Choosing Fireworks: Larger & Public Displays

Advice when your display is to a much bigger, or public, audience.

Which fireworks to focus on

Starting with the fireworks, bigger events by their nature demand bigger fireworks. In recent years cakes and barrages have grown in size thanks to compound cakes (multiple items fused together) and pyromesh which allows for more powerful barrages to be sold to consumers. So it has never been easier to fire off some spectacular pyro using consumer fireworks.

My first advice when it comes to firework choice is to avoid the temptation with bigger budgets to buy lots of fireworks. More fireworks for any given budget means smaller items and this can be counterproductive. It can also increase setting up time enormously not to mention overcomplicate the firing. Keep it simple with a smaller number of big fireworks.

Try also not to make your display too long. 10-20 minutes is fine for a bigger display. Shorter times allow for more concentrated firing and your display will look better. It’s hard to push beyond 20 minutes and keep it interesting unless you have a very large budget.

Bigger displays with consumer fireworks are perfectly possible but will require the use of larger items and multiple firing.

Let’s take a look at each firework type in turn (and if you’re unfamiliar with any of these, check out my Firework Types help section):

Cakes and barrages: The only thing to avoid here really is lots of very small barrages which will just pad out your display for the sake of it and make setting up longer. Otherwise pretty much any cake or barrage is useful in a larger display. Bear in mind that smaller Category F2 fireworks can contain similar effects to the bigger F3 fireworks, just with less shots, so don’t limit yourself to F3 only. Smaller fireworks can, for example, be fired in multiples or from different parts of your firing area. Going up in size, bigger barrages top out at £150-ish or so and from there compound cakes take over. The latter are incredibly easy to set up. Note that, in terms of effects, a compound cake is no different than setting off several individually bought barrages one after the other, but it’s easier.

Don’t worry too much with cakes about only buying 1.3G items or fireworks in pyromesh. Although they can be more powerful than 1.4G fireworks, in most cakes there isn’t a huge amount of difference and the vast majority of big displays with consumer fireworks contain a mixture of both classifications. See my 1.3G or 1.4G fireworks? article for further guidance.

Candles: These are well suited to quieter interludes in a big display, however, I recommend firing in multiples and in V formations.

Fountains: Not as useful in a larger display because the only people who will get a good view are the front row! If possible, mount any fountains high up on posts. But generally I wouldn’t bother.

Mines and dump cakes: Great for high impact sections and your finale.

Rockets: Avoid smaller 1.4G rockets at all costs for bigger displays. Stick to 1.3G rockets as these are the only rockets that will make an impact in a large space. Rockets can drain a lot of your budget and add next to no running time so don’t overdo them. That said, the larger £20+ big Category F3 rockets look stunning in a big venue and multiples of these fired together can elevate your finale to near professional levels. If you are looking for smaller rockets to pad out sections of your display then most enthusiasts highly rate any variant of the “War Hawk” rocket (your fireworks supplier will know what this type of rocket is).

Wheels: As with fountains, probably one to avoid for bigger displays.

Useful information: The hidden costs of big displays

Fireworks are not the only cost to consider. Each firework will need securing (and ideally waterproofing) so budget for wooden stakes, bags, tape and the tools needed for setting up. Do you need to rope off the fireworks or spectator areas? Do you need training or insurance (see below)? All of these – and more – extra costs can easily add many hundreds of pounds to your expenditure. This is why, in many cases, calling in the professionals makes more sense.

Displays to music

Although many of my Fireworks Forum members do displays to music, it’s widely considered quite a difficult task to pull off with consumer fireworks. This is because the delay fuses add an element of uncertainty to each firework’s start time. Musical displays really need precision timing and this is the preserve of professionals who use instant ignition fireworks and electronic firing systems. The best you can hope for with consumer fireworks (unless you start using electrical ignition and being creative with fusing, which is outside of the scope of this article) is general timing, that is to say, your fireworks will roughly go along with the music. 

You also need some pretty powerful PA equipment to handle a large area; if you don’t already have this it can add many hundreds or thousands of pounds to your costs.

Insurance and training

It’s considered essential in today’s litigious society to have insurance cover in place with any event involving the public. Professional displays will include this cover in the price but DIY displays you do yourself can be covered with one-off policies.

If you are part of an organisation then check with your head office to see if a blanket policy already exists to cover you. Some of my Forum members have found they are already covered for Church or Scouts events for example, or a lower cost policy is available. My Fireworks Insurance article looks at this in more detail.

Training is recommended as a matter of course and is usually a condition of many insurance policies. Please note that there is no formal or officially recognised training for consumers. Instead, you will need to attend an informal training course run by one of the many larger firework retailers. The Fireworks Training guide has more help on this matter.

Professional displays

If your budget is £1k or more and you are staging a public display then you should consider whether a professional display would be better. A pro display can include much more powerful fireworks than consumers can buy. Although at the lower budgets your display is likely to be shorter in duration, the greater spectacle and also the peace of mind of a fully insured crew letting the fireworks off can be worth thinking about.

Note that professional displays ramp up in price around Bonfire Night (starting prices of £3k or more for November 5th are not uncommon). You will also need to have much more room than consumer fireworks would need, typically 50m or more at least, with sufficient areas for fall out.

It is also better to call in the professionals for very large venues, such as concerts, especially if the fireworks are going to be situated some distance from the crowd. Consumer fireworks would be too small for such displays.

For more help on this subject please see my DIY or Professional Fireworks? article.

Fireworks at a concert. Only professional Category F4 fireworks have the firepower and size for this type of event.

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.