How to Make "Sizzler" Sparklers

Traditional iron-wire dipped sparklers are tricky to make at home and to get to perform just right. Many sparkler formulas also usually use barium nitrate as one component. Skylighter doesn't ship that chemical. What to do?

I've visited sparkler factories in China. Even with the relatively primitive technology they use, I was very impressed. Here're some pix I took on my visit in 2004.

Sparklers being made at a chinese factory

Now, I know what you might be thinking: "I didn't get into fireworks making to make puny little sparklers that I can buy for pennies. I wanna make big ole honkin' fireworks!"

Of course you do, you megalomaniac!

But hooooollddd on there a minute. Look a little deeper.

These sparklers are designed for ADULTS. Just whup one out and light it in front of your jaded fireworks buddies. They'll all start to yawn, of course...

...Until. ...until your new creation starts popping out the brightest sparkler-sparks they never saw before! Then they'll start beggin' for the recipe.

Try these adult-grade, Sizzler Sparklers. You'll love 'em. And oh yeah. They are definitely a good project for you and your kids to make together.

Harry Gilliam

Popping Sizzler Sparklers for "Big Kids"

By Ned Gorski

Here's a new kind of dipped sparkler. It's easy to make and really creates an excellent sizzling, popping effect. The flame is brilliant white, and the shooting sparks are a bright, branching silver. These sparklers will burn for over a minute.

Sizzler Sparkler Burning, Day & Night

Many sparkler methods require several applications of slurry, with drying in between the dips. These Sizzler Sparklers only need one dip in the slurry-composition, followed by a thorough drying. They're easy to ignite, too.

NOTE: These sparklers are HOT as they burn. They do drop hot molten slag, which will burn a hand or bare toes. The sticks used as the core also burn and drop ashes. So, these sparklers are not suitable for use by small children, nor at weddings where dresses can catch fire or be ruined, nor indoors ever.

Sizzlers are perfect for hanging in a line upside-down to simulate a waterfall. Or stick them in the ground to line a driveway and guide guests up toward a front door for a celebration.

So, these sparklers, one of the simplest firework devices, are fun and impressive. Just be careful how you use them, and who does it.

Getting Ready

The batch of sparkler composition we'll mix in the next step will make about 18 sparklers. A wood drying rack will be needed for that batch. A piece of wood with 3/16-inch holes drilled in it every inch on-center, 1/2-inch deep, works well for this. Mount the drying rack securely to a wall.

Drying rack for firework sparklers
Sparkler Drying Rack

Cut the 1/2-inch pointed end off of 18, 12-inch, bamboo skewers, which should be between 1/8 and 5/32-inch diameter.

These skewers are available at Walmart and most grocery stores.

Cutting bamboo skewers for sparkler sticks
Removing Pointed End from Bamboo Skewers

A straight-sided container, about 9-inches deep, such as an oatmeal tub, will be used to dip the sparklers. The cardboard oatmeal container is better for this than stiffer plastic tubs; you'll see why in a minute. Tall and skinny is also better than wide.

Tub for dipping homemade sparklers
Sparkler Dipping Tub

Sparkler Composition

The 225 gram quantity shown below will yield about 18 sparklers.

Silver Sizzler Sparkler Composition

Chemical % Factor 8.05 oz 225 grams
Potassium nitrate 50% 0.50 4 oz 112.5 g
Titanium, spherical 30% 0.30 2.4 oz 67.5 g
Aluminum, 325-mesh 8% 0.08 0.65 oz 18 g
Gum Arabic 8% 0.08 0.65 oz 18 g
CMC 2% 0.02 0.15 oz 4.5 g
Charcoal, airfloat 1% 0.01 0.1 oz 2.25 g
Boric acid 1% 0.01 0.1 oz 2.25 g
Water, by weight +38% +0.38 +3 oz +85.5 g

Notes: The aluminum should be 325-mesh bright flake. The size of the titanium particles will determine the number and size of the silver sparks. The water should be added slowly, per that step in the following process; you may not need all of it.

Make sure the non-metal chemicals are fine enough to pass through at-least a 40-mesh screen.

Grinding Chemicals

Note: There's an easy and simple alternative to grinding each individual chemical and screen-mixing the chemical composition. Just ball mill all the chemicals together--except any metals--do not add the metal powders until after you finish milling. See the following tutorials on ball milling:

"Quick & Easy Black Powder Ball Mill"

"Make Black Powder the Easy Way"

If you will be using Skylighter's 6 lb. ball mill, mill the non-metal (no aluminum or titanium), dry chemicals together in the mill jar for 30 minutes.

If you won't be using a ball mill, follow these steps.

First, make sure the non-metal chemicals are fine enough to pass through a 40-mesh screen.

If any chemicals do not pass the 40-mesh screen test, the easiest and safest thing to do is to mill each chemical individually in a blade-type coffee mill, or in one of the single serving blenders available at Walmart for about $20. That's what I'm using in this project.

