Sample Block

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Contact: Public Affairs Division

February 2013

Illegal Explosives Devices

Illegal explosive devices are often manufactured and used during the Fourth of July fireworks season. The improvised explosive compositions in these devices are typically extremely sensitive to heat, shock, electrostatic discharge, and friction and may initiate unexpectedly causing serious injury or death. The risks associated with these devices is further compounded because the persons manufacturing, transporting and using these devices do not have the knowledge, skills, and experience required for such activities.

Many law enforcement agencies consider these explosive devices, commonly referred to as M-80s, M-100s, quarter sticks, cherry bombs, and silver salutes, as illegal because they exceed the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's explosive weight limits for consumer fireworks. Additionally, these devices may also be considered illegal under similar State laws and local ordinances.


M-80 mockup

Average Size:  5/8″ diameter, 1 1/2″ long.

Average Load:  approximately 3 grams explosive mixture.

Risk Factor:  Damage to fingers, hands, and eyes.


M-100, Silver Salute

M-80 mockup

Average Size:  1″ diameter, 2 1/2″ long.

Average Load:  approximately 9 grams explosive mixture.

Risk Factor:  Severe damage to face, arms and body.



M-80 mockup

Average Size:  1″ diameter, 3″ long.

Average Load:  approximately 13 grams explosive mixture.

Risk Factor:  Severe crippling, disfiguring injuries.


M-1000, Quarter Stick

M-80 mockup

Average Size:  1″ diameter, 6″ long.

Average Load:  approximately 25-30 grams explosive mixture.

Risk Factor:  Extremely severe injuries to body, has caused death.


The US Department of Transportation regulations forbid the transportation of any unapproved explosive. Additionally, under ATF regulations it is illegal to engage in the business of manufacturing explosives without a license, to improperly store explosives, to sell or distribute explosives to any person who does not hold an ATF license or permit, to receive explosives without a license or permit, or to transport explosives materials without a license or permit.

Some indicators that a device may be an “illegal explosive device” are:

  • It consists of a red, silver, or brown spiral wound cardboard tube or similar product with a green hobby fuse.
  • It may be 1 to 6 inches long and up to an inch or more in diameter.
  • It is sold in non-commercial locations, such as out of a vehicle or residence.
  • Individual in possession has no evidence of receipt, commercial packaging, or cannot identify a purchase location.

It should be noted that many legitimate commercial firework manufactures advertise and sell products “labeled” like those shown above but all are limited to 50 milligrams of composition regardless of the cardboard tube size.

Each year ATF investigates explosives accidents involving the manufacture of explosive devices such as these. These accidents often result in serious injury to or death of person(s) and extensive damage to property. ATF asks that the public report the manufacture or sale of such explosive devices to their local ATF office or by calling ATF’s toll-free hotline at 1-888-ATF-BOMB (1-888-283-2662).