Shell and Rocket Training Kit Instructions
How to Make Black Powder, Rockets, and Aerial Shells
This kit is actually 3 fireworks lessons rolled into one project. And, you can use all 3 parts together. The goal with this Rocket-Shell Kit is to provide you the fastest, simplest and least expensive way ever developed to learn to make:
- Black Powder
- Aerial Shells
By learning to make 3 of the most common components of fireworks contained in this kit, you can compress your learning curve from months or weeks into a few hours.
What's in Your Kit
There are enough pyrotechnic supplies to make 10 black powder rockets and 10 aerial shells, which you can use in different ways.
- Launch your shells by themselves using the mortar tube in the kit.
- Fire your rockets without a shell attached.
- Or mount the shells on your rockets in a few seconds, and fire them together (a "rocket with heading").
Even though these rockets and shells are quick and easy to make, they are still real, live fireworks. You will be making explosives.
If you make everything in this kit, you will be taking a giant leap into the secret world of fireworks making.
Why are these small fireworks a "giant leap?
Because the exact same chemicals, supplies, fuses, tubes, and methods you learn here are used to make all kinds of bigger and more powerful fireworks.
Learning to make fireworks is a building-block exercise. And you now have your hands on what are probably the 3 most basic fireworks building blocks.
It will not take much actual time to make all of these fireworks. Probably only several hours of actual hands-on time. The longest part of the process is making the black powder--it takes a day or two to dry. But while your black powder ("BP") is drying, you can be making everything else. Once your BP is ready, you'll probably be able to make all 10 shells and 10 rockets in 2-4 hours.
Guaranteed to Work
We guarantee the fireworks in this kit will work for you as long as you use all of the items in the kit and follow our instructions.
Even if you have no training or experience in chemistry or fireworks making, you can successfully make these 20 fireworks on your first try.
BUT….If you want to be absolutely sure your fireworks work, then… Trust the Process!
- Follow these instructions to the letter.
- Do not change anything in the instructions.
- Do not reduce or change any chemical quantities.
- Do not add any other chemicals to the mix.
- Do not try to speed up the process.
- Do not skip any steps.
- Follow the steps in the sequence shown.
- Get and use the same tools and screens shown below.
Print this tutorial out, so you can take notes and use it wherever you'll be working.
First step, before you start, read through this whole tutorial once. Be sure you understand everything completely before you start. If you do not understand something, get in touch with us before you start. In pyrotechnics, do not assume anything. To do so can be fatal.
Make a list of all the non-pyro supplies and tools you need to get before starting. There's a shopping list at the end for you to print out. Scrounge or buy everything on the list before you start.
Once you have everything, set up a bench or table to do the work. The absolute safest place is outdoors, not indoors. You can get a good idea of the space you'll need by looking at the pictures below.
If there is one thing to keep in mind as you plan and actually do the work: ASSUME WHATEVER YOU ARE WORKING ON WILL ACCIDENTALLY IGNITE.
Prepare and work as if that absolutely is going to happen. Think through and plan everything you do. We will teach you about safety as you move through this process. But your own instincts and awareness are the best safety tools you have.
We really do want you to have fun with this project. And we absolutely want you to succeed and come back to us in one piece and buy more pyro supplies!
Finally, if you are a male, you are genetically predisposed to not follow instructions. You know who you are… And we do, too!
The people who created this project have more than 70 years of experience in making fireworks and teaching how to make them. Most problems and failures with this kit will happen because somebody tried to do it differently.
While using your ingenuity through trial and error to learn make and assemble other things in life is fine, making errors in pyrotechnics can be fatal. This is not an exaggeration.
Let us know if you need any help or do not understand something. When you are working with explosives, there is no such thing as a dumb question.
What's in Your Rocket-Shell Kit?
Here's the Complete Rocket-Shell Kit
(Packaging & colors may vary)
Green Visco Fuse to Ignite Fireworks
Flying Fish Fuse for "Stars"
(Color and fuse effects may vary)
Paper Tubes for Making Rockets
1/2-Inch ID x 2-1/2-Inches Long
Mortar Tube, Plastic Base for Tube, and 10 Plastic Shell Sets
Tools and Supplies You'll Need to Get
Be sure and get all these together before you start work on this project. Walmart and Home Depot have everything you need.
