Setting Up Rockets

Rockets are one of the most powerful consumer fireworks so some care is required ensuring they will take off correctly.

Setting up rockets - the basics

All consumer rockets, whether large single Category F3 ones or the smaller Category F2 ones sold in packets, should be fired from a tube. This is normally supplied by the retailer or is included in the pack. Never fire rockets from bottles; whilst in the old days this was an accepted practice, today’s rockets are too top heavy and are likely to fall over. Also, never hold rockets in the hand (or any other part of your body!) as the exhaust gases are hot and will cause serious burns.

Although it’s usually perfectly fine to push the rocket tube directly into your lawn or other soft surface, I recommend attaching it to a wooden stake instead. This method gives you more tube to play with (as none is lost in the ground), keeps the tube straighter and makes reloading safer if you intend to fire a succession of rockets from one tube.

So with that in mind the basic way to set up a rocket is as follows:

  1. Bang a wooden stake into the ground.
  2. Gaffa tape your rocket launch tube to the stake.
  3. Insert the rocket’s stick into the tube.
Rocket set up
Rocket set up
Rocket set up

If you need to, you can angle the stake and tube slightly away from spectators or to take into account wind direction.

Smaller rockets will sit with all of their stick in the tube, larger rockets will usually stand well proud of the top of the tube (as shown above) because of their long sticks, both situations are fine.

If you are setting up to fire later on, you can leave the fuse cover on. However it is worth pulling it off then replacing it first, as some fuse covers are very stiff to remove the first time and this will make things run more smoothly when you come to fire.

At this point, and before firing, you should always check the rocket is free to rise. Do this by gently pulling the rocket up a few inches to ensure the stick is loose in the tube. Potential problems here include the rocket stick being pushed into the ground underneath or the tube kinking under the weight of the rocket. Both of these will cause the stick to become trapped and the rocket will “whoosh” but not rise, and explode on the ground. A similar disaster will occur if you try and fire rockets without a tube by just sticking them in the ground!

Firing on hard ground

If you don’t have any soft ground such as a lawn or flower bed to push your stick or stake into, you’ll need to find alternative ways to secure your launch tube. In many cases there will be a fixture or fitting like a rail or fence post you can use. Otherwise, either build a rocket rack (see below) or improvise with something that’s bottom heavy and won’t move, such as an upturned table.

If you’re wanting to fire from a boat or similar, be warned that the jet of hot sparks and gases as rockets take off is quite hot, so put down some suitable protection on the deck.

Building a rocket rack

If you are planning on firing a larger number of rockets, want to simplify setting up on the night, or want something easier to work with on hard surfaces, then I recommend building a rocket rack.

In its basic form this is just a wooden frame with multiple tubes attached. Suitable tubes would be plastic conduit from DIY stores (make sure it’s rigid and straight though) or metal piping. You’ll need a diameter sufficient for the largest rocket stick you’ll be loading.

Rocket Rack

I don’t recommend using very large tubes such as scaffold and dropping the complete rockets in as it can cause unstable take offs.

When attaching your tubes you’ll need to secure them in place. This can be done with cable ties if you’re using a top and bottom brace, or gaffa tape if you have a vertical bar for each tube. Any method of securing the tube that’s hit by the launch sparks will deteriorate and burn through in time though, so keep this in mind.

You can either secure your rack on a couple of larger stakes that you hammer into in the ground or make a free standing base for use on any type of surface including concrete.

Firework enthusiasts have been quite creative in using many other racks and trestles as a starting point for a rocket rack. A great example is Ikea’s cheap Oddvald trestle (£12 at time of writing) which would be free standing on any surface. B&Q also sell a set of two folding trestles which at the time of writing are only £21 for the set and have the advantage of being easier to pack away when not in use. By drilling holes (to feed cable ties through) in the plastic you can quickly and easily secure your tubes. The use of sandbags or a couple of wooden stakes to secure it from falling over is recommended if it’s windy.

Rack designs are as simple or complicated as your imagination and available time, here are some more examples to inspire you from 20+ years of firing and attending displays:

A word about the wind

Rockets are an anomaly when it comes to their behaviour in wind. Whilst most firework effects move with – and in the direction of – the wind on the way up and down, rockets can actually seem to defy logic and track into the wind. This can have the surprising effect of seeing your cake and candle debris falling downwind but rockets travelling slightly upwind.

This is caused – I’m told – by the wind acting on the rocket’s stick and pushing it more than the head, causing it in effect to pivot into the wind (if any aerodynamicists want to get in touch with a more scientific explanation I’d love to hear from you). I’ve seen it in action and on a very windy demo night some years ago the larger rockets were flying almost horizontally into the wind.

This is another reason why rockets should be the furthest firework away from spectators – but also why you should keep an eye on the flight of your rockets if there’s a breeze and compensate accordingly by moving or re-angling your racks.

Rockets in flight
This wide angle shot shows consumer rockets being fired at the very rear of a display area, angled slightly to fly over the fall out zone on the left of this shot. The audience is on the far right.

Waterproofing rockets

Rockets are easy to waterproof and I’ll cover this in detail in my Coping With Bad Weather article.

Further help and information

For help with setting up other fireworks such as cakes or fountains, head back to the Setting Up Fireworks menu section where you will also find site layout advice and other helpful articles.

Once you have set up and are ready to fire I do of course have a complete section dedicated to letting off your fireworks safely.

If you are a beginner and any of the terms used in this guide are unfamiliar, or you are new to UKFR, my Beginners Start Here! guide will walk you through the basics.