The friendly face of amateur pyrotechnics.

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Cruel Site of the Day for December 14th, 1998!


Them as find this funny might care to visit some of my goofier pages at Dan's Data, like for instance How To Destroy Your Computer and How To Spot A Psychopath.


"Nice bomb but it really didn't blow anything up. A jar of gasoline could do more damage. You should try a pipe bomb or even a fertilizer and deisel bomb. Better yet, look up the anarchist cookbook on the net to learn about the real deal" - Robert M. Allen


With this page I join the illustrious brotherhood of people who have presented instructions on making Things That Go Off Whoosh (Or More Often Bang) on the Internet. Here, verily, is one of those pages you see on news reports on why the Internet is corrupting our youth and arming our lunatics and should, therefore, be turned off as soon as possible.

This page, however, is unusual. Here you will learn the essentials of making an improvised firework which, while spectacular, is also both as predictable and as safe as something that blasts a mighty shower of sparks 50 feet into the air can reasonably be expected to be. I have made many of these things. I have been quite close to them when they went off. I have never so much as lost any hair, which is more than I can say about the results of some of my other half-baked pyrotechnic experiments.

Nonetheless, here’s The Disclaimer:


I provide this information for entertainment purposes only. There is a good chance that constructing your own pyrotechnics violates one or more laws where you live. If you construct home-made fireworks of any sort, it’s your own lookout. I solemnly swear that I have made the particular type of firework described here many times and have never injured myself or anyone else, nor looked likely to, but there is still the possibility of HORRIBLE PERSONAL INJURY and SPECTACULAR PROPERTY DAMAGE if one of these things should be set off at the wrong time and/or place. I am making the, perhaps foolish, assumption that people reading this page have a modicum of common sense and do not feel compelled to build any damn fool thing they read about on the Internet and set it off in their bedroom. I am encouraged in this assumption by the fact that potato cannons are not blasting hapless tubers through the windows of any houses in my suburb, and God knows there’s enough plans for THOSE things on the Web.

To recap - I offer no guarantee that these instructions are accurate, and I do not advocate the construction of any pyrotechnic device by people not professionally qualified to do so, and I take no responsibility for injuries or damages that may result from any actions taken by readers of this page.

Now, on with the show.


Sparkler bombs, as everybody I know for some reason calls them, are misnamed. They do not go bang. They go FWOOM. They do this because they are not confined - they’re just a clump of sparkers wired together.

Yes, I do know that if you wrap them in tape or something, they'll go bang. You don't need to e-mail me and tell me.

Anyway, they’re dead simple to make. So let’s begin.

You’ll need quite a lot of ordinary ten inch sparklers, the type you can buy at the supermarket in all right-thinking countries and the only readily available firework you can still purchase in good old over-governed Australia. A little demonstration device can be made with a mere hundred sparklers or so; 500 will give you a goodly whoosh; 1000 is, I’ve found, the break-even point above which you don’t get an increase in the effect that’s worth the extra money. If you’ve bought yourself a Standard Crate of 288 boxes, each containing eight sparklers, you’ve got the fixings for two lovely crowd-pleaser bombs and plenty of handout sparklers to give the drunks something to burn each other with.

The process of extracting sparklers from boxes - "husking" - is relatively slow and quite tedious. It is, however, tolerably interesting the first few times you do it and so you should recruit assistants from the crowd, stand back and supervise. Make sure the sparklers are piled up in an orderly fashion, all pointing in the same direction. Also make sure no dimwit decides to wave lit sparklers near the pile.

You will need two pieces of wire - the binding wires - to hold the bomb together. Any wire with the approximate characteristics of the wire in the middle of the sparklers will be fine; the usual strategy is to grab a half-dozen sparklers and burn them at a safe distance from the husking operation, wait for them to cool a bit, thump them on a handy rock to dislodge the ash, and twist their ends together so you get a pair of triple-length wires. Getting hit in the eye by bits of hot flying ash because you thumped too hard is optional.

During the husking process, PUT ASIDE A SPARKLER. This sparkler will be the fuse. You have to have a fuse. If you do not know why you have to have a fuse, please stop reading now and go away, for your own safety. If you do not put aside a sparkler, you will have to pull one out of the assembled bomb, and this will annoy you.

Now for the tricky bit. Sparkler bombs should be tightly packed to maximise the chain reaction of ignition, and this means getting all of the husked sparklers together into a cylindrical bundle, on top of the wires. If you’re only doing a small bomb this is a trivial task, as you can gather all of the sparklers together in one or at most two hands. If you’re doing an utterly titanic bomb, serious engineering ingenuity, sheets of newspaper, lots of friends and considerable profanity will be called for. I care not about your problems.

