Lighting your fireworks by hand


General hand firing tips

Before looking at each type of firework in detail, some general firing tips:

  • Never, ever, lean over a firework. Treat fireworks like a loaded gun. Take particular care with cakes where you’ll have to bend down to light them – ensure no part of your body is over the firework itself.
  • Make sure it’s the fuse you light. Under torch light – and pressure – it can be easy to make a mistake. Make sure you have removed the fuse cover, never light this cover because the fuse can burn inside without you realising.
  • Light the fuse’s tip. Not part way down. The fuse is there for a very good reason – to let YOU get away. Use it properly.
  • Once a fuse is lit, never go back to the firework even if something goes wrong. If the fuse burns part way and goes out (rare), never go back and try to re-light it. IT IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.
  • Portfires should eliminate the problem of “partly lit” fuses where the end smoulders slightly but does not appear to take. If you get a partly lit fuse, get away. Treat it as if it was going to go off as normal.
  • After lighting a firework, move away to a safe distance. This will be determined by the firework and your safety clothing. Please err on the side of caution by setting fireworks up so the next one is a good distance away – you’ll kill two birds with one stone then, using the time you’re moving away from one to get into position for the next.
  • Watch where you are walking. Beware other fireworks on the ground, and other firers.
  • Light your next portfire in plenty of time.
  • Never drink and display. Save the booze for after the display.

If you’re new to bigger firework displays, you may not be used to the sounds and sights you’ll get in the thick of the action. It can be loud, smokey and disorientating, but there is nothing quite like it!


Lighting cakes, candles, fountains and mines

Remove any weatherproofing you put on top of the firework, locate the fuse and light at arm’s length.

Lighting Fireworks

The correct way of lighting a firework set up on the ground – at arm’s length with a portfire and wearing gloves. On the right, the actual view from a firer’s helmet.

Move away quickly to a safe distance after you light the firework. Firers will be wearing protective clothing and do not need to observe the same safety distance as spectators but use your common sense. Do not stand too close. Never return to a firework once it has been lit.

Take special care with fan cakes. The angle on these at the sides can be quite pronounced. In addition to ensuring no part of your body is placed over the firework when lighting, make sure you move away without getting in the line of fire from the angled tubes.


Lighting rockets

Ensure the plastic fuse cover on most rockets is removed prior to lighting. Check that the rocket is free to rise from the tube and will not topple over. Light the fuse at arm’s length.

Lighting rockets

Lighting a rocket properly: At arm’s length using a portfire.

Move away quickly. Some rockets appear to pause briefly between the fuse burning and the rocket taking off. This is normal.

Keep an eye on your rockets during your display to ensure they are falling in the fall out zone and not going anywhere they should not. If you have more than one firer it is worth having one person in charge of just the rockets. It is also worth keeping your rockets at the very back of the display area and separate from the other fireworks.

Always move away quickly to a safe distance after you light the fuse. Although rockets go off in the air, there is always a small risk of malfunction and an explosion in the tube or at low level. Ensure you’re a safe distance away in case of this.


Lighting wheels and set pieces

Remove any weatherproofing you placed on the firework and locate the fuse. Light it at arm’s length. In the case of wheels, do a final check that they spin OK before lighting them.

Move away quickly. Some set pieces hiss loudly when they start as their internal quick fuse burns, this is normal. However make sure you light the correct fuse on set pieces.

Items such as “Goodnight” should be the last firework. Be careful of lighting big or long lasting cakes at the same time, these can over run the “Goodnight” and continue on afterwards, causing much audience confusion. Light Goodnight just as the last main fireworks are coming to an end.


During the display

Displaying does require concentration throughout. Keep an eye out for:

  • Potential failures.
  • Any safety concerns.
  • Crowd problems.
  • Other firers – make sure everyone’s OK and no one has got into difficulties.
  • Fall out – make sure it’s landing in the right place!
Fireworks display in action

Firers keeping a safe distance during a display and checking everything is in order

It’s not a good idea to be involved with firing AND marshalling. You can only do so many things at once. Try and get someone not connected with the firing to take responsibility for crowd control. It helps too if you can split up responsibilities on the field. Perhaps you can fire cakes and candles and someone else can deal with the rockets. Or each firer can have a line of fireworks they are responsible for. This approach means you can also have a breather during the display and you’ll enjoy it a lot more.


