Hand Firing vs. Remote Firing

A comparison of each method of firing a fireworks display.

Beginners often think that firing your pyro remotely using an electronic firing system is the next step up the fireworks ladder to improve their displays. However the truth is, remote firing doesn’t necessarily offer any advantages in terms of the show’s impact or fluidity and can add both additional expense and complexity to setting up. In this article I’ll explore this more.

Main features and costs of hand firing

The principle feature of hand firing is that it’s simple. You set the fireworks up, which usually involves securing them from falling over and waterproofing them if necessary. And that’s it until show time. At the appropriate time you uncover the fuse and light it, something which is actually very easy if you’re using the right equipment such as a portfire or blow torch. There’s no connecting of igniters, no wiring, no continuity checks, no worrying about batteries or keeping equipment dry.

Hand firing is relatively cheap. Costs would be for a good quality blow torch and gas (£40-£80) or portfires (one-off lighters that burn for around 3 minutes) at around £1 each.

It is perfectly possible to fire multiple fireworks by hand if you set them up appropriately or have more than one firer.

Hand firing
The thrill and excitement of being amongst the fireworks hand lighting them.

Main features and costs of remote firing

With a remote firing system you will need to spend time connecting an igniter to each firework and that in turn to the firing system or module. You’ll need to ensure your firing system is charged up or has fresh batteries and perform a continuity check before firing and deal with any problems. There is, therefore, a lot more work involved during the setting up.

However at the firing time it really is much simpler since you’re just pressing buttons to light the fuse on each firework.

Whilst I do not consider hand firing dangerous if you follow all the relevant safety advice (such as never putting any part of your body over a firework), nonetheless remote firing does remove you completely from the firing zone so has to be considered safer.

Remote firing can be useful in cases where hand firing would be impractical, such as fireworks mounted in awkward positions (e.g. high mounted wheels) or where the number of fireworks you want to light at once exceeds the capacity of your firers, say a line of blinkers or candles, or items on different sides of your display.

Costs for remote firing can be considerable. Four cue systems start from around £20-£30 with 12+ cues – usually just three 4 cue systems bundled together with a 12 button remote – costing from around £60-£100, so if you have a lot of fireworks you may not have enough cues available to fire your show unless you spend considerable amounts of money on bigger firing systems. At the time of writing (mid-2021) the most cues I’ve come across on a consumer system at a reasonable cost is the phone-controlled IGNITE system, which has 18 cues for £180. I have a 30 minute video all about it which you can watch here on YouTube.

You will also have additional costs per firework for igniters (say 30p each for consumer e-matches and up to 70p each for proprietary IGNITE connectors), any extension wire you use, plus the connectors to link additional wire. Add in the cost of batteries too for the cheaper systems, with a non-rechargeable firing system you ideally need a fresh set per show.

Remote firing
Firing remotely from a safe distance.

What remote firing cannot do

The main expectations from beginners when it comes to remote firing are:

You can fire your fireworks instantly, for example to music. Sadly, this just isn’t possible at the consumer end of things. You need to view remote firing as a way to remotely light the fuse on the firework instead of standing there with a flame. There will still be a delay of a few seconds after you press the button and the fuse burns down. Yes, I am aware that you can remove the safety fuse and push an igniter directly into the firework but this advanced – and potentially dangerous – fusing technique is absolutely not suitable for beginners.

You can remotely fire dozens of fireworks. Unfortunately, when you start to shop for firing systems you will see that basic (i.e. cheap) systems only have 4 cues! It can cost £100+ for 12 cues or more. If you have many dozens of fireworks you will need an even more expensive firing system, or to buy multiple smaller units.

So which is better?

I know many firework enthusiasts who swear by hand firing. They love the buzz from being up close and personal in the firing area, the sounds, the smoke and above all the ease and simplicity of lighting by hand. No fancy electronics to go wrong and no additional expenses.

But I also know many who wouldn’t do it any other way than by pressing a button! The additional expense and time required for them is more than justified by the simplicity and safety of firing by button press.

So really this has to be a decision you make yourself based on your own preferences, the number of fireworks you have, the type of show and what you are wanting to achieve. Really the main thing to bear in mind is that if you go down the remote firing route you will incur quite a lot of additional expense and will need to factor in additional time when setting up.

The one point I would make is that if you’re a complete beginner and have not fired a show yet, trying to set up and fire electronically or remotely is a lot of expense and effort to ask for your first few shows. Getting used to lighting fireworks by hand will get you used to the sights and sounds of fireworks, skills you would need at some point anyway if remote firing when something goes wrong and you have to hand light. So perhaps get a few shows under your belt before considering using a firing system.