Fireworks(UK) Glossary

Fireworks(UK) Glossary

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  Fireworks University


ADR: The provisions which came into effect on 1st January 2003 concerning the international carriage of dangerous goods (including fireworks). In layman’s terms the amount of fireworks you can carry in a vehicle is limited by their type, the vehicle, and whether the driver has been formally trained to transport them. The restrictions mainly apply to professional (commercial) displayers and their fireworks. See also DTR.

AERIAL SHELL: Typically the Category 4 firework used only by professionals. An aerial effect enclosed in a paper or card “shell” and launched from a mortar tube by a lifting charge (also contained in the shell). Effects vary from plain bangs (maroons) to expansive and pretty colours or multiple effects. Responsible for most of the quality aerial effects seen in a professional display.

AIRBOMB: Any shell effect launched from a firework that bangs, normally loudly. Also the general name given to the small tubular fireworks that launch this effect, formerly a common firework in garden displays capable of quite a loud bang and sometimes with a glowing star effect on ascension. Now a banned firework.

AIRBOMB BARRAGE: Multiple airbombs fused together into one firework, the advantage being you only light one fuse to let the barrage off and it normally works out cheaper “per bang” than buying singly.

AQUA SHELL: A shell designed to be launched across, and break on, water.



BALL ROCKET: Popular style of rocket which mimics an aerial shell “on a stick”. Generally, but not always, gives a bigger and louder effect than a standard plastic head rocket.

BANG: What most fireworks do. The “technical” term for a bang in firework circles is “report”. In consumer fireworks there is now a noise limit of 120db which was brought in through new regulations. It has helped to protect small furry animals and old ladies up and down the country.

BANGER: Now banned, a small tubular firework that simply banged, in effect an airbomb that stayed on the ground. Cheap and misused, it was a major cause of injuries until banned from sale to the public. Today, any firework that bangs is quite often erroneously described as a “banger” by the press or public who are unaware of the various correct firework terms.

BARRAGE: A continual and concentrated assault of firework effects, or the general name given to a firework that launches such an effect.

BATTERY: Several fireworks (e.g. candles) fused together for added effect, with a single fuse to light.

BEES: A swarm or cluster of points of light that move and dissipate under their own power. Similar to FISH, but less vigorous and generally less persistent.


BFA / BRITISH FIREWORKS ASSOCIATION: An association of UK firework companies who import fireworks working together to address problems concerning noise, illegal fireworks and so on, and to promote the safer use and sale of fireworks.

BLACK MATCH: This is the fast burning fuse used extensively in a professional display. It is also found inside some consumer fireworks such as candle fans and set pieces.

BLINKER: A small ground based firework that strobes (flashes).

BLOCKBUSTER: A popular and long-running shell effect candle by Vulcan which became the standard against which most 28-30mm candles have been judged in the noughties. Largely superceeded in recent years by better and cheaper alternatives in cakes.

BLOSSOM: A pretty or colourful effect likened to a flower, or an effect that opens up and expands, like a flower blossoming.

BOMBETTE: A shell effect within a cake or candle, launched by a lifting charge. Can contain a variety of effects.

BONFIRE: Traditional on Guy Fawkes but don’t feel obliged to have one! Turn them over before lighting (animals nesting!).

BONFIRE SOCIETY: Traditional English society which organises bonfires, displays and meetings. Many do this for charitable reasons.

BOUQUET: A number of fireworks (normally candles) fused together, lighting one fuse sets them all off for a long duration or concentrated effect.

BORE: The internal diameter of a firework tube, this determines the size of the effects or shells contained within. Generally, a wider bore means a more powerful effect, e.g. a 30mm candle will usually be more powerful than a 14mm candle.

BPA: British Pyrotechnists Association. “The trade body that represents the majority of professional firework display companies in the United Kingdom.” More info.

BREAK: The point at which a shell effect explodes into life.

BRITISH STANDARDS (BS) 7114: The legal standard to which fireworks sold to the public in this country must conform. These standards govern various aspects of the firework such as the minimum length of fuse, debris range and so on and are for the benefit of user safety.

BROCADE: Common term that describes an effect like a PEONY, in other words an expanding sphere of stars, the brocade having more persistence. In the case of gold, it is similar to willow, palm and kamuro effects.

