What's The Difference Between Ball Shells & Canister Shells?

Ask Mel


Hey Mel,

I plan on buying mortar shells this year for the first time but i'm confused about the difference between ball shells and canister shells. Some of the kits have smaller shells that look like shorter canisters as well. Can you help me make a good decision?


Larry, Binghamton, NY


Hello Larry,

This is a great question and one we get here at Mess's all the time. There are 2 distinct types of artillery shells used in consumer fireworks. One is the "Ball Shell" which is so named because of it's shape and the "Canister Shell" so named for the same reason. Some people like ball shells better. They tend to have a more symetrical shape or burst in the sky. The color is always impressive and the effects tend to make spectators ooh and aah! Some "ball shells", such as Festival Balls, also come packaged as a long cylinder looking canister. This just started happening last year. I will go into that in a future Blog Post.  Then you have the canister shell. These shells might not have as much of a perfect shape, but the 60 gram shells can be louder due to a larger break charge. Class C  60 gram canister shells are 1.91" in size. Once you hit 2" you are into Class B and must have a license to shoot. The medium sized canisters or "shorter canister" that you asked about hold up to 40 grams of powder and the cylinder looking festival ball canisters hold up to 30 grams. The average ball shell will have up to 30 grams of powder. There is also a difference in height depending on your shell. A festival ball will have a diameter of 1.5 inches and shoot up around 100 feet. A regular sized ball shell will have a diameter of 1.75 inches and a height of 175 feet. How high they go also depends on the lift charge.  Some 60 gram canister shells can also have a smaller lift charge than others, therefore only going up 100 or 125 feet and breaking low. This makes them seem larger and more powerful, when they are actually just breaking closer to the ground.

As for making a decision on which to buy? That's easy! Get yourself a little bit of both! This way you have a variety and your show will be both beautiful, loud and amazing! You sure can't go wrong with that combo!

Keep on shootin' Larry,