A look at better alternatives for lighting your fireworks.
In this article I discuss why firework tapers are actually one of the worst ways to attempt to light fireworks, before suggesting alternatives that are much better and still budget-friendly.
Watch the video
You can watch my video which shows tapers in action along with my firework lighting advice below. You can also scroll down for the rest of the written article.
The trouble with tapers
Over the years tapers have become synonymous with lighting fireworks, so it’s no surprise they’re the number one item enquired about by the public when it comes to setting pyro off. Unfortunately, their capabilities do not match their popularity and in my experience they’re actually one of the worst ways to light fireworks.
I’m guessing here this has a lot to do with modern fuses – which are coated on the ends with a dab of paint to protect the internal powder – as opposed to the old blue touch paper, which might have been easier to light with a glowing taper.
The issues with tapers can be summed up as follows:
- They do not have a strong flame, relying instead on a glowing ember at the end.
- They’re long and flimsy, so at arm’s length can wobble a lot, making contact with small fuses harder.
- They’re not weatherproof; a small amount of damp can kill them off quickly.
- The very small glowing end requires an accuracy that’s hard at arm’s length.
- They’re widely given away free by firework retailers, adding to the perception they’re a good way to light fireworks.
The last point is interesting: I’m pretty sure that if every retailer who gives away tapers to customers were to try and fire their own professional shows with them, a lot less tapers would be given out!
The exception to prove the rule!
I have to admit that when I grabbed a packet of tapers in order to make the video above, the expectation was they’d be as rubbish as all the previous ones I’d used over the last twenty years of firing. However, I have to admit, the Trafalgar Fireworks “Firework Safety Lighters” were actually pretty good.
The first difference with these tapers is the thickness of them. Rather than being a very thin and shaky joss stick style lighter, these ones are pretty thick. This makes them easier to keep still when lighting your fuses.
The second difference is the glowing end on these is quite big, so it’s easier to get a fuse to light.
They also lasted well over 90 minutes, though I should draw your attention to them being stubborn to light. You really do need to keep a flame (say from a normal gas lighter) focused on the end of these for some minutes. But once they’re glowing, they burn well without going out.
So credit where credit is due, out of all the dire tapers I’ve used, Trafalgar’s (pictured above) are fairly reasonable.
Whilst the Trafalgar taper was a rare good performer in its field, this should not be taken as an endorsement to use tapers to light fireworks, since far better alternatives are available and these are discussed below.
Better alternatives for lighting fireworks
There are many better alternatives for lighting fireworks. These all have one thing in common: A significant flame. The benefits of an actual flame cannot be overstated; instead of requiring pinpoint accuracy with your taper, you merely need to get the flame roughly in the right place. This makes lighting fuses almost instant, vastly improving safety.
The first recommendation is a firework lighter known as a portfire. These long and thin tubes contain a pyrotechnic powder which, when lit, burns with a hot, intense and windproof flame for around 3-4 minutes per portfire. They can be held in gloved hands, are widely available from all good firework shops and are relatively cheap at about £1 a portfire.
If there’s a drawback with portfires it’s the always-on flame, which you cannot extinguish once lit. In some cases this can be a drawback, for example, with selection boxes containing lots of fireworks you’re taking out to light one at a time. You’d need a lot of portfires to cover a longer display and in any case having an intense flame always burning away is not safe to keep around fireworks which haven’t been set up yet.
So the next recommendation is a good quality windproof gas lighter. The critical thing here is that it’s windproof and uses an intense blue flame rather than a gentle yellow flame; the latter are only suitable for lighting candles or gas hobs indoors.
Many firework shops now sell windproof lighters – often for under £5 – and these are generally fine. One tip with the cheaper lighters is to always light fuses side-on (at right angles) so the sparks and soot from the fuse does not flare into the end of the lighter. This can kill cheaper lighters quickly as it coats the piezoelectric electrodes and prevents ignition.
From there, I cannot recommend better quality gas lighters highly enough. This does not require a massive investment either, with some great lighters selling for around £8-£15 on Amazon. For more help here, take a look at my Gas Lighters Tested video where I try three different lighters and find the TBTEEK chef’s lighter to be a clear winner.
If money is no object then the Rothenberger Super Fire 2 blow torch is considered one of the best.
Things not to use for lighting fireworks
Whilst on the subject, a quick reminder of some things that are not very good for lighting fireworks.
Standard disposable lighters (for example from the local shop or garage) that have a yellow flame are terrible for lighting pyro. Aside from the lack of windproof flame, the flint from these is so close to the flame that you’ll most likely burn your thumb when the fuse ignites. Plus, you can’t use them in gloved hands.
I also found that USB arc lighters aren’t very good for lighting fireworks despite claims on their Amazon product listings. The arc is too small and localised to make use at arm’s length easy. You can read more about this and watch a video of these on test in my USB arc lighters for fireworks article.
Where possible, avoid using tapers to light your fireworks. Despite their popularity, most tapers are poor quality and their flimsy design makes lighting small fuses at arm’s length difficult at the best of times.
Instead, the small investment in a good quality windproof gas lighter will pay dividends. Many firework shops sell suitable gas lighters for under £5. There are also very good gas lighters available from Amazon for under £10.
Portfires – pyrotechnic lighters that burn for around 4 minutes each – are also a significant step up from tapers and are suitable for any display where your fireworks are set up in advance.
If you must use a taper, for example if you’re on a very tight budget, try and source a good quality example such as the Trafalgar taper featured above.