Introduction: How to Make Fireworks

Picture of How to Make Fireworks

There are many types of fireworks, where one of the most common in firework displays is the aerial shell. The aerial shell is used in fireworks displays, and can be either a round or a cylindrical shape. These aerial shells are loaded into tubes, called "mortars." Once lit, the aerial shell will fly into the air and once the aerial shell is at the higest point (apogee), it will explode and shoot pyrotechnic stars in all directions.

In this instructable I will be talking about the procedure of assembling a round aerial shell.
Note: I do NOT recommend the average person to try this! This will be illegal to do without licensence in many cases, it is on your own response wether you do this legally or not.
When working with fireworks it is very important to use proper safety gear while making. It is recommended to wear faceshield or safety goggles during the making. While making the shell, one should do it away from heat souces, such as candles, cigarettes, stoves etc.

If I somehow throw around with a lot of foreign words or have any questions, feel free to ask me.

First, let's see what a typical round aerial shell looks like:

Step 1: Shell Parts

Picture of Shell Parts

Let's start making the aerial shell (from now on it will be mentioned as 'shell')

Shell hemispheres
You will need two 3" paper hemispheres to make this shell. Note that the hemispheres themself are actually not 3", but smaller, since there must be room for pasting and quick match to make the shell fit in the 3" mortar tube.

A batch of 75 grams of 10 mm pumped "Tiger tail" stars were made for this shell, however only 70 grams were used. Remember always to make more than you need. It's better to have a bit more, than be needing. The stars were primed in meal black powder to ensure ignition. Since Tiger tail stars ignite easy, you might find that this might be unnecessary. If a 'rising comet' is desired, a 20 mm or 3/4" comet is pumped with the compostion. Make sure that the comet has a burn time equal to the time fuse or spolette (3 seconds).

Tiger tail stars:
Potassium nitrate..................44
Charcoal (Pine airfloat)........44
SGRS or Dextrin.....................6

Chemicals can be obtained at:

Bursting charge
'Meal coated rice hulls' was used in this shell.

Time fuse
A 'spolette' is a small tube, where black powder is confined in it. This will act as a time fuse, however one can also buy time fuse from such sites as:

30-40 lbs kraft paper in ~70x15 mm strips are used for pasting the shell using the 3-strip pasting method. If another pasting method is desired, the strips might have to be longer or wider. A glue is needed to paste the strips to the shell. Wheat paste is a cheap solution that works well.
Find out how to make it at a tutorial I made:
Wheat paste tutorial
Wood glue thinned with water can be used, however it is much more expensive.

Lift charge
A lift charge is needed to shoot the shell out of the mortar. Approximately 15 grams of good granulated or corned black powder works well. More or less might be used depending on the quality.

For igniting the shell either a piece of visco fuse and quick match or shoothing-wire and an e-match can be used. In this tutorial a piece of shooting wire and e-match was used. Note with this way you will need a power supply, and that you can not light the shell with a lighter

You will also need lifting cup, paper tape, scissors, drill, "gummed paper tape" or kraft paper, tissue paper, brush, hot melt glue gun, cotton twine and string.

Step 2: Shell Construction

Picture of Shell Construction

Start by drilling a hole in the pole of one of the paper hemispheres. The diameter of the hole must be the same as the diameter of the time fuse or spolette. Insert the time fuse or spolette about half way in the hole, and hot glue it on both sides. Make absolutely sure that there are no air holes, this will likely result in a flower pot.

Place each hemisphere on a stand, which can simply be made out of an empty toilet roll cut in half. This will prevent the hemispheres from rolling around when you are filling them.

Step 3: Filling With Stars/burst and Closing

Picture of Filling With Stars/burst and Closing

Arrange the stars around the wall of the hemispheres to the rim. The stars should be sticking a bit over the rim. If the shell is underfilled it will result in a visible area of no stars when the shell is launched.

Next cut two pieces of tissue paper, one of them with a hole to go over the time fuse or spolette. Put the pieces in each hemispheres against the stars and fill tighly with burst charge to the rim. A bit of "booster", such as whistle mix or flash powder is added in the center of each hemisphere and spread loosely in the burst charge with fingers. Not much should be used, maximum 1g.

