I’ve got a series of firelighting kits at my disposal (including ‘teaching’ kits in several sizes) but my own personal kit is a thing of beauty, I’ve just jazzed it up with a brand new rod, and it’s ready for its close-up, Mr Lucas.
If I can, I’ll light a fire with just a bit of cotton; so I have a stormtrooper-shaped tin packed with cotton make-up pads, half of which have the luxury of a wee smear of petroleum jelly.
I make my own amazing firelighters in all sorts of shapes and colours, and in my own personal kit they’re shaped like Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Brown is an aesthetic choice, but it is also ultimately the colour of all wax leftovers, and if you’ve ever mixed your Play-Doh, you’ll know what I mean. The orange versions are for cold and wet emergencies: packed inside the cotton ball inside the wax is a cluster of magnesium shavings designed to ensure a robust ignition no matter how bleak the conditions.
I prefer using a sharp piece of flint instead of the painted steel blade that typically comes with a ferrocerium rod ‘striker’ kit, and currently there are two in my tin.
The most fascinating thing about the brass lightsaber-shaped handle is this: if I take the rod and lanyard out and hammer the T-bar back into place, I can still use it to bleed my radiators.
Today in the fire lab, we’ll be conducting a kindling ignition test on our new 2-in-1 firelighters: Binary Stars Binary Stars twist apart to make two lighters, that when primed, can be lit with a spark, resulting in over 5 minutes of hot flame, but the question today is which lighter will ignite its kindling first? White on the left, or blue on the right? Choose now, and choose wisely. And all betting is closed… and away we go! The secret to firelighting is understanding that wood does not burn. HEAT breaks wood down into things that DO burn, and while orange flames can be a useful product of pyrolysis, you need to focus on the radiant heat emerging from the main pyrolysis reaction AND oxidisation of solid carbon that by now is emerging from the wood on several surfaces. You can literally see progress on the right as a new pyrolysis reaction starts on one of these wood surfaces inside the kindling stack (blue is clearly going to win by the way) but over on the left I’ve created a little overlay to help you better understand what is happening as heat is building in this chamber and lignin and cellulose molecules on all of these surfaces begin to break down into fuel (blue has totally won, by the way), so, as the heat builds, these surfaces eventually start their own full combustion reactions that will go on to feed the other reactions because they are radiating heat back onto them, helping them to release fuel, a process that is necessary and eats a considerable amount of energy in itself because – again – wood does not burn. A fire that does not feed heat back onto itself will most likely wither and die and keeping this in mind when IGNITING a fire is crucial to arriving at a sustainable reaction. VISUALISING SUCCESS in this case is not merely having happy thoughts. It is knowing how fire works to help it do its job better. By now both fires have evolved to the point where all of the pyrolysis reactions have united into a single dancing flame, all is right with the world, and blue totally wins. Binary Stars are part of our luxury firelighter range at Fire Burn Good. 2-in-1 Breaking Hearts are also available and equally effective, or you could choose our standard firelighters for camping and survival purposes. Sharing this video helps to support our store. Thank you.
Today in the Fire Lab we’ll be taking a very close look at char-cloth. You may recall in the last episode we took some samples of cotton socks and a t-shirt and used hoat coals and relatively airtight chambers to allow pyrolysis but prevent oxidisation, leaving us with sold carbon in cloth form.
Your first lesson in quality is that so-called cotton socks contain a lot of elastic and polyester, often leaving you with results that are so threadbare you can see them with the naked eye.
If we look at this poor-quality, low-yield char cloth being ignited under a microscope, we can see the oxidisation reaction following an individual thread of cotton, but not igniting any of the adjacent threads. What you need for better results is more cotton, with threads that are closer together, and I’ve got to tell you that cotton t-shirts are an improvement over socks, but they are not denim. T-shirt, jeans. T-shirt, jeans.
Not stretch jeans. They’re full of elastic and make rubbish char cloth.
Not printed denim. That leaves ink residue that interferes with oxidisation.
What you want is tough baggy old jeans that hang on you like a sack with legs, and make your arse look awful.
THAT is what results in char cloth that gets you these kinds of results.
So, Lesson 1: up your thread count
Lesson 2: for best results, roll and fold
I made this shade-box outside that will allow us to see the beam of focused sunlight I’ll be using to ignite my char cloth, AND the oxidisation reaction that follows.
