Pyrotechnic Chemical Guide
Flammable liquid used as a solvent in pyrotechnics
(i.e., in mixtures that can't contain water). Nitrocellulose
can be dissolved in it to create nitrocellulose lacquer,
which can be used as an adhesive or a waterproof coating.
Acetone is hard to work with because it evaporates so quickly,
thus making the composition cold and causing water to condense.
Most widely used fuel in modern pyrotechnics; produces a
brilliant, bright flame. The particles come in several
of different shapes, such as flakes and grains.
Ammonium Chloride [NH3 HCl]
Used in white smoke compositions.
When burned, it decomposes into HCl and NH3, then
quickly re-combines in the air to form a fine smoke of ammonium
Ammonium Nitrate [NH4NO3]
Oxidizer used in high explosives
(such as ANFO), but not commonly used in fireworks due to
Ammonium Perchlorate [NH4ClO4]
widely-used oxidizer. Though many rich colors can
be made with it, the burn rate is too slow for use in star
compositions. However, it is ideal for use in lances
and torches, where slow-burning is an advantage. Since
all of the decomposition products are gases, it is also
used in rocket propellants (such as the Solid Rocket Boosters
on the Space Shuttle).
Antimony Trisulfide (Antimony Sulfide, realgar) [Sb2S3]
fuel sometimes used in glitter and fountain compositions
to create the color white. At one point it was used
in flash compositions, but it was poisonous and extremely
sensitive to shock and static electricity. Comes
in two forms - "Chinese Needle" and "Dark
Pyro". The former is used in glitter compositions
and white comets/stars. The latter is used to sharpen
the report of salutes and increase the sensitivity of flash
Barium Carbonate [BaCO3]
as a green color
agent when burned with chlorine present (from the formation
of BaCl+), burns white by itself (with oxygen, creating
BaO). Can also be used to reduce acidity in chorate-based
Barium Chlorate [BaClO3 ]
Used as an oxidizer
in green color compositions.
be used as both a green
color agent and an oxidizer. Functions as a green
color agent when burned with chlorine present (from the
formation of BaCl+), burns white by itself (with oxygen,
Used as a high-temperature
oxidizer in metal-based green
Benzoic Acid [C6H5COOH]
Used to make
Bismuth Trioxide [Bi2O3]
Used as a
non-toxic alternative to lead tetraoxide to make crackling
Bismuth Subcarbonate [(BiO)2CO3]
as a non-toxic alternative to lead tetraoxide to make crackling
Boric Acid [H3BO3]
Weak acid in a powder
form which is added to compositions containing aluminum
or magnesium and a nitrate. Metals react with nitrates
to form amides, which can further react with the metal powder
to create a highly exothermic reaction which could spontaneouly
ignite the compound. Even a few percent boric acid
added to the mixture will neutralize any amides that form.
silica, colloidal silica) [SiO2]
as an anti-caking agent and to prevent hygroscopic chemicals
from absorbing water from the air. Sometimes used
in flash powders.
Calcium Carbonate (chalk) [CaCO3]
Used as a color agent in orange star compositions, or as an acid-absorber.
where x = 0, 2, 3, 5]
Calcium sulfate anhydrate (where x = 0) can be used as a
high temperature oxidizer in orange
color compositions or in strobe compositions.
Charcoal is used very widely in pyrotechnics. Charcoal
is the by-product of the burning of organic substances.
It contains impurities which make is more reactive, and
therefore is used more often than pure carbon in fireworks.
It can be made from many types of wood. Charcoal from
soft woods, such as grape vine or willow, is good for fast-burning
compositions like black powder, whereas charcoal from hard
woods like pine are used to create long-lasting spark effects.
Very fine charcoal is known as air float.
Another type of fine charcoal called lampblack.
sodium aluminum silicate)
Powder used for plugs and nozzles in fountains, drivers,
rockets, and other devices. Can also be made into
a paste if mixed with water.
Confectioners Sugar (sucrose, table sugar)
be used with an oxidizer such as potassium nitrate to create
smoke devices or rocket fuel.
The best blue
color agent. It is extremely poisonous, however, and
is hardly ever used in modern pyrotechnics.
Can be used as a fuel in blue
color compositions. Not often used because it is expensive
green powder used as a blue
Chlorate (Hexahydrate) [Cu(ClO3)2 6H2O]
as an oxidizer is blue
Copper(II) Chloride (campfire blue) [CuCl2]
compound used as a blue
Can be used
as a catalyst in rocket propellants.
It is added in small quantities (1-5%) to rocket fuels and
whistle compositions to increase the burn rate.
