How to Make Consumer Fireworks Festival Balls More Interesting

It has come to my attention that the Chinese are making bigger and bigger assortments of festival balls (or "artillery shells" or "reloadables") but still supplying just one or two measly little mortar tubes for them (yes, Virginia, the TUBE is the mortar, not the little thingy you drop down in them what goes boom in the sky-that little thingy is call the SHELL). This leaves you with a lot of shells to reload, which can be slow and boring. So it is critical that I point out to you several items for you reloadable shell junkies.

Shell Size: Those shells come in a variety of dimensions and shapes.

Consumer fireworks shells are sold as festival balls, artillery shells, or reloadables
Consumer fireworks shells are sold as "festival balls," "artillery shells," or "reloadables"

There is no standard-sized Chinese festival ball shell. They typically vary from around 1.67 inches in diameter, all the way to 1.88" or more. You might be asking yourself if you can get extra mortar tubes from Skylighter. And if you are, you need to know which mortar tube to look for. So, measure the outer diameter (OD) of the largest of your reloadable shells. Measure the "widest" part, where the fuse goes around the shell. Write that dimension down.

Mortar Tube Options: If you make/scrounge your own mortar tubes, PLEASE DO NOT USE PVC pipe. PVC becomes dangerous shrapnel when it shatters. And these shells can and do accidentally explode in mortar tubes. You would not believe how brittle and sharp PVC can be when it is exploding at you at 500 miles an hour!

To get festival ball mortar tubes from Skylighter, you have three basic options: Cardboard or plastic or fiberglass. If your artillery shells are less than 1.74 inches in diameter, and you want to spend the least amount of money, you can use Festival Ball Mortar tubes, 1.75 inches inside diameter, 10 inches+ long. Your artillery shell has to be smaller than 1.75" so it will slide down the mortar tube freely. You will need to plug these tubes yourself, a 1.75" wooden dowel cut into 1" lengths and nailed or screwed in place work best. Another option, and your best one, in my opinion is to use PL3170 High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) Festival Ball Mortar tubes. These are industrial-strength, professionally made, wooden-plugged mortar tubes, which should last you a lifetime. You can fire any size artillery shell out of these things. Our fiberglass mortar tubes PL3178 are a light-weight alternative to the HDPE tubes, they're not as tough as the HDPE but will last for years and are just as safe.

I got all these mortar Tubes from you; what do I do with them? Let's look at your options one at a time.

But before you make anything: Make sure your shells fit your mortar tubes. Try several. They should drop down the tube freely, by just lowering them holding the fuse. If any are just a little snug, you can often roll the fuse side of the artillery shell against something smooth like a counter top, pressing down on the artillery shell as you do it. Try and press the fuse a little flatter. Then try and drop the artillery shells into your mortar tubes. When you load your mortar tubes, be sure the shells go all the way down to the bottom. If a shell does not go all the way to the bottom, you will either get a low break, possibly injuring someone or starting a fire, or even a flowerpot. A flowerpot occurs when the shell doesn't lift out of the mortar tube, and explodes in it. Both conditions can be dangerous. So make sure, when you load your mortar, that all shells are firmly seated on the bottom of their tubes.

  1. Make a cardboard mortar tube rack. TU2100 mortar tubes don't come with plugs in them. Forget using plastic bases-most of them blow apart the first time you use them. And no, our paper caps and plugs aren't made for this. Here's what you do. Get yourself an adjustable hole cutter/drill/bit. Then get yourself a piece of 2 x 4 about as long as you want. Cut round holes in the 2 x 4 about 1/2 inch deep just wide enough to hold one mortar tube. They can be holes or grooves. Either will work. Your mortar tube should fit into the hole snugly. Cut as many holes as you want. Using white/carpenter's/Elmer's glue, glue your mortar tubes down into the holes. Let them dry for a day. Et voila! You have a mortar tube rack. If you want to reuse your mortar tube rack next year or after, first dip/roll your cardboard mortar tubes in an oil-based varnish and let dry. This seals them up, and keeps moisture from causing them to unravel.

  2. Buy a ready-made mortar tube rack. We have an incredibly well made wooden mortar tube rack, which holds 6 HDPE mortar tubes in a fan shape, PL3175 Festival Ball Mortar Tube Rack. They have folding stabilizers on the ends to keep them from tipping over, even if the ground is uneven or on a slight slope. They are the best for spreading your artillery shells all over the sky.
How do I fuse my artillery shells? I thought you'd never get to that question. This answer has two parts.
    1. How to connect fuses: This is an easy answer. Just tape your two fuses side by side. In the picture below, 3/4" wide masking tape is used. The important thing is to have the fuses touching each other inside the tape. The type of fuse shown is called Visco fuse.