Let’s start with a flat 4cm square, and you should be able to see immediately how useful char cloth is in lighting fires. It has a low ignition point.
But how do we take this reaction and parlay it into a larger reaction that is intense enough to ignite a fire?
Well, we multiply it. Here’s another flat square that has been folded into quarters, creating a square no more than 2cm across that offers 4 times the heat of a single sheet.
Here is a square that has been rolled tightly into a cylinder, and you can see that this might create a better focused point of heat if it didn’t splay out so readily.
And here is a square that has been rolled tightly into a cylinder and then folded in half. It starts just as readily as anything else we’ve used, only this time we have successfully focused the energy into an area that’s less than 1cm across, and offering up to 8 to 10 times the intensity of the reaction you would get from a single layer of char cloth, and this is the kind of heat you will need to ignite tinder.
So, there’s our closer look at char cloth. Remember to use denim jeans with 100% cotton for better results, and roll and fold your char cloth to focus the heat.
OR you could just buy one of my incredible fire lighting kits. My fire lighters can be lit with a spark, and they do away with all that tinder nonsense, offering you a reliable shortcut to a successful fire in a variety of conditions.
Today in the Fire Lab we’ll be showing you how to make char-cloth using radiant heat in relatively airtight chambers.
Our first reaction will be on a 2000W digital single induction hob. Its radiant heat zone is wide and shallow by design, and so I am using wide and shallow reaction chambers, also known as tobacco tins.
Fire involves two stages, pyrolysis – where molecules break down under heat – and oxidisation, where carbon meets with oxygen. Here, we ONLY WANT PYROLYSIS. We prevent oxidisation by keeping oxygen out of our chambers with the miracle of LIDS. The holes in the top are there ONLY so gas under pressure can escape, and those lids will flip right off if we do not use my secret ingredient: a brick
Today, we can tell exactly when I’ve switched my hob on and gone past the point of no return, because that’s exactly when it starts to rain, but the real indicator of success is white smoke pouring out of those holes, and – you will note – out of any other opening it can find. This is why we use the term ‘relatively airtight chambers’ today. Some oxygen may get in, and some solid carbon may escape suspended in the smoke you see here, but for the most part, everything in our wood and cotton samples that is not carbon is going up and out of the tin, or making a messy resin mess at the rim of any opening.
Because this hob does not offer the same intense heat as a bed of coals, the whole process can take up to 45 minutes, and THEN you have to let everything cool down, including the brick on top, which will get very hot indeed.
But by the time the brick is cool enough to touch, the tins are ready to open and what you SHOULD see is charcoal more or less in the same shape as the wooden or cotton objects that we put in the chamber.
If you see any colour other than black, or if you open the tin and the contents smell acrid, liked burned toast or worse, then the organic molecules have NOT finished breaking down yet, and the evidence is right under your nose.
Also note THIS area right here underneath our vent, where the presence of ASH indicates that a small amount of oxygen has sneaked in during the reaction, causing a further loss of carbon.
For our main reaction today, we are going to use a bed of hot coals, which means setting a fire and waiting for it to mature, and when it does, we will have a radiant heat zone that is hotter AND goes higher, meaning that we can use larger tins.
I’m using travel sweet tins this time: they’re cheap, deeper, and they have snug lids. Note the holes I’ve punched in the lids using the tip of a thick carpentry nail or an awl. Also note the smaller upholstery nails pictured here that look like thumb tacks, but with longer shafts. We’ll be using them to ensure that gas goes out of our vents, but not back in. Let’s get back to our bed of hot coals, introduce our reaction chambers to the heat, and get some stones on top to prevent our lids from flying off. Do note that in this case the reaction starts almost immediately, and please also take a moment to enjoy the sound of my vents tip-tap-tipetty-tapping.
15 minutes later, the reaction appears to have completed, but rather than waiting for the coals to cool down, we’ll use tongs to remove our chambers from the heat.
Once the tins are cool enough to handle, it’s time to take the lids off an inspect our work. You may note that if gas and resin have been forced out of the sides, then the tops may be a bit sticky.
Inside you will see we’ve arrived at the same result, only faster, and because we’ve taken the precaution of adding a one-way vent cover that lets gas out but not in, we’ve pevented oxygen from creeping in and have NO ash under our vents, and no wasted carbon.
