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.
  • 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.

The anatomy of a typical roman candle

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 of course) with an internal fuse running down 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. The number of shots are usually in the range of several dozen to several hundred.

Candle bundle
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.

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.

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:

This type of firework is 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 £10 to £15):

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.

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

How much do they cost?

Candles start in price at under £5 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.

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 have any questions then please feel free to join my Fireworks Forum and ask away. Members are always here to help beginners and no question is too silly.

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