Fireworks Glossary

Firework terms explained part 1: A through to M

Jump to part 2: N through to Z.

1.3G / 1.4G

A firework’s hazard classification which has implications on performance, storage and transport. Read more.

ADR

The provisions which came into effect on 1st January 2003 concerning the international carriage of dangerous goods (including fireworks). In layman’s terms the amount of fireworks you can carry in a vehicle is limited by their type, the vehicle, and whether the driver has been formally trained to transport them. The restrictions mainly apply to professional (commercial) displayers and their fireworks.

Aerial shell

Typically the Category F4 firework used only by professionals. An aerial effect enclosed in a paper or card “shell” and launched from a mortar tube by a lifting charge (also contained in the shell). Effects vary from plain bangs (maroons) to expansive and pretty colours or multiple effects. Responsible for most of the quality aerial effects seen in a professional display. Read more.

Airbomb

Any shell effect launched from a firework that bangs, normally loudly. Also the general name given to the small tubular fireworks that launch this effect, formerly a common firework in garden displays capable of quite a loud bang and sometimes with a glowing star effect on ascension. Now a banned firework when sold as single tubes. Read more.

Airbomb barrage

Multiple airbombs fused together into one firework, the advantage being you only light one fuse to let the barrage off and it normally works out cheaper “per bang” than buying singly.

Aqua shell

A professional shell designed to be launched across a body of water such as a lake or the sea and explode its effect just above the surface.

Ball rocket

Popular style of rocket which mimics an aerial shell “on a stick”. Generally, but not always, gives a bigger and louder effect than a standard plastic head rocket.

Bang

What many fireworks do. The technical term for a bang in firework circles is “report”. In consumer fireworks there is a noise limit of 120db.

Banger

Now banned, a small tubular firework that simply banged, in effect an airbomb that stayed on the ground. Today, any firework that bangs is quite often erroneously described as a “banger” by the press or public who are unaware of the various correct firework terms. More info.

Barrage

A continual and concentrated assault of firework effects, or the general name given to a firework that launches such an effect. Also another name for a cake.

Battery

Several fireworks (e.g. candles) fused together for added effect, with a single fuse to light.

Bees

A swarm or cluster of sparks or stars that move and dissipate under their own power. Similar to fish, but less vigorous and generally less persistent.

Bengal Flare

Another name for a ground-based flare.

BFA / British Fireworks Association

An association of UK firework companies who import fireworks working together to address problems concerning noise, illegal fireworks and so on, and to promote the safer use of fireworks.

Blinker

A small ground based firework that strobes (flashes). Sometimes called a Bengal blinker.

Blockbuster

A popular and long-running quiz show from the eighties: “I’ll have a P please Bob”. Also a shell effect candle by Vulcan which became the standard against which most 28-30mm candles have been judged in the noughties. Largely superceeded in recent years by better and cheaper alternatives in cakes.

Blossom

A pretty or colourful effect likened to a flower, or an effect that opens up and expands, like a flower blossoming.

Bombette

A shell effect within a cake or candle, launched by a lifting charge. Can contain a variety of effects.

Bonfire Night

November 5th in the UK. Also known as Guy Fawkes’ Night. The vast majority of fireworks in the UK are let off on this night, though actual firework use is usually spread out from the weekend before to the weekend after. On the 5th (and only the 5th) you can let fireworks off until midnight instead of the usual 11pm.

Bonfire Society

Traditional English society which organises bonfires, displays and meetings. Many do this for charitable reasons.

Bore

The internal diameter of a firework tube, this determines the size of the effects or shells contained within. Generally, a wider bore means a more powerful effect, e.g. a 30mm candle will usually be more powerful than a 14mm candle.

BPA / British Pyrotechnists Association

A trade body that represents professional firework display companies in the UK. Also oversees the training of professional firers through their BPA Level 1 and 2 schemes.

Break

The technical term for the point at which a shot explodes into its effect.

BS7114

British Standards BS7114 is the legal standard to which fireworks sold to the public in this country had to conform before being replaced with the current CE standard. BS7114 governed various aspects of the firework such as the minimum length of fuse, debris range and so on.

BS EN 15947

The European standards which replaced British Standards for fireworks (see above). All fireworks on sale must comply with BS EN 15947 and carry a “CE” mark and type approval number. The EN part of the number refers to the technical standards the firework must conform to and the BS part refers to the fact that it has UK-specific elements. For example, many CE approved fireworks on sale in the EU are not legal to sell in the UK despite carrying a CE mark. It is a legal requirement to display the CE symbol and type approval on the firework however stating the firework complies with BS EN 15947 is optional (it is assumed it does from the other information).

Brocade

Common term that describes an effect like a peony, in other words an expanding sphere of stars, the brocade having more persistence. In the case of gold, it is similar to willow, palm and kamuro effects.

Butterfly

An effect which sees two cones of effects eject in opposite directions, creating a symmetrical butterfly effect.

Cake

A multishot firework in which the effects or shells are placed in tubes so they are aligned in a horizontal plane (rather than stacked vertically as in a candle). For example, a typical 8 shot cake would have eight tubes each with one shell in, but a typical 8 shot candle would consist of one tube, with eight shells stacked vertically. Also known as barrages and repeaters. More info.

