The Ultimate Man’s Guide to Fireworks

by Brett on July 1, 2008 · 48 comments

in Manly Skills

Photo by ggmossgirl

I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.-John Adams, 1776

Ever since colonial times, fireworks have been an important part of celebrating American Independence. On the very first 4th of July in 1777, fireworks made of black ash were shot off. 12 years later, fireworks accompanied George Washington’s Inauguration celebration.

Most men in the United States probably have fond memories of lighting Black Cats or waving a colorful sparkler in the warm Fourth of July air. The operative word in fireworks is fire, the basic element to which all men experience a primal attraction. Even when you’re grown and have kids of your own, nothing can kill your boyish desire to make a racket with fireworks.

So in honor of the 4th of July and the little boy in all of us who still gets a kick out of celebrating American Independence with noise and light, the Art of Manliness presents the Man’s Guide to Fireworks:

Fireworks Laws

Fireworks laws vary state by state and city by city. While consumer fireworks are legal in many states, many cities have strict laws governing their use within city limits. While I was growing up, the laws weren’t that strict (or maybe I just never bothered to look them up), but I’ve noticed that many communities these days are requiring the purchase of a permit to set off fireworks. Permits run anywhere from $20-$40. They’re generally only good for a certain period of time, so make sure to shoot off all the fireworks you want before your permit expires.

For a rundown of the laws governing fireworks in your state, check out To find out your local city laws, check your local newspaper. They usually print the laws in the paper around the 4th of July.

Types of Fireworks

Photo by tedknudsen

Firecrackers. Black Cats, M-80, Lady Fingers. The variety of firecrackers is immense. The whole point of firecrackers is to explode and make loud noises. They generally come in strings that number from a measly 12 to a gargantuan 10,000. Firecrackers by themselves are fun. Firecrackers + old action figures/stuffed animals = mega-fun. What boy has not wrapped a string of Black Cats around an old Sergeant Slaughter action figure or taped an M-80 to a Ninja Turtle? It’s some sort of weird rite of passage that every red blooded American boy must go through.

Photo by suckamc

Smoke Bombs. Smoke bombs can provide hours of entertainment to children with wild imaginations. Most smoke bombs don’t explode, they just, well, smoke. Some smoke bombs are best if used during the daytime because it’s hard to see smoke at night. Generally, two types of smokers exist: color smoke balls or cylindrical smoke grenades. The smoke balls come in a variety of colors. As a kid, I’d use these as my ninja smoke screen. The smoke grenades are a kid’s dream toy. They look like little hand grenades. When lit, they emit a thick cloud of white smoke. My friends and I would try to recreate battle themes with smoke grenades. They’re good for ninja smoke screens, too.

Photo by lencioni

Novelty. When you’re 8 years old, the novelty fireworks are where it is at. There’s a variety of devices that range from chickens that lay colorful eggs made of sparks to tanks that shoot a rainbow of patriotic spark missiles. After the tank has emitted its sparks, there’s often a small firecracker explosion. You can extend the fun of tanks by wrapping Black Cats around them and blowing them to smithereens.

Photo by jeffyoungstrom

Fountains. Fountains are usually cone shaped devices that sit on the ground and shoot off a shower of colorful sparks. I’ll be honest, as a kid, I always thought fountains were pretty boring. The sparks don’t go up very high and it doesn’t really last that long. If you’re looking for a mild, yet pretty firework to shoot off with the kiddos, this is a good one. And girls really gravitate toward them. My wife says these were her fave.

Photo by jpstanley

Ground Spinners. The name of this firework sums it up pretty well. After you ignite a ground spinner, it will spin around randomly on the ground. A variety of ground spinners exist. The small version of ground spinners are often called “jumping jacks.” A larger version of a ground spinner is the “Blooming Flower.” This firework spins and shoots off colored sparks so that it looks like a colorful flower is blooming from the ground.

Photo by bigfez

Sparklers. Sparklers are another great firework for kids to play with. Sparklers are sticks that give off colored sparks when lit. You can wave them around and create a light show. Kids get a hoot out of writing their name with them. There are two types of sparklers. The first are ones made from metal. The second are made of paper and are often called Morning Glories. Morning Glories are a bit safer because they don’t leave a red hot metal stick when done burning.