Warning: If you need to grind chemicals, do not mix them when using the blade-type grinder. Only grind individual chemicals, one at a time, and clean the cup out between chemicals. Never mill metal particles in a blade mill.

Pulverizing One Chemical in a Blade-Type Coffee Mill

Mixing the Sparkler Composition

Note: The following mixing and dipping steps will need to be followed by another step 1 to 2 hours after the sparklers are dipped. Do NOT start this process unless you'll be available for that step at that time.

If you used a ball mill, dump the mixture out of the mill jar into a mixing tub.

If you blade-milled the chemicals, weigh them and place them into a mixing tub.

Next weigh the aluminum and titanium, and add them to the mixing tub. Close the tub tightly, and shake it while holding the lid on tightly.

Screen the composition through a 20-mesh screen, put it back into the tub, close it, and shake once again.

Add some of the weighed water to the composition in the tub, and begin mixing it in with a paint stirring stick. Gradually add more water until the slurry has the consistency of a thick, sticky milkshake. Dip one end of a skewer into the composition, twirl it, and then remove it slowly from the slurry. A 1/8-inch-thick coating should adhere nicely to the skewer if the consistency is correct.

Stirring sparkler composition to right consistency

Tub for dipping homemade sparklers
Getting the Consistency of the Sparkler-Coating Just Right

Dipping the bamboo skewers in composition

Make a crease in one side of the oatmeal tub, and lay the sparkler coating into that crease with your paint stick.

Now, roll a bamboo skewer into the slurry, twirling it, and slowly removing it, which should result in a rough, 1/8-inch-thick coating on all but the last 2 inches of the skewer. Don't worry if the coating looks a bit rough now, as long as there is a relatively even coating on that part of the skewer.

Coating bamboo sparkler stick with composition
Coating a Bamboo Skewer with Sparkler Composition

Place the coated sparklers in the drying rack, in a warm, dry, breezy location. A fan blowing on them will help with the drying process.

Homemade sparklers drying in rack
Drying Sparklers

Allow the sparkler coating to dry for about 1 to 2 hours. The outer skin of the composition should become relatively dry to the touch, and not sticky, but the inside of the coating will still be damp and soft.

The Final Step: Smoothing the Sparkler Composition

When the sparklers have dried for an hour or two, roll each one between your hand and a piece of paper to smooth out the composition. If the sparklers are still too damp to do that, let them dry awhile longer.

When the sparklers are just dry enough to allow the rolling to be done, the composition will smooth out nicely, without either the paper or your hands getting messy during the process.

Rolling sparklers to smooth coating
Rolling Sparklers to Smooth Composition Coating

Fully Drying the Sparklers

After smoothing the sparklers' composition, place them back in the drying rack and continue their drying. With a fan blowing on them in a warm, dry location they will be completely dry in a couple of days.

Here's how to speed up the drying process: After the sparklers are dried overnight, place them in a drying box.

Some folks use a food dehydrator to dry stars and other devices such as these sparklers. They're available on the WalMart website and elsewhere.

Whenever an electric appliance such as one of these is used with pyrotechnic items, use care to be sure you do it safely, in a location away from your home, and in a way that prevents the devices from igniting.

Using a dryer, your sparklers can be ready in 24 hours.

Applying a Final Protective Coating on the Sparklers

When the sparklers are completely dry apply a complete, even coating of PVC plumbing pipe cement on the sparkler composition. Do this in a well-ventilated area, and put the sparklers back in the drying rack for an hour or two with a fan blowing on them. Don't allow the fumes from the cement to accumulate in an enclosed space.

Coating homemade sparklers with pvc cement
Applying PVC Plumbing Pipe Cement to Sparklers

This final coating makes for a slower, smoother burning sparkler and prevents sparks from prematurely igniting the unburned composition further down the sparkler.

When the final PVC cement coating is dry, your sparklers are ready to use. They ignite quickly from the flame of a propane torch.

Once again, be careful with the falling sparks and slag from the sparklers, use them only outdoors, and have fun.

Harry Gilliam's Notes

Ned's sparkler dip method in this project has one big advantage: you get a full-bodied sparkler in a single dip. There's an extra step to make this happen, but it saves you a lot of drying time between multiple dip coats.

This project is forgiving enough that if you want to try making these the commercial way, the way I saw the Chinese do it, using thinner, multiple dips, you can do it by making your sparkler comp goo thinner and runnier.

Brian Paonessa here at Skylighter uses a narrow diameter piece of capped PVC pipe to dip his sparklers in. Using thinned comp, and hanging your dipped sparklers upside down between coats let gravity smooth out the sparkler surfaces, instead of rolling them. Remember, you do have to completely dry each dip coat. So it will probably take you longer than Ned's single-dip method to complete a batch of multiple dip sparklers.

You can reuse your PVC dip-pipe. Just clean it out with running water.
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