Quickly snap the two shell hemispheres together. This is not as hard as it sounds like, but if done too slowly, the stars or burst charge might rearrange or fall out, and the previous steps will need to be repeated. If the rim each paper hemisphere touch eachother at this point, the shell is underfilled. However if done correctly there should be a small gap of around 1 cm at equator. Place the shell on the stand time fuse-side down, and use a wooden dowel to gently hit the upper hemisphere on different places. The stars will then arrange inside the shell and hopefully the two hemispheres will reach eachother. Seal up around the equator with masking tape to close the shell temporarily. Also put a piece of masking tape around the end of the time fuse or spolette to protect it from being damaged during the next steps.

Step 4: Pasting the Shell

Picture of Pasting the Shell

The next step is pasting the shell, which is the hardest and most time-consuming part of round shells. The pasting method descriped here is the socalled 3-strip pasting method. Unlike the "normal" pasting method (pasting strips with a length of half the equator around the shell) the 3-strip pasting method does not "build up" near poles.

To make your pasting strips sticky before you paste you will need to add a glue to each 70x15 mm kraft paper strip on one side. This can be done quickly by arranging some strips on a wide wooden board. Next apply a thin, even layer of wheat paste with a brush. These strips are now ready for pasting, but you will need to repeat this step many times, since you will need a lot of strips to complete your shell.

The shell is pasted as showed on the picture. A strip is pasted from the "northpole" pointing towards the "southpole". Then a strip beside is pasted from the "southpole" pointing towards the "northpole". A strip is then pasted between these two strip. This pattern is continuously pasted around the shell. Press out the airbubbles under the strips, this will result in a nice-looking shell. Everytime you finish a way around the shell (layer) make sure to write on the shell how many layers you have pasted so far, you might forget it. When finished pasting the shell, multiply the layer-number by two, since each layer with this pasting method counts for two actual layers.

While pasting the shell, cut a ~8 cm piece of cotton twine and make a loop on it. Hot glue it to the top of the shell (the opposite hemispheres of the one with the time fuse in it) and paste like before, just making the strip covering the twine. This shell needed 10 layers of pasting (=20 layers) to complete. The ideal is to make the shell ~5 mm smaller than the mortar tube, in this case the OD of the shell should be ~7 cm. Making it this diameter might take hours for beginners to complete. After the layers of pasting, let the shell dry completely.

Step 5: Lifting Charge

Picture of Lifting Charge

Peel of the making tape that protected the time fuse. Cut two lengths of black match and bend them over the exposed end of the time fuse. Wrap a line of string numerous of time around the black match to secure them to the time fuse. Then either secure the string with a dot of hot glue or tie a knot.

The black match will be a prime for the time fuse and make it easier to ignite. Without it the time fuse might fail to ignite and make it a dud shell.

The next step is the lift. Take your desired lifting cup and poke a hole in the bottom, big enough to put the quick match or shooting wire through. The quick match or shooting wire should be long enough, so that when the shell is loaded in the mortar, there will stick a bit out of the mortar. If you use quick match insert a piece of visco fuse it. This will be the delay between when the shell is ignited, till it shoots out of the mortar.

Next put the quick match (not the visco fuse end) or shooting wire through the hole punched in the lifting cup. If using quick match, tear a bit of the paper off the end, so that the black match will be exposed. If using shooting wire, attatch your e-match. Next slide the quick match or shooting wire back, so it centres in the middle of the lifting cup. Secure the hole with a bit of hot glue or gummed paper.

Add you lift charge in the lifting cup, in this example 15.3 grams of pulverone was used. The amount used all depends on the quality of your black powder. The rule of thumb is to use approximately 1/10 lift of the shells weight. The shell's final weight (everything included) was around 150 grams.

Step 6: Almost Done...

Picture of Almost Done...

Attach the lifting cup to the shell. The time fuse should be pointed directly down the lifting cup and the quick match or shooting wire should be put inside the loop on the top of the shell. Add a line of hot glue around to secure the lifting cup.

