How to Make Go-Getter Fireworks Stars

I think "go-getters" are the most entertaining fireworks stars that you will ever see in aerial shells and other fireworks.

This project shows you a completely new method of making make go-getters and gives you an overview of they are used in fireworks. We'll also show you how to make a couple of quick and dirty fireworks, including a "Run & Hide Go-Getter Rocket"--which I have never seen before.

Homemade go-getter rocket
Run & Hide Go-Getter Rocket

Several more projects follow this one, which show you how to make go-getter shells and other go-getter fireworks.

Go-getters are actually part star and part rocket. In a "normal" shell burst, stars are propelled out from the center of the shell burst pretty much in straight lines, until gravity takes over and they start to drop.

When a go-getter shell bursts, the individual go-getters literally fly all over the sky, with intentionally erratic patterns. These animated stars are usually an unexpected visual delight for the audiences who have gotten accustomed to the normal patterns of shell bursts.

This makes for a true crowd pleaser and certainly one of the most interesting aerial shells you can learn to make.

Each individual go-getter is essentially a little rocket, but without a guidance system. No stick, tail, or fins. And that's why they fly all over the sky, and look so cool.

Now this is what I would classify as an intermediate level project. It's certainly possible for a raw fireworks beginner to make go-getters and go-getter fireworks. But you are much more likely to succeed at it if you have made black powder and other types of stars first.

This project by Ned Gorski is another one where Ned has pushed the envelope and come up with an entirely new, innovative, and beneficial way of making something.

I won't go into the history of go-getters, but what Ned shows you here is that it's now possible to use virtually any existing star composition in a go-getter. Before, we had a very limited set of go-getter star formulas, some of them using either expensive or more dangerous mixes, and all of them notoriously tricky and unreliable.

Now, using Ned's new method, you can use virtually ANY existing star formula, perhaps with a little tweaking, to make go-getters. This is important, because it has taken the rather tricky, esoteric process of making go-getters mastered by relatively few people, and transformed it into a simple, mainstream, predictably-reliable star manufacturing method that anyone can do.

We are all indebted to Ned for his continued willingness and ability to push beyond the known boundaries of fireworks-making. With this go-getter project, Ned has truly made go-getters available to the rest of us, not just the experts.

--Harry Gilliam

Go Getter Self-Propelled Stars

By Ned Gorski

Just the name "go-getters" makes you curious, doesn't it? And once you've seen these self-propelled stars in action--and I do mean "action"--a question quickly comes to mind: "How the heck did they get those stars to do that?"

We're not only going to answer that question, but also show you how to achieve the same effect in your own fireworks.

Actually, you've probably already seen go-getters in action in a fireworks display at some point, though you may not have known what to call them. When a go-getter shell bursts in the sky, the individual stars ignite as usual. But then, rather than simply spreading out and falling in straight or gently curved lines under the influence of gravity and the powerful shell burst, the individual stars suddenly take off and scoot randomly around the sky under their own power. Here is a photograph of the burst of a shell containing go-getter stars.

Go getter shell
Self-Propelled "Go-Getter" Stars in an Aerial Shell
Photo by Tom Handel

A Go-Getter Shell Being Constructed

Obviously, in those shell bursts, the go-getters are not just projecting outward in straight lines like standard stars. The "gitters" are flying and zipping in random, unpredictable directions, under their own power.

Aerial shells are not the only application for self-propelled stars. More on those in a minute, but first let's get an idea of just what a go-getter is and how that effect is achieved.

What Makes a Go-Getter "Git?"

Well, basically a go-getter is a simple rocket motor.

Diagram of the inside of a go getter star
Cross-Section of a Go-Getter

The star composition, actually the fuel for the rocket effect, is contained in a paper tube which is plugged at one end. When the fuse ignites the fuel in the hollow core, hot gasses are ejected creating thrust. This thrust propels the go-getter in the opposite direction.

Since this little rocket has no stabilizing stick or fins, the direction it goes is pretty much random, as can be seen in the photo of the go-getter shell above. The burning star composition/fuel also creates the light associated with the go-getter star. Various additives to the fuel may also be employed to provide spark effects and "tails." And different star compositions can be used to create an infinity of colors.

Go-getters can be used in a wide variety of fireworks devices. Here are a few examples.