BUTTERFLY: A professional shell effect which sees two cones of effects eject in opposite directions, creating a symmetrical butterfly effect.



CAKE: A multi-shot firework in which the effects or shells are placed in tubes so they are aligned in a horizontal plane (rather than stacked vertically as in a candle). For example, a typical 8-shot cake would have eight tubes each with one shell in, but a typical 8-shot candle would consist of one tube, with eight shells stacked vertically. 

CANDLE: A firework consisting of a shell or effect in a card tube. A lifting charge propels the effect into the air. The common name for these is “roman candle”. Today’s candles can have many shots stacked on top of each other and candle batteries (several candles taped together and linked by a fuse) can create a devastating barrage. A battery of single shot candles, if packaged as a whole, are normally called a cake. Virtually all multi-shot fireworks today are either candles or cakes. 

CATEGORY 1/2/3/4: The British Standards classification fireworks are given in the UK. Category 1 fireworks (“indoor”) are the safest, and can be lit indoors. Be sure to only light fireworks indoors which are clearly labelled for this purpose. Category 2 fireworks (“garden”) are for use outdoors and spectators must be at least 5 metres away (8 metres on fireworks labelled with EU compliance). Category 3 fireworks (“display”) are for use outdoors and spectators must be at least 25 metres away, with these being the largest publicly available fireworks. Any other firework which does not meet these criteria or is considered unsafe for public or untrained use is a Category 4 (“professional”) firework and may only be sold to, or used by, a professional. 


CHERRY BOMB: The American equivalent of our old garden banger, shaped like a cherry. It is understood these have been banned over there too.

CHINESE CRACKERS: A number (typically 100, 250, 500 and so on) of small bangers strung together and connected by a rapid burning fuse, which when lit, creates a chain reaction of bangs. A potentially dangerous firework due to its erratic nature which is now banned from sale to the public in the UK. Still widely seen on the Continent during festivals and street celebrations, these can create huge amounts of litter and were one of the hardest fireworks to tidy up afterwards. 

CHINESE LANTERNS: Large balloons made from flame retardant paper with a wick on the bottom. This is lit and fills the lantern with hot air and it eventually lifts off. Completely silent and very pretty. Probably the cause of 99% of UFO reports in the last few years. 

COLD FALL OUT: Fall out that is not burning or hot. Indoor fireworks such as ice fountains have cold fall out.

COMET: A star or other projectile which leaves a glittering, persistent trail behind it.

COMPLAINT: What you’ll get from your neighbours if you let off loud fireworks without warning them first!

CONFETTI CANNON: A tube that fires confetti, streamers or other materials. Various types are available, the common ones being one-shot compressed air powered cannons which you activate by pulling a string or twisting the base.

CONIC FOUNTAIN: A type of fountain. See FOUNTAIN.

CRACKLE: A sound effect from a firework created by many small bangs or snaps.

CRACKLING COMET: A comet that leaves behind a tail of crackling effects rather than just quiet glitter.

CROSSETTE: An effect that splits in the sky, for example a coloured star which then splits into four or five other coloured stars.



DAMP SQUIB: A firework that fails to ignite or explode.

DISPLAY FIREWORK: A firework requiring 25 metres distance to spectators. See CATEGORY 1/2/3/4.

DIVISIONAL STORAGE: The name given to a type of storage used by professionals where a significantly greater quantity of fireworks can be stored.

DIY KIT: A kit (sold normally by mail order) comprising of numerous loose items to make a complete display.

DOUBLE BREAK: A firework or shell that has two, rather than one, effects. Also a rocket that bursts twice with two different effects.

DRAGONS EGGS: An increasingly common term to describe an effect whose exact characteristics seem open to interpretation, in general a gold or silver breaking effect that ends in crackles or strobes.

DTR: In relation to ADR, DTR refers to the training required by drivers of vehicles transporting dangerous goods including fireworks. ADR specifies limits of fireworks above which driver training is required.




EIG / EXPLOSIVES INDUSTRY GROUP: A UK organisation that “exists to represent and inform its members on all topics of explosive legislation in the UK”.

EJECTS BANGS & EJECTS STARS: Common descriptions on firework labels. If a firework only says “EJECTS STARS” it is likely to be fairly quiet, whereas “EJECTS BANGS” is likely to be noisier.

