A handy A-Z guide to the various firework related terms and what they mean.
ADR: The provisions which came into effect on 1st January 2003 concerning the international carriage of dangerous goods (including fireworks). In layman’s terms the amount of fireworks you can carry in a vehicle is limited by their type, the vehicle, and whether the driver has been formally trained to transport them. The restrictions mainly apply to professional (commercial) displayers and their fireworks. See also DTR.
AERIAL SHELL: Typically the Category 4 firework used only by professionals. An aerial effect enclosed in a paper or card “shell” and launched from a mortar tube by a lifting charge (also contained in the shell). Effects vary from plain bangs (maroons) to expansive and pretty colours or multiple effects. Responsible for most of the quality aerial effects seen in a professional display.
AIRBOMB: Any shell effect launched from a firework that bangs, normally loudly. Also the general name given to the small tubular fireworks that launch this effect, formerly a common firework in garden displays capable of quite a loud bang and sometimes with a glowing star effect on ascension. Now a banned firework.
AIRBOMB BARRAGE: Multiple airbombs fused together into one firework, the advantage being you only light one fuse to let the barrage off and it normally works out cheaper “per bang” than buying singly.
AQUA SHELL: A shell designed to be launched across, and break on, water.
BALL ROCKET: Popular style of rocket which mimics an aerial shell “on a stick”. Generally, but not always, gives a bigger and louder effect than a standard plastic head rocket.
BANG: What most fireworks do. The “technical” term for a bang in firework circles is “report”. In consumer fireworks there is now a noise limit of 120db which was brought in through new regulations. It has helped to protect small furry animals and old ladies up and down the country.
BANGER: Now banned, a small tubular firework that simply banged, in effect an airbomb that stayed on the ground. Cheap and misused, it was a major cause of injuries until banned from sale to the public. Today, any firework that bangs is quite often erroneously described as a “banger” by the press or public who are unaware of the various correct firework terms. More info.
BARRAGE: A continual and concentrated assault of firework effects, or the general name given to a firework that launches such an effect.
BATTERY: Several fireworks (e.g. candles) fused together for added effect, with a single fuse to light.
BEES: A swarm or cluster of points of light that move and dissipate under their own power. Similar to FISH, but less vigorous and generally less persistent.
BENGAL FLARE: See FLARE.
BFA / BRITISH FIREWORKS ASSOCIATION: An association of UK firework companies who import fireworks working together to address problems concerning noise, illegal fireworks and so on, and to promote the safer use and sale of fireworks.
BLACK MATCH: This is the fast burning fuse used extensively in a professional display. It is also found inside some consumer fireworks such as candle fans and set pieces.
BLINKER: A small ground based firework that strobes (flashes).
BLOCKBUSTER: A popular and long-running shell effect candle by Vulcan which became the standard against which most 28-30mm candles have been judged in the noughties. Largely superceeded in recent years by better and cheaper alternatives in cakes.
BLOSSOM: A pretty or colourful effect likened to a flower, or an effect that opens up and expands, like a flower blossoming.
BOMBETTE: A shell effect within a cake or candle, launched by a lifting charge. Can contain a variety of effects.
BONFIRE: Traditional on Guy Fawkes but don’t feel obliged to have one! Turn them over before lighting (animals nesting!).
BONFIRE SOCIETY: Traditional English society which organises bonfires, displays and meetings. Many do this for charitable reasons.
BOUQUET: A number of fireworks (normally candles) fused together, lighting one fuse sets them all off for a long duration or concentrated effect.
BORE: The internal diameter of a firework tube, this determines the size of the effects or shells contained within. Generally, a wider bore means a more powerful effect, e.g. a 30mm candle will usually be more powerful than a 14mm candle.
BPA: British Pyrotechnists Association. “The trade body that represents the majority of professional firework display companies in the United Kingdom.” More info.
BREAK: The point at which a shell effect explodes into life.
BRITISH STANDARDS (BS) 7114: The legal standard to which fireworks sold to the public in this country must conform. These standards govern various aspects of the firework such as the minimum length of fuse, debris range and so on and are for the benefit of user safety.
BROCADE: Common term that describes an effect like a PEONY, in other words an expanding sphere of stars, the brocade having more persistence. In the case of gold, it is similar to willow, palm and kamuro effects.
BUTTERFLY: A professional shell effect which sees two cones of effects eject in opposite directions, creating a symmetrical butterfly effect.
CAKE: A multi-shot firework in which the effects or shells are placed in tubes so they are aligned in a horizontal plane (rather than stacked vertically as in a candle). For example, a typical 8-shot cake would have eight tubes each with one shell in, but a typical 8-shot candle would consist of one tube, with eight shells stacked vertically. More info.
