Setting up your fireworks – Cakes & Candles

These usually make up the bulk of your display and are easy to set up and weatherproof. This article guides you through the process.

 

Getting started

It should be pointed out first of all that UKFR guides are not intended as a replacement to the instructions on a cake or candle which you should of course always follow. Common sense must at all times prevail here. For example in the event of a conflict between the cake’s instructions and the advice here, always follow the directions on the label. Most guidance and tips here can however be used in addition to the firework’s own instructions to enhance safety.

 

Setting up cakes – the basics

Most cake labels advise you to “Attach securely to an upright post”. This does cause some confusion so to clarify: The actual firework must be firmly on the ground and attached to a post which is next to it and holds it upright. It should not be attached to a post off the ground, or put on top of a post and so on.

The purpose of the post is to stop the cake falling over and this is absolutely essential since an unsecured cake could easily tip sideways and fire into the audience. Getting your cakes secured will significantly help towards making your display safe and should never be left out of your setting up or taken for granted. No matter how stable a cake feels on the lawn it should never be left unsupported – cakes can bounce around from the recoil of each shot, or a misfire could tip it over.

Securing your cake is easy:

  • Bang a wooden stake into the ground with a hammer.
  • Put the cake next to it on the ground, the right way up (as shown by the label).
  • Secure the cake to the stake.

You can secure your cake with gaffa tape, parcel tape, cable ties (don’t over tighten!) or anything that is sufficiently secure. It really is as easy as that!

A firework staked down

Attached to a wooden stake with gaffa tape – easy!

The fuse on cakes will be situated either on the side of the cake or on the top. Make note of its position. It must of course be kept 100% dry. It helps during setting up to have a common method for situating or locating fuses. For example, always having the fuse at the front, or mark its position with a label. Ensure all the firers are familiar with the locations of the fuses.

If you intend to fire two cakes at the same time there is no reason why they cannot be attached to the same stake.

Never put cakes in a bucket or barrel of loose sand if the label tells you to attach it to a stake. The cake can easily move around in loose sand and tip over.

 

Special notes for fan cakes

Fan cakes eject their effects slightly to each side and need to be set up facing the right direction so the audience sees this. However some labelling is ambiguous to say the least!

Where fan cakes have a label on the side saying “This side to audience” this means the firework must be set up with that side facing the audience but the cake must still of course be upright!

Where there is a label on the top, an arrow normally points towards the audience. This means you should rotate the upright cake until the arrow points towards spectators. Never tip the cake so the top is pointing towards them.

 

Alternatives to stakes and setting cakes up on hard surfaces

You do not have to use wooden stakes. Alternative items used by firers have included metal poles or stakes, tent poles, piping, fencing poles and so on. As long as it will provide a secure support for the cake then it is generally OK.

If you are firing your cakes on hard ground such as concrete then you cannot hammer stakes into the ground. Whatever method you use to keep your cakes in place then becomes a matter of personal preference and common sense. Do consider the risks of each method before deciding. Examples include:

  • Placing the cakes inside a stable and heavy wooden frame
  • Using sandbags around the cake
  • Using bricks or other heavy items around the cake

At all times remember: The aim is to ensure the cake remains upright during firing.

Fireworks on concrete

At this professional show on hard ground, the cakes are secured by wooden frames

 

Waterproofing cakes

Moisture of any kind can kill off fireworks or their fuses quite easily, including condensation, damp from the ground or dew on grass. If you are not firing your cake off immediately then some extra steps should be taken to keep your firework and its fuse dry.

When placing the cake on the ground you should firstly place it on a wooden board or a paving slab. This is a very effective way of preventing moisture from the grass or soil from creeping into your cake. It also gives the cake a much firmer surface to sit on and helps reduce problems with the cake tipping over.

Fireworks Safety

The larger cakes here are on wooden boards to give a more stable surface and to protect from damp grass

To fully weatherpoof a cake you can use one of these options:

Bagging your cakes

This is favoured by many enthusiasts because it is very quick, cheap and works well. Here you place your cake in a waterproof bag such as a bin liner first, before you secure it to the stake. You can use one bag and completely enclose the firework (the intention being to rip open the bag to get to the fuse when you fire it) or you can place a second bag over the top of the secure cake so you simply pull off that bag when you are ready to fire. You can secure the second bag with tape or an elastic band if you think it could blow away.

