A Practical Guide To Fireworks

The Fireworks Manual has been in print since 1994 since when copies have been sold around the world. Although based on fireworks in the United Kingdom, the vast majority of the information it contains is of interest to both amateur and professional pyrotechnists around the world.

The review by John Bennett of The Fireworks Manual that appeared in Fireworks Magazine.

The review by Michael S Swisher of The Fireworks Manual that appeared in Pyrotechnica XVI.


The Fireworks manual can be ordered from your local bookshop, ask for;
The Fireworks Manual - ISBN 0 9520819 0 3

Or you can obtain a copy by mail order;
Send a cheque or money order for UK£ 17.50 payable to; The Pyrotechnics Press

Addressed to;

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The Pyrotechnics Press
P.O. Box 15
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PE12 8RL
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The Fireworks Manual

The following review appeared in the periodical "Fireworks" issue 24, September 1993. The reviewer was John Bennet, the Editor and Publisher of "Fireworks".

The Fireworks Manual is faced with the problem encountered by all those involved in producing literature for the firework fraternity - that of serving a disparate audience from licensed members of the trade to small display enthusiasts. However, to divide descriptions for the authorised user from those for the unlicensed, creates insurmountable problems.
Jon Adams caters for both in his Manual, quite clearly categorising the parts, and for whom they are intended. To produce two seperate Manuals would have been to repeat the material common to both - which forms a large part of the Manual.
The Fireworks Manual is unique. It wisely assumes only a basic knowledge of fireworks in providing general information; and advice for the enthusiast. Information purely for the use of the Category 4 user is separately dealt with, while the web of law and regulations is described in layman's terms. (Possessing a licence does not always imply a knowledge of legal jargon). Finally the author considers indoor (stage) fireworks, electrical firing systems, the identification of imported fireworks and, slightly incongrously, Japanese fireworks.
The Manual begins with a description of how - and why - fireworks work, but does not describe how to make them. Indeed the warnings to the unauthorised reader on 'tampering' with fireworks are clearly spelt out. Types of display fireworks, including set pieces, are described and anyone (like the reviewer) who has watched the organiser of a small display swearing at a St Andrews Cross because of its reluctance to rotate might feel this is required reading for the community display organiser. Firework categories, as designated by the British Standard, are briefly - but adequatly - described.
In 'Organising a display', the author considers site suitability. While perhaps most organisers of small events will not have a site which extends 175 metres from the audience to the back of the fall-out area, the emphasis is on the side of caution. Although wind directions are rarely tailor made for event and site, it might be worth adding in a new edition that fall-out areas can be placed at the side of a smaller, but wider, site. Or have we become too dependant upon rigid instructions that the reviewer has missed the obvious conclusion that the Manual is keeping the advice simple, with the necessity of using common sense where applicable?
Perhaps this section might have been divided more clearly into smaller and larger display (particularly that fired on the client's behalf by a professional operator); making it clear, for instance, that the firework company will not 'require a site visit' when selling a £500 pack, while emphasising that the organiser's obligation to perform one - and monitor the situation - is essential.
The Fireworks Manual admirably emphasises consideration for others, and provides useful advice - clearly based on experience - of fitting the display into a programme of other events. The list of bodies to be informed sensibly includes (as this type of advice rarely does) such as air, river and coastguard authorities - although it has to be admitted that the reviewer has always received amused responses when informing the coastguard of coastal events! The advice: 'Check and, if in doubt, inform them anyway' is surely, however, the best.
The Manual proceeds with advice on how to select anoperator fired display, followed by hints on bonfire parties, daylight displays; criteria for selecting self-fired kits - and designing a display from them.
Next the author moves on to Category 4 fireworks. In doing so he commences with a list of equipment required, some of which equally apply to Category 3 fireworks (for instance a useful list of mortar sizes, equivalent metric and imperial sizes, and minimum lengths for each diameter). He also provides the type of advice which only an experienced operator would know - such as the information that Spanish shells require longer mortars to achieve their required height. Again the author errs on the side of caution, discouraging - for instance - the reloading of shells during displays. Use of mortar racks, their construction and stacking, are covered in detail. Consideration of bombette racks; rocket cones, boards and rails, preceeds a section on the construction of lancework, and the weather-proofing of complete displays.
Having covered this uncontentious ground with considerable skill, the author then addresses the matter of fusing fireworks. The ground covered is the fusing of candles, shells, and rockets - and electrical fusing. The following section details the designing of a Category 4 display. The concept of a 'show plan' is introduced - and a sample cue sheet provides a graphic illustration of how maximum effect can be achieved. The element of surprise is emphasised.
