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Fireworks: A Buyers Guide from a Lifelong Seller

Updated on June 30, 2014

Going to a Fireworks Store

So, it's the Fourth of July and you want to buy fireworks, but you don't know too much about them. I'd like to give you a few terms and tips and arm you with knowledge to make the best decisions on your trip to the fireworks store. Here are some quick basic tips:

  1. Shop early! You will get more personalized service and the best selection. Most stores offer discounts for those who shop before July 1, making it well worth it.
  2. Shop with a list. It helps to know in advance the types of items you want & what your venue can handle.
  3. Leave the cigarettes and lighters behind. Smoking is such an unconscious habit that every year people light up as they are walking in. It's one of the biggest safety concerns.
  4. Ask questions. If you aren't sure of the performance, space requirements, or even where the fuse is located on an item, ask. Those of us who sell fireworks want you to know what you are doing. Our top priority is to help you celebrate safely.
  5. M-80's and Cherry Bombs have been banned since the 1960s.
  6. Lastly, buy your product from a reputable properly licensed dealer.

A Shopping Overview

Fireworks stores are arranged in categories according to type of performance. The following paragraphs give a brief description of the types of fireworks you will see at a store. If you know the types of fireworks available and their performance characteristics, you're more likely to make better personal choices and enhance your holiday experience.

Scroll down to see the categories and descriptions.

Multiple Aerial

Multiple Aerial
Multiple Aerial | Source

Multiple Aerials

This category gets it's name because these box like items contain small star shells that, once lit, are propelled up by a lift charge and explode in the air . They are also referred to as "cakes". Depending on the size, they can shoot upward to over 100 feet. They usually contain anywhere from a few to hundreds of shots and range in price from $ to $$$$. The maximum legal load is 500 grams, and these will be marked as such. They put on a great display all by themselves.

There are a few basic types:

  1. Round
  2. Square/Rectangle
  3. Fan (The sides are angled outward on these so they require extra room)
  4. Zip Cake - a multiple aerial that fires rapidly in a zig zag pattern.

Reloadables and Single Shots

Reloadables and single shots are sometimes referred to as mortars. The mortar is actually the tube that the shells are shot out of. Without the mortar, the shell will not launch.

Reloadables come packaged in sets that include the shells and mortars. The maximum size is 1.5". These are loaded and shot one at a time. Shooting one at a time helps your celebration last longer.

Single Shots are preloaded single tubes.

Roman Candles

Roman Candles are tube like fireworks that shoot flaming balls. Most candles shoot 8 to 10 balls. Some have crackles and reports as well. Report is the term used for the loud bang.

A Candle Battery is a grouping of roman candles bundled together as one so, lit once, they all go off together.


Fountains are part of the ground display. They shoot showers of sparks several feet in the air from the ground up.

They come in multiple colors, effects and durations. Some last close to 2 minutes. They come in hundreds of different shapes and sizes. There is one for every budget.


Rockets are recognized by their stick. They are launched out of a tube and angled in the desired direction. They are propelled skyward and explode with a varying range of colors and effects. Rockets are sized by the ounce.

The smallest rockets are bottle rocket w/reports. These look like a firecracker on a 12" stick. Most everyone has seen these. They are packaged by the gross (144 pcs.), fly up and pop and are also available with whistles.

Firecrackers and Jumping Jacks

Firecrackers are a celebration staple. A small tube like item made of paper containing flash powder. 1 1/2" is the standard size and 50 mg is the maximum load of flash powder allowed.

Firecrackers are referred to by their packaging. Most people know the term "brick". A brick of firecrackers packaged as 80/16's means you get 80 packs of 16 pieces in the brick. A half brick is 40/16's. The larger quantities are sold in rolls.

Jumping Jacks look like firecrackers and the packaging is similar, but they spin and give off red and green sparks.


Parachutes are aerial projectiles that shoot up, unfold and float down to the ground. The label will indicate if they are day or night. The night type have stars attached so you can see them drift down. They come with flags, army men or even aliens attached. They can be singles, doubles or multiple parachutes as part of a cake device. Kids love chasing them down.


Missiles shoot up from the ground and explode. They are like rockets without a stick. They often resemble a rocket ship that sits on 3 points.

