Firefly Aluminum Fireworks Stars

What is the Firefly aluminum effect? Firefly is an interesting effect. It is also called transformation. It is generally a firework star or a comet whose effect consists of variations of charcoal orange (even red) mixed with twinkling silver flashes. The description "transformation" comes from the tendency of some firefly aluminum firework stars to begin as one color (orange from charcoal) and then to "transform" into twinkling silver. This delayed action ignition of the firefly aluminum powder is caused by the firefly aluminum powder particles being so large that it takes them awhile to get going.

Here is a typical Firefly aluminum firework star formula, the one you get in each container of firefly aluminum powder from Skylighter. This one originally came to us from Steve Majdali, and has since been slightly modified a couple of times, after input from Bill Sharpe and others. By the way, it was also Steve who initially "discovered" the Transmet K102 Firefly aluminum powder and introduced it to others and us in the pyro community. K102 firefly aluminum powder is so coarse that when several experienced pyros first looked at it, they opined it was too coarse to be useful in firework stars. But, of course, it is this large particle size that actually does make it work. All parts by weight:

Basic Firefly Aluminum firework star Composition
Potassium nitrate 49 parts
Air float charcoal 29 parts
80 mesh charcoal 11 parts
Sulfur 9 parts
Firefly aluminum 5 parts
Dextrin To taste
Dampen with water or water and alcohol.

Solving one firefly problem. There are many, many different firefly aluminum firework star formulas and differing visual effects, but my personal favorite is the one invented by Bill Kimbrough, which everyone now calls "Flaming Shit." Read "Long Hang Time Firefly Firework Star" for all the details on making this beautiful effect. Bill recently shined a light on a problem he was having making these firefly aluminum firework stars, and let me share it with you all. Here’s an edited version of his recent emails to me. He had made 50 lbs. of firefly aluminum firework stars recently and they had eventually crumbled apart, making them useless. He had also heard of others having similar problems making firefly aluminum firework stars. (I have only lightly edited Bill’s scratchings, as I wish to preserve forever the historical import of what he wrote for posterity. Bill wrote:

"On the subject of the Ph of Potassium Nitrate, I found that my [locally bought] technical crystal nitrate has a Ph of 5. Due to the logarithmic scale of Ph, that means that it is 10 times more acidic than 6 and or course 10 times more acidic than 7. I measured the Ph of what is the normal nitrate I use, and it came out to be right on the dot 7 (good news). I tried to neutralize the acidic nitrate, and added 1% Potassium Bicarbonate, which turned out to be a little too much, as the resulting Ph ended at 8, but a good start. Now if I can only figure out what logarithmic means.

I have had a lot of discussion in years past about reacting compositions, mostly centered around flaming shit firefly aluminum firework stars. I thought then, and now I believe that I have the direct evidence that the problem was and is the nitrate. Litmus paper is really not adequate, and a good broad range paper is needed. --WAK"

Now the implication of this is clear: if the potassium nitrate you are using in your firefly stars is too acidic, over time (sometimes a very SHORT time) your nitrate is probably going to attack the aluminum powder and cause it to oxidize. Your firework stars will kind of fluff up, and come apart, and get crumbly. So, if you are using potassium nitrate other than Skylighter CH5300, you may want to check its pH. This goes for all the off-spec stuff you get from us and agricultural grades you may have acquired.

But I suspect using acidic potassium nitrate may not be a problem if you’re just using it to make plain ole black powder. Not to worry.

Here's another Firefly Aluminum Firework Star Recipe. Back in 1996, when Skylighter first started peddling Firefly Aluminum powder, some folks were experimenting with it and having problems. In October 1996, LN published this recipe for Firefly aluminum firework stars on the Pyrotechnic Mailing List (PML). He writes:

"I have used the following Firefly aluminum firework star composition [all parts by weight] and obtained excellent results in mines.

Firefly Aluminum Cut Firework Stars
Potassium Nitrate 49
Air Float Charcoal 29
Sulfur 9
Dextrin 10
36 Mesh Charcoal 11
Firefly Aluminum 5

I ball mill the Potassium Nitrate, Air Float Charcoal, Sulfur and Dextrin together for 1 hour. I then add the 36 mesh Charcoal and Firefly Aluminum powder and mix with a spoon. I add water to make a dough-like mix and cut with a knife into 3/8-inch cut firework stars. I separate the firework stars and dry for 3-4 days. The effect is a long tiger tale going up and firefly aluminum sparkles coming down. The original formula made firework stars that were too brittle. The extra Dextrin in this mix makes firework stars that are nice little bricks. If you make larger firework stars it takes longer to dry. A damp firework star produces very little firefly aluminum effect."

