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.
Making Shells You Can Build and Shoot on the Same Day
This set of instructions borrows from the Fulcanelli instructions - with modifications and pictures added. The Fulcanelli files were published in Pyrotechnica 9 and 11 and can be purchased on the web.
NOTE 1: "Traditionalists might grimace at some of these steps but they work great and they expedite the construction."
Make a former for your shell. A former is any tube that is
about 1/2" less in OD as the mortar tube ID.
A 4" shell former is about 3.5 inches. Good candidates
for formers are PVC pipe and shipping tubes. A good
former for a 3" shell is a beer or soda can.
Ideally, the former for pasteless shells should be
about 1/8" to 1/4" less in diameter than a normal former
but a normal former will still work fine. Just be sure to
keep the wraps and spiking tight so the final product will
fit in the mortar tube. This is especially important when
making smaller shells as the tolerance is sometimes less.
Wrap a couple of wraps of 30 lb paper on the former.
You can use grocery bags if you can't find good pyro
Put a chipboard end disk in the former and fold the
paper over it.
You can glue this, but if you are shooting it soon, it is
probably best to tape it. See Note 1.
Take the paper from a breakfast food box and make
two turns. Put it inside the paper tube you just made.
Make a 5/8" tube of paper that is split at the bottom.
This will be your cannula.
Put the paper tube in the shell
Put a piece of tape over the tube and fill the shell
Fill the tube with 2FA or equivalent and pack things
Pull the cannula out and you should have something
like the above. Note that when pulling the paper tube
out, you should continue to fill it with 2FA so the stars
don't cover the center when the tube is removed.
Put in another chipboard disk with a time fuse. Use
about 3 second timing and mark the fuse before you
Fold the paper over the chipboard
Spike tightly with cotton or jute (or flax). If your string
is weak, then use two strands as shown above. You can
wipe this with white glue - it will dry in just a few minutes
Cover the top of the shell with wax or hot glue
Put on another 30 lb wrap
Spike this wrap, too. Wipe the string with white glue.
If you tied it tightly enough, the shell should be very
hard. It should not flex very much when you squeeze it.
If it does, re-spike it.
Finally, put on a final wrap (to protect the spiking).
This wrap is somewhat optional since the shell will
probably work without it.
Tape a passfire made from quick match from
the fuse to the bottom of the shell
Put yet another wrap of paper around the shell
Fill the bottom with your lift. About 2 ounces if your
shell weighs two pounds. Fold over and tape the bottom.
Put enough quick match into the shell to make sure
there is a bonfire inside the paper with the match fires.
Tie the match securely - I usually put a dab of glue on the
quick match paper and the inside of the shell - just before
I tie it all together. That secures things nicely.
Click on the first image at the top of this page to see this shell (or one about like it) in action.