Fireworks Displays & Series Wiring

Fireworks Displays & Series Wiring

by: Matthew Kleinmann

It is getting to be spring time and time to start thinking about putting on some fireworks displays to show winter that we have had our fill!  Perhaps lighting the sky a few times will scare the last of the snow away for the rest of the season and we can get on with life!

For the careful reader you will notice that I said putting on some fireworks displays.  This is what separates the pyros from the kiddies. In my mind at least, a display is something you build and make unique.  This is different from an effect, which is something that you simply plunk your cash down and buy.

Anybody can buy fireworks, and if you simply buy fireworks and almost randomly shoot them off, you are really just lighting the sky with a series of store bought effects.  This is not to say that there are not a lot of really nice store bought effects out there, but the fact is any anybody can buy them. There is nothing artistic about it.

I see a display as a more coordinated sequence of effects and more importantly multiple effects at once.  Those of you who have read my past blog entries know I am a fan of using the horizontal space as well as the vertical space for the display.

A good case in point might be a fancy double break “peanut” shell.  Alone it might be pretty neat, but what about sending that straight into the air, but with something on both sides of it, perhaps sent out at 70 and 110 degree angles, and all fired at the same time.  A much more interesting visual effect.

You can do the same thing with say a nice cake and some fountains.  Actually, spinners on a frame with fountains on the sides and a cake behind them is a stunning effect.  And if you arrange things well, if the spinner does not spin, it will at least blend in with the other effects and you will not look like a partial idiot with a stuck spinner.  A total idiot will run out and try and start the thing spinning by hand.

Now this gets me to the real topic of today's blog.  E fusing multiple effects. When you are firing more than one effect off of one cue, with fireworks I was taught to always wire them in series and I stick to that.  It is interesting on a big show doing the final checks and looking at the connector blocks on the firing modules and if you see more than one wire in any one of the connectors, something is wrong.  And this happens all the time, even with pros!

Ok, so what exactly does wiring is series look like?  It is like a bunch of people holding hands. Each hand has exactly one other hand in it, except for the two people at the far ends.  The stray hand at each end would be the part that connects to the cue on the firing module. You can have anywhere from one person to a whole room full, but they all hold hands, so every hand has one hand in it except for the two people at the beginning and end of the chain.

In practical systems we usually limit things to about 5 effects per cue.  

When you are designing a show to be E fired often times you will find it very convenient to fuse all of your effects ahead of time and put labels on them and on the wires as to what they are.  For example a cake may be labeled CUE 3. When you get out in the field, it is pretty simple to run the wires that say “CUE 3” on them to CUE 3 on your firing system. If you have multiple effects on a cue, your labels might read “CUE 6-1  /3” This would tell you this CUE 6 has 3 effects on it, and this is the first of the 3. It keys you into looking for the wires for CUE 6-2 /3 and CUE 6-3 /3.

Once you have found the 3 sets of wires for cue 6, think about the people holding hands again.  CUE 6-1 is like the first person in the line holding hands. One of his hands (wires) goes to one of the connections for CUE 6 on the firing  module. The other wire from CUE 6-1 joins with one of the wires from CUE 6-2. Just like holding hands. And the other wire from CUE 6-2 would hold hands, or connect with one of the wires from CUE 6-3.  And the other wire on CUE 6-3 is the far end of the chain, that would go to the remaining open connection for CUE 6 on the firing module.

This is much simpler than it sounds once you have done it a couple of times.

When labeling everything in advance, put labels on both the effects and the wires.  Why both? Because the labels on the wires like to fall off and if they do you can trace the wire back to the  effect and see what cue you have. But, more importantly, for some displays, the actual tube the device goes in matters.  Some of the tubes may be open to anything that will fit in them, but some of them may be labeled for specific devices. If you set up the shells as per the example above, with the centered peanut shell and the two simple shells 20 degrees off from that, the tubes the shells are in matters.  You want the peanut shell in a 90 degree tube and you want the other two in complementary angled tubes. Both the person doing the wiring and the person sinking the shells needs to be aware of what they are doing.

Another issues that often comes up with using multiple effects per cue is lead dress.  People are all over the map on this one. I have seen everything from simple splicing to waterproof crimp connectors.  I am a fan of what I call simple but effective. I splice, I make sure that I overlap a few twists of copper from each of the two wires I am joining, and a few turns of the insulated wire as well for a strain relief.  If the wire gets tugged on the stress is not right on the copper splice. I also cut and strip the wires asymmetrically. That is I will cut one a few inches shorter out of every pair. I find this helps keep the splices away from each other.  You can give the splice a quick wrap in tape. Regular masking tape works fine. And remember, if you are splicing more than two wires together, you are doing something wrong, go back and check your work!

Now it is time to check in with your favorite fireworks vendor and see what effects are new for this year!  When you go in or go online and watch the videos not only think of the effect, but what would look interesting around it.  In front or behind or off to the sides. People are naturally drawn to symmetry, so start thinking of the products you purchase more in terms of effects and what you do with them, and how you combine them as your display.   You are like a chef. The products are your ingredients, not the final result. The final result is hopefully much more interesting than any one of the ingredients alone.

Matthew Kleinmann  Is a professional, licensed pyrotechnician and a staff writer for Mess's Fireworks.