Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Other Less Useful Ways To Start A Fire

There are many many ways to start a fire. Over the past couple weeks I have shown you some of the more popular or useful ways. Durring this time I have tried many more ways than I have written about. Some were dismal failures, others we just not quite good enough to write an entire post about. Today I'm going to briefly share a few other ways to make fire that will work, but are just not useful.

Keep in mind, the premise here is that you are making a survival fire. We are not talking about a simple camp fire. The idea is that you are stranded in the woods and need to make a fire to stay comfortable, or survive the night.

Permanent Match





 
 

The permanent match, also known as a metal match, is kind of a cross between a lighter and a match. It is basically a wick on the end of a metal rod. You dip the wick into lighter fluid and strike it on a small firesteel.

Permanent matches have all the benefits and drawbacks of a lighter. They actually work fairly well. I'd rather have one of these instead of a magnesium fire starter, magnifying glass, or traditional flint and steel.

Fire Piston


 

Fire Pistons are like a popular girl at school. They are fun, sexy, and everyone wants one, but when you get down to it they are just expensive, high maintenance, and require too many accessories.

A fire piston works by pressurizing air. Under pressure air heats up. It creates enough heat to make a very small coal. You hit the end of the piston really, really hard. If everything works correctly, and the fire gods smile upon you, the tender you attached to the piston's rod will be smoking.

I tried and tried to make one of these. I'm fairly good at building things from plans and I have a complete woodworking shop. I own just about every tool a person needs. I should have been able to make one that works. However, after many hours I gave up. They cost anywhere from $35 to $150. I wasn't about to spend that much on what is basically a useless toy, so I can't show you how one works.

What I can do is tell you my problem with them. To make a fire piston work you need a seal (usually an o-ring or some string), a lubricant (petroleum jelly is most ofter used), and a tinder (char cloth is best, but some natural fibers can work). It will not work without these. The seals wear out quickly if they are not lubricated. Frankly, if I had to carry around petroleum jelly I would rather just light a blob of that with a fire steel than worry about keeping a fire piston working.

Even when you do get it to work, all you get is a tiny coal. It takes some skill to light a fire from something that small.

OK, you get the picture. I don't like fire pistons.

Flash light bulb/wire

This is a survival show favorite. You don't have a way to make a fire, but you do have a flash light. Simply break the bulb and stuff some dry tinder against the filament. When you turn the light on the tinder will catch! I was sold on this method...... until I tried it.

Lowe's had incandescent light bulbs on clearance for 15 cents a two pack. I bought all they had, five packs, so I could try this. I gave up trying on the 8th bulb. If you can break the bulb without damaging the filament, you still only have a microsecond to get the tinder lit. I couldn't do it even with cotton balls.

Another popular idea is to take apart the flash light and short out the batteries with a very thin wire. The wire will heat up, lighting some tinder. Again, not as easy as it sounds. I was not able to make a fire this way. I was able to burn my fingers.

Would I try these if my life depended on it? Sure. Although, I'd probably end up dying. Save your flashlight for navigation or to signal help.

Rubbing two sticks together

This is another one popular on TV. Whether it be a bow drill, fire saw, or fire plow; rubbing two sticks together is a good way to start a fire....... if you are a master survivalist, have tons of time, and the conditions are perfect. Otherwise it isn't really worth mentioning. Go ahead, give it a try. You'll appreciate the simple match after an hour of frustration and blisters.

If you can consistently do this then you are a master outdoorsman.

Well, that's it! Fire month is over! I hope you enjoyed it and perhaps learned something. What's next for the Unlucky Hunter? I'm not sure. I'm getting my Jon boat toddler proofed for fishing season and I bought a new camera, so hopefully I'll have some cool new videos. Stay tuned!


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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Sad Truth About Potassium Permanganate and Glycerin

Perhaps you have seen this done on one of the popular survival shows: The lead actor pulls out a "first aid kit" and says that there are two common medicines that when combined will spontaneously combust. They are Potassium Permanganate and Glycerin. He proceeds to mix the two and almost immediately there is a roaring fire!

This is one of those times that truth and Hollywood just don't match up. It's not just TV shows either, popular survival forums tout this as being an infallible fire starter. I doubt most of the people who preach its virtues have every actually tried to make a fire with it.

The fact is, Potassium Permanganate and Glycerin will make a great fire. What people do not tell you is that for the chemical reaction to happen the ambient temperature needs to be around room temperature (70 degrees) or higher. What they also do not tell you is that you still need dry tinder and everything else normally necessary to make a fire. Oh, and another thing, they are not commonly found in first aid kits!

