Choosing Fireworks: General Advice

Guidance that applies to most displays, before you delve into specific sections.

Planning your display and choosing the right fireworks is an essential part of the process whether you are having a small back garden party or putting on a large public show. This article runs through some general advice that will help you get started before you have a look at the more specific guides in this section.

Table of contents:

Getting started

The articles in this section assume you are already familiar with the various types of fireworks and what they do. If you are not, have a look at the Firework Types section. It is also assumed that you are doing your own firework display; if you are still unsure whether you need to buy your own, or instead employ a professional team to do everything for you, have a look at the DIY or Professional Fireworks? article.

Planning your fireworks display

The fireworks you should use in a display are dependent on what type of display you are doing and who the display is for. In your planning stage you should take into account the following:

The event: What type of firework event is it? What are you celebrating? Your display will be more effective if some (not necessarily all) of it is relevant to the occasion.

The venue: How big is your venue? Can you use Category F2 (8m to 20m) fireworks? Or Category F3 (25m)? Do you have space for debris to fall into? How will you control or marshal the crowd? Big venues (playing fields etc.) with large fall out areas offer the most scope. Smaller venues might restrict the use of certain fireworks. Gardens in built up areas offer the most problems with fall out, for example from large display rockets.

The time and date: Is it a late display? Is it out of season when no one would expect fireworks? A late night display well away from Nov 5th is the worst in terms of the public’s reaction to it. You might need to make sure such a display is very short (or quiet). Guy Fawkes displays offer the best time to display with little constraints on noise and duration on Nov 5th itself.

The budget: How much money do you have for the fireworks? Bigger budgets offer the most flexibility, but have you allowed some budget for safety gear, wooden stakes for your fireworks, clingfilm if required to waterproof them, gaffa tape, portfires or similar to light your pyro and so on? The more fireworks you have, the more supporting materials you will need.

The number of firers: How many firers do you have? Going solo is fine in the back garden. For bigger displays you’re best to get some help. 

Public or private: Will members of the public be present? If so you have extra obligations (and expense) to consider. Insurance is a must and can take out a significant chunk of your budget. You will need to have people in control of the crowd too. Private displays are less restrictive and generally you don’t need display insurance for family events in the back garden.

A well planned public display.

Misconceptions about fireworks

You might have a number of misconceptions regarding firework displays particularly if it is your first time.

You should get as many fireworks as you can for your budget

Wrong. Quality is the issue here, not quantity. Get the best fireworks, and get the best fireworks for your display. Everyone started here too, ending up with an excessive amount of average fireworks rather than a smaller number of the best fireworks. Ten top quality fireworks will thrill the crowd more than twenty average ones. Quality wins over quantity every time.

Your display should last as long as possible

Wrong. It is human nature to feel worried that your five minute display will cost £500 and that means you are burning £100 a minute. It is human nature to then think about stretching this out to last half an hour instead. But in firework terms, a budget of £100+ a minute is very realistic for a near-professional display.

As soon as you start making your fireworks display last too long, the effects thin out, gaps creep in, the crowd gets bored and you’ve achieved much less impact for the same money. 

Back garden displays are the most tolerant to longer durations because of their informal nature. But for most other displays and venues, shorter is better. To even think about 10-15 mins or more, in a big venue, look at a budget of around £1000 plus. Complete packs or kits of fireworks that claim 30 minutes duration are all very well but have you actually stood in the freezing cold for half an hour watching a display that is one firework, then a gap, then another, repeat? It isn’t as much fun as seeing a constant, busy, engaging and loud display fired in half the time. Half the duration = double the impact. If you’re still not convinced then consider why most professional displays are only 5-10 minutes long.

Safety is only important to make sure no-one gets hurt

Wrong. It goes without saying that your aim is to ensure there are no accidents. But this is not the only benefit of a safe display. A safe display means the fireworks are planned, laid out and set up prior to firing. That means your firers can get the right fireworks going at the right time and your display looks better. So always spend part of your budget on essential safety kit.

You are responsible for the safety of your crowd.

Fireworks won’t work in the rain

Wrong. You can easily weatherproof fireworks (and this is recommended anyway to protect from dew as it gets dark) with bin bags or clingfilm. The only thing that rain dampens is the audience’s resolve! Don’t let the fear of bad weather worry you in the planning stages. But make sure you budget for the materials needed.

The safety distance is not important

Wrong. The safety distance on a firework is there for a reason. Observe it. This is not just a safety issue. If there was an incident, no matter how small, and you did not observe the correct safety distance it could have other implications. Insurance cover might be voided for a start.

You should buy lots of big, shiny display rockets

Wrong. There is a place for big rockets if you have the space for them to fall in and they are very good in large venues or to create spectacular aerial effects. But the bulk of your display should be with better value cakes and barrages. A £30 cake might last up to 60 seconds. A £30 rocket will have an effect that will rarely exceed 5 seconds. 