The aim of the exercise is to get the abovementioned tight cylindrical bundle, with one fixing wire cinched around about an inch down from the top of the business end of the bundle - from now on referred to as the top; the bomb-to-be is presently lying down - and the other one just below the base of the burning stuff (as we professionals call it). The lower wire will want to distort the bundle into a cone open at the top, and it will also want to slide down to the bottom of the bundle. To avoid these two problems, make sure you fix the top wire first, and bend out a couple of wires from the bottom of the bundle to push the bottom wire upwards after you cinch it, the bottom wire, down.

Now for the painful bit. Invert the wired bundle, so the bare wires of the base are all pointing up. Bend all of these wires outwards, to make a plinth on which the bomb can stand. This is uncomfortable for those of us without thick calluses on our fingers, but no blood should be drawn. If you intend to set the bomb off somewhere where you can just stab it into soft earth or sand, you may omit this step.

Once the plinth is formed, flip the bomb the right way up, insert the fuse sparkler in the middle of the top so that a couple of inches stick out, show the bomb to the crowd and set off for the firing zone. The qualities a firing zone should have are as follows:

 

  1. No groundcover you’re very attached to. The bomb will scorch a circle about a foot across on the ground, so it is impolite to set one off on, say, the local putting green. The bomb will also leave an indelible white blast-mark on non-flammable surfaces, so don't set one off on priceless mosaic tiling.
  2. No overhanging trees, power wires or anything else. Make no assumptions about the height the spark blast will reach. If there’s something between ground zero and the sky within a 20 foot radius, find a new site.
  3. Nothing nearby that can’t stand a falling spark or two. Most of the sparks go out before they make it back down to the ground, but not all do. Priceless Lamborghinis, high-strung Chihuahuas and piles of dry leaves should not be in the area. It is also quite possible for a spark to fall into the eye of a too-close spectator, so keep ‘em back. If a breeze is blowing, it will blow the sparks; bear this in mind and stand upwind.
  4. No law-abiding neighbours who will get prodigiously alarmed and call out the National Guard when a Bloody Great Tower Of Flame erupts outside their bedroom window. This is not an unreasonable response. If you’re doing Weird Things, have the decency to do them in unpopulated areas where there’s nothing of value. This makes it much harder for anybody to complain.

 

Light the fuse. Amble away - with a couple of inches of fuse sticking out, you’ve got plenty of time. With experience you’ll be able to judge the appropriate distance; if this is your first sparkler bomb, you and everybody else should be well, well, back. Don’t worry. It’ll be spectacular from any distance.

Now the standard sparkler bomb ignition sequence will occur:

1. The fuse will burn right down to the level of the sparklers.

2. Some turkey will say "It’s not going to go off!"

3. After a short delay determined by how well you packed the sparklers, it will go off, and a large number of sparklers that would each burn for a couple of minutes will be consumed by the very fires of Hell in about one and a half seconds.

4. One and a half seconds later, the crowd will emit various whoops and whistles.

The remnants of the sparkler bomb are not without their amusement potential. Right after the burn’s over, the clump of wire is best described as BLOODY HOT, and will be glowing white at its core. If a brave soul with durable shoes kicks it, it will emit an amusing shower of sparks and splay out into a sort of red hot hedgehog, which when cool the next morning is a very difficult object to identify. Various items can be dropped into a spent bomb and will burn, melt or pop according to their nature. If you set the bomb off on an asphalt surface, it will be soft enough for you to do a Tony Grieg impression and stab a car key into the road.

Beer poured on the glowing remnants of a sparkler bomb will produce an unpleasant cloud of steam. Urine deposited on the glowing remnants will produce a cloud of steam that makes beer steam seem like Chanel No. 5. It is up to you to stop drunks pissing on the sparkler bomb, if that’s what your circle of friends runs to.


Enhancing The Bomb

The best rule of thumb is - don’t. I’ve experimented with bombs held together with string at the top instead of wire (less vertical blast, but an interesting whoomp as the string let go). I’ve tried bombs so gigantic I could barely lift them (naturally, I therefore made someone else carry them), constructed from the huge 28 inch sparklers that you should really just use as handouts for the crowd. I’ve seen ziggurats, and totem poles, and bombs lit from the bottom instead of the top. Forget ‘em. They’re not as good as the base model, and generally cost more.

Putting sacrificial items on the top of the bomb is a crowd-pleaser. Use your judgement and only sacrifice things you’d confidently toss into a fireplace.

Other enhancements, of the "Hey! Let’s build a can of fly spray into the middle of the bomb!" variety, are likely to result in natural selection.


Check one out

Click here to see a sequence of video grabs from the ignition of a large sparkler bomb, which greatly enlivened a friend's 22nd birthday party.


Related stupidity

In my foolish youth, sparklers were not the only things I blew up. Check out a mate's page on other improvised pyrotechnics here.


Incidentally, I have another site, Dan's Data. Feel free to visit it.


I'm SURE you can find something to say to me about THIS. Email me!


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Copyright Daniel Rutter, 1997. Last edited 19/10/06.