2 Kitchen Colander Screens:
1 Fine (30-40 Mesh) & 1 Coarse (about 12 Mesh)
Here's how to determine the mesh size of any screen. Measure a one-inch section of screen. Then count the number of vertical wires in one inch of screen. That's your mesh size. For example, 12 vertical wires is about a 12 mesh screen. If your screens are plus or minus 2 or 3 mesh, you're good. The fine screen is for mixing chemicals. The coarse one is for converting your black powder into granules (larger than fine powder).
Paper-Lined Baking Tray and Tight-Sealing Tub and Lid
at least 9 inches across
(Walmart or any supermarket)
Drill and 1/8-Inch Drill Bit
(The 1/8" bit is included in your kit)
Spark-Free Ramming Mallet and Ramming Post
Rocket Tube Rammer, Hardwood or Aluminum, 1/2" x 5-1/2"
3/4 or 1-Inch Wide Masking Tape, and
Plastic Model Cement
(Walmart or Home Depot)
12-Inch Bamboo Skewers for Rocket Sticks
(Cooking skewers from Walmart)
Wood Block (8"x8" at least) to Mount Mortar Base
(Home Depot or scrap)
Razor Blade Knife for Cutting Fuse
(Walmart or Home Depot)
1/4-Teaspoon Measuring Spoon, and Small Funnel
Large enough for 2 ounces of water
Leather Gloves & Safety Glasses
(Walmart, Home Depot)
Preferably one which weighs in grams and ounces
Safety & Self Preservation
Whenever you work with explosives, as you will be with this kit, you are at risk of being burned or injured. These common safety precautions will reduce your risks:
- Wear eye protection.
- Wear cotton clothing—long pants and long sleeve shirt. NOT synthetic. Synthetics can melt, fuse to your skin, or catch fire.
- Wear a leather glove when holding and ramming a rocket motor.
- Avoid all possible sources of fire, sparks, or accidental ignition.
- Work outdoors.
- Dry and store compositions and finished devices in a safe, secure location.
- Ignite and fire compositions and finished devices safely away from buildings and flammable materials like grass, leaves, etc. Avoid windy days.
- Closely supervise any youths working with these materials.
Instructions for Making Your Shells & Rockets
Make the Black Powder
The black powder you are about to make will be used as the rocket propellant, for the lift charge to launch your shells into the air, and for the burst charge to "break" your shells.
IMPORTANT: Before you get started there is one critical step you must undertake. You will need to grind your potassium nitrate to a fine, flour like powder. The simplest way to do this is using a blade-type coffee grinder. Follow the instructions here on how to Mill Potassium Nitrate to a super fine powder using a blade-type coffee grinder.
All three chemicals in the kit--potassium nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur--will be mixed together, dampened, granulated and dried.
IMPORTANT: These chemicals have been pre-weighed in the exact proportions needed to make black powder that is powerful enough for these rockets and shells to work properly. So you MUST follow the directions below precisely, or your black powder will not be powerful enough to do the job. Do not change the proportions, or try to mix a partial batch.
Empty ALL of the chemicals into one mixing tub.
Tightly close the tub. Hold the lid on tightly with both hands, then shake-mix the chemical composition vigorously for 60 seconds.
Open the tub, and gently screen the composition through the fine-mesh screen onto the paper-lined tray.
Fold the paper in half. Pick it up and pour the screened composition back into the tub. Repeat the shaking and screening process two more times, followed by a final shaking.
Do not shortcut those mixing steps. The better mixed the chemicals are, the more powerful your powder will be. The powder has now been screened 3 times and shaken 4 times.
Congratulations! You have just made real black powder!
You now know the hand-mixed method for making the most important component of almost every kind of fireworks. And believe it or not, you have gotten further along in the craft of fireworks-making than most people ever get. Reach around and pat yourself on the back.
Now you need to make your black powder even more powerful.
Granulate the Black Powder
The next step is to dampen your BP with water and then granulate it to create a form of black powder that is even more powerful, and cleaner and easier to work with.