LN also elaborated in a note to me later, explaining that his formula was an adaptation of the Majdali formula and telling why he uses so much dextrin in his formula:

"I also use your [Majdali] formula with your 36 mesh charcoal and I use 10 parts dextrin instead of 5. This makes a much harder firework star that can hold up to a hard lift charge. I roll into .480-inch round firework stars for 1/2-inch Roman Candles. The effect is super."

But some folks were not able to make their pyrotechnic formulas work - the firefly aluminum effect wasn’t happening. So MS wrote this message to the PML:

"The Firefly aluminum powder effect results from the synthesis of aluminum carbide and its combustion in the air. A simple test is to use your Firefly aluminum powder in a mix like the following. Burn a loose heap on a tile - and while it's still glowing, but not flaming, flick some into the air with a piece of flat metal. You will see those pesky little fireflies come to life...

Potassium nitrate, 200 mesh 65
Red gum, 100 mesh 30
Firefly aluminum 5

Sieve the nitrate and Red gum well before blending in the firefly aluminum powder. If Harry's Firefly aluminum powder still has problems, then use a bright-waxed fine flake of known identity. Please tell us your source and batch number or other identifying information. Thanks...

Regards, MS"

Finally, about 6 months later, this exchange on the PML. TS asks the question and CW replies.

>Date: Mon, 19 May 1997 11:12:56 -0400 (EDT)
>From: TS
>Subject: Name that effect?
>To all the expert pyros out there...
>What is the effect that is seen in aerial shells that seems to hang and last
>forever? The effect I am referring to is NOT firefly aluminum but is similar in some
>aspects. The effect is much like the traditional lampblack willow,
>consisting of a very fine charcoal tail that has a small amount of twinkling
>to it... or very small of amount of firefly comp in it.

But that *is* firefly aluminum. It is also known as transformation, as in Cam's 'majestic arching transformation'. If you look at the composition, you'll see why. Basically, it is like a Shimizu Chrysanthemum 7 and a half with large flake aluminum powder added. Shimizu also adds a sulfate, which insures that the flakes will flash. Jerry Taylor introduced the effect (I believe), and there is a debate about what causes the flashes in his original composition.

'Kamuro' is a term which Marc Williams insists that oriental shell makers apply to almost anything that has a 'delayed' tail. Any sort of glitter would thus qualify.

Glitter effects can range all over the map. For instance, Winokur's #21 when made with 50/50 mix of Aluminum powder flitter and bright flake Aluminum powder will have a tail with individual bright flashes. This mix is not expensive to make, and I've seen a lot of it in oriental shells recently.

Firefly aluminum firework stars are specifically a charcoal hanging effect with a delayed 'cloud' of blinking lights.

Stay green,

Long Hang Time Firefly Fireworks Stars

There is more on the firefly aluminum effect elsewhere, including some excellent work by Shimizu. But hopefully, this will serve to answer some questions and perhaps solve or prevent problems you may have with this great firework star.

Bill Kimbrough developed the recipe for this firefly aluminum firework star a few years ago. The effect is sort of like a rich silver twinkling kind of like a firefly, but surrounded by really red glowing embers. Not charcoal orange, but more red than that. The silver and red together are incredible. This is truly a noble firework star. If all goes well, and everything burns up where it's supposed to, it is "Fireflies on Cocaine," Otherwise the firefly aluminum firework star is accurately called "Flaming Shit Falls on You."

Here are a couple of notes. All parts below are parts by weight; it doesn't matter what they add up to. The pine charcoal is critical. Without it, you don't get the true Flaming Shit firefly aluminum firework star.

Fireflies on Cocaine (or Flaming Shit Falls on You)
by Bill Kimbrough

Potassium Nitrate 46
Pine Charcoal 44
Sulphur 6
Magnalium, 30 mesh 10
Barium Carbonate 6
Starpol 4.5

I like to take the pine charcoal as it comes out of the yard grinder, and put it in the ball mill for 10 minutes. Sift out (remove) what doesn't fall through a window screen, and just use the mixed granulation of the charcoal--Better charcoal effect. I mostly roll mine with starpol as a binder, but I have made the formula into comets, firework stars, and even tried it in lances. Pump, cut or rolled firework stars, worked good for me, but never use starpol as the binder if it is to be the outside of a color change firework star, as it will surely cause a moisture problem.

--Bill Kimbrough

Materials Needed
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