A Roman candle is a simple traditional firework that shoots colored fireballs into the air. It consists of a cardboard tube that is sealed at the bottom and lit by a fuse from the top, with one or more charges stacked along the length of the tube. Typically the charges are separated from each other by a layer of clay or sawdust. Here are instructions on how to make a homemade Roman candle.
Roman Candle Materials
Roman candles come in a variety of sizes. For a home project, it's best to start small. The 1/2" tube probably is the easiest/safest to work with, since you have some space to add the materials, yet have a fairly small charge.
- 1/4" - 1/2" cardboard rocket body tube
- 1/8" fuse, about a foot
- Bentonite clay
- Black powder or pyrodex
- Star composition (sample recipe provided in instructions)
- Masking tape
Make a Roman Candle
Work in a cool area, away from sources of flame. Don't grind pyrotechnic compositions -- be gentle.
- Cut the tube so that you have a 10" length. It's a good idea to measure and note the length so that you know, for future projects, whether to adjust the length shorter/longer.
- Wrap the tube with paper or masking tape. The purpose of this is to reinforce the tube so that the charge shoots up and out of the tube rather than splitting the cardboard open.
- Seal the bottom of the tube with a clay plug. About 1/2" of clay should be good, although more is fine. You can substitute epoxy glue, if you prefer. The point is to seal the tube so that the charge moves up and out of the tube rather than escaping through the bottom.
- Run the fuse down the tube to the clay plug. The firework will be lit from the top, burning down the fuse to light successive charges.
- Add a layer of black powder (about an inch). One easy way to deliver the powder into the tube is by sprinkling it into a rolled sheet of paper.
- Add your "star" composition. There are numerous formulas for this, depending on the effect you want. One straightforward recipe is to collect the coatings from two 6 inch sparklers, mix it with a small amount of flash powder and black powder or Pyrodex (by volume, 60% sparkler, 20% flash powder, 20% Pyrodex). Add water to this mixture, a drop at a time, until you can roll it into a ball that just fits inside the bore of your tube. Roll as many of these as you need for your candle; allow them to dry. Drop a ball into the tube, on top of the black powder.
- Press tissue paper or sawdust or a small amount of clay on top of the ball. You can tamp the paper or sawdust into the tube using the eraser end of a pencil. This is the delaying charge, that prevents additional layers of material from burning all at once so that each charge will shoot into the air. This completes your first charge. If this is your first Roman candle, this is a good stopping point to see what you will get/know what to expect. Otherwise… repeat layers of black powder, a star, and the delaying charge until the tube is filled.
- With any tube-shaped fireworks, it's a good plan to shoot them off in a depression or hole, preferably in a tube or packed into soil so they cannot point in an unintended direction. Light the firework and get clear. The expected range of the firework is about 30 feet.
- If you need the charge to shoot higher, try using a longer tube or slightly more black powder in your lift charge.
- If the colored fireball doesn't ignite, try adding a higher percentage of Pyrodex in the star mixture.
- This is a project for adults who already have some pyrotechnic experience. If you are new to making fireworks, try one of the other firework projects, such as a homemade smoke bomb or sparkler.
- Be aware of the laws where you live! Roman candles may be prohibited. If so, obviously, don't make one or set it off.
- Do not ignite a Roman candle in your hand. Do not point a Roman candle at anyone or anything.
- Use good judgment and follow safe practices when lighting making or lighting this or any other firework. Be sober, away from flammable materials and clear of pets, people or structures.
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