Black snake fireworks are small, non-exploding fireworks that you ignite to push out a growing column of black ash. While you can buy these fireworks, they are easy to make using kitchen ingredients and a fuel.
You only need a few common household chemical for making black snake fireworks:
- 4 teaspoons powdered or confectioner sugar (sucrose)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
- lighter fluid or rubbing alcohol
- sand or dirt (optional)
Make Black Snake Fireworks
- Mix together the sugar and baking soda.
- Make a depression in sand or dirt, pour the mixture into the depression, and lightly cover it with a fine layer of sand. You could just use sugar and baking soda in a bowl, but it makes for a cool effect where the snake seems to push out of the ground!
- Dampen the soil and mixture with lighter fluid or rubbing alcohol.
- Light the fuel with a match or lighter. Once the sugar in the underlying mixture catches fire, the black snake will start to grow.
- The firework goes out on its own, but you can extinguish it with water or by covering it with dirt.
How Black Snake Fireworks Work
The chemistry of how black snakes work is a lot like baking (if you continue baking foods until they blacken). Baking soda is a leavening agent in the kitchen that makes baked goods rise by decomposing into sodium carbonate, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. In baking, other ingredients trap the carbon dioxide and water vapor bubbles. Heat makes these bubbles expand. In black snake fireworks, molten sugar traps the gas bubbles. The sugar also serves as a fuel and burns to release more carbon dioxide and water vapor.
The end result is a “snake” of carbon ash. If ethyl alcohol is the fuel, black snakes are non-toxic.
You can ignite calcium supplements for another safe and simple black snake firework.
Other types of snake fireworks use ingredients that are not safe outside of a fume hood in a chemistry lab.
- Sulfuric acid and sugar snake: This classic chemistry demonstration illustrates the dehydration of sugar by sulfuric acid. It’s basically a giant black snake firework. Because of the sulfuric acid, it’s best reserved for science classes.
- Pharaoh’s serpent: Pharaoh’s serpent is the name of the classic black snake firework. Igniting a pellet of mercury thiocyanate forms a brown “snake.” Black snakes you purchase at a fireworks store no longer use this chemical because of mercury toxicity. However, you might still see this reaction as a chemistry demonstration.
- Davis, T. L. (1940). “Pyrotechnic Snakes”. Journal of Chemical Education. 17 (6): 268–270. doi:10.1021/ed017p268
- Miller, Thomas S.; et al. (2017). “Pharaoh’s Serpents: New Insights into a Classic Carbon Nitride Material”. Zeitschrift für anorganische und allgemeine Chemie. 643(21): 1572-1580. doi:10.1002/zaac.201700268