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The art of fireworks PDF Stampa E-mail

Fireworking, that is making fireworks that burning produce particular light effects, is fascinating and impressing but at the same time mysterious and little known.

Its origins are very ancient and the first examples were in China in the I century AD.

In Europe it was introduced by Bertold Schwartz, a German monk, in the mid-XIII century. He was the first to use gunpowder in the composition which is still used (75% potassium nitrate, 15% coal, 10% sulphur) to shoot a bullet. The first firework factories were founded in Germany about 1340 in Augsburg, Spandau and Liegnits, but fireworking developed fully only in the XIX century.

"…noble, dangerous and aristocratic is fireworking, an art that destroys when it is shown in the wealth of its wonderful unfurling of colours, rythms, patterns, perspectives, it represents the mystery of creation, the magnificent and ephemeral, the eternal and the changeable in all its pitiless iconoclastic poetry. It is the most admired and least known art. All the arts have built a world, theories, rules, a history. Fireworks march in the time of silence…" such is the definition of Francesco Nicassio, mayor of Adelfia-Montrone, a town near Bari where the firework tradition is very strong.

In fact there are no books that explain how foreworks are made or shot, all is enclosed in the factory walls: theories, compositions, secrets, an oral, visual and manual tradition that is handed down from father to son. There are very few publications that deal with fireworks, among which some old texts that inspired new ones.

"De la pirotecnica" by Vanoccio Biringuccio of 1540, it is a treatise of fireworking technique;

"La pirotecnia o sia trattato dei fuochi d'artificio usati per piacere o per bellezza" by Antonio Giuseppe Aliberti of 1749;

"Il pirotecnico moderno – l'arte di fare i fuochi d'artifizio con poca spesa per le feste di famiglia, sponsali e altre simili occasioni" by Cesare Sonzogno of 1834;

"Il nuovo pirotecnico ossia l'arte di preparare i fuochi d'artificio con un'appendice sui fuochi da teatro e d'acqua, sui palloni e sui globi aerostatici" by Etienne Hermart of 1889;

"Pirotecnica moderna" by Francesco Di Maio of 1891, it is a real firework handbook;

"Manuale di pirotecnia in lingua italiana" by Attilio Izzo, Di Maio's successor, is very similar to his book;

"La pirotecnica dei dilettanti" by Arduino Burello of 1900;

"Esplodenti" by Rodolfo Molina of 1917 is a practical handbook for fireworks, complete with chemical formulae. The author was a consultant and expert for the Home Office when the Bill for public safety was compiled in 1931, for the part relating to explosives;

"Fuochi artificiali" by T. De Francesco of 1960, a handbook which explains mainly how to prepare small fireworks, Catherine wheels, rockets, "snakes", etc.;

"Fuochi pirotecnici e artifizi da segnalazione" by Paolo Macchi of 1984, is mainly a guide to the application of the rules of Public Safety in fireworking and is the text used by the candidates to the firework master exam;

"Fuochi pirotecnici" by Francesco Nicassio of 1999 is the work of a devoted connoisseur of firework and above all of firework masters.

Some of these books contain detailed formulae and layouts to make fireworks but alas, in fireworking theory is very far from practice.

Whoever is so lucky as to spend a day in a firework factory discovers that the "master" (the most expert fireworker) does things that are not written in books because the materials employed are never 100 per cent pure so what is exact in a laboratory is very different in a real situation.

Danger is unfortunately linked to the work and tragedy is always round the corner but this does not prevent a fireworker from doing his work: preparing an effect which is finer than the others or that nobody has ever seen; this is how "throw bombs", masterpieces of fireworking, are born.

But what is the craft used in a firework show? What are the characters? What are the technical words? And the implements necessary for shooting? Here is a small and not exhaustive list.

"Bore" is the diametre of the bomb expressed in millimeters; at the moment the law allows a maximum bore of 210 mm for cylindrical bombs and of 400 mm for spherical bombs.

"Tube" is the metal container in which the bombs are put to be shot.

"Rack" is made of tubes linked by metal bars.

"Fuse" is a small cardboard cylinder full of strongly pressed gunpowder and is used to regulate the time between a bomb and another.

"Passfire" is a paper cylinder that contains the wick to connect a bomb to another in a sequence.

"Finale" is a synonim of firework show.

"Mixture" is a chemical mixture made by the fireworker to obtain the thundering blast.

"Gunpowder" is a mixture of 75% potassium nitrate, 15% coal and 10% sulphur and is used as propellent to send the bomb to the height wanted.

"Stars" are mixtures of chemical products, water and glue to obtain the colours.

"Cànnoli" (pipes) are small cylinders of coloured compounds set in the "counterbombs" that fall slowly at the moment of shooting producing fire wakes like falling stars.

"Stucco" is a weaving of colours made with special cylindrical stars.

"Pupatella" (doll) is a small stucco with more colour that gives a magnificent effect.

"Fuse" or "wick" is a cotton thread soaked in a mixture of gunpowder and glue and is used to bring the fire inside the bombs.

"Tracchiare" to connect the bombs one to the other by means of passfire and fuses.

"Bombetelle" or "cleave and flash bomb" is a device with a coloured opening and from 6 ot 9 small shots.

"Roman candle" a device that produces rising light wakes of various colours.

"Spacco e botta" (cleave and shot) is a double effect bomb with a coloured opening followed by a thundering shot.

"Rain" a device that produces a colour effect that burns very slowly and after the opening falls down like rain; it can have a willow, crackling, shimmering or sparkling effect.

"Crackling" a bomb that produces a visual and sound effect like a cracklling fire.

"Little snakes" a device that produces light wakes moving like snakes.

"Butterfly" a bomb with stucco that produces a butterfly effect.


"Strenta" - End of display

"fermata" shells

Peony shell

"fermata" shell


"rain" fireworks

white "rain" fireworks





Roman candels

Day fireworks

Golden willow rain



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