"Cold Spark" Machines: Facts & Fiction
Spark Machines have hit the market by storm, ranging in use by high-end productions on TV to backyard DJ's at a local wedding. The idea of an on-demand spark producing system is very intriguing and, in trained hands & using quality machines, can be quite versatile.
However, contrary to what product names may suggest (and what other companies may advertise), there is no such thing as “cold sparks” or pyrotechnic effects that are more safe than others.
False Claim # 1
These Machines Produce Cold Sparks
All spark producing devices, mechanical (like these machines) or pyrotechnic (like Gerbs, fountains, etc) utilize powdered titanium as the source for the sparks. Titanium burns at about 610 degrees C (1130 deg F). Not very "cold" huh?!?!
Titanium powder can also auto-ignite and SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST at air temperatures as low as 482 F. The New Jersey Department of Health has a very informative article about this powdered metal, supporting these facts:
A common argument is that the sparks MUST be "cold" because the manufacturer shows a person with their hand in the plume of sparks and they are unharmed. Though we certainly don't recommend doing this, the same effect can be recreated with any of the Silver* Gerbs we sell. How??? Have you ever flicked your finger through the flame of a candle? Did you get burned??? Probably not because of low heat transmission due to the speed in which your finger was passing through the flame. Go fast - don't get burned. Go slow... and you get burned! The same goes for silver sparks. The surface area of the burning sparks bouncing off the hand (or another non-flammable surface) is happening so fast that the heat they produce isn't being transmitted fully. However, if you try to do this same experiment with a piece of paper or... let's say... a Wedding Dress, you will get MUCH different results and could be catastrophic.
*We stress the difference between Silver and Gold sparks, as Gold sparks burn ALOT hotter than Silver due to the use of powdered Iron or Lead required to generate that color... and those sparks create very hot slag!!!
False Claim # 2
No Licenses or Permits Needed
Due to the fact that all spark producing devices pose a fire hazard (as outlined above), all 50 states have rules and regulations for use of these items. As an example: It is illegal to use these types of machines (or any form of professional pyrotechnics) in the states of California, Texas, or Ohio without a state license. The same goes for New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, and Nashville (just to name a few). Individual counties and other cities also have their own (often stricter) laws governing the use of these products and normally require the user to have special insurance specifically for the use of pyrotechnic items. Please contact your State Fire Marshal's office for more details, requirements, class times, and pricing.
False Claim # 3
These Machines Are Safer & Cheaper Than Using Regular Pyro
Nothing could be further from the truth! The sparks produced from these "Cold Spark" machines are being created by burning titanium powder - which is the same as a standard Gerb. The difference is that a Gerb uses one of several forms of a pyrotechnic substance to ignite the titanium and propel it into the air, while spark machines use a high-temperature exhaust fan to ignite and propel the particles (kind of like a hot air popper for popcorn).
Some may argue that since these machines use electricity to ignite the titanium they are still safer than traditional pyro. Unfortunately, this too is wrong. When a Gerb is ignited, it will burn for the specific time it was created to do so (example, a 6x10 Gerb will burn for 6 seconds and shoot sparks 10 feet in the air). After 6 seconds, it burns out completely and no longer poses any unknown hazard. To the contrary, these spark machine utilize and internal reservoir to hold much larger amounts of flammable titanium powder. As stated above, titanium powder can SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST and there have been several documented instances of people using machines that suddenly catch on fire and are nearly impossible to extingish!
(FYI: you need a Class D fire extinguisher to battle burning titanium powder) MORE INFO
Another common argument is that since the sparks are being shot out of a metal box and the heat source is contained within, these machines are safer than regular Gerbs. Again, this simply isn't true because the hazard is from the shooting sparks - not the source. Heck, you can mount your Gerbs inside a metal box with a hole cut out the top and get the same effect at a fraction of the price! ;)
While there are several companies selling cheaper versions of these machines online through auction sites ranging in the $400-600 range, these are machines being made in China and are "knock-offs" of another company... in China! To the contrary, most of the machines you see on TV (American Ninja Warrior, Forged in Fire, NFL Teams, etc) are from a reputable USA manufacturer in Florida, are of MUCH higher quality, and are only being sold to licensed pros. Oh... and they sell for about $2000 each. On the other hand, the average price of a Gerb is $8... so it's pretty simple math.
(On a side note, these same companies overseas make "flame machines" that sell for the same $400-500 price range and are also advertised as "safe" and legal for use in the states. We would hope that commonsense would dictate that a cheap system that shoots streams of flaming aerosol or liquid in the air probably isn't very safe...)
In summary, contrary to what is being advertised online by foreign manufacturers, "Cold Spark Machines" being distributed around the world are far from "Cold," can not be used "Without a permit," and are not "Completely safe!"
Due to these restrictions and safety concerns outlined above (and since the licensing/permitting is the same as conventional pyro & with ZERO cost benefit for the user), Theatre Effects does not sell nor endorse any of these spark machines and advises most customers to consider other options. As always, feel welcome to contact us anytime at 1-800-791-7646 with questions.
Cold Spark Machines