Photo by nicknada

Poppers, Snaps, and Snakes. These are the kiddy fireworks. Poppers are little bottle shaped devices that have a string that when pulled, shoot confetti out. Snaps or “pop-pops” are little paper packets that contain minerals that ignite on impact with the ground. They make a small popping noise. Snakes are small pellets that when lit, emit a long brittle carbon ash that looks like a snake coming from the ground. Despite their tameness, the real youngins will find them endlessly interesting.

Photo by Joey Shev

Roman Candles. Roman candles are long tubes that when lighted at one end shoot off colorful balls. Some of the shots crackle, flash, or explode. You can actually hold these in your hand while they fire off (it’s not recommended, but many people do it). Because of this ability, many young nincompoops use Roman Candles to engage in a mini firearms battle. Don’t do this.

Photo by chandramarsono

Missiles and Rockets. Bottle rockets are probably the most famous of this genre of fireworks. They’re small rockets that whistle while blasting off into the sky and explode when they reach their peak. Bottle rockets are illegal in many states, so check your local fireworks ordinances before shooting them off.

Photo by judybaxter

Parachutes. I loved me some parachutes. The idea is pretty simple. Stuff a green plastic army man with a parachute attached to it down a tube packed with mild explosives. Ignite and watch said green army man float down to the ground. Shoot these off and have fun watching the kiddos try to catch the parachute as it makes its way back to earth.

Aerial Repeaters. Aerial repeaters let you put on a fireworks display right in your backyard. They consist of multiple tubes bundled together to form a “cake” looking device. Each tube has a small aerial shell that explodes in a colorful crackling display in the sky. What’s great about the aerial repeater is you just have to light one fuse. The rest takes care of itself.

Firework Safety

The National Council on Fireworks Safety estimate that there was over 9,200 fireworks related injuries in 2006. That’s a lot. But if people use a bit of common sense and follow some simple safety precautions, you can enjoy a fun and safe 4th of July Celebration. Here’s a run down of safety guidelines to take into consideration when shooting off fireworks this holiday.

  • Buy fireworks from reliable dealers
  • Do not mix fireworks and alcohol
  • Always have water handy
  • Store fireworks in a cool dry place
  • Don’t try to re-light duds
  • Do not attach fireworks to animals
  • Despite what Bam Margera taught you, fireworks are for outside, not inside
  • Keep fireworks away from home, dry grass, and trees
  • Don’t shoot off fireworks in glass or metal containers
  • Don’t light fireworks in your hand. This means no roman candle battles
  • Don’t try to modify fireworks or make your own
  • Don’t carry fireworks in your pockets. Many injuries are caused by fireworks going off while in a person’s pocket.
  • If kids are setting off fireworks, always have adult supervision

Teaching Your Children How to Use Fireworks

Photo by yanivg

Letting kids play with fireworks is definitely frowned upon by the priggish busy bodies of the Nanny State. But we here at AoM don’t believe in coddling kids. So, while fireworks are dangerous, if kids are taught how to respect them and use them properly, they can easily go through childhood without suffering any fireworks related injuries. I started playing with fireworks when I was about 7. The only injury I ever suffered was that I stepped on a flaming egg laid by one of those chickens. I got a bad blister and a chewing out by my dad to be more careful.

Here’s a rough guide on teaching your kids to enjoy fireworks safely.

Ages 5-6: Let kids play with “pop-pops.” – those things you throw on the ground and make a snapping noise. These things are pretty safe and the kids can have fun with them without injuring themselves or anybody else. Start teaching your kids the importance of firework safety by telling them not to throw them at other people or using them in the house.

Ages 7-8: By this time, kids are probably ready to graduate to fireworks that actually require ignition by fire. Sparklers, snakes, and smoking fireworks are probably good for kids in this age group to use. They don’t explode, so you don’t have to worry about them blowing their face off. However, they’ll be learning how to light fuses and to be aware of other people as they use fireworks- skills that are necessary in safe firework practice.