Go-Getter Bottle Rockets

The most basic use of a go-getter is as a stand-alone motor to propel a "bottle rocket."

The go-getter bottle rocket is the simplest and best way to test a new batch of go-getters to see if they work. Tape one to a bamboo skewer. Then stick some Visco fuse into it, and shoot it from a bottle or tube. If it flies well in that configuration, it will have the zip necessary to function well in a shell or other device.

Go-Getter Bottle Rockets

Note: Making these little test rockets is a lot of fun. If I'm not careful, I'll use up a new batch of gitters just taking them out and flying them as these little rockets. "I'm just testing them" I keep telling myself. Before I know it, I've used them all up. I've got a big grin on my face, but there are no go-getters left to make that shell or other device I was planning on building! Terrible situation. Terrible.

Simple, Quick Rocket Headings Filled with Go-Getters

This rocket heading project details the construction of nice, quick and simple rocket headings. Go-getters can easily be fired into the sky in rocket headings, both as a nice effect, and as an additional way to test the aerial performance of them before using them in larger devices.

Simple Plastic-Can Go-Getter Rocket Heading

Depending on the size of the go-getter tubes (see below) and the size of the plastic-can shell casings (Skylighter PL1022 (1-15/16") or PL1050 (2-1/2")) that you are using, between 4 and 8 go getters can be loaded in each rocket heading.

Go-Getter Cakes

"Cakes" are those multi-shot, multi-tube devices you see stacks of at your consumer fireworks shop. These are nice display items, and not often tackled by amateur fireworkers. But you can make a simple go-getter cake, and I show you how in another project.

Go-Getter Cake

Go-Getter Mines

Go-getters are used as flying inserts in fireworks mines. Here is project for making small sized mines.

Making Fireworks Mines

Or you could build the larger mines detailed in the tutorial here.

Making 4-Inch Fireworks Mines

A Go-Getter Mine

Safety Note: My friend Tom tells this story. It seems that the proprietor of a certain fireworks chemicals and supplies business (which we are all familiar with) once found himself at a local club shoot with a very large supply of go-getters in his possession. The proprietor engaged my friend Tom in a conversation about what to do with them. "Let's build some go-getter mines," suggested the proprietor, which they did.

Soon they had six fat 4-inch go-getter mines, each with perhaps a double handful of go-getters in it. They chain fused them together with quick match and loaded them all into a 4-inch mortar rack.

"Hey, Tom, you go ahead and light 'em. Enjoy yourself" said the proprietor generously as he backed away from the firing line.

Tom, callow and unsuspecting youth that he was, and as yet unfamiliar with the proprietor's twisted sense of humor--fired up the torch. Innocently focused on his task, he failed to note that the proprietor's retreating gait had increased from a brisk walk to a full trot as he disappeared over a rise. Baring a few inches of black match, Tom lit the fuse and retreated to a "safe" distance of 15 or 20 feet as he would when firing a shell.

The six mines lifted almost simultaneously, and for one brief moment Tom admired their work.

Then the go-getters ignited.

Suddenly, he found himself trapped inside a nest of huge, enraged, mindless, multi-colored, flaming hornets. With a hundred or so of the demented missiles snorting and sizzling around him, coming at him on unpredictable trajectories from all directions, there was nothing he could do but watch. By remarkable good luck, he wasn't hit -- and he says "To be honest, having survived, it was beautiful."

Lesson learned: When firing go-getter mines, use a nice long piece of Visco fuse and give yourself plenty of time to retreat to a safe distance, which is likely to be further away than you might think ... and beware of bottle-washers bearing gifts.

Making Go-Getters

So in addition to being usable as small rockets, go-getters can be used in almost any device where standard fireworks stars are used. So, now let's get on to making some of these versatile little devices.

Note: The go-getter-making process I'm about to describe is not the traditional one you may see elsewhere. I have had very mixed results with that wet-slurry method, and have heard others say the same. So, I developed a different manufacturing method, presented here, to achieve more consistent results.

Go-Getter Tubes

In this project's illustrations we will use Skylighter's #TU2028 spiral tubes (9/16-inch ID by 1-1/2-inches long) and Skylighter's #PC0600 matching 9/16-inch end plugs.

The #TU2028 tubes have a 1/16-inch-thick wall. You may also find another option for go-getters, having the same ID and length, but with a thinner tube wall, and with a spun-closed end as pictured below. End plugs are not required when that tube is used.