Turning to designing a pyro-musical, the author provides valuable and much needed advice. If, as a result, less displays are fired to a tinny recording of the 1812 to which they bear no relationship, it has been a useful exercise. Music which is intended to enhance too often detracts. 'A true pyro-musical', the Manual explains, 'uses fireworks to interpret both the mood and the rhythm of the accompaying music, many of these displays make little sense whn watched without the music, as they bear little or no resemblance to a traditional style of display'. The author suggests that, while the selection of the music is the starting point, the operator should advise if it is unsuitable for fireworks, and continues with an outline of the difficulties of firing to live music - and how to deal with them. As elsewhere in the book, the author's experience shows here - considering such matters as keeping back fireworks for an encore, having judged the mood of the audience as to whether they will be needed. They are not matters which which the inexperienced display operator would normally think to plan for!
Mr Adams' willingness to embark upon an explanation of the legislation and sub-legislation governing the packing, labelling, classification, storage, and transportation of fireworks shows that he cannot be counted amongst the ranks of the faint hearted. As he admits: 'the laws and regulations governing.... fireworks are at best a source of constant confusion and at worst almost impossible to make sense of'. But make sense of them he does, if in one section - the table showing compatibility groups and classification codes - the information could have been set out more clearly. As a brief summary of the regulations to which the firework professional must work, this provides an excellent working guide.
The book is completed by a miscellaneous section, beginning with indoor (stage) fireworks. This opens, consistently, with a description of some of the effects available and continues with advice on how to exploit them to maximum effect. Equipment is described - and safety considerations emphasised.
Electrical firing systems are described, with advice on how to select one, and how best to lay out a site utilising the equipment. Methods of testing and calculating resistance are explained. The identification of imported fireworks from their national codes provides useful information, particularly of users of Category 4 material.
If the sections in the 'miscellaneous' part of the book are less well demarcated - sub sections are unnumbered and headed in the same sized type as main sections - the subjects of them are sufficiently disparate to cause little confusion, particularly as a quick reference back to the contents list (where they are numbered) will resolve any difficulty.
Inevitably there are minor omissions; the list of shop goods, for instance, does not include rockets. Detail of shop good storage might have been fuller, with the modes of storage - and the differences between them - explained. And one wonders if more space could have been allocated to mortars - particularly as many readers for whom the Manual is designed will have access to separately sold types - and not be restricted to those supplied in a kit. The Manual advises: 'When selecting a mortar tube, the type of shell should be taken into account, maroon and other report shells should always be fired from cardboard mortars, preferably of the convolute type with above average wall thickness'. However no other type of mortar is described - and the question of whether those made of HDPE, metal or any other material are safe, more suitable, or indeed more dangerous, is not considered.
Each section of the Manual concludes with a checklist - ideal for last minute preparations - and its index is clear, with a random check revealing no errors. A list of contact numbers for advice on regulatory matters might have been useful although not necessarily popular with those whose numbers would have been included. A document list is included it the regulations section (the only place, in a book of this type, where a bibliography is needed).
Unlike similar foreign counterparts the Manual will be of great interest to overseas readers, with only certain parts the regulatory section (since the UN regulations covered are widely applied) inapplicable to their national requirements.
The Manual is crisply presented and spiral bound. One problem with this, rather than loose-leaf format, is its inability to accept amendments. The publisher is aware of the problem and the unusual inclusion of the words, "Edition One" on the title page suggests that updating - particularly to the ever-changing regulations - is intended.
The format is a compromise between the ugliness of metal binders (which would have allowed insertion of new pages) and the total inflexability of perfect binding (impractical - despite being often used - for working manuals). Each explanation is supplemented by a clear diagram and layout is, of necessity, clear.
The author is a highly experienced display operator with a track record with one of the world's leading firework companies. One occasionally feels that this experience causes him to emphasise the larger display. The text of The Fireworks Manual is pitched at a suitable level - never an easy balancing act where readers will have wide differences of knowledge and experience.
The overall conclusion reached by the reviewer is that anyone staging displays - from village bonfire to the larger show - should add it to his, or her, library.

The periodical "Fireworks" can be obtained by contacting;
J.F. Bennett F.L.A.
68, Ridgewood Gardens,
East Sussex,
United Kingdom.
TN40 1TS

Or by contacting the U.S.A. exclusive agent;
Jack Drewes,
HC67-Box 30,
Dingmans Ferry,
PA 18328

The following review appeared in Pyrotechnica XVI. The reviewer was Michael S Swisher.