Add at least 2 ounces of water into a atomizer spray bottle.
Then weigh your water bottle in grams. Write that total weight down.
You are going to be spraying exactly 40 grams of water into your dry black powder. So subtract 40 grams from your bottle's total weight, and write that amount down.
Spritz some of the water into the black powder composition gradually, a little at a time. Do not mix all the water in at one time.
Each time you spritz, knead the water into the powder with gloved hands.
Continue spritzing and kneading water into the composition. Weigh and re-weigh your water bottle until you have added 40 grams. You should see small "pebbles" form when the tub is closed and shaken. Do not over-wet the BP. This is critical.
Here's how you know when it's ready: Make a "play-doh" putty-like ball. If you break the ball in half, the pieces should still hold together when broken apart. If they don't, spritz and work in just a very small amount of water until the ball pieces stay together when broken.
Now "rice" the dampened composition through the coarse-mesh screen, onto the paper-lined tray.
Clean the screen over the tray with a coarse-bristle scrub brush.
Spread the damp BP grains out in an even, thin layer, and dry them as quickly as possible in a warm, light-breezy, safe location. Do not dry BP indoors.
NEVER, EVER dry BP in an oven. Do not apply any form of heat.
Moving air works better than heat.
Drying your BP can take a day or two. While you are waiting for you BP to dry, you can start working on the steps below, beginning at the point where you assemble your mortar tube and base.
After a day or two in that warm location with moving air, the black powder grains should feel crisp, hard, and crunchy if they are completely dry. If they don't feel that way, keep drying them.
Test your BP for dryness. Put some BP into a plastic Ziploc baggie. Seal the bag, and put it out in the sun or on a sunny windowsill for an hour. No significant condensation should form inside the baggie if the powder is dry. If you see any condensation, keep drying your BP.
After drying, gently work the BP through the coarse screen a final time to break up any clumps. Not all the grains will pass through the screen, but you should separate as many of them as possible into individual granules, which will be easy to scoop. Use all of your BP.
Burn-test your BP. Spread 1 teaspoon of the BP out in a line 6 inches long in a folded strip of paper as shown—not a pile. Ignite the BP using a length of green ignition fuse taped onto one end of the paper.
Good, well mixed, dry black powder will burn the whole length in a "whooshing" split second. If not, dry it some more.
If your powder fails this test, get in touch with us before attempting the rest of the projects.
Once it is completely dry, place the BP into a tightly sealed container, and store it in a safe, dry location away from heat, and any ignition source until it is to be used.
You can start the steps below while you are waiting for your BP to dry.
Assemble the Shell Launching Mortar
Reminder: a "mortar" is the tube which is used to launch an aerial shell. "Shells" are the fireworks which are fired out of these tubes. Do not get caught by experienced fireworkers calling a shell a "mortar"! Unless you enjoy be laughed at!
Mortar Tube, Plastic Base, Wood Platform, and Model Glue
Apply glue into circular groove in the black plastic mortar base. Then slightly twist the mortar tube into groove to seat it well.
Apply glue to mortar base bottom edges, and press the base onto the wood platform. Allow to dry overnight.
Repeat steps above if you have additional tubes.
Fusing Your Aerial Shell
Cut a 1-inch length of the green ignition fuse on a sharp angle at each end. This exposes as much of the black-powder fuse core as possible.
Apply a ring of plastic model cement around the fuse, 1/4-inch from one end of the fuse. Do not glue the fuse's powder core.
There are two halves of each shell, a top and a bottom. The bottom half has a round plastic cylinder molded to half a sphere and a hole in the bottom for fuse.
Hold the bottom half of the shell casing in one hand, with the cylinder end UP, facing you—the other, hemisphere-shaped end away from you. Hold the end of the fuse nearest the glue in your other hand. Insert the fuse down through the inside of the cylinder until the glue contacts the plastic. Leave about 1/4-inch of the fuse projecting into the shell casing as shown. There should be a bead of glue around the fuse, to seal it at the fuse hole.
