Firelighting is perhaps one of the most important survival skills to master.
Most wood fires are pretty similar, being constructed from the 3 basic elements of fire: fuel, heat and oxygen. But how the fire is started can be wildly different; creating that initial heat to start the tinder burning can be achieved in a variety of ways. Most people know how to use a box of matches, a fire steel or even how to make and use a fire drill, but what about the less conventional methods of starting a fire?
Here are examples of such techniques, some of which are less known but could be quite useful in a survival situation, others are downright silly! We provide such information here just out of curiosity, so do not attempt these techniques yourself!
Chlorine and brake fluid
Now this is one we definitely don’t recommend trying, due to the violent eruption of flame and release of toxic chlorine gas that it would produce. Seriously, don’t try this one at home or outdoors! But it is a bizarre way of starting a fire and so is included here. Mixing granular sodium hypochlorite (a pool chemical) and brake fluid will result in a bubbling mix of chemicals that will violently burst into flame.
Fire from water or ice (with a little help from the sun)
It is well known that you can light a fire using a magnifying glass, but what if there is plenty of sun but you have no magnifying glass? Make one! You can use a clear bottle, cling-film or condom filled with water or frozen into ice to make lens shapes to focus sunlight and light a fire! Ice is particularly good because the surface can be melted with your hands to a make a very optically smooth finish.
These are a little known and old-fashioned way of making fire. They consist of a container with a methanol soaked pad and an insert made of very fine platinum wire and platinum sponge. Platinum, along with being extremely valuable (which is probably why these lighters are not commercially available today), is one of the best catalytic materials known. These lighters simply work by platinum catalysing the combustion of methanol vapour with oxygen. The activation energy is reduced and heat builds until the wire is hot enough to auto-ignite the methanol. Very cool!
Potassium permanganate and monoethylene glycol
A fairly well-known way of lighting fire is the combination of potassium permanganate (KMnO4) and glycerine, creating high temperature purple flames for a little while after mixing. However many people have noted that in cold temperatures this reaction is much slower or does not take place at all, often requiring the reagents to be warmed under the armpit prior to use. Using some monoethylene glycol instead of the glycerine allows for a quicker reaction that can still take place at low temperature and using smaller quantities.
High voltage power line induction!
Not quite as dodgy as it sounds! Overhead high voltage power lines have a large magnetic field surrounding them, if you walk underneath such power lines with a metal frame umbrella you might notice sparks forming up and down the umbrella; this is due to induction of current into the umbrella which acts like an antenna. These sparks could be used to light an alcohol-soaked rag. The induced current is not very high and therefore not dangerous but we still wouldn’t recommend trying this one, especially for those with a pacemaker.
Aluminium drinks cans are everywhere, and if you have nothing else but plenty of time you can use one to make fire, as long as there is enough sun! By polishing the underside of the can to a very smooth mirror finish using toothpaste, natural clays or even chocolate, you can create a parabolic mirror to focus sunlight onto some fine tinder held above the centre of the mirror using a stick. It is tricky to achieve, and definitely only achievable when it’s really sunny, but yet another interesting technique!
Another firelighting technique using the power of the sun! If you happen to be a spectacle wearer then you are always carrying a method of fire-lighting. The more correction your eyesight needs the better your fire-lighting capability as the lenses will be higher magnification. Simply use one of the lenses like a magnifying glass to focus sunlight onto dry tinder.
Firelighting with a lemon!
Now this is definitely one of the more unusual ones I have seen recently. Check out this video! Essentially you are making an electrical cell from the lemon. I guess this might be a useful survival technique somewhere in the wilds of Italy! You could possibly use another acid source like vinegar.
With a syringe
If you have a relatively large medical syringe (with the sharp bit removed!) you can actually use it like a fire piston. By blocking the nozzle with clay or similar and placing some charcloth or small piece of charcoal inside the syringe you can hit down on the plunger, this will compress the air inside rapidly heating it up to 500c or so, igniting the charcoal. It isn’t the easiest technique and requires very dry tinder, but it’s another weird and wonderful method of firelighting.
Linseed oil and newspaper
This is a very slow and unpredictable technique, so wouldn’t be any use for survival, but is interesting nonetheless. Newspaper or rags that are dry but have been daubed with linseed oil are capable of spontaneous combustion; as the linseed oil oxidises it creates heat which in sufficient quantity and on a nice dry and warm day is capable of catching alight with no external ignition needed. It can take hours or days to happen and only in warm dry conditions so we don’t know why you’d even try this technique!