Waterproofing fireworks

Bagged and staked, this firework is both secure and waterproof

Clingfilm

Wrapping cakes in clingfilm is another popular solution to the problem of rain. This is best done beforehand. Simply wrap each firework well with clingfilm which will make it waterproof. Attach the wrapped cake to the stake. You do not normally need to pull the clingfilm off the top of the firework when firing since the first shot will blow through it but see the note below about cake packaging.

Tarpaulin or other covers

If you are not too worried about moisture or dew and simply want to protect a small number of cakes from possible rain, then a waterproof cover such as a tarpaulin will suffice. Remove this before firing. Although this is the quickest and easiest solution the main disadvantage is removing the tarpaulin exposes all of the fireworks under it to the weather. So if you expect rain during the display then waterproofing each item individually is preferable.

Tin foil

If you are using tin foil on the tops of your cakes (to help prevent cross ignition from other fireworks’ sparks) please note this is not suitable as waterproofing and you should use one of the other methods above as well.

 

Cake packaging – special cases

Take note of special instructions on the cake’s packaging regarding whether to remove the top. Cakes will come wrapped in a variety of different types of paper, some have their tubes completely covered and others have see through tops. If there is no mention of this (90% of cakes) then you do not need to remove any of the cake’s packaging prior to firing. The first few shots will easily blow the top paper off no matter how well wrapped it looks.

Some cakes however have special types of shots (sometimes called missiles or pen lids) which stick out of the top. These are kept in place during transport by a plastic lid and these cakes will have a label saying “REMOVE BEFORE FIRING” or similar.

Missile Fireworks

Two examples of packaging where the top plastic lid needs removed before firing

It is up to you whether you remove this top once the cake is set up or whether you leave it to the point of firing. But whatever you do, remember to remove it before the fuse is lit! And if you take the lid off while setting up and waterproofing (most people do) don’t tip the firework upside down – the plastic missiles will fall out!

 

Angling cakes

Cakes as a rule should be secured in an upright position as directed on the label. If for safety reasons you wish to apply a small angle to compensate for wind direction for example or to add a creative effect you should only do this if the cake remains secure and the general direction of fire is still upwards. This is of course your call and your risk. If in doubt, don’t!

This is best done by keeping the cake itself flat on a board and angling the board slightly. You can also angle a cake on a board by putting a wooden slat under one side of the cake. The latter is considered less desirable because parts of the cake bottom are unsupported and may move during firing. This is considered by UKFR forum members to be a cause of failure part way through because the internal fuse has been broken.

Never angle a cake towards the audience.

Angled cakes

Shown before waterproofing and staking, two cakes are angled so they give a V spread when fired together

The best way to get angled effects from cakes is to specifically buy a fan cake. Unless you are very experienced with fireworks you should never attempt to replicate the angles from fan cakes with normal cakes.

 

Setting up candles

The same rules apply to candles as to cakes, so refer to the advice above. This is the case for securing them and waterproofing them.

It should be pointed out that candles are especially vulnerable to tipping over since they are tall and thin. They should always be secured properly.

Roman Candles

A large candle battery staked and bagged

 

Setting candles up on hard surfaces

This is a little more tricky and something only for experienced firers to attempt. The method generally accepted to be the best is to attach the candles to a wooden frame, and then secure the wooden frame with sandbags or similar. As with cakes, the aim is to ensure the candle fan or rack cannot fall over.

 

Angling candles

Candles are easier to angle because they can be attached to an angled stake. As always, this does add an extra element of risk to the display so it’s your decision. Done properly, candles can be angled to create beautiful V or W patterns.

It’s best to angle your stakes first then attach the candles afterwards since banging a candle and stake together into the ground can damage the candle. As with cakes, never angle a candle towards the audience.

Angled roman candle

A candle attached to an angled stake with cable ties

 

Further information

The other articles in this section will guide you through setting up various other types of firework.

The busy UKFR Fireworks Forum is always a good place to ask if you want more advice or if you want to get a little more creative with your fireworks.

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