. The Potassium Nitrate must be quite dry, or you'll be wasting a lot of
effort for nothing. It's safe to warm it in a 300 degree oven for a few hours
if it contains moisture, but you'll want to let it cool down in a closed
container before you mix it with anything. Since the Potassium Nitrate will
start caking on a humid day, you may wish to select a dry day before you begin.
After you're done, remove the Potassium Nitrate and put it in a SEALED
container. If you don't do this, the stuff will begin caking from any traces of
humidity, and the final material will actually be less finely powdered than you
want. Next, put in the charcoal, and run it for two hours. Once charcoal is
powdered that finely, you'll make thoroughly nasty black dust clouds when you
try to pour it, so don't take it out of the mill until everything's done. Next,
add the Potassium Nitrate back in and the Sulfur, which normally comes finely
powdered. Now all three ingredients will be in the mill and you should run it
all for six (!!!) hours.
These times are really minimum times if you want to make decent powder. You'll
find that the powder will be much fiercer if you double all these mixing times,
but the time needed will start becoming impractical. Once this is all done, you
should take out the powder, add enough moisture to get it to cake together and
press it into a flat cake. I've had some success with two heavy boards held
together on one end with a wide hinge. These swing together leaving a half inch
gap between them and are clamped together on their free ends with a metal
C-Clamp. The boards should have several layers of waterproof varnish,
otherwise they'll start warping, they'll leach out some of the dissolved
Potassium Nitrate from your powder, and they'll probably become much more
flammable than you'd like them to be. Let the thing sit in a dry, cool place
for a couple of weeks. It should be away from any sparks or flames, including
electric motors, and should be far enough away from other flammable materials
that you won't have a fire on your hand if it accidentally ignites.
After it's dry and hard, crush and screen it, and you're done.
One final word on this. The extreme solubility of Potassium Nitrate allows all
the recrystallization that makes good gunpowder possible. But recrystallization
is a problem when it causes the Potassium Nitrate to cake in the container. If
you get it in jars, you'll probably have to scrape or chip out the chunks you
need. If you buy it in 100 lb sacks, you'll have to break pieces off with a
sledge hammer. Don't forget that this unpleasant property also happens at the
microscopic level, making tiny particles clump together into larger ones, as
the clock ticks. Time is your enemy when you need to have your Potassium
Nitrate in a fine powder. Use it as quickly as you can once you've powdered it.
Don't powder it today for use tomorrow. Even if it looks okay the next day, you
can be sure you've lost some of the work you've put into it, and that the
performance of your final product will suffer.
This is one of those very important skills that always seem to be ignored in
files that describe the pyrotechnic arts. Yet, the properly built casing will
make the difference between sucess and failure of your creations. For most
casings, brown Kraft paper will work very well. Everyone who's in any way
involved with modern civilization is familiar with this stuff as the brown
paper bags used by supermarkets, hardware stores, and many other businesses.
It's tough and will absorb the glue, making a tough casing. While stores in
many areas are switching to plastic bags, it should be possible to save enough
bags to meet your needs. If not, you can buy the paper in large rolls from
paper supply houses. While it comes in various thicknesses, choose something
that's comparable to the paper bags, which seem to be well suited for our
While the simplest casings are just made by rolling a piece of paper over a
rod, and then sliding it off and gluing the end closed, these are not of
very much use. Most casings need to have glue between the layers of paper
to make them hard, have to be cut to the proper length while they're still
wet and mushy from the glue, and you have to use care not to glue the
casing to the rod you're winding it on.
You have two choices as to the type of rod to use to roll your casings. A
metal bar will last longest, won't swelll from the moisture in the glue,
and won't easily stick to a stray glue droplet, but is more expensive,
takes more work to cut to size, and will quickly dull the knife blade that
will be used to cut the casing. A wooden dowel is cheap, easy to cut to
length, available in a wide variety of sizes. It will also have to be
replaced more frequently if you cut your casings while they're on it,
because the knife blade will quickly cut deep grooves into the wood. It
also requires extra care to keep from gluing the casing to it. We'll
describe the procedure for wrapping a casing around a wooden dowel. If you
choose to use a metal rod, you can ignore the extra cautions that using
wood will require.
Start with a sheet of paper. One dimension will be about an inch and a half
larger than the length of your casing. The other dimension will have to be
learned from trial and error, and will have to do with how thick you want
the casing wall to be. Wrap one and a half turns of the paper around the
dowel and give the dowel a twist so that the paper is wrapped tightly with
no slack or wrinkles. Unwrap about a quarter turn, enough so that it still
remains tightly wrapped but just barely so. Next, put glue on the paper
near the crack where the wrapped portion meets loose portion and start
wrapping the paper by rolling the dowel over a flat surface. If you're
using a bottle of white glue for this, the long line of glue will glob up
and travel along as you roll the casing.
Whenever an area runs low on glue, squirt some more in the depleted area.
If you're using a liquid paste, you'll instead want to apply it with a
brush. In either case, don't let the glue get any closer than a half inch
from the ends of the tube. This is particularly important if you're using a
wooden dowel, as any glue that runs out the end will make it difficult or
impossible to remove the casing. Keep rolling and applying glue until the
paper is all used up. If your casing isn't thick enough, it's easy to fix.
Just glue on another piece, keep applying the glue, and keep rolling.
Once you're done rolling, take a sharp knife and place it about 3/4 of an
inch from one end, at right angles to the tube. Press down and roll back
and forth, and you'll cut away the unglued end of the tube, along with a
little of the glued portion. Slide the piece off and do the same to the
other side. With a little practice, you can make the knife cut go around in
a perfect circle rather than a slightly ragged spiral, and the end of the
casing will be smooth. As quickly as you can, slide the tube off of the
rod, and set it aside to dry. Besides the danger of gluing the tube to the
rod, there is also the problem that the tube will shrink slightly as it
dries, so don't leave it on the rod any longer than you have to.
There are a few things to think about; the wetness in the glue will quickly
dull the knife blade. Wipe it off immediately after cutting an end. It's
not a bad idea to use an X-Acto knife, which uses cheap, disposable blades.
You may also find that a whetstone is useful in extending the life of your
blades. Another thing to consider is that even if no glue touches your
dowel, it will still absorb traces of moisture and after you've wound a
couple of casings, it will be much easier for you to accidentally glue the
casing to the dowel. It's a good idea to have several dowels and use them
in rotation so that each has time to dry off before it gets used again.
After you've had some practice rolling casings, you'll find it fairly easy
to roll your casings on one dowel, slide it off before you cut off the
unglued ends, slide the end onto a second dowel that's been sanded down to
make it just a bit smaller, and use that to cut the ends off. This way, you
won't cut knife marks into your good rolling dowels, and when the ends of
your cutting dowels get too ragged you can just cut them off and use the
fresh end for cutting. You needn't put the cutting dowel more than an inch
into the casing before cutting it. This will reduce the chances of getting it
These are among the simplest pyrotechnic devices to make. There are many ways
to make them, some more dangerous than others. When you get right down to it,
there's no such thing as a safe salute; if one of these goes off in your hand,
you'll lose fingers. But if you build them properly and use some common sense
when firing them, there's little risk.
There are several things to always avoid.
First, only paper casings should be used. Metal, plastic or glass can send out
lethal shrapnel, while hard paper will simply throw light shreds of
paper while being just as loud. The second point is the end plugs used.
Commercially made salutes used to use either a cast epoxy or the Sodium
Silicate/Calcium Carbonate glue mentioned earlier. Either of these will send
out eye piercing shrapnel. Wooden plugs, while easily cut from dowels, can also
put an eye out. But good paper end plugs can be made that won't hurt anyone.
The third danger point is the powder formulation. Some old books give
compositions using Chlorates or even Chlorates with Sulfur. While these are the
easiest and probably the cheapest, they're also very dangerous. Weingart's
"Pyrotechnics", published in the 1930's, states that 90% of the injuries in
fireworks factories involved Chlorate/Sulfur mixtures. Weingart's point was
that you should be extra careful with these. It apparently never occurred to
those folks that 90% of the accidents could then have been eliminated by using
different formulations. Perchlorates and aluminum dust are the "modern"
solution to this problem. They're not the cheapest, but they're just as good
and are far safer.
The fourth problem is the small wad of hard, black crud that's placed where the
fuse meets the casing. It's referred to as priming, and while it serves as a
glue to hold the fuse in place, it's mostly black powder and will flare up when
the flame from the fuse reaches it. Rough treatment of the fuse will get it
bent at that point, and that's where the fuse is most likely to go out. But if
it does, it will first have lit the priming, and that's enough to relight the
fuse. It kind of makes the salute more reliable. While it's more likely to go
off properly when lit, it's also more likely to go off by accident. Any stray
spark can set off the priming, and if one salute in a box goes off, it will
easily light the priming on the others and set them off too. Priming would have
been a good idea if it weren't so dangerous. But anyone with half a brain won't
beat his salutes around so as to damage the fuse, and we can use ordinary glue
instead of priming. Avoid using priming, or any salutes you find that use it.
We'll look into making a salute that's just a little smaller than an M-80. It's
fairly easy for a beginner and uses less powder, for those of you who can only
get access to a limited supply, or are caniballizing powder out of packs of
commercial firecrackers. It still makes a fairly respectable bang, and is
fairly easily scaled up for those who want a really big boom.
casing ---> ==========*==========
--. * .--
end | * |
cap -----> | * |
Start with a 7/16 inch dowel, about 8 inches long. Using the glueing techniques
discussed above, take a 6 inch square sheet of kraft paper and roll it into a
solid casing. Cut off the 3/4 inch pieces on the ends, or perhaps only 1/2 inch
pieces, if your glueing skills are good enough. When in doubt, cut off more. If
the ends don't contain sufficient glue they won't be strong enough to hold the
end caps sturdily. Cut the remaining tube into pieces that are from 1 1/4
inches to 1 1/2 inches long. Take them off the dowel and set them aside to dry.
Next, we'll make the end caps. Get a 5/16 inch dowel (whatever the inside
diameter of the casing, this will always be about 1/8 inch less. This will
allow it to be about 1/16 inch thick, as you'll see) and four squares of kraft
paper. One square should be about 1 inch on a side, and the other three should
be about 3/4 inch. Place the larger square flat on the tip of the dowel,
centered as well as you can, and pull it down over the dowel to form a cap.
Place a hefty drop of glue on the tip of this cap and rub one of the smaller
squares over this drop. When one side of the square is fairly well covered,
pull it down tightly over the first. Don't worry about keeping the corners
alligned; they'll be cut off in a moment, anyway. Pull the last two squares
down over the cap one at a time, smearing a drop of glue each time. Make sure
that this cap is squeezed tightly. If you wish, you can make sure by
momentarily wrapping a piece of heavy cord around it. The cord is always a good
idea for larger end caps, but its optional here. Next, using the X Acto knife,
use the same rolling motion we use for casings to cut off the ragged end,
leaving a cap that's 3/16 to 1/4 inch high. It should be easy to slide this cap
into the casing as shown in the picture, though the fit should be a bit snug.
The first cap is best glued in while the casing is still wet. Make sure it's
well glued, and then pinch the wet casing and end cap inward at 6 or 7 points
around the circle with a pair of needle nosed pliers. With the end of the
casing pinched in, it will be possible to put a slightly undersized dowel into
the casing, and smash the pinched end down against a hard surface, causing the
casing to curl around the end cap. When dry, this will never blow out.
When the casing is dry, drill the fuse hole and insert a piece of safety fuse
long enough to almost touch the opposite wall of the casing and to extend AT
LEAST an inch from the casing. Glue it in place and let it dry.
The casing should be filled no more than 1/3 full of loose powder. Any more and
you'll actually get less of an explosion. I prefer to use 1 part dark pyro
aluminum dust to 3 parts Potassium perchlorate. Most any flashpowder may be
substituted here, but they tend to require metal in dust, not powdered, form.
Gunpowder won't work at all here. Once the powder is in, a second end cap is
liberally glued in and the ends pinched in as well as you can. Be extra
careful, as attatching the second end cap turns the thing into an explosive
device. Give it a day or two to dry completely.
It should be pointed out that most of the explosive force of these things is
dissipated within a couple of inches of the casing. This is why people often
lose fingers or parts of their hands, but never their wrists. If you can make a
wooden fixture to hold the salute while inserting the end plug with a wooden
tool, you'll be safely distant from most of an accidental explosion. Safety
glasses are also a good idea.
If made properly, you'll get a decent bang, the casing will split along
its length, usually through the fuse hole, and the second end cap will blow
out. The first cap that got smashed in place never seems to come off. If only
one cap blows out, it wasn't in tight enough, and the bang will be pretty lame.
If you do your test firings in a little pit, 1 foot deep and no more than a
foot wide, you'll usually be able to recover the fragments to determine how
well you're doing. After mastering these you can try making larger ones.
Since salutes with any respectable amount of powder are illegal in all 50
states, those you buy are made in clandestine factories, with little regard to
safety. They're made cheap, fast and can contain all sorts of dangerous
mixtures. Because factories can be found by tracing the purchases of certain
chemicals, salutes often contain whatever garbage was available at the time.
Besides Chlorate/Sulfur mixes, some have been found to contain Picrates, which
can remove your hand by just shaking them. What's the point? Any large salutes
you buy were probably made by people who wanted to make a fast buck and were
cared more about evading the feds than assuring your safety. If you want to
make a big bang, it's probably safer to make your own, where you know what
you're playing with. It's strange, but true.
Well, thats one of the nicest pyrotechnics files I've seen written. If
anyone has any part above IV if it exists, then please forward it to us.
Thank you to the sender of this article on the net.
Chester - thanks for the node.
Starchilde - that makes 5 in 2 dayz, including the 50th! heh.
Steve - thank you for use of your system.
its Friday, 'round 3pm, and I'm outta here. Take it easy folks.
Guardian Of Time
Ignorance, Theres No Excuse.
For questions or comments write to:
P.O. Box 299
Santa Fe, Tx. 77517-0299
[OTHER WORLD BBS]