Stand the casing up, cylinder end down. Apply an additional bead of glue around the base of the fuse inside the shell where shown. The fuse hole must be completely sealed all the way around the place where it goes through the casing, both inside and out. The important thing is to seal the inside and out side of the fuse hole in the shell. You have to prevent lift charge fire from getting into the shell prematurely. That could cause the shell to explode in the mortar, instead of up in the sky.
Inspect your glue-seals, and let the glue dry overnight. After drying, hold each shell up to a light and look for any holes around the fuses. Spot-glue any small holes to seal them.
Seal the Hole in the Top Half of the Shell Casing
The top half of the shell casing has a hole in it. That hole is not used for anything. Seal it to prevent fire from the lift charge from entering that hole. If a shell is not sealed completely, fire from the lift charge will enter the shell and cause it to explode before being launched.
First, cover the outside of the hole with masking tape.
Then, seal the inside of the hole in the shell by gluing
into and around the hole. Allow glue to dry thoroughly.
Assemble Your Shells
Regardless of how you decide to use your shells--as either rocket headings or mortar-launched aerial shells--the construction of this shell is the same, as you can see in the diagrams below.
Aerial shells are normally filled with "stars," which are pellets made from mixtures of chemicals. Stars are used to create colors and other effects in the sky. But in this project you will be using "flying fish fuse" as a simple replacement for chemical-composition stars. This lets you skip the time-consuming steps of mixing, making, and drying stars. But in the future your options for what to put into your shells are virtually unlimited.
Cut the flying-fish fuse into 3/4-inch pieces, with
the ends cut on sharp angles for good ignition.
IMPORTANT: Before you start this next step, be sure your black powder is granulated and completely dry. If it is not, keep drying it until you have passed both the baggie condensation test and the test burn of a small amount of your BP.
Put 1/4-teaspoon of black powder into the bottom half of a shell casing. This is the "burst" charge. This charge ignites the flying fish fuse pieces, bursts (or "breaks") the shell open up in the sky, and spreads the stars out in the sky.
Stack about 25 pieces of flying-fish fuse
on top of the black powder.
Apply a bead of glue to the outside lip
of the bottom half of the shell casing.
Install the top part of the shell. Push and twist the
two halves together until the joint is nice and tight,
and the glue starts to grab and hold the halves together.
Wipe the excess glue off with a paper towel,
while holding the halves tightly together.
Still holding the shell halves tightly together, apply a band of masking tape around the equator of the shell. Press the tape tightly to the shell. Let the glue dry for at least one hour.
Load the Shell into the Mortar
Make sure the glue in your mortar and base is completely dry before starting this next step.
But first, it's time to get the names of two things right.
First a "mortar" is the tube out of which you fire a "shell."
You just made a shell.
Many people mistakenly call single-tube consumer fireworks devices "mortars." They are not. Get the names right. …unless you want real fireworks people to send you back where you came from, laughing at you to your face, AND behind your back!
From now on, grasshoppa, whenever you talk about a mortar, you are referring to the launch tube. Not the thing that goes up into the air.
Drill a 1/8-inch fuse hole at the bottom
of the mortar, right above the plastic base.
Stick a 3-inch piece of green Visco fuse through
that hole and 1 inch deep into the mortar.
Wrap layers of masking tape around the shell until it is a snug fit in the mortar. Test how snug it fits the mortar. The fit should be snug, but you should still be able to drop it into and out of the tube.
Load 3 teaspoons of black powder into the mortar
to serve as the "lift charge." This charge will explode
and fire your shell into the air.
Load the shell, fuse-end down as shown, into the mortar.
Be sure and push or drop it all the way to the bottom.
IMPORTANT: Push two 2-inch-squares of paper down
on top of the shell—no glue, just friction fit. Next,
cover the mouth of the mortar tube with masking tape.
Why insert the paper and cover the mortar mouth?
Two reasons: This will keep the lift charge and shell in place when you move the mortar around. Second (a fireworks secret), the papers and tape actually add additional "back-pressure" to the lift charge and cause it to lift your shell higher into the air than it would go without them.
Test Fire Your Shell
Test fire one shell first to make sure everything works right, before assembling the rest of your shells.