Anyway, that’s how we MAKE char cloth, but stay tuned for our next episode where we will looking at HOW IT IS USED in fire lighting AND comparing the perfomance of char-cloth from different sources. Not all cotton is pure cotton, and polyester is the pits. Stay tuned, and by that I mean please Subscribe. Thanks for joining me in my enthusiasm for fire. Cheers all.
Basic molecular chemistry is the secret of this kit that anyone can make at home.
Acid breaks down a wasp’s venom into harmless chemicals. Base breaks down a bee’s venom and treats nettle stings in the same way.
I would go into detail, but it would risk you getting it backwards in a crisis.
Acid for wasps, because they’re ****s. That’s all you need to remember.
Base is for bees and nettles.
That’s pretty much the whole kit, as far as chemistry goes.
Tiny tweezers are there to draw stingers out, but this is for insect stings only.
You need JETS OF WATER ACROSS YOUR SKIN to draw nettle hairs/stingers out. Nettle leaves are covered in hundreds of tiny hollow silica needles (trichromes) full of a range of acids and neurotransmitters, one of which makes your skin feel like it’s on fire.
Assuming you have not been foolish enough to rub the stung area (with or without a dock leaf) like a doofus, you can immediately alleviate most of the pain and prevent further pain in your future simply by drawing those needles out. You know: instead of breaking them off so they’re stuck in your skin and leaking venom while being resistant to treatment… like a doofus might do with a dock leaf.
If you aim a jet of water across the skin, the parts of the needles that are still poking out will be ‘caught’ by the water and drawn along with its momentum, dragging the embedded tips along with them.
This kit contains a ‘push pin’ with a sturdy top that allows you to poke a hole or holes into the plastic cap of a water/drink bottle to create these jets of fluid that will grip the needles and draw them out quickly, painlessly and very effectively.
Alternatively, you can immerse the effected limb(s) and sweep/draw them through the water quickly for the same effect.
Sprinkle liberally with bi-carb while the area is still damp: this will neutralise any remaining nettle venom.
(Similarly, you will need a small amount if water to activate/distribute the bi-carb when treating bee stings.)
Shampoo-top bottles are tremendous dispensers of bi-carb powder, and I have two of these plus a series of water bottles on stand-by for ‘wide games’ and other Scouting/outdoor activities that involve proximity to nettles. And to put it delicately… nettles are everywhere that humans go farming or camping, because they love our waste. Nom nom nom.
I once saw near to a dozen young people pile out of the woods after a mass nettle encounter in the dark, and had them all treated and ready to face the woods again inside of 6 minutes.
My personal kit also contains added antihistamines and calamine lotion, but this would be for extreme encounters.
The big spray bottle is for the day one of us treads on a wasps nest. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’ve had enough close calls to want to be prepared.
As usual, eBay is the place to look for small vials and squeeze tubes for this purpose.
It is less friendly as a dispenser, but a small round tin of bi-carb tucked under your water bottle in its usual holder will make all the difference if it’s on hand at the right moment… and being on hand is what it’s all about with this kind of kit. You don’t normally plan on being stung.
There’s a special first aid bag that comes with us on every wide game, and it includes a large sting kit with water bottle included. Also, when I make tin versions of this, I make them small. A tin that is too big for your pocket and too heavy for your shorts is no good to anyone, and will probably be left behind on the day it matters.
The ‘Love Box’ tins pictured are by the good people at Durex, by the way. They designed a tin that was meant to fit comfortably in your pocket for much the same reason, and now those tins are still out there, keeping people safe.Thanks, Durex.
I work with my hands a lot, and often with sharp tools ranging from flint to chainsaws. I still have all of my fingers and toes, but I nick myself frequently, and typically it’s in a situation that makes life difficult for plasters. Like the first day of camp, or on a beach, or on the first day of camp on a beach.
These are examples of the kit I keep to hand for when I accidentally cut myself.
As I’ve noted earlier with Medicine Tins, I do like my kits to have a degree of personality to them, so the ‘John Bull Mend-A-Tear’ kit is my very favourite.
Hand tools and handles can produce blisters if used rigorously for the first time. Work may also involve switching to infrequently-used or otherwise ill-fitting footwear ranging from stiff boots to wobbly wellies. I’m prepared for that.
Colour for safety reasons, patterns for child emergencies (e.g. a boo-boo on a finger).