ELECTRICAL FIRING/IGNITION: Large professional displays or those requiring exact timing are often fired electrically. Here the fireworks have electrical igniters attached to them, and are normally all wired into a central control box. The firer then presses a button to ignite each firework. More complicated firing systems allow multiple firing, sequenced firing, and preprogrammed sequences at the touch of a button. The result is a very tight and well-timed show, although setting up can take much longer, as can planning, and the equipment to fire electrically is often expensive. New innovations include remote control firing systems. Firing systems are becoming more widely available to the public too thanks to special types of igniters that clip over a firework’s fuse.

EMBER: A burning piece of casing or paper from a firework. Most embers go out before reaching the ground but those that do not can pose a hazard to spectators, other fireworks or firers.


FALL OUT: What comes down after a firework has finished. In most cases just card casing and paper, but other fireworks can pose more of a hazard. Large bore cakes may contain shells with a ceramic base, and display rockets (the most dangerous fall out) can come down complete with stick, motor and casing.

FALLING LEAVES: A professional effect where a cluster of persistent coloured stars hangs in the air and drifts slowly down.

FAN CAKE: A cake where the tubes are angled, sending shots left and right of the display area in a fan. Normally a whole bank fires at a time, mimicking a real candle fan but with better timing.

FINALE: The end of the display, traditionally the noisiest part. “Finale” effect fireworks specifically have more noise and effects than others.


FIREWORKS: If you don’t know this one, you have connected to the wrong website!!

FIREWORK CODE: Issued by the DTI, a “layman’s” guide to firework safety.

FIREWORKS BILL: Passed in 2003 and revoked in 2004, a new bill designed to improve or constrain UK fireworks depending on your point of view. Brought into being largely because of continued complaints about “nuisance fireworks” in the weeks before and after Guy Fawkes, and concern over illegal fireworks and illegal use of fireworks. A new bill in 2004 replaced this, and included additional measures such as an 11pm curfew for firework use.

FISH: A wriggling effect that “swims” away in the sky. Can be coloured and are a nice low noise effect.

FLAME PROJECTOR: A professional device shaped liked a mortar tube that is filled with flammable contents and activated electrically to create a fireball or flame effect. Short-lived but effective.

FLAMING BALLS: The American word for “star”. “SHOOTS FLAMING BALLS” (oo-er) is their way of saying “EJECTS STARS”.

FLAMMABLE: If something is flammable it means it will catch fire very very easily. Petrol, for example, is highly flammable, as are most ingredients used in fireworks.

FLARE: A firework that creates a bright light, normally for some time. These can vary from Bengal Flares which are ground based and create an intense flame (as opposed to a shower of sparks which is a fountain), to rocket launched effects. An “aerial” flare effect is just a star that burns brightly and for a long time. Distress flares, which are not fireworks, use a parachute to ensure the flare stays airborne for some time.

FLASH POWDER: A more potent form of gunpowder created by adding a metal powder to black powder. Widely used in fireworks especially noise and maroon effects, as it also creates a bright flash. Fireworks containing flash powder can be subject to greater restriction on storage and transportation.

FLOWER POT: Where an aerial shell explodes in its tube by mistake, it creates a mine effect often referred to as “flowerpotting”. These look spectacular but the rigid tubes and stringent safety employed by professionals mean that they rarely pose any safety concerns.

FLYING SAUCER: A device made from gerbs or motors mounted in a circular fashion which create lift and spin – a flying wheel in effect (professional device).

FOUNTAIN: A static firework that creates a vertical column of sparks in a fountain effect. These are normally placed at ground level but a greater effect can be achieved by mounting them at a height (e.g. on a post or plank). Some fountains also contain crackling effects which can be quite loud. 

FUSE: The part of a firework you light, which then burns slowly to allow you time to “retire” (get away!) before the firework starts. Internal fuses link various parts of the firework and can burn very quickly. All public fireworks normally only have ONE main fuse.

FUSE COVER: The protective safety cover on fuses, coming in a variety of types and sizes (most are normally orange or yellow coloured). They MUST be removed before trying to light the firework.



GARDEN FIREWORK: A firework usually requiring 5 metres distance to spectators. See CATEGORY 1/2/3/4.

GARDEN PACK: A pack or box of garden class fireworks. These are normally very small and are not suitable for larger displays.