CANDLE: A firework consisting of a shell or effect in a card tube. A lifting charge propels the effect into the air. The common name for these is “roman candle”. Today’s candles can have many shots stacked on top of each other and candle batteries (several candles taped together and linked by a fuse) can create a devastating barrage. A battery of single shot candles, if packaged as a whole, are normally called a cake. Virtually all multi-shot fireworks today are either candles or cakes. More info.
CATEGORY 1/2/3/4: The British Standards classification fireworks are given in the UK. Category 1 fireworks (“indoor”) are the safest, and can be lit indoors. Be sure to only light fireworks indoors which are clearly labelled for this purpose. Category 2 fireworks (“garden”) are for use outdoors and spectators must be at least 5 metres away (8 metres on fireworks labelled with EU compliance). Category 3 fireworks (“display”) are for use outdoors and spectators must be at least 25 metres away, with these being the largest publicly available fireworks. Any other firework which does not meet these criteria or is considered unsafe for public or untrained use is a Category 4 (“professional”) firework and may only be sold to, or used by, a professional. More info.
CATHERINE WHEEL: See WHEEL.
CHERRY BOMB: The American equivalent of our old garden banger, shaped like a cherry. It is understood these have been banned over there too.
CHINESE CRACKERS: A number (typically 100, 250, 500 and so on) of small bangers strung together and connected by a rapid burning fuse, which when lit, creates a chain reaction of bangs. A potentially dangerous firework due to its erratic nature which is now banned from sale to the public in the UK. Still widely seen on the Continent during festivals and street celebrations, these can create huge amounts of litter and were one of the hardest fireworks to tidy up afterwards. More info.
CHINESE LANTERNS: Large balloons made from flame retardant paper with a wick on the bottom. This is lit and fills the lantern with hot air and it eventually lifts off. Completely silent and very pretty. Probably the cause of 99% of UFO reports in the last few years. More info.
COLD FALL OUT: Fall out that is not burning or hot. Indoor fireworks such as ice fountains have cold fall out.
COMET: A star or other projectile which leaves a glittering, persistent trail behind it.
COMPLAINT: What you’ll get from your neighbours if you let off loud fireworks without warning them first!
CONFETTI CANNON: A tube that fires confetti, streamers or other materials. Various types are available, the common ones being one-shot compressed air powered cannons which you activate by pulling a string or twisting the base.
CONIC FOUNTAIN: A type of fountain. See FOUNTAIN.
CRACKLE: A sound effect from a firework created by many small bangs or snaps.
CRACKLING COMET: A comet that leaves behind a tail of crackling effects rather than just quiet glitter.
CROSSETTE: An effect that splits in the sky, for example a coloured star which then splits into four or five other coloured stars.
DAMP SQUIB: A firework that fails to ignite or explode.
DISPLAY FIREWORK: A firework requiring 25 metres distance to spectators. See CATEGORY 1/2/3/4.
DIVISIONAL STORAGE: The name given to a type of storage used by professionals where a significantly greater quantity of fireworks can be stored.
DIY KIT: A kit (sold normally by mail order) comprising of numerous loose items to make a complete display.
DOUBLE BREAK: A firework or shell that has two, rather than one, effects. Also a rocket that bursts twice with two different effects.
DRAGONS EGGS: An increasingly common term to describe an effect whose exact characteristics seem open to interpretation, in general a gold or silver breaking effect that ends in crackles or strobes.
DTR: In relation to ADR, DTR refers to the training required by drivers of vehicles transporting dangerous goods including fireworks. ADR specifies limits of fireworks above which driver training is required.
DUD: Same as DAMP SQUIB.
EIG / EXPLOSIVES INDUSTRY GROUP: A UK organisation that “exists to represent and inform its members on all topics of explosive legislation in the UK”.
EJECTS BANGS & EJECTS STARS: Common descriptions on firework labels. If a firework only says “EJECTS STARS” it is likely to be fairly quiet, whereas “EJECTS BANGS” is likely to be noisier.
ELECTRICAL FIRING/IGNITION: Large professional displays or those requiring exact timing are often fired electrically. Here the fireworks have electrical igniters attached to them, and are normally all wired into a central control box. The firer then presses a button to ignite each firework. More complicated firing systems allow multiple firing, sequenced firing, and preprogrammed sequences at the touch of a button. The result is a very tight and well-timed show, although setting up can take much longer, as can planning, and the equipment to fire electrically is often expensive. New innovations include remote control firing systems. Firing systems are becoming more widely available to the public too thanks to special types of igniters that clip over a firework’s fuse.
EMBER: A burning piece of casing or paper from a firework. Most embers go out before reaching the ground but those that do not can pose a hazard to spectators, other fireworks or firers.