Copper(II) Oxide [CuO]
Black powder used as a blue
[3CuO CuCl2 3.5H2O]
Green powder used as a blue
Anhydrous form is used as a blue
Used as a fuel and as a blue
(sodium fluoaluminate) [Na3AlF6]
White powder used as a yellow
Used as a chlorine donor.
Commonly used, water-activated
pyrotechnic binder used to hold compositions together or as
Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol) [CH3CH2OH]
Commonly used as a solvent for compositions containing
organic fuels/binders such as shellac and red gum.
ratio of Fe and Ti]
Alloy of iron (ferrum) and titanium, used to create
yellow-white sparks in fountains and star compositions.
Acid [C7H6O5 H2O]
White powder used to create whistles.
Vegetable gum used as a water-soluble binder
White powder used as a chlorine donor and in smoke compositions
Hexamine (hexamethylenetetramine, methenamine)
Used as an low reactivity
fuel in blue star compositions.
Gray metallic powder used to create yellow branching sparks,
mainly in sparklers and fountains. Iron alloys rich
in carbon work best.
Iron(II) Oxide (ferrous oxide) [FeO Fe2O3
Black powder used as a high-temperature oxidizer in thermite
Iron(III) Oxide (ferric oxide) [FeO Fe2O3
Red powder used as a catalyst in rocket compositions, as a
high-temperate oxidizer in thermite compositions or ignition
Lactose (milk sugar) [C12H22O11 2H2O]
Which powder used in smoke compositions and as a low reactivity
fuel in blue color compositions.
Lampblack (carbon black) [C]
Extremely fine form of charcoal obtained from the burning
of crude oils. It is used to produce long lasting, finely
dispersed orange sparks.
Dioxide (lead (IV) oxide) [PbO2]
Used as an oxidizer in friction-sensitive
ignitor compositions, such as matches.
most commonly used to make crackling stars, sometimes in high-temperature
as a catalyst in composite and whistling rocket propellant
Magnalium (magnesium-aluminum) [Mg/Al]
Alloy of magnesium
and aluminum, with properties of both metals. Not quite
as reactive as magnesium, and not as hard to ignite as aluminum.
Used primarily in glitter, strobes, colored stars, and crackling
and flammable metal used to brighten flames without decreasing
color quality. Coarser grades are used to produce white
sparks, whereas fine magnesium is used in flare and star compositions.
The by-products of the burning of magnesium are more easily
vaporized than those of aluminum, making magnesium a better
Used as a solvent (similar
to ethanol) to dissolve red gum and shellac. Is often
mixed with water when used in compositions in order to reduce
the surface tension of the water (thus making it more "wet").
Flammable liquid used
primarily as a binder in fireworks compositions, and as a
water-resistant coating for fuses.
A polymer used as both a
chlorine donor and binder.
Benzoate [C6H5COOK (C6H5KO2)]
Used with potassium perchlorate
to make whistle compositions.
Common oxidizer used for
mainly for colored star, smoke, and priming compositions.
Carcinogenic orange crystalline
powder used to treat magnesium powder in order to make it
less susceptible to undesired spontaneous reactions with other
Most commonly used oxidizer
in pyrotechnics that is used for many applications, the most
important being black power (a 75:15:10 ratio of potassium
nitrate, charcoal, and sulfur).
Another common oxidizer that
is much more stable than potassium chlorate. It decomposes
at a higher temperature, but gives off more oxygen when it
Gum (accaroid resin)
[mixture of different compounds]
A common organic fuel and
binder that comes from the hardened red Kino from a certain
tree native to Australia.
Used as a chlorine
donor much like PVC and parlon. Can also be used as
a binder when mixed with acetone.
A common fuel
and binder that has been used for centuries; sometimes thought
to be the best fuel for making colored flames. Comes
from the excretions of an insect native to India.
Sometimes used as a fuel,
most often used to make "whistle mix" to burst shells
or create whistles.
Not often used because of
its hygroscopicity, but sometimes used in rocket propellants
Nitrate (chile saltpeter) [NaNO3]
Also very hygroscopic, but
sometimes used in flares and stars because of the bright yellow
light it emits.
a yellow color agent.
Used as a red
used in red color compositions.
Sometimes used as a high-temperature Oxidizer sometimes
used in red color compositions.
Serves as a fuel, and to
reduce the ignition temperature/increase the burning rate
of some mixtures.
Metal used to produce bright white sparks, the intensity
and duration of which is affected by particle size.
Meal (wood flour,
sawdust) [mixture of compounds including
Fine sawdust used as a fuel, mainly in lance compositions.
Used in rocket propellants and to create white sparks.
Used to produce white smoke.