Choosing Fireworks: Birthday Ideas

Some suggestions on choosing fireworks for a birthday display.

Letting off fireworks to celebrate a birthday is becoming a lot more popular in the UK. If you haven’t already done so, have a read of the General Advice section to get an overview of things to consider when having a fireworks display. That done, I’ll run through some birthday-specific suggestions below.

What fireworks to choose

It is fully legal to purchase fireworks all year in the UK and you can let them off any day of the year providing you do so by 11pm and in your own garden (i.e. not in the street).

Unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, I recommend keeping birthday displays short and punchy, not unlike New Year’s Eve style displays. This enables you to create quite a spectacular “Happy Birthday” statement without the expense or setting up time required for bigger displays.

In fact, many birthdays are celebrated with just one big cake or barrage. With running times up to a couple of minutes they are more than adequate in terms of time but more importantly you only have to worry about setting up and firing just a single firework. Budget for £50+ for a nice barrage which will last a minute or so, £100+ for something bigger, or “go large” with a compound cake (multiple barrages pre-fused together) which will be even more spectacular and run for a bit longer. You’ll find these listed on firework retailers’ websites under “Cakes”,  “Barrages” or in some cases “Displays in a box”; these are all different terms for the same type of firework. Use their video clips to give you a preview of both the duration and effects.

The photo below, which is a short section from one single big cake, hopefully shows just how spectacular even one firework can be. Noting the firers for scale and also the fanned delivery, do you really need more than this?

Large cake

If you have a little more experience with fireworks or particularly want a longer display then adding additional large barrages according to your budget will, again, help to keep the display as simple as possible to set up and fire.

Doing the above is far more preferable to buying, for example, a selection box with lots of smaller fireworks in. That’s a common mistake for newbies to make because the assumption is that more fireworks for your money is better. For this type of display it’s not: Two minutes of amazing aerial effects from a barrage for £50 (as an example) is better than half an hour of farty little fountains from a selection box for the same price.

If you have to keep it quiet

If the birthday is well away from traditional firework periods (Bonfire Night and NYE in the UK) you might be worried about making a noise. This is particularly important if you’re in a built up area and can’t warn everyone about your fireworks.

Two options to consider here are keeping your display short – see above about using just one or two barrages – or using low noise fireworks. If it’s the latter then my Quiet And Low Noise Displays section will advise further.

I also have a Responsible Fireworks Use guide too if you want more advice on being a good neighbour.

Birthday specific ideas

A barrage or large compound cake as suggested above will make a great display but what if you want something specific to a number, such as 18, 40, 50 and so on? Sadly, consumer fireworks are somewhat limited here because there are no fireworks on the market which would display a number in the air.

One possibility is to buy some custom lancework which is a ground based firework you mount on a timber frame. They are not cheap and availability is limited to bigger firework retailers however and as they’re usually custom-built you will need to order well in advance.

Another suggestion is to buy a barrage with the same number of shots as the birthday you are celebrating. The obvious limitations are that you would need a birthday that matches the shot count and also tell the receipient there’s a shot per year or it will be lost on them! Typical shot counts are 19, 25, 40 and 50. Firing a salvo of rockets works well for smaller numbers.

Finally, why not combine a bit of pyro with the cake and enjoy some numbers? Birthday ice fountains are ideal for this and are surprisingly pokey as shown in the photo below. Musical ice fountains are also available which play Happy Birthday.

Numbered Ice Fountain
An ice fountain with a number on it.

Other birthday firework tips

Sparklers go down well at birthday parties and are not just for Guy Fawkes!

I strongly advise against the temptation to ask guests to bring a firework; nearly everyone will bring a selection box and you will end up with around 500 tiny fireworks which will take hours to light and you’ll soon lose the will to live. Yes I am speaking from experience!

Be mindful that at a lot of parties for adults, quite a lot of alcohol will be flowing. Remember that fireworks are explosives and the person responsible for the pyro should remain sober until the display is safely finished.

When shopping for your fireworks also order some firework lighters, either portfires (pyrotechnic lighting tapers) or a gas powered lighter with a windproof flame. You’ll also need a wooden stake to bang into the ground and attach each barrage to (this and more is covered extensively in the setting up and letting off fireworks sections).

If you’ve been asked to take a firework to a birthday party, put all of your money into a single barrage or a big rocket. Avoid selection boxes which appear to be good value but will contain lots of small fireworks. You should also check beforehand how much space the host has and buy a firework with an appropriate safety distance (8m, 15m, 20m or 25m). Read more about taking fireworks to a party.

Further information

The other Choosing Fireworks sections might also be of help in case your display also falls within the scope of those too.

If you’re a complete beginner and some of the terms used in this page are unclear then head over to the Beginners Start Here! page for a run-through of both fireworks and the extensive guides on my website.

The next step after narrowing down your choice of fireworks is buying them, arguably the most fun part! The Buying Fireworks sections will help you.

Then, it’s time to set up your pyro before firing it. The Setting Up Fireworks and Firing Your Display sections will guide you further.