A missile battery is many small missiles (plastic tubes) contained in one device (like the candle battery) When lit, they all go off together. Saturn missile batteries can come in 100, 200 and 300+ shots with each shot whistling as they go up. They are action packed and very noisy.

Flying Objects and Ground Spinners and Wheels

Flying objects are usually small fireworks, like artificial satellites or Green Hornets, and once lit they fly up in the air a few feet. Ground spinners, such as ground bloom flowers, stay on the ground, spinning and changing colors.

These need flat surfaces to work.

Wheels are devices that spin and create a ring of sparks. Pushers are devices used that emit sparks with force that spins the wheel. The wheel must be nailed up to a post, securely enough not to fall off and loosely enough to allow spin.

Smoke, Sparklers and Novelties

Smoke items only emit smoke. They are usually balls and tubes and come in a variety of colors.

Sparklers are a staple at any celebration. Sparklers are wire sticks or wooden sticks that are coated with a pyrotechnic composition that, when lit, emit sparks. They can be anywhere from 8 inches to 36 inches. We always had a bucket of water handy to put our spent sparklers in rather than on the ground where they could be easily stepped on.

Novelties include anything from snaps to tanks to exploding chickens. They are usually small, stay on the ground and are good for the daytime. Novelties items containing very little pyrotechnic composition. Snaps are also in this category. They are the small white paper pellets that, when thrown down, make a small popping noise.

The items in this category are known as Safe and Sane because they don't go into the air or explode. Some states only allow safe and sane purchases.

Tips on Safety

What I know is to always read the label and follow the instructions. I know that most items perform best when set on a flat and sturdy surface. I know it's best to have one or two designated shooters and keep the viewing crowd well away.

I know to never approach a device that hasn't fired after being lit because bad things have happened to those who have. It could still be hot, therefore, unpredictable. It's best to leave it. I know never put my face directly over any device. After the fireworks are spent, I know to leave them overnight.

The only fireworks I've ever held in my hand are sparklers.

The National Council on Fireworks Safety offers common sense tips for staying safe when using fireworks. Be sure to check out their website.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Rozzi's Famous Fireworks  Cincinnati Red's Friday Night FireworksRozzi Famous Fireworks -Professional Display Cincinnati Union TerminalMultiple Aerial- Fan Type4 Single Shot Finale Rack Maximum load of 500 gramsMultiple AerialReloadable8000 Firecracker String
Rozzi's Famous Fireworks  Cincinnati Red's Friday Night Fireworks
Rozzi's Famous Fireworks Cincinnati Red's Friday Night Fireworks | Source
Rozzi Famous Fireworks -Professional Display Cincinnati Union Terminal
Rozzi Famous Fireworks -Professional Display Cincinnati Union Terminal | Source
Multiple Aerial- Fan Type
Multiple Aerial- Fan Type
4 Single Shot Finale Rack Maximum load of 500 grams
4 Single Shot Finale Rack Maximum load of 500 grams | Source
Multiple Aerial
Multiple Aerial | Source
Reloadable | Source
8000 Firecracker String
8000 Firecracker String | Source
Joseph Rozzi Tri-State Mfg. & Rozzi's Famous Fireworks Circa 1935
Joseph Rozzi Tri-State Mfg. & Rozzi's Famous Fireworks Circa 1935 | Source

Interesting Fact

Many fireworks manufacturers aided the WWII effort by turning their factories into munitions plants. Rozzi's Famous Fireworks manufactured under the name The Tri-State Manufacturing Company, Loveland, Ohio. They made military grade M-80s and Signal Flares for the U.S. Government.

M-80s and Cherry Bombs

Every season people come in asking for M-80s and Cherry Bombs. These items were so powerful that they were banned in 1960s.

M-80s contained a whopping 2 grams of flash powder. That's about 40 times more than our modern day firecracker. Misuse and injuries led to their eventual ban.

Cherry Bombs were red round devices with a fuse at one end. They too were banned in the 1960s. The Tri- State Manufacturing company produced so many prior to that time that they had a building named "The Cherry Bomb" building where 1000's were produced a day.

Tri-State Mfg.Co.,Inc.
Tri-State Mfg.Co.,Inc. | Source

Take a Second and Cast Your Vote

How Do You Celebrate?

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Celebrate Safely

Please check the laws of the state in which the fireworks will be used.

However you choose to spend your Fourth of July, celebrate our independence safely!

"Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom." - Albert Einstein


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