How to Make a Chromatrope Wheel

I find it to be fun and creative to take consumer fireworks items from the fireworks store, and assemble them into larger and more impressive assemblies. Fireworks cone-fountains can be hung upside down in a line to form a waterfall, and they can also be used as drivers in this large wheel. "Drivers" provide the force to make the wheel go round.

Chromatropes are a traditional fireworks display exhibition pieces. They are simply composed of two counter-rotating wheels, each of which is a basic assembly of wooden crosses with the drivers attached at the ends of each arm. They produce the kind of effect shown below.


The device shown above has 8 pairs of crossing fountain-sprays, or 16 drivers. This would be 8 drivers per wheel, and with 1 driver at the end of each cross-member, each wheel would have 4 cross-members. We'll build a simpler version, with two wheels, each having 2 cross-members and 4 cone-drivers.

Here is an illustration of a chromatrope out of Weingart's Pyrotechnics.

Chromatrope wheel diagram from Pyrotechnics by Weingart

You'll notice in both the photo and the illustration that the drivers are mounted at a 45 degree angle to the arms, and will shoot their spray out at that angle. This angle also diminishes the amount of force with which each driver will drive the wheel. I'm going to mount the cone-drivers at less of an angle to increase their force when turning the wheels, since the cones are not as powerful as handmade drivers.

Here's a very simple pictorial essay on this consumer fireworks model. The hubs that the bolt-axles go through are simply 3 inch long 3/8" threaded tubes/nuts/washers, available at a hardware store in the lighting department.

I have cut 1-Inch x 2-Inch x 8 foot pieces of lumber in half to produce 4 foot long arms, and I've cut steep angles on the ends of each arm.

Then I drill 3/8 inch holes in the center of each arm, insert the threaded tubes, put some wood glue between the arms, and tighten the nuts and washers.

I've removed the wrapping paper from the cones and drilled some mounting holes in their hollow bases. I've also installed some extra scotch-tape to insure that the fuses are secured in their tops.

Threaded tubes, nuts, washers and lubmer for Chromatrope wheel construction

Chromatrope wheel frame ready for mountain and fireworks fountains with labels removed

I then mount the cones to the arms with iron wire, and I install buckets and quickmatch to fuse them together. I have clipped the cone visco fuses on an angle to get fresh powder exposed, and I've glued and tied the buckets to the cones to insure that they don't slip off.

Fireworks fountains attached to wheel frame and fused with quickmatch

I've assembled a T-support with 4x4 lumber and reinforcements. This insures that the wheels don't hit the vertical support during operation.

I've assembled the wheels so that they are driven and turn in opposite directions. You'd be surprised how easy it is to mess this detail up.

Chromatrope fireworks wheel fused, mounted and ready to light

On the day of the show, I'll tie the two wheel ignition points into one leader so that both wheels will light at the same time.

I always test at least one of the wheels with the cones you want to use to make sure that they are powerful enough to get the wheels spinning once they are lit.

Happy Fourth,


Materials Needed
  • 1-inch x 2-inch x 8 foot Lumber, 2
  • 3 inch long 3/8" threaded Tubes/Nuts/Washers
  • 4x4 Lumber T-Support
  • Consumer Fireworks Fountains
  • Iron Wire
  • Kraft Paper Buckets
  • Quickmatch
  • Scotch Tape
  • Wood Glue
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