Plasters are something you can buy very cheaply from supermarkets and stores with the word ‘pound’ or ‘dollar’ in their name, though your mileage will vary. I have sensitive skin and work to get on with, so plasters that are only good in theory are no good to me. I always road-test my plasters for compatibility, adhesion and longevity by wearing one for a day, or for as long as it will last. I also have big hands and by extension large fingers, so even a simple wraparound operation for me usually involves one small plaster and one large; plasters do not stick to the skin for long if at all; you need a good amount of coverage for the area where the plaster is sticking to itself. So I pack accordingly.
Mercurochrome/Merbromin Benzalkonium chloride* (*this alternative exists because of the mercury content in Merbromin)
For small cuts and minor grazes, I dress with an antiseptic solution only. No plaster.
Over the years I’ve found that Mercurochrome is the best option for treating and covering small wounds. It has protective and antibacterial properties long after application, keeping out all sorts of nasties wanting to get into your wound, and eradicating an impressive degree of bacterial nasties that are already in there. It also greatly reduces stinging in cuts where a lot of nerve endings are involved. This stuff is magnificent for sealing cuts in and around fingernails where plasters would suffer to hang on and keep atmosphere at bay. It’s also invaluable in environments like beaches where plasters are as useful as a chocolate teapot.
I’ve also noticed that small cuts treated this way seal and heal faster than plaster; I don’t recommend it as the sole treatment when infection has already set in, but I have applied this too late to an infected wound already swelling red and seen it settle down and heal normally within days.
Use of Mercurochrome is a personal choice I’ve made that I do not impose on others, that’s why the alternative is there if I am in the presence of someone who cuts themselves and they have no access to kit of their own.
(You would be surprised how many people go outside their homes giving NO thought to what they might do if they suddenly spring a leak.)
You should only apply these solutions once bleeding has stopped. Young people or those with deeper cuts should stop what they are doing, apply pressure to the wound, seek immediate first aid in the form of a decent cleansing and dressing, and then rest for a little bit while they think very carefully about not accidentally cutting themselves again.
I store and dispense/apply Mercurochrome from the same small bottle with a ‘dropper’ lid (easily obtainable from ebay). Because I only ever use it on small cuts, it’s more than enough to apply as a line of highly visible dye from the end of the dropper. I can gently coax more Mercurochrome out with the dropper bulb if necessary, or even pump my dropper empty back into the bottle if I only need a trace of Mercurochrome to dot a light graze or seal a single puncture.
Benzalkonium chloride is stored in a simple plastic 5ml vial with a screw top (also easily obtainable from ebay) and applied lightly with a cotton bud. Unlike Mercurochrome, it will elevate the sensitivity of your nerve endings upon application to a noticeable degree, resulting in a short-term stinging sensation. It will pass and you will cope. No-one’s ever died on me. I offered you the Mercurochrome and you said ‘no’. (etc.)
Antiseptic Hand Moisturiser
Vaseline Intensive Care and Neutrogena both produce a series of quality alternatives, and I do not recommend skimping on this option. A quality hand cream should only require a dab to provide soothing relief to an entire hand that has been lightly grazed, traumatised by ‘rope burn’, or repeatedly punctured by thorns, just to give a few examples. A 5ml vial will require cotton buds to scoop. 10ml squeeze tubes are also widely available, but too bulky for my tastes; use a small syringe to fill.
Mini eyebrow tweezers: tiny, but accurate and sturdy.
Cotton Buds / Cotton Pads
You can use textured/stitched cotton make-up removal pads to clean up messy wounds and stem bleeding, but I stock regular ones because I might need them to start a fire. Usually, if I ever need one of these to stem bleeding, I am leaking enough fluid for me to not have to worry about bits of cotton sticking to my skin. Given that my kits exist to apply an antiseptic seal and keep a wound out of trouble while a job is finished or proper first aid can be administered (if necessary), I’m pretty lax about sterility and just leave cotton components loose in my tins, keeping it fresh like hay.
I make myself and others ‘Medicine Tins’ for personal use that contain small doses of over-the-counter medicines for travel or work, and here are two examples:
If you’ve ever found yourself struck with a minor ailment at work, in traffic, or on public transport, you’ll know exactly what these tins are for. Think of it as an urban survival kit.
I like my tins to have a certain degree of style (which is why I’m especially proud of my ‘Inner Tube Repair Kit’, because that’s exactly what it is) but you can use any clean, shallow tin for this purpose. Shallow tins are superior to deep tins, because you won’t have time for rummaging when diarrhoea strikes.