Go Getter Tubes
Go-Getter Tubes

Gluing the End Plugs in the Tubes

If you are using the open-ended tubes and end plugs, you will need to glue the end plugs into the tubes. This prevents the plugs and any remaining fuel from being blown out of the bottom of the tube when the go-getter nears the end of its burn and display.

Put a ring of Elmer's glue around the inside of one end of the tube, about 1/8-inch in from the end.

Place the glued end of the tube down onto a scrap sheet of paper.

Using a 6-inch long piece of 1/2-inch diameter wood dowel or aluminum rod, push an end plug, flat end first, down into the tube from its top. Continue pushing until the flat end of the plug has passed through the glue ring and is flush with the bottom end of the tube.

Remove the tube from the paper and stand it upright to allow the glue to dry.

Gluing end plugs into cardboard tubes to make go getter stars.

Fireproofing Tubes--Optional

When the go-getter inserts from a device have displayed in the sky, the empty tubes fall back to earth. Obviously we don't want any flaming debris raining down to the ground.

The charcoal-titanium fuel used in this project will not ignite the 1/16-inch-walled tubes, so they do not have to be fireproofed for this particular project.

However, that fuel will ignite the thin-walled tubes if you are using them. And all the colored and glitter fuels used in other go-getter projects will ignite any tube.

So in many cases it's a good idea to fireproof the tubes. Fortunately this is a simple process to do once the end plug glue has dried completely.

The fireproofing process uses a 50:50 mixture (by volume) of water and sodium silicate (also known as waterglass, Skylighter #CH8287).

Note: Shake the can of waterglass well before measuring any of it out. Have an empty bottle handy to store any left-over mixed solution for use next time. That way you won't be wasting any waterglass, and you won't be tempted to mix the diluted chemical with the full-strength waterglass in the original can.

Depending on how many tubes you want to treat, mix equal volumes of the waterglass and water in a plastic tub. Stir the diluted solution well with a Popsicle stick or paint stirring stick.

Using a gloved hand, dip the tubes to be fireproofed, one at a time, into the solution. Ensure that all the surfaces, inside and out, are completely covered with the liquid. Dump out the excess waterglass. Stand the tubes up on a sheet of paper or a paper plate to drain.

Note: If you are using the thin tubes with the spun-closed ends, those ends can start to unravel a little because of the moisture they've been exposed to. Use your (gloved) fingers and the 1/2-inch dowel to re-flatten those ends as they are dripping dry.

Finally, stand the dripped-dry tubes on a drying screen and dry them completely, which will take overnight in a warm room or a couple of hours in a drying chamber.

Using a mixture of sodium silicate and water to fireproof go getter tubes.

The fireproofed tubes will end up with a shiny, "plastic" looking coating and a slightly darker color than untreated tubes. If a flame is applied to them, they'll develop a whitish, foamy layer on the surface and the paper will turn black in spots, but they won't burst into flames.

Charcoal-Titanium Go-Getter Fuel

Note: I am assuming that this "ain't your first rodeo"--that you've weighed, mixed, and dampened compositions before in other projects, and that you know the basics of the process. If not, I suggest you first take a look at Skylighter's other projects on making stars and black powder, so you learn the basics of weighing chemicals, screen-mixing and/or shaken-tub-mixing, dampening comps to the right consistency, drying stuff, making homemade blackmatch, coating BP on rice hulls, etc.

This fuel will produce go-getter stars which burn with an orange charcoal-spark flame, leaving behind a trail of burning white titanium sparks. 4 ounces of the following formula will make approximately 18-20 go-getters.

Charcoal-Titanium Go-Getter Fuel

Component Percent Factor 4 oz 113.7 g
Potassium nitrate 55% 0.55 2.2 oz 62.5 g
Charcoal, airfloat 21% 0.21 0.85 oz 23.9 g
Titanium, spherical 13% 0.13 0.5 oz 14.8 g
Sulfur 9% 0.09 0.35 oz 10.2 g
Dextrin 2% 0.02 0.1 oz 2.3 g

Note: You can experiment with particle shapes other than spherical, and metals other than titanium in this composition. Generally, fine metals will produce short, dense tails with lots of sparks, whereas coarser metals will produce longer tails with fewer sparks.