Check this out:





Potassium Permanganate is a fairly common chemical. You can purchase it in the water treatment area of hardware and pool supply stores. It is useful for a lot of things. Potassium Permanganate is an antiseptic. In high concentrations it can be used to kill foot fungus and generally disinfect stuff. To make a disinfectant with it, mix it with water until the water is dark purple. At these concentrations it is toxic, so take care.

It can also be used to disinfect water. Notice I said disinfect, not purify. It will kill most bacteria, but pollutants and poisons may still be in the water. To disinfect water mix in just enough Potassium Permanganate to give it a light purple color. Let the mixture sit for an hour or two before you drink it. It should be noted that this is not for long term use. I've also read not to use it if you are pregnant. Potassium Permanganate also stains. A little spread over snow will appear bright purple and can be used to mark your way.

Glycerin can be found in drug, craft, and baking stores. It has many, many uses. However, it doesn't have many uses for an outdoorsman. It can be used as a suppository to help with constipation. It can also be used as a lubricant. Which I guess is why it helps with constipation!

Neither of these are stocked in any first aid kit I've ever seen. You will not find these chemicals out in the wild. While Potassium Permanganate has some valuable traits, there are better alternatives.  I see no reason to carry either with you in the woods. Their main purpose, making fire, only works when it is warm outside! Do yourself a favor, instead of packing these two chemicals with you, just throw in an extra box of matches.



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Friday, January 27, 2012

Jute - Another Great Natural Tinder

A few days ago I thought I finished up my series on tinder. Lo and behold, I forgot one of the best tinders, jute!

Jute is a natural fiber used to make all sorts of things. The only natural fiber that is used more in the world than jute is cotton. While jute is not as soft and cuddly as cotton, it is much stronger. Americans use jute mostly for ropes and string, but in other parts of the world it is commonly used for bags, curtains, seat covers, rugs, and other floor coverings. Like hemp, it is natural, easy to grow, biodegradable and generally good for the environment. It is also highly flammable.



A few yards of jute string wound up in your pocket takes up very little space and weighs almost nothing. To make a fire, cut off about six inches of twine and pull apart the fibers. I like to roll the fibers up in my hands. This fluffs them while keeping them together.

Now all you have to do is apply an ignition source. Jute will catch easily from just a spark or a coal. It is scary how flammable it is!

Jute string is hard to beat in a survival situation. Not only can you make fires with it, it is very strong. You could repair gear, a backpack strap or bootlace for instance, or use it to make a shelter. It would work in any situation where you would need a strong cord. This gives jute string multiple uses, which is what you look for in survival gear.



Like all tinder it does have a couple drawbacks. It is not waterproof, although you can make it water resistant by dipping it in wax. It also does not burn for long. You need to have your kindling ready to go.

All in all, jute string rates very high on the list of tinder you can carry with you. I will be adding it to my kit.


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Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Magnifying Glass - The Power Of The Sun In Your Hand

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire!

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.

One of my favorite toys as a kid was a simple magnifying glass. I did not use it for constructive purposes such as studying plants and bugs. I used it to burn things! My favorite thing to do was wreak havoc on an ant hill by burning the ants. They exploded with a satisfying POP! I also loved to burn my name in boards and sticks. Magnifying glasses are just plain fun!

It has been decades since I last did this. But once you learn a skill like burning things with only the sun's power, you never forget it. Magnifying glasses can be a useful fire starting tool. While they have some serious limitations, take practice to use, and require a specific technique; magnifying glasses also have some great benefits.



 Any magnifying glass will work. The larger the lens and more powerful the magnification, the better. Those credit card sized pocket magnifying glasses work well and are easy to slip in your wallet.

The basic idea of this method is to hold the glass out way from whatever you want to burn and focus the beam of light onto the smallest possible area. This works to funnel the light and heat onto one spot. It is amazing how much head can be generated this way.

The goal of starting a fire with a magnifying glass is not to create a flame, although that would be nice. The goal is to create an ember. From an ember you can ignite loose, dry tinder.

So, the first step is to take a small handful of the very driest tinder you can find and rub it in your hands until you have created a compressed, tight ball. This is going to be our ember.



Focus the light beam onto the tinder ball. Move the beam around, burning as much as you can. You know you have a good ember when the tinder ball smokes by itself. This can take several minutes.

Place the ember in a nest of lose, dry tinder. Blow on the ember hard. If you have a good ember and your tinder is dry, you should quickly have flames.

Here is a video of the process:




 

Magnifying glasses have some obvious drawbacks. They do not work at night, when it is cloudy, or in the shade. You need direct sunlight. This can be hard to find in a survival situation. They also take a small measure of skill to use. In emergency situations you want to make a fire simply and quickly.

On the positive side, magnifying glasses never run out. Lighters, matches, even firesteels run out eventually. Magnifying glasses will make fire forever. They also do not require any special tinder, any dry, natural fiber will do. They can be small and lite, so there is little harm in keeping one in your pocket.



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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fire From A Traditional Flint And Steel


I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! This is the second post in a series on ignition sources.

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.




Flint and steel. Fire from a rock and a hunk or metal. This is how the Pioneers did it. It is also how the Vikings, Knights, and Romans made fire. Flint and steel fire making kits have been recovered from as far back as 1000 BC. People have been using them for over 3000 years. Amazingly, they still rank fairly high in terms of ease of use, and, with the proper tinder, will make a fire as fast as almost anything.

Flint is not the important part of a flint and steel set.  You can use any hard rock. Quartz, Obsidian, Granite, and petrified wood will all work. Just look for a rock with a "glassy" appearance.



It should also be noted that it does not take a special steel for this to work. Any carbon steel will work, even the carbon steel from the back of a knife blade. This is another reason to carry a carbon steel knife instead of stainless steel knife. So, theoretically, if you master this technique you could easily make a fire from a rock you find and your pocket knife blade. In real life, it is a little more complicated.

To make a fire from a flint and steel, you strike steel against the flint. This shaves pieces of steel off and ignites them. The sparks it creates are fairly small. Absolutely nothing compared to a ferrocerium rod. However, I was able to make a fire with my flint and steel just as fast as with my ferrocerium rod.



There is a trick.

First you must use char cloth in conjunction with the flint and steel. Without char cloth it would be almost impossible to make a fire with a flint and steel. I recently wrote a post on char cloth and how to make it. The second secret ingredient is jute string. This is a highly flammable, natural fiber. I did not review this when I looked at tinder. I plan to remedy this.


Wrap the char cloth around the flint.  Cut a small hole in the char cloth. This will allow the steel to hit the flint and will give you the highest chance of catching a spark. Strike the flint with a quick, determined force. It may take a few tries to get a spark. Once a spark does land on the char cloth you must blow on it immediately. You will only have a few moments to get the char cloth lit. Once the char cloth lights, you have all the time you want. Place the char cloth in a jute string nest and blow on it until it ignites.

Here is a video I made of the process:




 It doesn't get much faster than that! In fact, it lit so fast I almost got burnt! Of course, this was in a controlled environment (my living room). Making a fire in the woods would be more difficult, especially if you had cold hands or if it was raining. That said, I was stunned at how easy it was to make a fire with a flint and steel. I bought the kit expecting to write a post describing how hard it was to do. I was pleasantly surprised. Ten minutes after opening the kit, I had a fire.

Is a flint and steel a good choice for a survival kit? Nope. There are easier ways to make a fire. With a flint and steel set you need three things; Flint, steel, and char cloth. Loose one and you are without a fire. Char cloth is not waterproof and is very delicate. This method takes practice and skill. In an emergency you want something that is fool proof.

As a camping tool, the flint and steel is awesome. It will impress you family and friends and is plain fun! It is also wise to learn the technique. If you are stranded somewhere and you have a knife with a carbon steel blade, you could possibly find a hard rock and make a fire. It would be difficult, but probably easier than rubbing two sticks together.



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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Batteries and Steel Wool - Burning Metal!

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! This is the third post in a series on ignition sources.

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.



If you watch survival shows or read survival forums you have probably heard of starting a fire with a battery and some steel wool. If you haven't tried it you need to. It is a lot of fun! Now lets be honest, how often do you think you are going to run across some steel wool in a survival situation? As silly as that is, with some forsite you can turn your flashlight into a fire making kit.

To do this you need some very fine steel wool, size 0000 worked great for me. The finer the steel wool, the less of a charge required to set it on fire. Heaver steel wool will work, but only if you have a fully charged battery. (A rarity for me.)



You will also need a nine volt battery or TWO D, C, AA, or AAA batteries. Nine volt batteries are the easiest to use, but none of my flashlights use nine volt batteries. You need two of the other types of batteries because they do not have enough voltage to over heat the steel wool by themselves.

When using two batteries you need to make a long "rope" out of the steel wool about eight inches long. Stack the batteries on top of each other, negative to positive. Set negative terminal of the battery stack on one end of the steel wool. Touch the positive end of the battery stack with the steel wool. If you batteries are fully charged the steel wool will immediately light. If your batteries are weak, it may take some coaxing. Nearly dead batteries will not work.





