4 Quick Tests Guarantee Your Stars Will Work Every Time

Make Sure You Never Have a Bad Batch of Stars Again

I get really excited every time I'm about to start making any new kind of stars. Of course, I always wanna jump in and start making them right away. But don't give in to your impulses like I used to do. Instead always do these 4 tests first–before you commit to making a batch of any new stars that you haven't made or used before.

Here's what I learned the hard way, after blowing money on stars that had to be thrown away, and losing all that time making the stars and waiting for them to dry, only to have them turn out to be useless. Once or twice, I even missed a serious fireworks deadline—like not having enough stars for my July 4th show.

See, no matter how good the instructions are, a lot of things can and will go wrong with new stars. And it may not even be your fault.

Here's what you can do to increase the chances that your next batch of stars will work absolutely perfectly.

Star Test #1: Test Burn Your Dry Mix

First weigh out and mix 10-20 grams of dry mixed star composition. Yeah, yeah, yeah... I know. You're in a hurry, and you don't have time. I know you need 5 pounds of those stars yesterday for your display tonight! Of course you do.

Burn Loose Star Composition to Check Color and Effect

Put several grams in a line (not a pile) outside and light it. Daytime or night. Use a propane torch or a charcoal fire click-lighter, or a fuse. Remember, this is a new comp. You don't know what that stuff is gonna do, so make sure your digits are well away from the point of ignition. I once had a tiny, 1-gram pile of a new magnesium comp explode! Totally unexpected, but I had used a fuse to light it, so there was no problem.

Now, when it burns, does the dry comp do approximately what it is supposed to? Does it burn the right color? Does it show any of the effects it is supposed to have? If anything is obviously wrong, start over.

If you light it in daytime, you may have to try again at night to see how it performs. But don't get hung up on perfect performance. Daytime or night, this dry comp is absolutely not gonna look like your finished stars will in the sky. At this point, you are just looking for an approximation...

So, if this test is okay, go to Test #2. If not, start over, change your comp, get a new one or whatever.

Star Test #2: Lance Tube Burn Test

If test number 1 goes okay, do this test next.

Pack enough of the dry comp into a lance tube to fill it. And then light it.

Test Burning Dry Star Comp in a Lance Tube

It could burn as long as a minute. Toss it into the sky. How does it look? Close to what you wanted? Remember that at this stage, if you look at your burn test close up or when it is burning in a stationary position, you will not be seeing it the way it will look 300 feet up in the air. If you can, get someone to help you. If you can get back some distance, like 100 feet or so, you'll get a better idea of how your ultimate stars will appear. Have your helper toss the lance tube up in the air. This will give you a better test of what a moving, burning star would look like.

Tidbits: Lance tubes are 5/16" ID, 4 inches long, and when filled, burn for about a minute, depending on the comp. They're really handy for this kind of testing because one end of the tubes is already twist-closed. But if you don't have a lance tube, just roll a skinny paper tube up, glue or tape it so it holds together, and crimp one end closed. Then use a stick, dowel, or rod to pack your comp tight into the tube.

So far so good? If so, move on to the third test.

Star Test #3: Make Test Stars, and Be Sure They Are Dry

Now, make a small batch of stars,and make sure they are completely dry. One of the biggest problems with getting stars to work is not drying them enough. They can look and feel perfectly dry on the outside, but still have a significant amount of moisture still in them.

A small star pump is perfect for making 1-5 finished stars.

Just dampen the dry star comp according your star instructions. And use your star pump to make 4 or 5 individual stars. Let them dry for as long as needed (again, see your star instructions). Prime them if need be.

Now, perform Test #3. How do you know if they're dry?

Simple. When you think your stars are dry, take a batch of them and put them in a small zip lok plastic bag, and zip the bag shut. Then put the bag in the sun for awhile. If your stars are not dry, you will see condensation on the inside of the bag in the form of fog, or even droplets of water.

Star Test #4: Test Burn a Star

After you are certain your stars are dry, test-fire one or two out of a star gun, and/or toss one or into the sky and see how it looks.

You are primarily looking for two things in this test:

  • Does the star ignite, when fired from your star gun?
  • Does the star look like you want it to?

If it does not light, then you have an ignition problem, and may need to adjust your priming. I won't go into that here, because priming isa whole nother conversation. But if your star does not ignite when launched out of your star gun, first try reducing the amount of the black powder lift charge. Too much BP can cause some stars to “blow blind" (not ignite).

To test the stars once they are dry, insert a piece of Visco fuse 2-3 inches long into the fuse hole at the base of your star gun. Drop some loose black powder into your star gun, and then drop your star down on top of the BP. Use trial and error to get the amount of BP right. Too little and the star doesn't go high enough. Too much, and the star is blown out of the gun without igniting and your star testing gun sounds like a cannon. Dial it in.

Now, using a star gun to test your stars is just about the closest thing to actually putting them into a shell. You can see how the star looks in the air. The launch of the star approximates the process of a shell bursting and propelling the stars outward. You can see if the star ignites. You can see if it needs (more, better or any) priming. You can see what the burning star looks like at a distance. Star gun testing is the best way to determine ahead of time if you are going to have any problems with your stars in shell.

Here's the star gun I use, made of different diameter steel pipes welded onto a steel plate.

Star Gun Cake Fused with Chinese Visco Fuse
Star Gun with Different Sized Steel Barrels

If you don't have a fancy-dancy, multi-barrel star gun, you can easily make one out of a paper tube mounted on the end of a wooden dowel, like this.

Parallel Tube & Dowel Used as Star Gun
Parallel Tube & Dowel Used as Star Gun

Okay, if all three tests work, THEN start making a full batch of stars. But I would still keep that first batch relatively small, until you have made them, let them dry, and tested them in one or two shells or mines.

Can you see how this testing goes?

It is all about scaling up, slowly. Start early, well before you need your stars. Give yourself time to test and make changes and adjustments as you go. If you are being conservative, and are new at star making, you might want to start this process 7-10 days before you need the finished stars. With more experience and knowledge you will be able to reduce that time.



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