Safety Note: Please read and observe these safety instructions. These essays detail important safety precautions for mixing compositions, and for making and storing fireworks devices.

The most important precautions are:
  • Always minimize the amount of pyrotechnic composition and devices that are exposed at any given time.
  • Never use a blade-type coffee-mill or blender to pulverize mixed compositions. Use blade mills only to pulverize individual chemicals, one at a time, and clean them well after each chemical.
  • Wear safety glasses and cotton (never synthetic) clothing which covers as much of the body as possible.
  • Store compositions and devices away from your work and living areas, never in your home or attached buildings.
Safety Note: Making and using go-getter fuel can be dusty. Wear a dust mask or respirator, and perform the steps outdoors to minimize the risks associated with flammable dust.

Safety Note: In the following steps, do not ever put titanium into a ball mill, a blade-type mill, or a 40-mesh mixing screen. Not ever. Never.

Milling Note: blade milling hazards are different from ball milling hazards. You should NEVER blade mill mixed chemicals. But you can ball-mill some chemicals together. So read and understand the next part carefully. The easiest and simplest way to pulverize all the chemicals in this project--except the titanium--to the necessary fine consistency is by ball-milling them together. At the same time, ball-milling will ensure that the chemicals are intimately mixed, saving another step in the process. Ball-milling the fuel in this project will produce a more powerful fuel, and your go-getters will have more "zip" to them.

If you will be using a ball mill, simply
  • weigh out the needed chemicals individually,
  • put them in the ball mill--without the titanium, and
  • mill them for 2 hours as described in these projects:

  • Using a ball mill in fireworks making.

  • Ball Milling 101.
If you will not be using a ball mill, you must mill the potassium nitrate with a blade-type coffee-mill or single-serving blender. After milling, it must be fine enough to pass through a 40-mesh screen. The airfloat charcoal, sulfur, and dextrin from Skylighter is already fine enough to pass the 40-mesh screen.

After your potassium nitrate has been milled, weigh out the chemicals individually. Shake them together--except the titanium--in a sealed plastic tub to intimately mix them. Screen them--except the titanium--through the 40-mesh screen. Repeat the shaking and screening processes two more times.

After the chemical mixture, except the titanium, has been finely pulverized and intimately mixed, either by ball-milling or screen-mixing, then add the titanium to the mixture in the plastic tub, seal the tub, and shake the composition thoroughly to completely mix the titanium into the fuel.

Now, dampen the fuel using a trigger sprayer. Alternately spritz a little water onto the fuel and then mix the fuel and water in the tub with a gloved hand to distribute the moisture. The objective is to just get the composition slightly damp and non-dusty. This will require adding approximately 2/10 ounce (5.7 grams) of water to the above 4-ounce batch of chemicals.

Gently screen the dampened composition through a 20-mesh screen to ensure the moisture is evenly spread throughout the fuel. When properly damp, the fuel should have the consistency of slightly damp sand or brown sugar.

Pressing the Go-Getter Fuel into the Paper Tubes

A couple of simple tools are needed.

A 6-inch long rammer made from 1/2-inch wood dowel or aluminum rod will be needed to hand-ram the damp fuel into the tubes. If you used such a tool to push the end plugs into the open-ended paper tubes during the gluing process, that same dowel or rod will work fine.

The awl shown below is available in the tool section of Home Depot near the screw drivers. It will be used to create the hollow core.

To prepare the awl for use, file the sharp end of the awl flat so that the width of the end is about 1/16" across.

Put several wraps of masking tape on the awl, so that the bottom edge of the tape is 1-1/8" away from its tip as shown in the photo below.

Awl from Home Depot modified for making go-getter cores
Awl Modified to Create the Hollow Core in Go-Getters

Using one of the plugged tubes, scoop enough fuel out of the tub to fill about one quarter to one third of the tube. Using the rammer, hand-press the fuel into the bottom of the tube. Repeat the process, one increment at a time, until the tube is full of compacted fuel. Three to four increments per tube is a good increment size, and allows the fuel to be compacted to a uniform density.

compressing go-getter fuel into tubes
Hand-Compressing Fuel Increments in a Go-Getter Tube

As you finish hand-ramming each go-getter, hold the awl centered on the end of the fuel grain and perpendicular to it. Push the awl into the fuel up to the masking tape wraps.