Cut either a strip of gummed paper or kraft paper. The strip should be long enough to fit all the way around the lifting cup plus a little more. Cut the strip halfway all the way down with a distance of ~1" as shown on the picture. If you're using gummed paper activate it with water, if using kraft paper, brush with layer of wheat paste.

Wrap the uncut part around the lifting cup and the cut part around the shell as shown on the picture. Again, make everything as tight as possible.

If you want to add a rising comet to your shell, attach it the same way as the lifting cup was attached: Cutted-up strip with glue and hot glue. About 2 mm of the comet should be exposed to ensure ignition.

Step 7: Finished Aerial Shell

Picture of Finished Aerial Shell

The shell is now finished. It is a good idea to attach label in case you keep the shell over a longer time, so you will know what type of shell it is, which stars, amount of lift etc.

The shell can now be fired, but please note that this is obiously the most dangerous part of it all, so proper safety gear must be used.
First of all your eyes, fingers and ears are the most important thing to protect.
Wear safety goggles/face shield, fireproof gloves and ear plugs/earmuffs during firing (as a minimum!)

When firing, you can either use a mortar stand to hold your mortar tube if you have one, or you can bury the mortar tube in the ground about 2/3. Next the shell is loaded to the tube with the quick match or shooting wire sticking out - the shell should fall freely, without any help to make it reach the bottom. Also please take care of your surroundings: The shell should be fired a long distance away from people, houses and flammable objects. Run a good long distance after igniting the fuse. If you want to film the shell, it is recommended to be at least two persons: one will be filming, the other will ignite the fuse.

If the shell should somehow fail to lift properly and explode on the ground, you will be glad you did wear safety gear.
Sometimes a "flower pot" happens (mainly if the shell is not sealed well around the time fuse, or if the spolette is not rammed solid enough), which is simply the shell explodes in the mortar, shooting stars into the sky. The mortar may or may not fracture when this happens, but this is where burying the mortar comes in handy: the surroundings of the mortar will arbsorb most of the shock, and the fragments may not fly very far.

The shell was fired in front of a small audience (consisting of my family) I excuse the annoying voices/laughs/whatever.

Hope you enjoyed this instructable, which is my first one.
To find out more about pyrotechnics go to:



NắngT (author)2017-01-28

I am from Viet Nam. Can you help me, I want

launch a firework 0.5kg to 200m. How do I need

Reporters dose black power ? fomula? if it is 0.1kg, 0.2kg, 1kg?

Thank you very much


h23lakawa (author)2017-01-13

It looks soo cool! i think it is fun and i want to make it but is it safe?

Kuntakinta (author)2015-12-02

are these fireworks legal?

aod626 (author)2015-07-04

I got shell that was dud last year is it possible to refuse the shell

jvoga (author)2015-06-15

Random note- making fireworks for personal use is completely LEGAL without a FEL (federal explosives license) as long as its for personal use and you do not transport them on any road ways.

clark.witherspoon.1 (author)2015-03-13

Sweet project ! I've been studying to be a pyrotechnician and love making fireworks at home to learn more. Thanks for the experience !

OpportunityR (author)2015-01-07

nice wow amsome

Kevin Lincoln (author)2015-01-01

this is awesome but if u mix ammonium nitrate with aluminum powder Then

Mr. Tinker (author)2010-01-14

I've just stumbled onto this site through GOOGLE so I am using the free version for now. My new interest is producing my own fireworks and it appears I can benefit from the knowledge available on this site. I am an avid outdoorsman and am quite familiar with the safety issues involved in handling explosive materials as I have for a long time loaded my own ammo. Having a pound or two of nitro powder at my fingers is not unusual. Furthermore I can recall my father using true dynamite (ditching) to clear land/beaver dams on the farm and having me assist to various degrees. 
That being said, I am interested to learn how to produce "bottle rockets" and devices similar  to what is known as a "mortar" at the local fireworks stand.  I believe that would be enough to start.
Any suggestions on how to begin?
Oh, I am a mechanical tradesman, so such items as steel pipes (for launching purposes I would assume) and other related materials are readily available. I would think steel more reliable than cardboard tubes.
Please knowledgeably advise.

