Fireworks Glossary

A handy A-Z guide to the various firework related terms and what they mean.



TADPOLE: A bright “wiggly” effect, normally with a tail.

TAIL: Part of an effect left in the air behind a firework.

TAPER: Used for lighting fireworks and commonly supplied in cheaper packs. They do not have a flame as such, rather a glowing red hot end. Whilst they are better than matches or a cigarette lighter, they are only suitable for small garden displays. Otherwise use a proper port fire.

THUNDERFLASH: A pyrotechnic device that, once activated, explodes with a loud bang and a flash. Used in theatrics, combat training or battle simulations.

TITANIUM SALUTE: A very loud bang (salute) with a bright flash (titanium).

TOUCH PAPER: Common in older fireworks and used in place of a fuse, this paper (normally blue) burns slowly but steadily.

TURBILLION: Normally a star with an erratic flight which creates a spiralling glitter effect.



UN CARTON: Fireworks are classed as explosives which means a number of rules and regulations exist regarding their transport, governing what they can be stored in, what they can be transported in, and who is allowed to do this. One regulation is that fireworks must be transported in cartons designed and marked for the purpose, and these are called UN cartons as each one has a unique UN classification depending on its contents. These cartons are also marked with a hazard diamond indicating the type of explosives inside. The marking is usually 1.4G or 1.3G.

UKFR: The abbreviation for UK Firework Review, this site!



V-FIRING CAKE: A cake that fires two columns of effects to the left and right of the display area in a “V” shape.

VERY ANGRY: What your “other half” is when they find out how much you’ve spent on fireworks instead of getting the house decorated!

VISCO: A type of fuse used in the manufacture of fireworks and by professional displayers.



W-FIRING CAKE: A cake that fires three columns of effects – one vertical and one either side, to create a three-spoked or “W” shape. Some fan from left to right, or switch between columns as they fire.

WATERFALL: A cascade of normally silver sparks, created by a horizontal string of small fountains strung up between two or more posts. A better effect is achieved the higher it is situated.

WAX TORCH: Sold in most firework catalogues, these large candles burn for some time. They create a pleasant (if totally pointless) illumination near the front of the safety area while you make final preparations. Can also be used in processions and so on. Not to be used to light the fireworks themselves!

WIRE MESH CAGE: A type of packaging used to encase consumer fireworks and thus make them less dangerous in the event of a fire. This enables fireworks which would otherwise be too powerful for the new 1.4G classification to be forced from 1.3G to 1.4G.  Widely used now for display rocket packs and some larger cakes.

WHEEL: A firework which rotates rapidly to create a spinning wall of sparks. Also known as a catherine wheel. A pinwheel is a small plastic disk with a tube of powder coiled around it. The tube burns, creating sparks and thrust which turns the wheel. Larger wheels have tubes mounted around the edge which burn like a rocket motor, creating sparks and thrust to spin the device. A wheel is attached to a post by a nail through the centre, and as with many set pieces, looks better mounted as high as possible. Check the spin by hand, before lighting it. Pinwheels can be very susceptible to rain, so cover well with a plastic bag before use. More info.

WHISTLE: A sound effect like a whistle. Can be created by rockets, shells or from ground based fireworks. The sound is made by the way the ingredient burns, not by the way it flies.

WILLOW EFFECT: Not unlike a “palm tree” effect, in other words an effect that creates a mass of trailing, persistent silvery lines which hang in the air to resemble the hanging pattern of a willow tree.



Here are some suggestions from UKFR readers for “X” and “Y”:

X: Take your initial display budget then apply X 5 (ChesterPFX).

X CAKE: Cross-firing fan cake (Rickws).

XETTE: Abbreviation commonly used to described “crossette” (Mike).

X MARKS THE SPOT: On some cakes you get a little yellow sticker with an ‘X’ on it designating the central empty tube where you can insert a stake (Richard H).

X RATED: This is the term used to describe the comments that a firer would make having just hand-lit a 4 inch titanium salute shell that did not lift and exploded under five feet away from him/her. Also under this heading would be XX-Rated, XXX-Rated depending upon the size of the shell in question (Paul S).



Y: Y am I setting up in the wet again?? (ChesterPFX).

YACCA GUM: Also known as red gum or accroide resin. A very common organic fuel and occasionally a binding component in modern firework compositions (Richard H).

YEAR, CHINESE NEW: Traditionally celebrated by the Chinese community with firecrackers, festivals and dancing dragons (Gerry).



Z-FIRING FAN CAKE: A fan cake that fires its shots in sequence from left to right or vice versa, rather than in complete simultaneous waves.

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©1999-2015 UK Firework Review

Established in 1999, UKFR remains independent from the fireworks trade and does not sell fireworks.