Ages 9 and up: Alright, by now I think kids are good to go with most fireworks you can find at the fireworks stand. Just watch them carefully and make sure they don’t do anything stupid.

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Neal July 1, 2008 at 7:00 pm

My girlfriend just doesn’t understand why fireworks are so important to me on the 4th of July. At least I know there are others out there who share my passion!

2 Alex M. July 1, 2008 at 7:04 pm

This post really reminded me of how much I love fireworks and made me want to go buy a ton and set them off. Well done. Is it Friday yet?

3 VitaminCM July 1, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Great article. Somebody needed to do this.
This brings me back to simpler times.

4 Andy July 1, 2008 at 11:38 pm

I enjoyed this article, but i believe you are missing one type of firework!

The mortar.

While probably illegal in a fair amount of areas, I know they were recently legalized in indiana. Mortars use a tube to launch from, and are similar to bottle rockets on steroids. these are the ones that shoot high in the air then explode massively. By far the most dangerous I’ve seen, don’t mess with them unless you know what you are doing.

5 Cool Wallpapers July 2, 2008 at 1:40 am

awesome,very nice fireworks…i would like to see some videos as well

6 Sassmo July 2, 2008 at 1:53 am

Nice article bro! Have you Dugg it yet? I do have to agree with the commenter above me though that you’re missing mortars.

I love me some missiles. When I was 16 my buddy and I drove to Washington from California to visit my Dad and get us some fireworks from the Indian stands. We were lighting off missiles at a port on the Columbia River on the 4th by holding them and then kind of tossing them up by the balsa right before the fuse finished.
My Dad snapped the balsa on one of the biggest missiles I’d ever seen and it tumbled down over the bank into some rocks near the water. We figured it must have hit the water and was done so we walked away. Right about then it shot up over the bank, over our heads, bounced off the roof of the motor-home behind us and exploded right over a grassy area. The grass caught fire, but luckily there were plenty of people around and it got stamped out quick and nobody got hurt. Needless to say, that was the last one of the night (especially after the Fire Marshal came looking for “the guys with the big aerials”).

7 Matt July 2, 2008 at 4:20 am

I have to agree with Andy on this one. I believe that Mortars are far and away the most fun a grown man can have on the Fourth of July, that is with his pants still on. I remember my grandparents would always bring me a box of “fun” fireworks on their annual trip back home from florida. Bear in mind that I live in the state of Pennsylvania where anything greater than a fountain is frowned upon. Nothing says Independence like thumbing your nose at the local authorities and putting on an aerial display that starts sirens screaming.

8 Blake Williams July 2, 2008 at 8:06 am

I have a particular problem with one of your rules. Don’t mix fireworks and alcohol. Really? I guess we shouldn’t mix alcohol and freedom either. Or beer and baseball. Or wine and apple pie. Or liquor and your mother.

America is equal parts alcohol, apple pie, your mother, fireworks and baseball. When all five of them intermingle at once uncle sam sheds a single tear of pride.

Also roman candle battles are not just for teens. They’re for everyone.

9 LtCook July 2, 2008 at 8:10 am

My friends and I made an RPG type device to launch mortars out of. We would hold it on our shoulder and shoot it at various objects floating in the lake. Smart? Probably not, but we were wearing sun glasses. Fun? Oh yes.

10 Brett July 2, 2008 at 8:11 am


I have one particular problem with your logic. Baseball, apple pie, and hopefully your mother don’t have the potential for blowing your fingers off. I’m not talking about having a few beers here. I’m talking about being sloshed and the resulting potential for doing things like putting an M-80 in a glass vase to see what happens.

11 Criffton July 2, 2008 at 10:29 am

I too agree that mixing fireworks and alcohol is a bad idea. It most likely ruins the firework, and the alcohol isn’t any good either. If you’re going to drink, drink after all the fireworks are gone, that way you aren’t even tempted to mix the two.

12 Jeffrey July 2, 2008 at 12:21 pm

lmao! i used smoke balls for the exact same thing! NINJA SMOKE SCREENERS UNITE!

I also recreated a few battle scenes with the larger smoke grenades. I actually used them in a film project of a civil war recreation as a sophomore in highschool.

