Category: Fire Lab

Fire Lab 06 – Using Flint and Chert on Ferrocerium Firesteels


Today in the Fire Lab we’ll be learning about flint, chert and ‘firesteels’.

In our test today, we’ll be using our standard firesteels, and the brand new all-metal firesteel based on my ‘lightsaber’ design, now for sale in our store in a brand new limited edition gold tin.

The standard firesteel ‘striker’ set comes with a steel blade for scraping the ferrocerium rod, but I do recommend trying flint as an alternative. It’s all over the place in Southern England, and if we zoom in on the gravel here in my back yard, you will see 1 2 3 4 56 flint all over the place. Flint of this size can be found just about anywhere from the Midlands down, just lying around in driveways and laybys disguised as gravel.

We’ll also be testing the main prototype for our new all-metal firesteel and using larger pieces of flint and chert in this stress-testing process.

Flint is gray to black and nearly opaque (it’s translucent brown in thin splinters) and this is because of carbonaceous matter in the stone. Opaque, dull, whitish to pale-brown or gray specimens are simply called chert; the light colour and opacity are caused by abundant, extremely minute inclusions of water or air that also weaken the structure.

So here’s two common strokes showing a steel blade being used on a standard ferrocerium rod. Note that you can choose to move the blade, or the rod, to get the same effect.
Small bits of flint or chert work the same if not better on both strokes, but you will see that a larger stone is more useful for a stroke where you hold the stone, and move the rod.

Moving on to the main stress test, here’s a standard firesteel finding sharp edges on flint, and here is our all-metal firesteel exploring the same stone, looking for sharp edges while we also stress-test the handle on blunter edges to ensure the new design does not wiggle loose over time.

Here for reference is a piece of carbon steel, shaped into a small file, that we’ll be using to show what you might expect from an actual ‘flint and steel’ combination. Put simply, it’s a lot of work for a little biscuit.

Here’s a rusty old Allen key also made of cheap steel, and you can see it requires more pressure and effort to elicit the occasional spark. This rusty old nail requires even more pressure and effort to produce the same modest result, and it is here that we’ll discover where chert is different.

No issues with the standard striker: sharp edges mean lots of sparks, AND because chert fractures more randomly than flint, you usually end up with more notches, which allows you to scrape your firesteel with two edges instead of one, resulting in more sparks and therefore better chances of landing one right where it counts.

BUT once we switch to old-fashioned carbon steel, you will note that we’re still only getting modest results, AND blunting the edges with every stroke. In fact, by the time we move on to the rusty old Allen key, you will note some pieces breaking off, and that using the pressure necessary to elicit sparks from the rusty old nail has a catastrophic effect on the edges of the brittle stone.

So the difference is that flint is a purer form of chert and chert is subsequently more brittle than flint, but that really only matters if you are trying to get sparks from hard steel.
Our new all-metal firesteel is available for sale in store in a limited edition gold tin with genuine flint and chert pieces for striking, along with our standard firelighter kits in red, green, blue or silver.

Our store also has some of the prettiest firelighters ever made, if you have a fireplace at home and want to class up the joint.

Thanks for joining me in my enthusiasm for fire. Cheers all.

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Fire Lab 05 – Binary Stars kindling ignition test


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.

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Fire Lab 04 – A Closer Look at Char Cloth


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.

Stay tuned, and by that I mean please Subscribe.

Thanks for joining me in my enthusiasm for fire.

Cheers all.

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Fire Lab 03 – How to Make Your Own Char Cloth


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.

Fire Lab

Fire Lab 01: Breaking Hearts & Bermuda Triangles


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, 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.

Cheers all.

Fire Lab