Starting a fire


There are various things you can use to start a fire – the main ways being matches, lighters, fire starters or a fire steel.


Matches-Fingers-Hand-FireMatches – You have to strike them against a special surface in order to get them to ignite. The match heads contain sulfur (sometimes antimony III sulfide) and oxidising agents (usually potassium chlorate), with powdered glass, colorants, fillers, and a binder made of glue and starch. The striking surface consists of powdered glass or silica (sand), red phosphorus, binder, and filler. When you strike a match, the glass-on-glass friction generates heat, converting a small amount of red phosphorus to white phosphorus vapor. White phosphorus spontaneously ignites, decomposing potassium chlorate and liberating oxygen. At this point, the sulfur starts to burn, which ignites the wood of the match.


Lighters – A spark is created by striking metal against a flint, or by pressing a button that compresses a piezoelectric crystal (piezo ignition), generating an electric arc. In naphtha lighters, the liquid is sufficiently volatile, and flammable vapour is present as soon as the top of the lighter is opened. Butane lighters combine the striking action with the opening of the valve to release gas. The spark ignites the flammable gas causing a flame to come out of the lighter which continues until either the top is closed (naphtha type), or the valve is released (butane type). A metal enclosure with air holes generally surrounds the flame, and is designed to allow mixing of fuel and air while making the lighter less sensitive to wind. The high energy jet in butane lighters allows mixing to be accomplished by using Bernoulli’s principle, so that the air hole(s) in this type tend to be much smaller and farther from the flame.

Fire starter – Fire starters are used instead of matches or gas fuelled lighters to light a fire. They are handy as an emergency fire starter in case your matches get wet. The types are flint and steel, and magnesium fire starters.

  1. Flint and steel is the most basic type of fire starter and predates the invention of matches. To use this method, you will need a large piece of flint that can be gripped in the hand. One edge should be sharp. The flint is striked against a fire steelrough steel, like an old file. The friction from striking the two against each other causes tiny flakes of steel to heat up and fly away in the form of sparks.
  2. A commercially made version of the flint and steel is actually made with magnesium. They work the same way, except you use a steel (or knife) to scrape off tiny flakes of magnesium that heat up to create sparks. Magnesium burns hotter and longer than steel, making fire lighting easier.

Fire Steel – A fire steel is a piece of high carbon or alloyed steel from which sparks are struck by the sharp edge of chert or similar rock. Modern fire strikers, commonly called “artificial flints”, are made from ferrocerium alloys.


vaseline and cotton wool.jpgAn excellent fire starter that keeps for ages and burns for about 6-7 minutes is vaseline and cotton wool! This works well and the reason is because the petroleum jelly does not ignite as quickly as cotton wool does. The dry cotton ball will ignite easily, smear the outside of it with the petroleum jelly. Leave the inside of it dry cotton. Having the outside smeared will keep the inside protected from moisture. When you are ready to ignite it, tear the cotton ball open, so the dry cotton can catch your sparks. The cotton will ignite, and that flame will then ignite the petroleum jelly. It will work like a candle at that point, with the cotton serving as a wick to the jelly.

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