13 Brit July 2, 2008 at 3:12 pm

I wish that firework companies quit selling fireworks to North Carolina. Simply because you cant fire anything in this state unless you go to Tennessee or South Carolina.

14 milo July 2, 2008 at 5:58 pm

this looks like it was written by an old man, who merely reminisces of the art of manliness.
Probably has grandkids.
Kudos for learning how to use the computer.

15 wellnysucks July 2, 2008 at 9:37 pm

I remember having the best time at my parents 4th parties when I was young, it felt great to go into a convince store and get smoke bombs (which I would put on my bike and go riding down hills) and snakes and sparklers. My uncle had all the real good stuff. Now, You can not get any of that stuff here at all, I couldn’t believe it. One guy in Syracuse got busted with a 1000 dollars worth in his garage, and all his neighbors turned him in… Hell, back then we all enjoyed them, and were always looking out for the cops.

More good days are gone forever.

16 SSJPunk July 2, 2008 at 11:02 pm

Fireworks are illegal here (rednecks + fire + dry brown grass as far as the eye can see) but there was always a friend out of state who could get the good stuff. Mortars, the flying spinners, saturn missiles, roman candles, etc. We’d save them until after it rained or snowed, then it’s game on!

Another guy we know actually makes his own, and they’re amazingly good. Better than some of the professional shows. He’d set them off for new years.

17 BDlongnuts July 3, 2008 at 2:15 am

This article(obviously) was written by somebody who lives in a state where fireworks are illegal, or who knows nothing about fireworks. 500gs is the most a distributor can put in a single package these days, not enough to blow off a finger unless you let your kid stand on top of it, but plenty to jack you up if not used correctly. Bottom line, don’t let kids light anything,except sparklers, cuz they’ll burn the shat out of their hands and understand.
mortars suck

18 Jonnie July 3, 2008 at 3:22 am

I should have lost at least a finger and a toe. Great assemblance.

19 Darth Tater July 3, 2008 at 3:35 am

very well thought out article i myself am from texas we go to the lake and play with fireworks every year. by the way if your in texas and by a lake all lakes in texas are owned by the core of engeneers so 10 feet from the bank isnt anybodys land so its a grey area just to let people know :D

20 Darth Tater July 3, 2008 at 3:41 am

and in response to the gentleman at the top here in texas we have artillary shells as well ive found the best thing to do with mortars to make em a bit safer is to slide a cinder block over the tubes to hold them upright so you dont get a fallover we had that happen a few years ago ever since we have used something to mount them whether nailed down or something over the top to hold em down good. and BDlongnuts people like you are the reason young men grow up to be ineffectual later in life i love my daughter but im not going to baby her when she grows up and gets out in the real world no ones going to its a matter of supervision DOWN WITH THE NANNY STATE MENTALITY!!!! and helicopter parents….

21 Mnaiacal Mac July 3, 2008 at 6:20 am

I make my special toys out of C02 cartridges…then, use my crossbow to shoot them up until the main fuse lights the model rocket engines…I’ve gotten them up above 2,500 feet…
Don’t ask for special instructions, but I will say that the CO2 cartridge has a perfect shape for a rocket nozzle..

22 Nick July 3, 2008 at 8:15 am

Art of Manliness huh? WTF?

This article keeps talking about saftey, and warns against things like engaging in roman candle battles.

GTFO of my internets with your BS girlyman site!

23 Brett July 3, 2008 at 8:32 am


Manliness doesn’t mean doing moronic things.

Feel free to start your own blog about the awesomeness of Roman candle wars, playing with poisonous snakes, and not wearing your seatbelt. “The Art of Moronic Manliness” would be a good name.