GERB: A tube which creates a fountain (shower of sparks) effect. Gerbs can be used in firewriting or other specialist effects such as waterfalls.

GLOW BEADS / NECKLACES: These items of novelty jewellery are made of plastic filled with the luminous (nontoxic) liquid found in glow sticks. You “snap” open one chemical within the casing, mixing it with the other by shaking. The chemical reaction creates a pleasant light which can last many hours in some cases. These are not pyrotechnic devices.

GLOW STICK: A plastic tube containing two liquids that are mixed by “snapping” the inner container by bending the stick. The liquids mix to give off light, without any heat or flame. These are popular as fund raising items and an excellent – and safe – alternative to sparklers. Available in many colours with durations of up to eight hours. Can also be used for many other purposes such as emergency lights, safety lights, marking your firework area and so on.

GOGGLES: Essential eye protection for firers.

GOODBYE/GOODNIGHT: A set piece which displays the word “GOODBYE” (or “GOODNIGHT”) in flaming, bright letters, to be used at the end of your display.

GUNPOWDER: This is what makes it all possible! A black coloured powder comprising in its basic form three ingredients: sulphur, charcoal and potassium nitrate. Most powders used in pyrotechnics are more advanced and contain other ingredients or additives to create different effects or colours. The origins of gunpowder are uncertain but most historians credit (or blame) the Chinese.

GUY FAWKES: He tried to blow up the Houses Of Parliament in the Gunpowder Plot (an act almost repeated in the Poll Tax rebellion) and is the UK’s excuse to let off fireworks on November 5th.



HEART: An effect that creates a heart shape. Typically created by professional shells, but mimicked with some success by consumer rockets.

HUMMER: A firework shell or projectile that makes a “humming” noise. The noise is created by the way it burns and the shape of the housing. High pitched hummers sound like screeches or whistles, low pitched ones like bees. Also someone who smells bad!


ICE FOUNTAIN: A fountain with COLD FALL OUT and low smoke, normally designed for indoor or stage use.

INDOOR FIREWORK: A small firework which can be safely lit indoors. See also CATEGORY 1/2/3/4.

INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH FIREWORK: A misleading term coined by the press and anti-firework members of the public to describe any “large” firework. There is no such thing as an “industrial strength” firework, fireworks are classified in accordance to British Standards. See CATEGORY 1/2/3/4.

INSURANCE: Essential cover for public displays. Without this you would be in serious trouble in the event of an accident or injury. 



JUMPING JACK: An old firework – no longer available in the UK – which as the name suggests, jumped around erratically.



KAMURO: An effect that hangs and trails in the air not unlike a willow, often strobing or twinkling. Commonly used in finale sequences to fill the sky with long lasting effects that often persist to near ground level.



LANCEWORK: Words or phrases (such as “GOODNIGHT”) made up from lots of small fountains which when lit burn to display a message. Words and shapes made from flaming rope are often called FIRE WRITING. 

LASER: A piece of hi-tech equipment producing a bright beam of light, not a pyrotechnic device but common with very large displays or at concerts, in addition to fireworks. Good ones can cost a cool £15,000+ though!

LIFTING CHARGE: Part of a firework that launches a projectile or shell into the air. In candles and cakes it’s a small powder charge in the tube, in aerial shells it’s part of the shell itself. Rockets don’t have a lifting charge, they have a MOTOR.


LOOSE ITEMS: In firework catalogues, single fireworks not part of a larger pack or kit. More experienced displayers can “pick and mix” from the best loose items rather than go for a kit.

LOW NOISE FIREWORK: A firework specifically designed to operate with little or no noise. In the case of cakes and candles, this refers to the actual effect which might be a pretty colour, glitter, fish, spinners or other “no bangs” effects. Please note that there will still be some noise from the launch of each shell. 



MAROON: A very loud bang typically created by a maroon shell (e.g. at large professional displays) or maroon rockets. Professional maroons from aerial shells can be heard many miles away.

MINE: A firework in which the entire contents are ignited at the same time, and eject upwards from a card tube (also called mortar mines). Some mines start with a fountain. Can create sudden and intense effects, but are short lived. 

MINI-ROCKET: A small screech type rocket that was banned for having “erratic flight”. Legal small rockets differ only by being slightly larger and more stable in flight.

MISFIRE: A firework that goes off, but incorrectly. Rare.