joedickey97 (author)Mr. Tinker2014-08-26

I highly recommend that you go to if you are serious about learning to make fireworks. As an alternative, for a fee, you can join where you will find both instructional material as well as a forum in which to ask questions. To start, however, your best bet is Not only are the various projects fully described, but many of them have video imbedded so that you can actually see what you have read being done by a skilled pyro maker. As a bonus, skylighter has kits for some of the projects and a huge inventory of pyro supplies. In my opinion, either site I have mentioned will provide you with more adequate information than can be found here. (author)Mr. Tinker2010-01-15

Regarding the bottle rockets, there is a good tutorial for those here:
The method is the same for bigger rockets, except one might use a hydraulic press to press them instead of ramming (3/4" or bigger).
The so called mortars are also described in this instructable.They are not devices themselves, but rather works as the canon to guide the aerial shell upwards.
I'm not exactly sure what you mean with the "colorful balls", but it sounds like aerial shells with colored stars instead of golden/charcoal that is described here. Colors are a bit harder to achieve and you will need to buy some more chemicals. Low cost and easy preparation makes charcoal stars ideal for beginners.

You could head to for materials as well as tools, and if you look in their newsletter archive, you should find a number of articles that explains constructions and formulas for various firework items.

Mr. Tinker (author)pudi.dk2010-01-15

Thanks for your response, I will go investigate the sites you've given. I believe my terminology was incorrect and the "colorful balls" I spoke of are what you have named as "stars". You know, when "it" goes up into the air and explodes into a flurry of little fireballs like would come from a roman candle.
If adding color is more difficult as you stated, then I will start with the simple stuff.
Thanks again for your help.
Mr. Tinker.

Rebreg (author)2014-02-05

where might someone get the licensing to make fireworks

JamesV2 (author)Rebreg2014-08-24

You DO need a license (Permit) to manufacture "Flash Powder" fireworks (The "Good Stuff" as in "Chest Thumper") The permit may be obtained from (in the United States) the "BATF&E" for $150 and is valid for 3 years. And don't forget, anything that you buy "Online" is leaving a "Footprint" ("They" know who you are).

Pyromaniac88 (author)Rebreg2014-07-19

You don't need licensing to make your own fireworks except in some states. You can order the supplies to make fireworks online.

battlebomb (author)2013-07-05

How much would it cost to make a 2" complete shell. Stars,lift ect. Thanks for any answers

Rebreg (author)battlebomb2014-02-05

i would estimate around $60-$70 but that will make at least 2-3 dozen

n1cod3mus (author)2014-01-17

video is dead, the link is dead

DarinRichards (author)2014-01-04

When a firework misfires and blows in the mortar PVC and fiberglass shards will go flying. When those pieces fly into a person they do not show up on an x-ray. A better product to use is black HDPE pipe. It is plastic enough to stretch out paper thin before it burst. When it does burst, the shards are like flying paper and loose velocity incredibly fast.

Kitboga (author)2013-07-25

This is a nice article! I am going to try this out this weekend!
I've found quite a few other resources about how to make fireworks at It's a nice little website with a lot of good information.

AlanCain (author)2013-07-03

Please do not confuse flash powder with flash paper or gun cotton; the latter two have dramatic appearance but are not particularly risky. Flash powder is made with a powdered metal and a good oxidizer and can kill your young behind as it has others; it can self-detonate when ignited in quantities of 50 grams and can easily ignite. It takes pounds of gunpowder to self-detonate compared to a few ounces of flash. Please don't mess with it. Professionals use serious precautions when using flash powder, and most just don't. There are too many safer (relative term) alternatives for burst or lift charges. Black powder or gun powder are far better.

msh1353 (author)2013-05-30

hello ""
I'm mohammad from IRAN, I know english a little
a sample firework simulation with FWsim 2
mixing iranian National Anthem with firework to show
i made it with fwsim 2 & ulead media studio 8
you can to see it in this address :

sxcgreekboi (author)2013-05-28

bro u ROCK!

tonroh17 (author)2013-05-21

u r epic at dis

connor hall (author)2013-03-14

why don't you go on to minecraft and build one?

tonroh17 (author)connor hall2013-05-21


Dark Passenger (author)2013-05-11

How much did you use in the lift charge

incicitayfa (author)2013-02-02


yinyumi (author)2012-12-21

Can we buy the materials @Sams or Radioshack or any some place like a lumberyard? or what place can we buy it that is not from the internet??