24 Jaime July 3, 2008 at 9:25 am

Personally, I will NOT let my kids play with any fireworks more powerfull than sparklers or “pops”. Yes, there is a reason. When I was younger, my boyfriend at the time and my sisters boyfriend at the time decided to put on a homemade fireworks display. They got roman candles, and all sorts of fireworks that shoot up in the air and explode. Since they were a bunch of teenagers who didnt know what to do with them except light them, stuff went wrong. The tube that launches the fireworks fell over and shot the balls of fire towards where we were sitting. I got to watch my younger sister (about 8 at the time) take a roman candle ball of fire in the face. Yes, we were in an open field, and yes we were sufficiently far enough away. And it still hit her. Burnt off a lot of hair, and scared the living shit out of every one. She was basically ok, it mostly grazed her head. She ducked as it came for her, but her face was still burnt from the sparks.
Not trying to put a damper on everyone firework holiday, but this a good reason why these things are usually illegal. Shit happens.

25 Nick July 3, 2008 at 9:30 am


I send a fart of manliness in your general direction!

One blog alone cannot contain the awesomeness that is Roman Candle wars, planing with poisonous snakes, and not wearng your seatbelt!!!

You sir Nancy Boy and this supposed “Ultimate” Man’s guide to fireworks, are filled with awesomelessness!!

26 Nick July 3, 2008 at 9:58 am

bah I failed at spell check, doh!!!!

27 Siggy July 3, 2008 at 1:56 pm

I don’t know if anyone else would do this (I’m sure it’s illegal) but my friends & I would toss the spinners into the lake. It was amazing. Looked like a witch’s creation.

28 Keith Whitmore July 3, 2008 at 8:01 pm

As the person above has stated & some of you questioned. Booze & fireworks don’t mix. Listen to the person & stop making funnies. You may keep your digits & eyes longer.

29 Matthew July 4, 2008 at 6:44 am

I will be enjoying my fireworks at Long Beach tonight WOOOO!!!!

Great article mate, perfect for the occasion and you really put a nice spin on things!

I am curious if you have ever read any REAL SOCIAL DYNAMICS?

Enjoy your 4th my friend! I know I will.

-Matt @ the growing room

30 Sully July 4, 2008 at 7:32 am

The interesting thing is that most simpering parents who are terrified about fireworks think nothing of putting their kids behind the wheels of cars at 16 years old when most teenagers (boys especially) still don’t have the judgement of armadillos.

31 Sully July 4, 2008 at 7:43 am

And – as for highly economical and hilarious use of fireworks, especially if combined with alchohol. Take a one inch pipe about 3 feet long. Drill a one eight inch hole in a pipe cap. Insert the fuse of an inch-and-a-halfer through the hole and screw the cap on the pipe. Then roll a half dozen grapes down the barrel of the grape gun. It will shoot the lead grape about 100 feet with fair velocity and accuracy. At up to 20 or so feet the cloud of pulverized grapes also impact the target as a mist. Fired like a sniper rifle out of the slightly open window of a fraternity house it’s almost always undetectable by the victim at 50 feet.

32 Alex July 4, 2008 at 12:17 pm

my wife sent me this link, although she said I didn’t need any more prodding with anything to do with fire (probably was the very dry christmas tree I lit in June). Anyway, having come from the state that loves fireworks, Tennessee, and now being in the middle east, where anything that goes bang is very bad, I am jealous.

I WANT my fireworks and I want them NOW!

33 Jessie July 4, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Thanks for the great article on fireworks. I am not sure my husband will be thrilled that I am looking at things that will encourage me to play with fire any more than I already do.

My brother and I have always had great fun creating our own fireworks or trying to blow things up with extra gun powder that was laying around (I had a feeling that wasn’t quite safe). Right now though I am stuck in an apartment complex where no fireworks are allowed and am being tortured by all of the sounds of fun around me. I cant wait to visit my family and play with fire.

34 poopoo July 5, 2008 at 7:53 am

a gernade firwork blew up in his hand

35 Carol Deckert July 5, 2008 at 9:02 am

I love fireworks! I wish there were more events that actually produced a fireworks display. My personal preference is for the professional displays – I think the safety issue plays a big part in my preference. Being a grandma, I don’t like to think about the possibility of my kids or grandkids potentially being injured by the improper handling of fireworks!

My husband and our dear friends traveled to Atlantic City NJ yesterday (July 4th) just to watch the fireworks out over the ocean. Would you believe there were no fireworks on the 4th of July? Instead the casinos decided to put off their display on July 3rd! How dumb was that? So we came home, totally bummed out as we were excited to watch a cool display.

