Fireworks Guide: Roman Candles

A traditional firework producing an aerial effect.

Key information

  • Secured on the ground, fires one or more shots into the air.
  • Huge variation in running times, costs and effects depending on the specific candle.
  • Large range of low noise effects available for out of season or quiet displays.
  • Safety distances typically 8m up to 25m. Note: No candles on sale in the UK should ever be held in the hand.
  • No licence or training required to buy and use at any time of the year.
  • The technical difference between candles and cakes is that shots are stacked vertically in a tube in a candle, but cakes only have one shot per tube and use multiple tubes.
  • Guides to other types of fireworks can be found in the Firework Guides main menu.

A closer look at a typical roman candle

A typical single tubed candle, shown above, has the following main features:

Fuse: This is located on the top of most larger candles, under a protective cover which you pull off first. On small candles (such as single shots) the fuse usually sticks out of the side, near the bottom and is taped to the side of the tube.

Tube: This contains the shots, stacked on top of each other (where the candle has more than a single shot) with an internal fuse running down the inside. Candle bundles have multiple tubes which usually fire at the same time.

Warning label and instructions: The important things you need to know about firing the candle, the candle’s classification (Category F2 or F3), the net explosive content and so on. 

The difference between single candles and candle bundles

Candles which comprise of a single tube usually contain a small number of shots, typically between 1 and 8. These fire one after the other and the effects can be quite big.

Candle bundles have a number of much smaller tubes fused together, which usually fire at the same time. These have much smaller effects, but fire much more rapidly, like a gatling gun. The number of shots are usually in the range of several dozen to several hundred.

This candle bundle has 56 shots in total, spread across 7 internal tubes which fire at the same time to give a rapid fire effect.

The difference between candles and cakes (barrages)

If you’re new to fireworks then you’re probably shopping for roman candles because this is a traditional and well-known type of firework.

However, for aerial and multishot effects you would normally start with cakes and barrages, since these offer a greater range of effects, greater duration and better value for money than candles.

That said, candles are useful for low noise effects (their small bore size is ideal for coloured star effects and crackling comets) and they’re easy to set up in a V shape for something visually different.

For those that are curious, the main technical difference between candles and cakes is simply this: In a candle you would have a tube with multiple shots stacked vertically in that tube, with an internal fuse running down that ignites them in turn. But in a cake, you would have just one shot per tube. So an eight shot candle would have one tube with eight shots in it. An eight shot cake would have eight tubes, each with one shot. In terms of actual effects, both of these configurations could create an identical looking display.

One advantage cakes have over candles is the ability to fire multiple shots at the same time, usually at the end of the firework. Cakes can also include both straight and fanned sections; to achieve a fan with candles you physically need to angle them.

What type of effects to expect

Candles come in a huge variety of effects. All of them are aerial, although coloured stars and crackling comets ejected by candles will be visible from the candle upwards, so you’ll see an effect from a few feet all the way up to its apex. A larger bore candle firing coloured stars with comet tails is shown below:

Candle bundles are well suited to coloured star effects which makes them ideal for low noise displays. Virtually every main colour is available. Fanning them to the left and right makes them much more visually appealing.

An example candle bundle is shown in action below. Here the bore size is small but multiple tubes fire together, producing a flurry of shots (this one around £15 to £20):

Durations for candles are usually shorter than cakes and barrages. This is because even candle bundles with several hundred shots fire them quickly for impact. Thus, the typical running time for most candles and candle bundles is 25 to 35 seconds.

The exception to this is a single or double shot candle (often found in selection boxes or on sale in supermarkets) which will only run for a few seconds.

Two sets of three candle bundles, fanned and fired together.

How much do they cost?

Candles start in price at under £10 for smaller varieties or packs of single shots, through to £50+ for some of the larger bundles containing many hundreds of shots.

What happened to airbombs?

Airbombs were a single or double shot roman candle whose sole aim was to create a loud bang.

It might not come as a surprise to learn that these and other “nuisance fireworks” fell out of fashion in the noughties and legislation was brought in that has all but removed these from sale. You can still buy quieter “star effect” versions, but they are not the same.

You can read more about them in my bangers and airbombs article.

If you’re wanting to make a bang there are alternatives available, though they won’t be single shots. They include cakes and barrages with loud bangs and multishot candles with 8 shots or more.

Roman candles FAQ

Candles need to be secured on the ground so they cannot fall over. Usually you would gaffa tape them to a stake or similar support.

Most roman candles last between 20 and 60 seconds. For longer durations you should instead be looking at cakes and barrages.

No. All UK F2 and F3 consumer candles are designed to be fired from the ground, suitably supported so they cannot fall over. Never, ever, hold them in the hand regardless of what you have seen on TikTok or YouTube; it is highly dangerous.

Yes. Most good retailers now carry an extensive range of low noise candles which fire up pretty coloured stars and other non-banging effects.

No, not completely silent. Candles need to fire a lift charge for each shot (to launch the effect in the air) so it's impossible to have a completely silent candle. However that sound won't travel far and the main effects in low noise candles is nearly silent.

Unless specifically told to on the instruction label, you should not remove any packaging other than the fuse cover as it will blow off by itself when the shots start firing.

No - you need to be shopping for cakes and barrages rather than roman candles, if you're looking for longer durations that could be a complete display in their own right. Roman candles typically only last 20-60 seconds each.

You need between 8m and 15m distance to spectators for F2 fireworks and 25m for F3 fireworks. 

Roman candles are usually single tubes with multiple shots stacked vertically inside. Cakes are usually multiple tubes with single shots in each one. Cakes have the advantage of varied pacing and multiple shots at the same time which would be impossible in a roman candle configuration.

Single or twin-shot candles sold in packs typically cost under £10, bigger candles cost £10-£30 and roman candle bundles can cost £30 upwards depending on their size and number of shots.

Further information and next steps

If you are following the Beginner’s Guides then you can click here to return to that page. Alternatively you can click here to see the main menu of each firework type in this section if you want to read more (or click on the menu at the top of this page to access all of my guides).

If you’re ready to buy fireworks for your display then the Buying Fireworks section will guide you further.