4lifenerdfighter (author)2012-07-19

What are "stars"?

92033 (author)2010-06-27

To all curiosity seekers...Potassium Nitrate is Saltpeter, available at any Pharmacy Store off the shelf. Saltpeter is used by farmers and cattle growers to control their herds or stock...adding it to their feed. The bulls eat it and get temporarily 'not interested in the ladies' hardons until it wears out of the blood system. Furthermore, US Army/Military adds it to food in Mess Halls during the 13 week training at Boot Camp for basically the same reason. To keep your mind on Military stuff and to dehumanize you for that period of time. If anyone thinks this is BS...join the Army and discover it for yourself. It lowers your sexual drive to nada.

ArcticNemo (author)920332010-06-28

Military chow does not lower sex drive. Being yelled at 24/7 and living around a bunch of other guys does that. Stress, not chemicals. So, to all curious truth-seekers, a reference below, you're welcome.

kalliber25 (author)ArcticNemo2012-07-05

the act in question happened right before the Gulf War

kalliber25 (author)ArcticNemo2012-07-05

The act of putting saltpeter in the food at Military boot camps is now illegal. The act rendered someone sterile and the Army was quickly sued thereafter. So, sorry new guys, get ready for some sexual tension!! >:D

rcisneros (author)ArcticNemo2011-07-04

lol. prior service? you nailed it though.

mikeeve (author)ArcticNemo2010-06-29

@ArticNemo: good post, amazing how maliciously ignorant some people are.

skidoo (author)ArcticNemo2010-06-29

@ArcticNemo: Thumbs-up! Fight the BS! @pudidotdk: Great Instructable! I'll probably never make one, but it was a well-presented, interesting read. Thanks!

spiceyweasel (author)920332010-06-29

.....I must be immune to it, I guess. It didn't work on me. About six weeks in, it was driving me crazy.

nkudlesky heydt (author)2012-06-23

where are you getting all the materials from?

kclarke4 (author)2011-07-11

would it work ok if you made your own time fuse

fellbaum (author)2011-07-03

if i made this i would modify the steps because me being paranoid i would not want to use a hot glue gun due to the fact that the metal tip is hot an thus may cause it to prematurely explode, i would use a different glue or use the paper mache method previously stated in step four.

baseball05 (author)2010-06-07

What happens if i just fill a 3 inch shell with flash powder, and use flash powder as a lift charge?

ph1lt3ch (author)baseball052010-06-28

You kill yourself and everyone else around you.

mojarabm2 (author)ph1lt3ch2010-06-30

i don't think so! every thing you have to run , probably has a spicial danger. just take care of your math!

lperkins (author)mojarabm22011-07-03

I don't know about flash powder, but flash paper and flash cotton are what is generally used for indoor pyrotechnic displays as they produce less explosive force and little or no smoke. It should be safe, but you should be sure to have something solid to stand behind,and a lack of valuable objects nearby when you're testing it and good fire-suppression.

cpruitt1 (author)2011-07-02

this may sound stupid, but what is the benefit of the rising comet? what does it do?

badideasrus (author)cpruitt12011-07-02

as said on page one (i belive) the rising comet will catch fire when the lifting charge is ignited, and will act like a tracer round for a gun, marking the trail of the mortar shell through the air.

ashreeve (author)2011-07-01

Sorry new at this and i am confused about the line "insert a piece of visco fuse it" could you clarify?

CrLz (author)2011-06-30

Fascinating Ible! Awesome!

ct_brown (author)2011-04-28

I am writing a research paper for my chemistry class and I was wondering if anyone could tell me how to make patters like stars and hearts with fireworks

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm Nicolaj, a Danish chemistry student interested in DIY and projects involving fabrication.
More by humidity dome for seedlingsHow to Start Fire with Water!Make a Super Bouncy Ball
Add instructable to: