WARNING AND DISCLAIMER:  If you are underage, then consult with your parents or guardians before attempting any of this.  You are on your own - I'm not responsible for your actions or harm you may bring to others because of your actions.  Making the items described below  can result in injury or death to you or people in your vicinity. Some things mentioned here may be illegal to make in your city, county, state, or country so check the laws that apply to you before you attempt anything described here. These notes are not complete on purpose. If you are reading them and new to pyrotechnics, then you are making a mistake. Stop now - this page is not for you. Get a beginning book on fireworks (see Skylighter or American Fireworks News (very quick shipping)  for a start) and read up. You can't make any of this work without more information so read up or join a club or ask someone to help you.

2" 2 Break With Bottom Shot

It takes longer to do this than talk about it

This is a small shell but it packs a big punch. Don't be careless! Safety is the highest priority.  If you don't have a good place to work or you aren't comfortable with all the issues and techniques, then please don't proceed. In any case, you are on your own - we can't help you or be responsible for your actions..

This is a small shell but the technique scales well - you can make a 3 or 4 inch version of this in almost the same way. Most say that a 3" is the easiest to start with. If you decide to make a 3" shell, use 20 pound jute for spiking instead of the crochet thread.  It takes more time to make shells this way but they give superior performance in a small package. This is 'almost' like the classic Italian shell except it uses time fuse instead of spolettes and it doesn't have a second layer of pasted paper on the shell.  

Alternative sources of information:

1. If you want to read the classic articles on how to build traditional European shells, get Pyrotechnica IX and XI - the 'Fulcanelli Papers'. How to build this type shell is completely described in those two editions. They are considered an excellent read. Unfortunately at this time, the editions are reprints and, even as reprints, are going for a premium ($30-$40 each). 

2. Get the DVD that AFN made with Louis Semenza back in the mid-90s. It is still available and reasonably priced. It is called "4" 3 Break Shell" on the American Fireworks News site ( www.fireworksnews.com ). It is a great video with lots of talking and hands-on construction by Louis - you get a feel for how the old timers did it and learn how to build one yourself. 

3. Join Passfire at www.passfire.com. Kyle has some examples of how to do similar and more advanced projects on his site.

4. You can take the 3" Color-to-Report class at PGI and get hands-on experience. Here is a table of 3" single break and report shells we made at Appleton (PGI 2006) with Bill Bahr as the instructor.

Ok.. Here is how to make a 2" 2 Break with Bottom Shot

Cut out some 60-70# Kraft and make a sleeve over a 1.5 inch O.D. salute (see above and next picture).  The salute was made with a thick walled tube and taped to 1.5" O.D. The fuse is time fuse cut to 1.5 seconds. Visco will work. The sleeve is two wraps thick.

Use masking tape to hold the sleeve together temporarily - we'll glue things in the next step.

Cut 'ears' in the overhang on the back of the salute

Paste the individual 'ears' and fold them over one by one

Smooth final layer cover with paste and put a fiberboard end cap on it

Concoct some way of pressing the end cap on until it is dry.

On left is 1.5" salute with 1.5 second time fuse
To its right, is a salute with 2 wraps of 60-70# paper. Paper is folded over on bottom and a fiber disk is glued and pasted on. Paper is 4.5" long. We will use this paper tube with the salute in the bottom in the following construction.


Heavy paper from back of tablet
(chipboard). 1.5" wide and long enough to make two wraps inside paper tube you just made. Run it lengthwise across table edge to get it to curve without creasing.

Roll it up


Drop it in salute can that is wrapped and let it expand.


Here is a fiber disk (cut with hole saw) with time fuse. You can use Visco but spiking is a little different since the Visco is weak and you can't tie the string off on it. 

The fuse is sliced open and pasted with BP slurry (works better than cross match for me)

1/2" cannula made with rolled aluminum sheet
and fiber tape. Any thin walled tube will work.

Drop the stars around cannula to within 1/4" of top of chipboard. These are Dragon's eggs but if it were a night shell, I would use 3/16 stars so the sky looks fuller.

BP filled cannula, stars covered, and cannula pulled. BP is fast pulverone.

1.5 second time fuse is pressed on top (make it a firm press!)

Paper is snipped and glued one wing at a time


Spike first break - the one on top of the salute shell. If using Visco, you may have to start on the side and wrap without tying off on the fuse. If you just want to make a single break with bottom shot, move to the pasting section now.


Second shell case is constructed - it has a fiberboard bottom

Make sure the hole in the bottom is big enough to allow the time fuse through from the first break. Tie and glue a piece of black match to the time fuse. Use NC and meal for glue. See note 11 at the end of this page for a picture.

Glue second break case onto first break (thread the fuse through the access hole you made).. Some like to tape the seam to prevent fire leaks

Fill the second break. Make it firm!

Fuse and paste the same way as the first break


Spike. This is #3 white crochet thread - normal spiking string is a bit big for this size shell.


Select length of 60-70# paper that will just wrap twice around shell

Golden Harvest paste is easier to use than Elmer's (IMHO). It cleans up easier and the paper seems to absorb it better.

The paper should easily drape and hold over the end of the shell. If not, then go back and rub more glue in it. It is ok to pull the paper off and fix it. Break up the grain of the paper so it is dishrag soft and compliant.  Roll it tightly onto the shell.

A disk of paper is added to the top just for show. Dry this for a couple of days in a pyro dryer or in the sun. The paper and string will shrink a bit and make the package even tighter.

To this stage, here is what we have. Now all we have to do is put a lift charge and some quick match on it.

Due to the weight (and the lift charge) we want to top fuse this. Run a piece of quick match from the bottom of the shell to the top of the shell as shown - this is called a passfire. Bare the match on the bottom and tape it so it stays in place.

Cross match or prime the top fuse to about 2 seconds or a bit more. Hook the passfire quick match to the top fuse and tie a longer piece of quick match to the top fuse. You can secure both pieces of match to the fuse with wax thread so it doesn't come loose. I also dope it with BP slurry. Roll up in two layers of 30# paper.

Put 3/4 ounce (20 grams) of 2FA (10 grams if you are using 2FG) in base and close with tape. The shell weighs about 7 ounces so we are really putting it up in the air. The reason for the hefty lift is that the shell has to get high to allow for all the breaks to fire. The first break  is a little over two seconds, the next 1.5 and the salute 1.5 after that.. That means it has to be airborne for about six seconds for everything to work. Preferably 8 seconds so that the breaks are high enough to enjoy.

Tie everything off securely, label, and it's Miller time! This shell will beat the pants off those cheap festival ball shells you get at your fireworks stands.  Make one up and see what I mean.

PS: This shell worked perfectly ... uh... except that the 1.5 second salute delay was more like 2 seconds and a bit... However, the shell lifted high enough that it looked like the delay was intentional. It was a daylight shell (the stars were Dragon's eggs) and it was awesome watching the shell go up and cycle through the breaks.


Some of the following (2, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9) will make your shell 'less classical' in construction but should still make a great shell.

 1. Keep things tight. Even though we start with a 1.5" salute, there will be two layers of heavy paper, string, two more layers of heavy paper, quick match and two layers of lightweight paper over it so the shell will fill a 2" mortar tube!

2. If you don't have virgin Kraft paper, then use heavy grocery bags - get the biggest ones you can find - they will be the heaviest. Wrap that paper one more round and you should equal 60-70 pound paper. Use small grocery bags for the lightweight paper.  You can also use other recycled Kraft papers such as the wrapping paper you get at the Post Office. Use judgment and reinforce by adding one more wrap if using weaker papers. Watch the size! You will easily outgrow a 2" tube.

3. Get your #3 crochet string at Wal-Mart (or similar type of store) in the crochet department. Use 20# jute or your favorite spiking string if you are making a bigger version of this. You can get some good clean 20# jute at Wal-Mart, too.

4. If you don't have time fuse, then use 1/8" Visco. The Visco is weaker so you have to be careful when tying string off on it. Use tool dip or hot glue to seal either type of fuse on the fiber disk. Make it sturdy.

5. If you don't have a cannula, then use a 1/2" rocket tube or salute tube. Just be sure to keep it full of BP while pulling it out of the shell.

6. You can take the shell back apart and start again if you got something wrong. Other than spiking, it is easy to disassemble and do a step again until you get to the first drying stage.

7. If you don't have quick match and just don't like making it, then use fast Visco (festival ball fuse).

8. If you don't have 2FA then use 2FG or equivalent in pulverone but cut the amount of lift in half. Try to use 2FA or equivalent since the lift is gentler than with faster powders.

9. If you don't want to make a bottom shot, then make another color break instead of the salute. They still look great.

10. Paste can be Elmer's white or yellow, Golden Harvest Unpasted Wallpaper Paste, boiled flour paste, waterglass paste, vinyl wallpaper paste,  or any number of concoctions. Generally, go simple and you will have good luck.  I watched a PGI master use straight flour and water in a demonstration and it worked fine. He mixed the paste on the spot with his fingers and shot the shell in front of several thousand people two days later.  I like Golden Harvest the best because it is pre-mixed, smooth, lasts a long time in the bucket (won't spoil) and it seems to penetrate the paper and make it easier to manipulate. It is also slow to set so you have lots of time when using it.  Occasionally, a gallon goes on sale for $5 or so... can't beat it at that price.

11. Whenever you make a second stage (or third, or fourth), you can extend the time fuse with a piece of black match - thus getting more of it into the cannula space and insuring that everything lights. The easy way to do this is to tie a stick of black match to the primed fuse. I use a small piece of waxed string but just about any string will do. When the second shell casing is secured onto the first, paint or drizzle some NC lacquer on the stick of match where it connects to the time fuse. Dust with meal powder and you have a passfire that will light reliably. The picture below shows a stick extending about 3/4 of the way up a 3" can.