MODE A / MODE B: Under the old regulations which have now been superceded this referred to the most basic registered firework storage for personal or retail use. Mode B allowed the storage of up to 250Kg of shop good fireworks, Mode A allowed up to 1000Kg. Replaced now by MSER. 

MORTAR: The tube used to launch or house a firework. Aerial shells are launched from “mortar” tubes, as are many display mines. In publicly available fireworks such as mortar mines they are normally made from thick card and are very strong – but not reusable.

MOTOR: The part of a rocket that burns to give the rocket lift. Comprises normally of solid fuel propellant and can accelerate the rocket to speeds of several hundred miles and hour in some cases. Can include chemicals to give a silver or coloured tail.

MSER: Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations. These new laws cover fireworks storage. 

MULTI-SHOT: A firework that has more than one shot.



NATIONAL FIREWORKS CHAMPIONSHIPS: Held in Plymouth, the national fireworks championships are notable for being one of the best UK firework events with six professional teams competing over two nights (usually in August) – and for being completely free to watch!

NEW SPEC: A phrase coined by the fireworks trade to describe consumer fireworks as complying to new regulations. See also OLD SPEC.

NOVEMBER 5TH: The anniversary of Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder plot and the traditional day in England when everyone wheels out their fireworks!



OLD SPEC / OLD STOCK: A term used by some fireworks retailers to describe their consumer fireworks as pre-dating the new fireworks regulations. These fireworks became sought after due to their higher power.

OPERATOR FIRED DISPLAY: Fancy name for a professional display, ie. one where all the fireworks, equipment, crew and firers are all provided in return for a fee.


PALM OR PALM TREE EFFECT: A cascading, persistent effect normally created with gold or silver coloured sparks. Fireworks creating this effect in several directions cause a “palm tree” pattern.

PARACHUTE: Used in professional fireworks to keep an effect aloft for longer than normal, typically for hanging lantern or flare effects. A show-stopper when used well.

PARTY POPPER: Small indoor device that “pops” out streamers when you pull the string.

PEN LID CAKE: A term coined by UKFR to best describe the appearance of the multishot screech-pop cakes, whose projectiles resemble plastic pen lids.

PEONY: Well-used term to describe an effect which is essentially an expanding sphere of stars.

PERSISTENCE: How long an effect stays in the air before it disappears.

PIC: A type of fuse used by professional displayers, typically yellow in colour and waterproof.

PIGEON: Firework device mounted on a horizontal rope, motors causing it to move rapidly from end to end several times.

PIN WHEEL: A type of Catherine wheel. See WHEEL.

PISTIL: Where an effect such as a peony has a central part to it, this is referred to as a pistil.

PORTFIRE: As essential to any display as the fireworks themselves, this is a long, thin, hand-held item that burns with a very hot and steady flame for a few minutes. Used for hand lighting fireworks, its main advantages being an ability to withstand wind and rain, and to light fuses very quickly. 

PYROMESH: A wire mesh cage used to enclose powerful consumer fireworks and force them from 1.3G classification to the less hazardous (and therefore easier to store, transport and retail) 1.4G classification by virtue of them being less dangerous in the event of a fire thanks to their packaging.

PROFESSIONAL: Someone who displays fireworks as part of their business or profession.

PROFESSIONAL FIREWORK: A firework with an unclassified safety distance for use by professionals only. Usually classed as Category 4 . See also CATEGORY 1/2/3/4.

PYROMANIAC: Strictly speaking someone with an obsessive desire to set things on fire, but commonly used (in firework circles) to describe someone who loves fireworks.

PYROTECHNICIAN: A person who makes or displays fireworks or other pyrotechnic devices.

PYROTECHNICS: A general term meaning the art of making or displaying fireworks or other pyrotechnic devices; also the fireworks or items themselves.



QUICKMATCH: Fast burning fuse used by professionals. Present in some consumer fireworks such as candle fans to link the candles, and lancework, to link the gerbs.



RAINBOW: Sometimes used to describe a firework’s effect when it changes colour. Anything with a rainbow effect should display numerous colours such as red, green, yellow and orange.

REPORT: The technical word for “BANG”!

RETIRE IMMEDIATELY: Common warning on firework labels, it basically means “GET THE HELL AWAY FROM IT AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE”.


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