Candle

A firework consisting of a shell or effect in a card tube. A lifting charge propels the effect into the air. The common name for these is “roman candle”. Today’s candles can have many shots stacked on top of each other and candle batteries (several candles taped together and linked by a fuse) can create a devastating barrage. A battery of single shot candles, if packaged as a whole, is normally called a cake. Virtually all multishot fireworks today are either candles or cakes. More info.

Category F1/F2/F3/F4

CE conforming fireworks in the UK are given one of these classifications. Category F1 fireworks are indoor or close proximity items. Category F2 and F3 fireworks are for use by consumers outdoors and spectators must be at least 8m away (and up to 25m for F3).  Category F4 fireworks are for professionals only. More info.

Catherine wheel

See “Wheel”.

CE

The EU safety classifications and legislation that items on sale to consumers need to conform to. With fireworks, items have to go through multiple tests to ensure they are safe for consumer use. CE fireworks replaced the old British Standards (BS) some years ago. The long term implications of Brexit on UK fireworks is still unknown. See BS EN 15947 above, and Category F1/F2/F3/F4.

Cherry bomb

The American equivalent of our old garden banger, but shaped like a cherry. 

Chinese crackers

A number (typically 100, 250, 500 and so on) of small bangers strung together and connected by a rapid burning fuse, which when lit, creates a chain reaction of bangs. A potentially dangerous firework due to its erratic nature which is now banned from sale to the public in the UK. Still widely seen on the Continent during festivals and street celebrations, these can create huge amounts of litter and were one of the hardest fireworks to tidy up afterwards. More info.

Chinese lanterns

Large balloons made from flame retardant paper with a wick on the bottom. This is lit and fills the lantern with hot air and it eventually lifts off. Completely silent and very pretty. Probably the cause of 99% of UFO reports in the last few years. And still legal. More info.

Chinese New Year

This falls on a different date each year and in the UK on this night you are allowed to let fireworks off until 1am instead of the usual 11pm curfew.

Cold fallout

Fallout or debris that is not burning or hot. Indoor fireworks such as ice fountains have cold fallout.

Comet

A star or other projectile which leaves a glittering, persistent trail behind it.

Compound cake

Multiple cakes fused together (to be fired from just one fuse) are known as compound or link cakes. This anomaly in fireworks classification allows some very large cakes and barrages to be created using multiple (typically four) internal cakes which collectively contains more than the 500g or 1kg limits for consumer cakes. More info.

Confetti cannon

A tube that fires confetti, streamers or other materials. Various types are available, the common ones being one shot compressed air powered cannons which you activate by pulling a string or twisting the base.

Conic fountain

A traditional type of fountain shaped like a cone. More info.

Consumer e-match

A type of igniter intended to be used with electronic firing systems. Comprises of an e-match with a special shroud through which the fuse on a consumer firework can be threaded.

Consumer fireworks

The term used to describe fireworks available to the UK public to purchase and fire.

Crackle

A sound effect from a firework created by many small bangs or snaps.

Crackling comet

A comet that leaves behind a tail of crackling effects rather than just quiet glitter.

Crossette

A single star or comet effect that splits in the sky into multiple distinct stars, usually four to make a cross shape. A beautiful low noise effect.

Cue

On an electrical firing system, each specific outgoing output to an igniter is called a cue. See also firing system. Read more.

Damp squib

A firework that fails to ignite or explode.

Diwali

The Hindu festival of lights, this falls on a different date each year and in the UK on this night you are allowed to let fireworks off until 1am instead of the usual 11pm curfew.

DIY fireworks

A term to denote fireworks which consumers would buy and let off themselves (rather than professional services provided by a third party).

DIY kit

Selections of fireworks sold in packs – intended to be a complete display – are often called DIY kits or DIY packs.

Double break

A firework or shell that has two, rather than one, effects. Also a rocket that bursts twice with two different effects.

Dragon's eggs

A very pretty effect whose exact characteristics seem open to interpretation, in general a gold or silver breaking effect that seems to disappear then bursts to life in a sphere of crackles or strobes.

DTR

In relation to ADR, DTR refers to the training required by drivers of vehicles transporting dangerous goods including fireworks. ADR specifies limits of fireworks above which driver training is required.

Dud

A firework that hasn’t worked. Bummer!

Dump cake

Dump cakes fire all of their shots at once to create a single, one-hit and extremely intense effect, like a mine. Great for finale sequences.

EIG / Explosives Industry Group

A UK organisation that “exists to represent and inform its members on all topics of explosive legislation in the UK”.

Ejects stars and ejects bangs

Common descriptions on the labels of older fireworks under the now defunct British Standards classifications. If a firework only says “Ejects stars” it is likely to be fairly quiet, whereas “Ejects bangs” is likely to be noisier.

Electrical firing /electrical ignition

This is where you ignite your fireworks remotely using a firing system, either cabled or wirelessly. Widely used by professionals and increasingly popular with consumers. Each firework has to be prepped with an igniter for this purpose. Read more.

