How To Make Chinese Firecrackers
James Taylor, M.B.E., Ph.D., D.Sc., F.R.I.C., F.Inst.P., M.I.Min.E.
Research Department, Nobel Division Laboratories, Imperial Chemical Industries (UK)
George Washington Weingart
Chinese firecrackers! We've all played with them. They're the essence of Fourth of July. They come decorously wrapped in crisp and colorful paper tissue packs, each deftly braided into tight rows of tiny explosive power. Each and every one of these little noisemakers is crafted by hand, in the same way they've been made for generations.
Exactly how are firecrackers made? Here's how they're made with the traditional Chinese techniques, described in two detailed documents by America's most respected pyrotechnics experts!
In the early 1940s, two great American pyrotechnists studied how the Orientals made these delightful fireworks, and documented the process. Their detailed descriptions of making Chinese fireworks--the most detailed and complete that we've seen--are both reprinted in this unique book.
The first part is by Dr. Tenney L. Davis, who was the director of research and development at National Fireworks, Inc. (as well as emeritus professor of organic chemistry of Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Dr. Davis published this important report originally as part of "Chemistry of Powder and Explosives." It's a detailed description of the Chinese firecracker crafting process, start to finish. This excellent text includes eight (not very good) photos, along with several classic “flash cracker” compositions.
Mr. Ip Lan Chuen, manager of the Kwong Man Loong Fireworks Company (Hong Kong), gave the American pyrotechnist George Washington Weingart detailed instructions on exactly how Chinese firecrackers are fashioned. Thus the manufacture of Chinese firecrackers was first described in print (at least the first in English) in Weingart’s 1937 “Dictionary and Manual of Fireworks.” His account is also reprinted here.
NOTE: Photos are of low quality, as they were taken more than fifty years ago, and don't hold up well in reproduction.
A multitude of firecracker varieties were popular in the early 1900s, including red-paper “Mandarin crackers;” “lady crackers,” less than an inch long and no thicker than a match stem; cheap clay-plugged crackers of substandard reliability; and big brown-paper “cannon crackers.” All of these were loaded with explosive mixtures of the general nature of black powder, were equipped with fuses of tissue paper twisted around black powder, and were sold, as Chinese firecrackers are now sold, in bunches with their fuses braided together.
The Chinese firecracker industry formerly centered in Canton, then moved to French Indo-China and Macao. Its processes require great skill and manual dexterity, and were long a secret and a mystery to Americans and Europeans. (Today, most come to us from China, and from the nearby Portuguese colony of Macao.)
For eons, Chinese firecrackers have been based on special black powder-type mixtures, made from the correct proportions of potassium nitrate (saltpeter), charcoal, and sulfur. All of these ingredients are easy to find in many places (saltpeter is widely used to fertilize plants and preserve foods). The book includes several firecracker recipes.
Chinese-type firecrackers can be fun to design and make. Nothing “exotic” is needed--if you know these techniques and good formulations. And by all means, comply with local, state, and federal law and regulations. If you’re new to pyrotechnics, first study a good book on the safe handling of these high-energy materials. Our “Safety Manual for Amateur and Experimental Rocket Scientists” has comprehensive information that could save your life. (It’s listed in our eBay Store.)
Size 8.5 x 5.5-inches, softcover and nicely bound, 16 pages. $9.95
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