Place the mortar in a safe, secure location,
and light the green Visco fuse.
You should see something like this in the sky.
If your shell went high enough, none of the
burning fuse pieces should land on the ground.
NOTE: Whenever you reload any mortar to fire another shell, be sure the mortar is cool and has NO sparks remaining in it before loading the next lift charge and shell in it. Pick it up and dump any residue out. And visually check inside.
Make the Rocket Motors
Your shells can also be used on top of rockets, as "headings," instead of being fired from a mortar. The rocket you make is also called a "motor." So there are 3 parts to your rocket: the motor to propel everything skyward, the stick to guide it, and the heading which produces the visual effect in the sky.
Your kit comes with 2-1/2" long cardboard tubes, designed to be strong enough to be used as rocket motors. Remember: make one rocket motor first. Then test-fly it before making the rest of them. Always test, test, test. Every experienced fireworks maker tests first. Testing saves you time and money, and makes you safer.
Cover one end of a rocket tube with masking tape.
Using a funnel, scoop 1/4 teaspoon of black
powder (BP) into the rocket tube, taped end down.
Place the tube onto the ramming post. For each scoop of BP, hand-push your wooden or aluminum rammer into the tube to compress the powder. Then "ram" the BP with 8 solid whacks of your hammer, but not so hard as to bulge or split the tube. Ramming packs the BP into a solid mass. Wear a leather glove on your hand holding the motor. This protects your hand, in case the tube explodes or ignites. Yes, it has happened.
Each rammed scoop of powder will add about 1/4-inch to the fuel already in the tube. Repeat until 2-1/4 inches of the tube is full of solid BP fuel. That will leave 1/4-inch of the tube empty. The BP fuel packed into the tube this way is called the "grain."
Wrap some masking tape around the new 1/8-inch drill bit, with the tape's edge back 1-1/2-inch from the tip of the bit. Cover the drill's ventilation holes with tape to eliminate the possibility that any powder could get into a vent and cause an accidental ignition.
Starting at the end where the grain is flush with the end, drill a 1/8-inch core in the rocket motor using the slowest drill speed, centered in the propellant grain, and running straight into the motor.
Drill the bit into the propellant until the edge of the masking tape is even with the bottom of the grain. The rocket core is now 1-1/2 inches deep. Save the drilled-out BP dust to use in future shells or rockets.
Install Shell Heading, Fuse, and Stick on Rocket Motor
The instructions below show the full rocket assembly including rocket motor, shell, and stick. But For your first rocket, skip the shell assembly part, and just install the fuse and the rocket stick. And then test-fly that one.
If that one flies well, then test-fly a second one with a shell on top.
The bottom of your rocket is the "nozzle" end that you just drilled out. The top of the rocket should have about a 1/4" recess.
Fill the 1/4" empty space in the top of the tube with
loose black powder. Do not pack or ram it in.
(skip these shell steps if you are not attaching a shell)
Slide a shell down onto the tube, so that the end of
the shell fuse seats solidly in the loose BP.
Wrap masking tape around the plastic shell cylinder
and the tube to keep the shell attached.
To install the green ignition fuse, first wrap a band of masking tape around the bottom end of the rocket motor tube with some tape, leaving a tape overhang as shown in the photo.
Then insert a 4-inch piece of green Visco fuse about 1/2-inch into the drilled motor core. Crimp the tape around the fuse to hold it in place.
Your rocket needs a stick to make it fly straight. The stick creates drag, and functions like a kite tail.
To install the rocket stick, cut off the sharp point of a bamboo skewer, and hold the stick against the motor tube, so that it laps up onto it about 1-1/2 inches.
Tape the stick onto the motor using two wraps of masking tape. Sight down the motor and stick. Adjust the angle of the stick, so it is straight, in line with the motor. This ensures a straight flight.
The rocket with the shell and a proper length stick should balance on your finger about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up the motor toward the shell.
If the stick is too heavy at the balance point, break off a little piece of stick until it does balance.
Once your first rocket with shell has been completed, now you can test-fire it to be sure it works properly before you finish making any more of them.
These rockets need their own launch tube. Here's how to make one quickly.