E-match

A type of electrical igniter mostly used by professionals. Consumer e-matches and Talon clips are available for consumers.

Ember

A burning piece of casing or paper from a firework. Most embers go out before reaching the ground but those that do not can pose a hazard to spectators, other fireworks or firers.

Fallout

What comes down after a firework has finished. In most cases just card casing and paper, but display rockets can come down complete with stick, motor and some of the casing.

Falling leaves

A beautiful low noise aerial effect where clouds of stars drift slowly down towards the ground.

Fan cake

A cake or barrage where some or all of the tubes are angled. When fired, the shots shoot up at those angles to spread the effects around in the sky. Read more.

Finale

The end of your display. Usually bigger and louder than any preceding section.

Fireworks Code

Very basic summary of safe firework usage tips, issued by a department of the UK government (usually the DTI) or a trade body. It’s better than nothing, but no substitute for reading the extensive guides here, for example.

Firing system

Device used to set off fireworks remotely by pressing buttons for each firework, using pre-designed scripts, or full computer control. Previously the preserve of professionals, smaller systems are becoming increasingly popular with consumers. Read more.

Fish

A very pretty low noise aerial effect where a cloud of stars or embers “wriggles” away like little fish.

Flash powder

A more potent variety of standard gunpowder (usually due to the addition of a metal powder) which can help a firework burst louder and bigger. Consumer fireworks are subject to strict limits on the amount of flash powder they contain; some are classified as the more hazardous 1.3G as a result of containing this.

Flowerpot

This is where an aerial shell in a professional display explodes in its tube instead of in the air, creating an effect from the ground upwards whose shape can resemble a plant or flower.

Flying saucer

A device made from gerbs or motors mounted in a circular fashion which create lift and spin – a flying wheel in effect (professional device).

Fountain

A static firework that creates a vertical column of sparks in a fountain effect, usually set up on the ground.  More info.

Fuse

Either 1. The part of a consumer firework that you light (typically green visco fuse) or 2. Fuse purchased separately in order to connect multiple fireworks together. More info.

Fuse cover / protector

The fuses on consumer fireworks are protected by a cover. This will either be a sticker which you peel off, a sleeve which you pull off, or a plastic cap which you remove. Most are brightly coloured to be easily visible.

Gerb

The technical term for a fountain and usually used to describe professional fountains which have more specific effects or durations than consumer ones.

Glow products

Often used as fundraisers at firework events, these are glow in the dark novelties (necklaces, sticks etc.) and are non-pyrotechnic items.

Goodbye / Goodnight

Traditional lancework effects to mark the end of your display. Read more.

Gunpowder

The pyrotechnic component of most fireworks and what makes it all possible!

Guy Fawkes

He tried to blow up the Houses Of Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot (an act almost repeated in the Poll Tax rebellion) and is the UK’s excuse to let off fireworks on November 5th, a date also known as Bonfire Night.

Heart effect

As the name suggests, a firework burst in the shape of a heart. Usually a professional effect (in an aerial shell) although occasionally available in a consumer rocket.

Hummer

A firework effect that makes a “humming” noise. Higher pitched hummers sound like screeches or whistles, low pitched ones like bees. Also someone who smells bad!

Ice fountain

A pretty indoor fountain that emits silver sparks up to about a foot high and is usually used on cakes. Read more.

Igniter

Used to start a firework remotely, using an electronic firing system. Types of igniter include e-matches, consumer e-matches and Talon clips. Read more.

Indoor firework

A firework intended for indoor use, usually a sparkler, ice fountain or an item from an indoor fireworks pack. Read more.

Industrial firework

A term used almost exclusively by the press to describe a professional or Category F4 firework. It is not a term used within the fireworks industry. Read more.

Jumping Jack

An old firework – no longer available in the UK – which as the name suggests, jumped around erratically. More info.

Lancework

Words or phrases (such as “GOODNIGHT”) made up from lots of small fountains, mounted on a wooden frame. More info.

Lifting charge

Part of a firework that launches a projectile or shell into the air. In candles and cakes it’s a small powder charge in the tube, in aerial shells it’s part of the shell itself. Rockets don’t have a lifting charge, they have a motor.

Link cake

See compound cake.

Low noise firework

A firework that emits less sound than normal but a subjective term since low noise can simply mean no bangs but still containing crackles and whistles. Or it can refer to a firework that’s near-silent in operation. Read more.

Maroon

A very loud bang typically created by a maroon shell (e.g. at large professional displays) or maroon rockets. Professional maroons from aerial shells can be heard many miles away.

Mine

A firework in which the entire contents are ignited at the same time, and eject upwards from a card tube. Some mines start with a fountain. Can create sudden and intense effects, but are short-lived. More info.

Mini-rocket

A small screeching rocket that was banned for having “erratic flight”. Legal small rockets differ only by being slightly larger and more stable in flight. Read more.

Motor

The part of a rocket that burns to give it lift. Comprises normally of solid fuel propellant and can accelerate the rocket to speeds of several hundred miles and hour in some cases. Can include chemicals to give a silver or coloured tail.

Jump to part 2: N through to Z.