The Alchemy Guide to Fireworks
We understand that booking a firework display isn’t something that most people do very often. So, booking a display can be quite a daunting prospect, especially if you don’t know the jargon, the legislation or simply the different options offered by various professional firework display companies.
We’ve put together this beginner’s guide to help you understand the options, teach you some firework terms, and guarantee that you get the display that you want. You may also wish to refer to our firework display FAQ page.
Mines consists of a cylinder loaded into a mortar tube. A lifting charge sends the contents of the mine skywards with a thump, creating an effect best described as a column of stars. Most mines contain straight colour stars and have no secondary effect, but some can contain effects units such crossing stars, reports (loud bangs), screechers etc Mines generally range in size from 40mm calibre to 150mm calibre.
Cakes not to be eaten! A cake is a multishot battery or barrage containing a number of prefused effects inside. The number of effects or “shots” normally ranges from 19 to 100 , but sometimes as many as 665 with smaller calibre effects. There are many permutations and combinations of cakes, and they come in many different sizes from 12mm to 50mm. Some cakes even cotain effects of different calibre. Cakes can be in the traditional “straight up” formation, fanned, in V or W shapes, as well more recent styles such as Z-shaped and C-shaped items that depend on precise internal sequential fusing to create fast-firing patterns and “shapes” in the sky. The variety of effects produced by cakes is enormous, from gentle falling leaves, fast-firing comets to crackling crossettes and noisy, colourful bombettes.
(Roman) Candles tend to range from small c14mm candles that will fire 50-70 shots (often referred to as dragons) to 50mm candles that contain 8-10 shots and a variety of (and often multiple) effects. Smaller candles have a faster firing rate (shots per second) but reach a lower height, while larger calibre candles fire fewer (but much bigger) effects over the same sort of duration, normally 25-30 seconds.
Shells aka mortars are the classic round aerial fireworks that many people associate with professional firework displays. All shells are for professional use only and the vast majority in general professional use in the UK nowadays range in diameter from 2″ to 6″, fired from the corresponding size mortar tube As well as the classic spheres of coloured stars there are myriad variations and effects shells, including ever-popular palm trees, willows and hearts to less well known effects such as windbells, cubes and ghost shells.
Set Pieces include static and gound based effects such as wheels, waterfalls, fountains (aka gerbs) and lancework (pictures or messages created using points of light, much like arranging candles into a formation on the top of a birthday cake).
Rockets have a less preditacble flight and behaviour patterns than shells, especially in any wind at all and as such they have almost entirely fallen out of favour with professional display organisers and companies unless they are working on a site with huge safety distances.
There are lots of different pyro effects that can feature in several firework types. Here is a selection:
Aqua FX: Shells, cakes, mines and fountains that are fired onto the surface of a body of water and which produce the effect from there.
Bees: AKA hummers. Creating a humming noise as the units spin rapidly after the shell bursts.
Bombettes: A small shell effect used in cakes and candles, often containing straight colour stars.
Brocade: Contrasting light and dark gold and silver trailing stars, often seen in a soft-breaking willow style effect and popular with show designers as a final hit.
Chrysanthemum: With peonies these are a classic round colour burst effect, but unlike peonies chrysanth stars level either silver or gold spark trails.
Coconut: AKA palm tree. A small number of large bright stars, often silver or gold, that spread wide and fast before a slight droop, suggesting the leaves of a palm tree.
Comet: AKA single star (sometimes with a tail) that has no secondary burst or effect. Comets form the majority of small candles.
Crossette: AKA a splitting star or mosaic star. A comet star that splits (rathen than being spread by a burst) usually into 4 smaller stars. This is a much quieter effect than a bombette and as such crossettes are often acceptable in quiet firework displays.
Crown: A drooping effect due to the large, heavy stars. Similar to a kamuro or willow.
Cylinders: A shell type that allows a variety of inserts to create powerful and unusual effects shells, such as tourbillions, reports, whistles etc. Malta is a leading firework culture for the production and use of cylinder shells.
Dahlia: Similar to a coconut, although slightly softer breaking and hence a little closer to a willow style star pattern.
Dragon Eggs: AKA Timed Rain, this is a dense crackling effect where each star becomes a small crackling ball of sparks.
Falling Leaves: A very soft breaking effect that releases a cluster of slowly spinning, long-lasting, vivid-coloured stars: like “firework flutter-fetti”.
Farfallas: AKA butterflies. Fluffy silver or gold spinning stars, usually in small clusters that are slowly propelled from the burst as they spin and fall.
Fish: Similar to go-getters. Erratic, swirling stars that accelerate away from a gentle burst in all directions, giving the appearance of fiery swimming tadpoles.
Half & Half: As it sounds! half of the shell is one colour, half another. Can have a reversed pistil with the core in contrasting colours.
Kamuro: From the Japanese meaning boy’s haircut this is a semi-soft breaking style that creates a long duration hanging effect similar to a willow or crown.
Parachutes: Stars attached to either one or two parachutes to create long duration hanging chains of either vertical or near-horizontal stars.
Pattern Shells: Finely crafted aerial shell effects including hearts, spirals, smiling faces, cubes, stars, mushrooms.
Peony: The classic simple round aerial colour star shell. There are many variations, including colour-changing and glittering stars.
Pistil: AKA core. A central cluster of small stars that create a small effect at the heart of a larger burst.
Report: AKA salute. A loud bang, either dark or accompanied by a white titanium flash.
Rings: A two-dimensional ring pattern that emerges from a central burst.
Strobe: A star that oscillates between visible and invisible burning to create a stroboscopic “flashing” effect which can vary in speed.
Tail: AKA riser. A rising effect that is common in certain types of effect, eg a palm tree shell will often rise with a thick silver tail to represent the “trunk”. Tails often add definition to angled cake and candle effects.
Tourbillions: AKA spinners or serpents. Inserts that eject sparks (often silver) as they spin. Can be included in a variety of aerial or ground-launched effects.
Whistles: AKA screechers. As it sounds!
Willow: A graceful effect, often soft-breaking with long duration stars that spread, descend slowly leaving a spark trail that hangs in the sky.
Windbells: Similar to falling leaves, these are even longer duration and slower falling thanks to the sycamore-seed style construction of the “stars”.
For more information on planning a safe and spectacular wedding firework display please visit or wedding fireworks FAQ page.
For information on how much a firework display by Alchemy Fireworks costs please see our prices guide page.