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Charcoal

Charcoal is one of the most important ingredients of fireworks and one of the hardest to get right.

This is mainly because it is a semi-natural product rather than a 'product of manufacture'.

There is much debate about what type of wood is best. Willow and Alder were traditionally used for black powder. Pine charcoal is supposed to produce long-lasting sparks. In my experience a good quality mixed hardwood charcoal will serve most purposes well. Charcoal 'brickettes' are not very good, as they are made from reclaimed material and often contain alot of dirt, clay and other impurities.

A good charcoal will be black in colour (not brown) but still have the appearance of the wood it was made from. There are now many sources of charcoal made from coppiced woodland in the traditional way, and if you can get hold of one of these, that should be fine.
You will need to prepare the charcoal by grinding it to powder before it can be used. Charcoal from about 20-40 mesh produced sparks for use in fountains etc, 80-150 mesh is a good starting point for black powder and very fine (airfloat) charcoal is often used as a fuel and can produce the 'willow tree' effect in stars.

A good way to get the charcoal to a manageable size is to place it in a strong rubble sack and then give it a good whack with a hammer on a hard surface!

This will produce a product varying from airfloat to small lumps.
I have found a coffee grinder to be quite effective for the next stage. This one was purchased from Robert Dyas (in UK) for about 10. Don't use it for your coffee afterwards!

Load the grinder with the crushed lumps and whizz until it is reduced to powder.

To separate the powder into accurate particle sizes you will need a sieve or nest of sieves. This one is from a ceramics supplier.
Having passed an 80 mesh sieve you will already have a fine, useful and messy powder!
If you wish to reduce this to airfloat, you will need to process it in a ball-mill for about three hours. WARNING

Although charcoal is not dangerous, it is very messy. I would advise you to do this outside in your oldest clothes! The dust is very fine and a face-mask is a good idea if you don't want to be sneezing charcoal for the next week!