The structure of your fireworks display

How should you start your display? How should you end it? What order should you fire your pyro in? All common questions asked by thousands of firers each year.

But an exact firing order is not as important as you might think. As long as your display has a beginning, rotates effects, has as few gaps as possible and a distinct ending, you’re well on the way. Remember that most of the spectators are fireworks laypeople. They don’t know whether cake A should have been fired before cake B. If you accidentally fire cakes C and D together, so what? The crowd will see a better effect!

If you gave ten experienced firework displayers from my online forum the same list of fireworks and asked them to work out a firing order, you would get ten different lists back! So concentrate on getting the general structure of the display right rather than worry too much about individual items. If you follow the basic rules for the overall display, then there are no right or wrong firing orders.

In general a display can be split into three sections:

The beginning

Many displayers like to sock it to the crowd with a loud opening. A couple of big rockets or a good cake to open the display. This has the advantage of getting everyone’s attention. Others prefer to start quietly and build the display up gradually. Good quiet openers include fountains and strobes. A good way to mix both opening techniques is to start with strobes or fountains then fire some cakes to give an effect overhead. The fountains settle the crowd down and the cakes pack a punch that says “We’re here!”.

The middle

The bulk of your display should be a mix of effects. Rotate your fireworks so that no one section or effect goes on too long. A minute or so of one effect is long enough, then move on to something else. Avoid huge barrages of effects in the middle unless your finale can match or exceed the intensity. Some displayers like to build things up, then have a quiet section, then build it up again. Others prefer to have a steady increase in pace as you near the end.

Include a variety of effects to keep your audience entertained.

The end

This is  arguably the most important part because people will remember a good ending. Generally, most displayers wheel out higher performance fireworks for the end such as fan cakes, dump cakes, big bore cake barrages or larger compound cakes. Big display rockets will also fill the sky. If you can, use several of each firework and add some noisy ones too. The end should really rock. It should be bigger, bolder and louder than any preceding part of your display.

Unless you have a specific reason for doing it, try and avoid the following in a display:

  • Gaps: Big gaps can break the pace, ruin impact and give the audience false signals that the display might have ended. With consumer fireworks, pinpoint timing of fireworks is not possible. So, build in some overlaps with your fireworks. Have the next ones start before the current ones end.
  • Lingering on one effect too long: Attention spans are generally short and even shorter if spectators are cold, have screaming kids, or a warm inviting bar to get back too. Keep effects rotating. Don’t have lots of the same type of effects or fireworks back to back. Mix them up a bit.
  • A thin or weak ending: Your finale must pack a punch. Beware letting off single fireworks with long durations at the same time as shorter ones. The bulk of your finale will end leaving a single firework lingering on its own.

Researching your fireworks: Retailers' online video

As you explore UKFR you’ll find a wealth of general information on consumer fireworks but I don’t usually make specific recommendations or review individual items any longer. This is a reflection of the fact that virtually every good fireworks retailer has extensive online video available showing off their products, so you can see before you buy.

Retailer video is generally known in firework circles as either “Chinese factory video” or “UK landed video”. It’s useful to know the difference:

Chinese factory video is footage filmed in China, usually by the factory making the product or by the UK importer visiting their supplier. You will often hear people speaking in Chinese, crickets chirping or see unusual scenes like fireworks being let off by the roadside (common in China’s fireworks districts). This video is good to get an idea of what the firework’s performance is intended to be, but be advised that in many cases, my Forum members have discovered the final product can be slightly different.

UK-landed footage is filmed either by the retailer, importer or a fellow enthusiast or YouTube vlogger. This is the best footage because it is a video of the final, retail item that has arrived in the UK. You can expect the product, if you buy it, to closely resemble the video, providing it is from the same year of manufacture.

Both types of video are hugely useful of course, just be aware of the limitations of Chinese supplied footage.

Researching your fireworks: Retailer demo nights

Online video is great but what if you wanted to see the fireworks for real, before you buy? You can do that too! A number of the bigger firework retailers hold demo nights once a year, firing pretty much their entire range. These are brilliant nights not only to see fireworks in action but to give you ideas on new products to consider and even in some cases to get extra discount by ordering on the night. You’ll find announcements about demo nights in my Forum, or, most retailers who do these make it obvious on their websites or Facebook pages.

Demo nights are typically held in September when new stock arrives from China. We are starting to see a return to normality after Covid caused cancellations to various events in 2020 and 2021. 

Demo Night Fireworks
A Firework Crazy demo night in Chelmsford, an annual event by this retailer.

Next steps

The guidance above will give you some general things to think about when choosing your fireworks. Now it’s time to look at any specific section here relevant to your display. You can return to the main Choosing Fireworks page or pick an option from the main menu at the top of the page.