Hammer a length of any kind of pipe into the ground in an open area. Angle it slightly away from houses, people and anything dry that might catch on fire. Then slide the rocket into the pipe so that the stick is inside the pipe and the green fuse is outside the pipe.
Never ignite fireworks compositions directly with a match or cigarette lighter, unless you enjoy getting burned. Keep your hands, fingers, and face as far away as possible. Use a long charcoal lighter or blowtorch.
Then light the fuse and stand back. Homemade rockets can and do explode on the launch pad, so get well back, just in case.
Happy shell building and rocketeering.
Checklist of Tools and Supplies to Get
for Making Rocket-Shells
CAUTION: You are hereby expressly advised to acquire the tools and supplies below on your own without pillaging your family's kitchen, an unfortunate practice proven over many lifetimes to sow intense domestic discord. Likewise you are cautioned against "borrowing" any of these tools from said kitchen, and later returning them. Should your better half inevitably discover the odor of sulfur in the set of measuring spoons, you will discover a form of pyrotechnics far more dangerous than fireworks.
- Electric Drill. Use the 1/8" bit that comes in your kit with it.
- 6 inch ruler (longer is okay)
- 30-40 mesh kitchen colander screen. Walmart has nice metal framed ones. Mesh size is measured by counting the number of vertical wires across 1 inch of screen.
- 12 mesh kitchen colander screen. Walmart.
- Brown kraft paper, white butcher paper, or newspaper. Rolls of white paper at Costco are good, but you can use newspaper.
- A baking sheet tray. Preferably with a lip or edge to keep the stuff inside.
- A couple of plastic tubs with tight fitting tops. Good clean ones, at least a quart in volume and about 9 inches in diameter.
- Spark-free mallet or dead-blow hammer. Leather or plastic head, not bouncing rubber, or metal. Extra weight in the head is what you want. Home Depot.
- A ramming post. A 6x6 or thicker length of lumber, about 3-4 feet tall. Ramming rockets on a table or counter top is often a disaster. Home Depot.
- 1/2" diameter x 5-1/2" long round wooden dowel or solid aluminum rod. You want a perfectly flat end. Home Depot.
- 3/4 to 1" wide masking tape
- Plastic model cement
- 12 inch long bamboo skewers. Longer is okay, because you can always cut them down in size. Walmart, supermarkets.
- Wooden block 6-8 inches square. A scrap piece of 2 x 6 is excellent.
- Razor blade knife, or single edge razor blade. Home Depot.
- 1 tablespoon measuring spoon. Walmart.
- 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon. Walmart.
- 1 teaspoon measuring spoon. Walmart.
- Plastic funnel. Walmart.
- Small atomizer/spray bottle. Small as in the picture above is perfect. Walmart.
- Coarse bristle scrub brush. Walmart.
- Copper, iron, or PVC pipe about 1 to 4 inch ID by 3-5 feet long. This gets driven into the ground as a rocket launch tube. Home Depot.
- Leather glove. Keeps your hand from being burned if you have an accidental ignition. Yes, it happens. Home Depot.
- Safety glasses. Protects your eyes from burns. Home Depot.
- Long sleeve cotton shirt and long pants. Cotton protects skin better than almost any other material if there is an accidental flash fire. In a fireworks flash fire, cotton does not catch fire. Serious fireworks injuries usually happen because of burns, not the explosion. You can survive fireworks burns if you keep most of your skin covered. Short sleeve shirts, shorts, etc. leave too much skin exposed. The more skin exposed, the greater the risk of death--literally. Do not ever wear synthetics when working with pyrotechnics. They will melt and fuse to your skin, which can make even minor burns much worse.
- BBQ "clicker" lighter. The long-nose kind. Or get the Bernzomatic TS4000 trigger torch is what fireworks pros use. A complete kit with tank and torch head are at Home Depot. More expensive but you can use it one handed, one click of the button on and off. Its hot flame is bright enough to help you find the fuse in the dark, even down in the grass. Both types of lighters will keep your fingers and skin away from what you're lighting—do not ever use cigarette lighters or matches to ignite fireworks, unless you truly enjoy pain and suffering.