Keeping things moving

Gaps between fireworks are your worst enemy. It’s important to keep things moving.

To this end, it’s better to overlap the fireworks than try and go for perfection where one stops and another starts. To be frank you’ll never do it! You have to contend with varying durations and fuses. In fact you would have had to let off every firework in your display before, timed it, timed the fuse, and hope the current one is exactly the same!

Fireworks Display

Order the fireworks so you can work through them in sequence. The more time you spend during setting up, the easier it is when you come to light them. A well thought out layout is critical to keeping your display flowing.

It’s very hard to judge when a firework is going to stop and to light the next one just in time so it starts as the first one ends. Don’t leave it too late – that’s where the gaps come in. Don’t be frightened of “premature lighting” (it’s nothing to be ashamed of lads, heheh!). Remember the more fireworks going off at once, the better the effect will look! Here’s some advice:

  • Have a running order in your favour. Rotate the effects so you can overlap from one to another and it will look natural.
  • Items with a small number of shots can be counted out by hand. For example, if it has eight shots, light the next fuse as number five or six is going up. This takes practice but can be quite effective.
  • If you want a rocket effect followed by a ground based firework, light the ground based one straight after the rocket – before it takes off. It’ll start just as the rocket is breaking.
  • Never use one shot wonders in isolation. Mines are the worst – you’ll never be able to have a cake finish, a mine go off, and another firework start straight after. Work them in with other fireworks instead – for example, light a line of fountains, and a line of mines behind. The fountains will give a pretty ground effect while the mines will add some sudden aerial power – but the fountains will continue, giving you a chance to light the next firework and carry on. Rockets are another tough one. Having a cake going off on the ground is a good way to keep things flowing, while rockets are going off overhead.
  • Remember, it takes practice! Gaps are inevitable for your first few displays. Try and use fewer, bigger, items to start with while you find your feet.
  • Always use portfires or good quality gas lighters as described above – don’t even think about messing around with a taper or worse, a cigarette lighter.


Multiple firing

Attempting to set off more than one item at a time should only be considered if you have taken stringent safety measures in setting the fireworks up and you have considerable experience with fireworks. If in doubt, don’t try it.

You should also consider using a consumer firing system for multiple or sequential launches.

What multiple firing can achieve:

  • Saturated effects. You can double up small cakes and make a great effect similar to a bigger firework.
  • Or, you can let off two big fireworks and really fill the sky.
  • You can mix effects, eg. a quiet but pretty cake with a noisy one, different colours at either side of the display, a line of fountains or mines, or simultaneous ground and aerial effects.

There are two approaches to multiple firing by hand. The safest is to use more than one firer, each lighting one firework. It sounds simple but this works very well and is the approach most displayers take. Rehearse and coordinate what you’re going to light. Space the fireworks out for added safety.

The other way is for one firer to light several fireworks at the same time:

  • If in doubt, don’t. Multiple launches should only be attempted when you’re experienced with fireworks and appreciate the short duration that fuses can burn for. You should also know the fireworks you intend to set off together. So don’t try and be a hero on your first display or you could lose an appendage – or worse someone else’s – if you do.
  • Time scales are VERY VERY tight. Remember the clock starts ticking as soon as the FIRST fuse is alight. It cannot be stressed enough that once the first one is burning you only have a few seconds at most to get the others going and to get away. Don’t fart about or dither. If other fuses don’t take immediately, forget them and get away.
  • Don’t be too ambitious. Don’t attempt to light more than two or three at the same time. Use multiple launches SPARINGLY in your display. Most fireworks are fine on their own.
  • Never attempt this without a portfire or a good gas lighter in a gloved hand. They are the only things hot enough to light the fuses on contact and are not affected by the wind. Don’t even think of trying this with matches, a taper, or a lighter!
  • Set up the fireworks in your favour. The fireworks must be physically close together to allow you a chance to light them in those few seconds. Rockets should be in a rack with the fuses facing the same way. Candles can be paired up on the same stake with fuses next to each other.
    Fireworks in action

    The blast from a big firework. You don’t want to be anywhere near a firework when it starts so take care if lighting mulitple items!

There can be no doubt that more than one firework together can make a great and effective barrage and give the impression of much bigger fireworks. However, be very careful and don’t forget please aim to be away from the fireworks within a few seconds of the first fuse igniting.

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