      Connecting Two Visco Fuses with masking tape
      Connecting Two Visco Fuses
    2. How to chain fuse festival balls using visco fuse: Chain fusing is simply connecting a number of devices together so that they fire one after the other in some intended sequence. You chain fuse festival balls when you want to fire more of them at the same time, or if you don't want to light them all individually, or because you want to create some visual effect in the air. Or you could chain a rack of shells so that many of them would fire within a few seconds for a finale to your fireworks display. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. So, let's see how a mortar rack might be chain fused.

      Here's what they would look like using red visco fuse for the main fuse. The green visco fuses all go to shells.

      The centers of the mortars are 2.5 inches apart, so in this example, we'll make a simple chain with shells chained at 2.5-inch intervals. First cut a length of visco fuse about 2 inches longer than your row of mortar tubes. With a magic marker, starting at one end, make a mark every 2.5 inches. Tape the shell fuses at each mark. The finished chain looks like this.

      Artillery Shell Fuses Chained to Visco Fuse
      Festival Ball Fuses Chained to Visco Fuse
    3. How to make a faster burning chain: The chain we made in step 2 above is relatively slow burning. But suppose we want to make the artillery shells fire almost all at one time, using visco fuse. Here's how. Just join the ends of all the fuses, octopus style. Tape them together really tightly. Then insert a 6-inch length of visco fuse into the middle of the bundle like this. Use another piece of tape to securely attach the 6-inch visco fuse to the octopus bundle.

      Joining 5 artillery shells in one place on visco fuse with masking tape
      Joining 5 Festival Balls in One Place

      Your chain should now look like this.

      5 artillery shells fused and timed to go off at the same time
      5 Festiva Balls Fused and Timed to Go Off at the Same Tim

      When you lower this chain into the mortar tubes, you'll find that the shells don't go all the way to the bottom of some of the tubes. Don't worry. When the fuses burn past the taped connection, they will drop to the bottom of the tubes before they fire.

    4. How to chain fuse shells using quickmatch: Quickmatch burns almost instantaneously, the shell fuses in this chain will all light at the same time. These shells will all leave their mortar tubes within a half second or so of each other. First, cut a length of quickmatch using a razor blade knife the same length as you made the main visco fuse in step 2 above. (Do not use scissors to cut quickmatch, as their friction has been known to ignite quickmatch!) Then attach a two-inch piece of visco fuse to the end of the quickmatch, using masking tape to attach it securely. Using a razor blade knife or scissors, make an incision in the quickmatch about an inch or so from the attached visco fuse, making sure that the black match inside can be seen.

      Carefully cutting a slit in one side of the quickmatch with scissors
      Cut a Slit In One Side of the Quickmatch

      Then, insert about an inch of the shell fuse into the quickmatch, with the end of the shell fuse pointing in the direction your fire will be coming from (toward the visco fuse). This is important: because fire travels down quickmatch so fast, you want that fire to hit the exposed end of your shell fuse, rather than travel past it, if it's facing the wrong direction.

      Inserting visco fuse in quickmatch toward the fire
      Insert Fuse in Quickmatch Toward the Fire

      Then use masking tape to securely attach the fuse to the quickmatch. If the connection is secure enough, you should be able to pick up the whole finished chain, and no shells will come loose.

      Cover the quickmatch holes using several wraps of masking tape
      Use Several Wraps of Masking Tape

      When your chain is finished, it should look like this.

      A Quickmatched chain of festival balls. Visco fuse is on the right side
      Quickmatch Chain. Note Visco Fuse On Right Side

      When you have finished making chains, you can either fire them individually, or chain your chains together. Here's examples of shells chained together with just visco fuse or visco leaders to quickmatch. They're ready to fire, and all that's needed is to light one fuse.

Artillery shell Rack Loaded with Chained Artillery Shells
Artillery shell Rack Loaded with Visco Fused Chained Artillery Shells

Artillery shell Rack Loaded with Chained Artillery Shells
Artillery shells Chained Together With Time Fuse

Materials Needed
  • Drill bit, hole cutter
  • Glue
  • Masking tape, 3/4" wide
  • Mortar tube, paper (TU2100)
  • HDPE mortar tube (PL3170)
  • HDPE Mortar tube rack (PL3175)
  • Quickmatch (GN3001)
  • Razor blade knife
  • Scissors
  • Visco fuse (ZGN1005)
  • Visco fuse, fast yellow (GN1100)
  • Wood, 2x4
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