Guess we are relegated to watching the local display at Long’s Park in Lancaster!

By the way, Happy 4th of July everyone!

Carol Deckert, Netweaving/Networking Coach

36 dbrett July 5, 2008 at 1:59 pm

DO NOT use fireworks anywhere in California. Because of the high risk of fire, we are seriously cracking down on the home use of fireworks (even sparklers). I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to home fireworks; you will definitely recieve a citation from me if I catch you (I issued 10 last night).
Enjoy the rest of the weekend and drive safe,
david brett

37 Toby Barnett July 5, 2008 at 2:32 pm

I love mortors, cakes and boards (where everything is fastened to a 4×8 sheet of plywood). Makes for a great display and last a long time.

38 Fireman Mike July 6, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Do you realize the absolute risk you put your entire family in by driving somewhere? Don’t you realize the absolute danger of driving on America’s roads??? The probability of dying in a motor vehicle accident is 1 in 80. It’s interesting that someone so safety conscious as yourself would so gravely endanger the lives of your loved ones. As a grandma, I would think the safety issue of driving on a highway would outweigh going to see a firework show for entertainment.
You did however hit the point of this article, you are worried about the improper handling of fireworks. Everybody should be. That’s why you teach your kids how to handle them safely.

39 BDlonguts July 8, 2008 at 3:31 am

I’d love to let Darth Tater know that i’m probably the one selling to him or his kids , but once i see dumbass redneck come in the store any safety measures go out the window, So ineffectual teens come in, that’s prime sells , and dumbass parents that’s, prime sells #2. Way to cover all bases.

40 BDlongnuts July 8, 2008 at 3:35 am

Darth Tater is a tool, sorry had to make my name good

41 Ema July 8, 2008 at 7:00 am

So what exactly are the chances of a roman candle exploding in a person’s hand? I lit them on the fourth with my husband, and I just assumed he knew what he was talking about when he said to hold it in my hand until I was telling someone else about it the next day. We didn’t engage in any battle with them, though.

42 Darryl August 1, 2008 at 7:49 pm


The website you said (art of moronic manliness) is right on the money. but lets not forget one of my favorites, The Darwin Awards!!

43 john October 9, 2008 at 1:06 am

What a great website, they banned fireworks in New SOUTH Wales Australia 25 years ago and I so much miss the abilty to muck around with crackers.

44 Jeremy January 10, 2009 at 7:41 pm

My personal favorite: the sparkler bomb. A good place to start is an already-fired fountain. Shove about 100 sparklers into the center of the fountain, with one sticking up a bit for a fuse. Light it off and stand back a bit.

The fountain I first tried this with wasn’t completely shot off, so we got some extra kick out of it.

45 Craig July 7, 2010 at 11:54 pm

The thing is, some fireworks are simply poorly packed and no matter what your skills are, they’ll still just explode on the ground and you can’t help it. That’s why it’s usually, “Light and RUn away!”

46 Lob November 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm

“Don’t try to modify fireworks or make your own.” I disagree with that one,if you know what are you doing diy fireworks can be as safe or safer than commercial ones.

47 Salad Dragon January 18, 2013 at 11:24 pm

I love living in Indiana because everything is legal within a week of the 4th of July. Growing up, I spent more and more money on fireworks as the years progressed. My neighbor and I spent a collective $300 on fireworks one year. THAT was fun to clean up on the 5th.

48 Gary March 4, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Me too… I just love blowing shit up.. ever since I was 4 years old blowing up my toy soldiers on the battle field… lighting my plastic toy airplanes on fire and running around the yard pretending I had to bail out. Graduating to pipe canons blowing out ball bearings at targets 100 feet away in the back yard. I just loved putting time fuses on fire crackers back in 7th grade (lit cigarettes with firecracker fuse tucked under the paper skin) knowing precisely when it would go off… dropping those of in choice locations for some adolescent amusement. Of course, I don’t do that shit anymore having grown up, but still enjoy blowing off the big rockets and such on 4th of July!!!!!!!!!!!!

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