In the long history of fireworks literature, there are many works with titles similar to that chosen by Jon Adams, for example G. W. Mortimer's Manual of Pyrotechny (1824), J.C. Perrinet-d'Orval's Manuel de l'artificier (1755, 1757), "Practicus's Manual of Pyrotechny (1872), or the numerous editions of the Verghauds' works, published under titles like Nouveau manuel complet de l'atificier almost continuously through the nineteenth century. These works are all handbooks for the fireworks maker describing the various firework pieces, with techniques and compositions for producing them. It would be quite natural to suppose the The Fireworks Manual is a publication of similar character, but also quite wrong.

The reviewer's purely subjective impression, in the absence of any statistics known to him, is that the popularity of public or community fireworks displays has increased substantially in recent years. Whereas in the past, people in smaller towns were content with a few backyard fireworks they shot themselves, and public displays were seen only in larger cities, today the small towns are more likely to have a display. This may be the case in part because of ordinances that forbid the use of backdoor fireworks, and in part because of greater economic prosperity enabling the communities that previously couldn't afford them to have the luxury of displays. Whatever the reasons, one consequence of the rising numbers of public displays is the need for training more display operators. Jon Adams' The Fireworks Manual is a British effort in this direction, but its usefulness is not confined by national boundaries.

The book begins with acknowledgments and an introduction, and quickly moves into a general-information section describing the principles of firework compositions, cases and fuses very briefly, the legal categories into which fireworks are divided under British law, and the various types of fireworks. Enough descriptive detail is provided to enable the display operator to identify the fireworks by type and to understand their construction sufficiently well to know how they function, without, however, giving any information about how actually to construct them. Types of fireworks described include shells, rockets, bombette candles, roman candles small and large, barrages and batteries, fountains and gerbs, mines, wheels and drivers, flares and illuminations, waterfalls, pigeons (line rockets), lancework, portfires, sparklers, helicopters (including both tourbillions and girandolas or crown wheels), and set pieces.

Section Two deals with "Category Three Fireworks," which under British law encompasses articles that in the United States would be considered a mixture of the larger varieties of consumer ("class C" fireworks) and smaller display fireworks, such as shells, rockets, and large-bore candles. Four subsections cover organizing a display; arranging a professional display; self-fired kits (what an American would call an assortment or a "box" or "ship show"); and designing a display from a kit, with advice on getting the most from a kit, and a safety checklist. In this section good basic display practice is set down for smaller displays including fireworks such as 3" display shells and large candles - in other words, material a bit more powerful than American "class C" but not in a category with the larger shells used in bigger public displays.

The community fireworks display using "Category Four Fireworks" is dealt with in Section Three. Category Four fireworks include not only the larger pieces not available to the general public, but also unfinished fireworks, i.e. those that require to be fused together or otherwise assembled by the display operator in order for them to function as intended. This section discusses equipment, procedures for fusing fireworks together, designing a display, and designing a pyro-musical display (including a complete cue sheet, site layout, and list of equipment to fire to the 1812 Overture!). This section affords an interesting contrast between the presumably typical British display practice it represents with the American display practice familiar to this reviewer. The use of rockets is described in detail, with several methods for mass firing. Rockets are, as American pyrotechnists will note, very rarely seen on this side of the Atlantic. Similarly, bombettes (shell candles) and other candles are infrequently used here, and even lancework and setpieces are not as often seen as the all-aerial shell displays. There are also some differences in the way shells are fired from racks, finale chaining practice, and so forth. Nenetheless this is a useful section for any display operator, and gives advice about some projects (e.g. the pyro-musical display) that could be considered quite advanced and difficult to tackle.

Section Four, dealing with "Legislation," covers regulatory matters that will be primarily of importance to the British reader, although here again it is interesting for an American to contrast these details with the rules familiar to him. Section Five, "Miscellaneous," has brief but very useful sections on indoor (stage) fireworks and on electrical firing systems (including methods of firing, selecting a system, electric fuses, site layout, wiring, testing, series and parallel connection, and calculating resistance). A subsection on "Identification of Imported Fireworks" describes German, Spanish, and French labelling codes and their translations. The American reader will find this to be unusual since fireworks imported from the European continent are rarely seen here. Finally there is a section on Japanese shells, describing the three main types. The book concludes with a three page index.

Having been involved with the firing of displays for almost twenty years, the reviewer is prepared to state that there is no substitute for experience. However, experience must begin somewhere, and The Fireworks Manual is not a bad place to begin informing oneself about the concerns and problems one is likely to encounter in organizing a fireworks display. In addition, it contains information that will be of use to the more seasoned operator.

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