Use your fingers to compact the fuel around the awl, where it may have loosened somewhat during the awl's insertion. Then, gently twist the awl and remove it from the go-getter. Tap any excess, loose fuel back into the fuel tub.

Filling go getter tubes with damp composition and using an awl to make a core for fuse.

Repeat these processes until you have rammed and cored all of the go-getters. Then dry them in a drying chamber for a day, or in a nice warm, breezy spot for two days.

Installing the Fuse in Go-Getters

After the go-getters are dried, fuse them with 3-inch pieces of thin black match, bent in half. The black match is glued into the cavity ("core") of the go-getters. It will catch fire easily and transfer that fire to the go-getter fuel to ensure ignition. The black match acts as the "prime" for the go-getters.

That thin black match may be made by hand or harvested out of commercial quick match (Skylighter #GN3001, which can't be shipped) or paper-wrapped fast fuse (Skylighter #GN1205).

If you are harvesting match from one of the commercial fuses, cut a 3-inch section of that fuse with a razor-anvil cutter.

Bend each 3-inch piece of thin black match in half, creating a 1-1/2-inch-long "V."

Dip the pointed end of the fuse "V" about 1/8-inch into either nitrocellulose lacquer, PVC plumbing cement or Duco cement.

Applying PVC glue to blackmatch fuse
Applying Glue to a Folded Piece of Black Match

Insert the glued end of the fuse "V" as far into the go-getter as you can, and set it aside to dry. Repeat this for all of your go-getters.

Fusing go getter stars by gluing the fuse in place with PVC cement.

After allowing the glue to dry for about an hour, the fused batch of go-getters is ready to use in your fireworks devices. Construction of various devices using go-getters is covered in other projects.

Testing the Go-Getters as Bottle Rockets

The best way to test go-getters to see if they have enough thrust to propel themselves in the air is to use them as bottle rockets.

Tape a go-getter to a bamboo skewer from the grocery store or Walmart, with the fused end pointing down along the length of the skewer.

Align the stick so that it is straight with the go-getter.

Insert a 3-inch piece of Visco fuse into the core of the getter.

Taping a bamboo skewer to a go getter star to test the star as a bottle rocket.

Now just stick the go-getter bottle rocket into a tube or bottle in a safe location and fire it up. If the bottle rocket lifts off and flies well, the devices will work well as go-getter stars.

Believe me, you will be happier if you use a long enough piece of fuse for you to be able to get behind a tree or a barricade. If your go-getter is really energetic, it may well chase you. These are genuine "Run & Hide Rockets!"

Test firing a go getter star as a bottle rocket.


Two possible problems may arise when you test the go-getters as above:
  • Not enough thrust. The getter will not self-propel or fly as a bottle rocket. Possible solutions include:

    • Use a hotter fuel. You can create a hotter fuel by:
      • Ball milling the non-metal components together
      • Increasing the oxidizer to fuel ratio (a bit more potassium nitrate, a bit less charcoal)
      • Using a hotter type of fuel
    • Make the hollow core in the fuel grain deeper. Raise the masking tape marker on the awl in 1/8-inch increments to 1-1/4-inch, 1-3/8-inch, or even to the maximum depth of 1-1/2-inch. Deeper cores will result in a greater burning surface area and greater thrust.

  • Too much thrust. The go-getters blow up upon ignition. Possible solutions include:

    • Use a slower fuel. You can slow the fuel down by:
      • Screen mixing the fuel ingredients together, rather than ball-milling them together
      • Reducing the oxidizer-to-fuel ratio in the fuel (a bit more charcoal, a bit less potassium nitrate)
      • Using a slower type of fuel
    • Reduce the depth of the hollow core in the fuel grain by lowering the masking tape marker on the awl in 1/8-inch increments. Try 1-inch above the awl tip, and then 7/8-inch, etc, if necessary. Shallower cores will result in less burning surface area and less thrust.
    • If you are using match harvested from paper-wrapped fast-fuse, it may be perchlorate-based rather than nitrate-based. Perchlorate compositions can be more sensitive to pressure, and explode rather than burn. If your go-getters are exploding with the doubled pieces of that type of match in them, try using only a single strand (not doubled) of that match.
When you get them working just right, the heck with it, go make up some more Run & Hide rockets and celebrate!
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