There’s always one in my desk, one in my car, and one in my travel backpack. If I am ever going to be more than an hour from home, I will have enough of a dose for any minor ailment to get me home.
I not only make these for myself, I choose personal tins for people I care about and kit them out, too.
Typical contents include:
Cetirizine Hydrochloride and Loratadine (for allergies)
Cold & Flu / Runny Nose (with and without paracetamol)
I realise plasters are not technically medicine, but they make great cushions to keep the medicine from getting too bashed about, and when you put one on a young person’s boo-boo on their finger, it works like magic, if not medicine.
My travel kit Aspirin is marked with a big red ‘A’ and always on the top layer in case of a suspected heart attack. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m always ready, and the life I save might be my own.
Today in the Fire Lab we’ll be testing two new products from Fire Burn Good: Breaking Hearts and Bermuda Triangles. Here’s our standard firelighter for reference. Opens from the top, lights with a spark and burns for 5 minutes to produce a hot coal that lasts even longer. Our new 2-in-1 and 3-in-1 firelighters are equally water resistant, but you pull them apart to open them. revealing the soft cotton centres. You still need to prime them by pulling some of that cotton out into a plume, but the results speak for themselves.
Pictured is our standard firelighter alongside some of our new Breaking Hearts and Bermuda Triangles. All of our standard lighters have a single cotton ball in the centre that ignites and regulates combustion before becoming a hot coal, and you can see how we fit two cotton balls into every Breaking Heart and three into every Bermuda Triangle.
Breaking Hearts snap into two firelighters, and Bermuda Triangles can break into 3. Or, they can act just as effectively as one large and more powerful lighter. For now, we are going to take a single portion from each of these firelighters and ignite them side by side to see if they pass our main endurance test. We’re also going to find out which firelighter flames out first, so if you’re the betting type, bet now.
On your sparks, get set. Go.
Every firelighter we sell should offer a bare minimum of 5 minutes of hot flame, and that should include single portions from our new 2-in-1 and 3-in-1 range, thus the need for endurance tests like this one.
You’ll notice some slight pooling while the lighters burn in a standalone position on a cold steel plate. This is NOT an issue when they are used to start a reaction in a typical fireplace, as the heat from the combustion reactions they start will reflect back on the lighter making pyrolysis even more efficient and complete, but do note the vapour clouds right above these pools that show the wax fuel wicking its way to the main reaction and the flames above.
We’re back at normal speed after 5 minutes, and all of our firelighters have passed the main test. Those flames indicate a healthy pyrolysis reaction, and the moment they stop, you know you are left with oxidisation alone unless you can exploit the heat from your hot coal to ignite further fuel and keep full combustion going, and I am CALLING it on 1/2 of a Breaking Heart at 5 minutes and 24 seconds.
Sorry if you lost your shirt. Next time, read the stats.
Our next test is a performance test to see what damage we can do with an entire Bermuda Triangle. Today, instead of the usual kindling, we’re using lumber in the form of two short lengths of 38×63 CLS planed Timber.
Rough timber allows smaller slivers of wood to lead the reaction deeper into the grain, but the smooth, finished surfaces of this timber are harder for fire to penetrate. Also, as you can see, the flow of the main reaction is going directly across the grain of the wood, meaning that our reaction will have to work harder to carve the channels that are necessary for a healthy pyrolysis reaction.
Not that this is going to stop our Bermuda Triangle. After 4 minutes, we remove the firelighter and you can clearly see from the flames above our lumber that it has ignited a self-sustaining reaction, and when we seperate the timbers, you can see combustion has been so complete at the centre of the fire that is has already produced ash. Let’s lay that lumber out again and admire the channels carved against the grain by our firelighter to better enable efficient pyrolysis in the wood, and let’s also marvel at the fact that we not only have plenty of firelighter left, but it can still turn into 3 firelighters any time we care to separate the business, and it’s all down to the magic of those cotton ball centres.
This completes today’s test of Breaking Hearts and Bermuda Triangles. Thanks for joining me in my enthusiasm for fire. You can buy all of these products on my website at fireburngood.com, and If you’d like to suggest a challenge for our firelighters to test their unique abilities and upper limits , just let me know in the Comments below or get in touch via the Contact Form on our site.