You can make your own firecrackers and we’ll show you how.
Fireworks were invented by the Chinese over a thousand years ago. Now we get to see them at all kinds of holiday celebrations throughout the world. There are a lot of different types and they work a little bit differently.
How Firecrackers Work
Firecrackers are really fun and easy to understand. Basically, a firecracker is just gunpowder (75% potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal or sugar, and 10% sulfur) wrapped up in paper, with a fuse on it. The components of gunpowder react with each other when they are heated, so by lighting the fuse you can trigger the reaction.
Here’s a deeper look at just what happens: Lighting the firecracker with a match provides the heat source to trigger the reaction. The charcoal or sugar fuels the reaction. Potassium nitrate (KNO3) is the oxidizer, and sulfur moderates the reaction.
C+O (from the air and the potassium nitrate) = CO2 + energy
Potassium nitrate, sulfur, and carbon dioxide gas (the CO2 from above) = nitrogen, carbon dioxide gas, and potassium sulfide. Pressure from the gases that are expanding explode the paper wrapper. The loud pop you hear is just the paper being blown off by the high pressure from the reaction.
Make A Homemade Firecracker
Want to make your own? First, gather your materials:
- scotch tape
- black powder (you can get this from toy gun caps by opening the caps with a pin and pouring the powder out on to a paper plate)
- toilet paper
- screwdriver or another rather sharp tool
You need to begin by making your fuses. You’ll start by scraping the flammable material from several match heads using a screwdriver or another sharp tool.
Now tear a square of toilet paper into 6 long strands.
Take each strand and twist it tightly to form a fuse.
Now put the scraped off match head material into a small dish and add a few drops of water, then put the fuses in it to coat them with the material.
Now set the fuses out to dry. Let them dry completely.
Take a piece of tape and pick up the powder with the sticky side of the tape (you need about 2 inches of tape). Coat all the stickiness with powder.
Put a 2 inch long fuse on to the tape about halfway down. Now roll the tape around the fuse. Use a second piece of tape to wrap your powder tape around the fuse tightly. Cover the bottom of the firecracker with tape too (or else your firecracker will propel like a little rocket).
Now you can light it! Make sure there’s a grown-up there and stay away from people and animals to light it. Don’t hold it in your hand either! Just light it, put it down, back away, and wait for the BOOM!
- For some more explosive fun, learn about the chemistry of smoke bombs and make your own.
- We celebrate Independence Day with fireworks to commemorate the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. John Adams said, “The 2nd day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” Oooh, sorry Mr. Adams. You were off by 2 WHOLE DAYS! We celebrate the date recorded on the Declaration, not the date it was approved in Congress.
- Legend says that fireworks were invented by accident by a Chinese cook who mixed charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter (common kitchen ingredients of the time). The mixture burned. When put in a bamboo tube, it exploded. That must have been a rough day in the kitchen.
- Interestingly enough, during the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in China, some of the fireworks show on TV was a “fake.” Well, it wasn’t real fireworks anyway. They used CGI to create digital fireworks for TV so they could display giant footsteps in fireworks for 55 seconds.
- Do a little research to discover how black powder began to be used for weapons instead of just fireworks.
- Queen Elizabeth I of England enjoyed fireworks so much that she created a new staff position: Fire Master of England”
- Want to see a really neat fireworks show? They test new displays at fireworks shows in South Dakota. That would make a pretty impressive family vacation (My husband has been there…he was amazed!) Learn about South Dakota and plan a family trip there (or at least check out some of the videos of the shows online).
- For tons more explosive fun, try Backyard Ballistics. We highly recommend this book; given the title, how could we not love it?