The steel wool will burn quickly, like a fuse. Immediately place it in a tinder bundle and blow on it. The tinder should catch quickly.

There are some serious flaws with using this as a fire starting method. While being lightweight, the steel wool takes up a good bit of room. Your flashlight batteries must be fairly charged to work. Forget using this method in the dark (your flashlight is missing batteries now, remember?) Steel wool is surprisingly NOT waterproof. It soaks up water and almost immediately rusts after being exposed to water.

I do not recommend adding this to your fire making kit or depending on it. If you flashlight has a small compartment to store spare bulbs or lenses, it makes sense to put some steel wool in there. Just do not depend on it as your sole source of fire!




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Monday, January 23, 2012

Magnesium Fire Starter - A Disapointment


I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! This is the second post in a series on ignition sources.

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.



Go to a camping store. In the section devoted to fire starting you will probably find some waterproof matches, maybe a windproof lighter, if it is well stocked you may see a firesteel. One item you will almost definitely find is a magnesium fire starter. It's that silver block.







These fire starters have been a mainstay for years. My dad used one as a kid. I've found lots of places selling them on the web that claim they are "government issue". I cannot find any evidence that the government ever actually issued them, although it would not surprise me.



They are simply a block of magnesium with a small ferrocerium rod attached to one side. Magnesium shavings light at a fairly low temperature, about 880 degrees Fahrenheit, and burns hot at 5,600 degrees Fahrenheit. The idea is to shave off a small pile of magnesium and then light it with sparks from the ferrocerium rod.


The magnesium fire starter I purchased was made by Coghlan. These are the most common. Many people make them. While I could not find any details, I suspect that some manufacturers use a higher quality of magnesium than other. Why do I say this? Because the  Coghlan magnesium fire starter was almost impossible to light, but I have seen videos online of people starting a fire right away with other brands. It seems that the company "Doan" has the best reputation.

The problem with all magnesium firestarters is getting the shavings off the bar. You are supposed to use your knife blade a whittle off tiny slivers of magnesium. This is increadably hard and time consuming. In a survival situation it would be very difficult. I worked for about fifteen minutes and only got a pile about half the size of a dime. I ended up taking my drill press to it so I would have enough shavings for a demonstration! Drilling through the magnesium was, no joke, as hard as drilling through soft steel.

I gave up and used a drill

After I got enough shavings I piled them together and tried to light them. First, let me say that gathering the shaving was difficult. They would blow away like dust with the slightest wind. Also, they were so small the fell into every crack and crevice. They are not an ideal medium.


The ferrocerium rod worked great. I'm sure I could make a fire with just it, ignoring the magnesium. Here is a video of the process:







Notice a couple things. First, it took a while to light. Second, the savings were easily scattered when I over shot the ferrocerium rod. Third, it does not look to me like the magnesium lit by the sparks. It looks like the sparks lit the grass, which lit the magnesium!

The magnisium fire starter did poorly in my tests. I will not waste space in my pack with one. There are better ways to start a fire. If you do want to use a magnesium fire starter I highly recommend you buy a quality one and practice with it. They are hard to use! 

Magnesium shavings themselves are a good tinder. I can see how a small bag of shavings in your fire starting kit could be a asset. They will light when wet and burn at a very high temperature.  




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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review - Bear Grylls Survival Series Fire Starter

Firesteels are awesome. They work when wet and no matter the temperature. A good firesteel will work thousands of times, never breaks, and never runs out of fuel. They do take some practice to work consistanly, but are easy to learn.




There are lots of firesteels on the market. Most work well, some are almost worthless, and others are remarkable. All of them are made of ferrocerium. Keep this in mind when shopping for one. A $10 firesteel is made of the same stuff as a $30 firesteel, ferrocerium. When shopping for a firesteel, the number one thing to look for is the thickness of the rod. The thicker the rod, the more sparks it creates and the longer it lasts.



When I was shopping for a quality firesteel I chose the Bear Grylls Survival Series Fire Starter. It is a quality tool with some features that other firesteels do not have.

Before I get to far into the review let me say this: I'm not a big fan of Man VS Wild. I do enjoy survival shows, but of all of them, Man VS Wild is my least favorite. I was dubious purchasing something endorsed by Bear Grylls.  I have found that some of the products with his name on them are absolute crap. However, others, like this firesteel, are excellent.

Notice how beefier the Bear Grylls fire starter is compared to a cheap one.

The Bear Grylls Survival Series Fire Starter is not just a fire starter. It includes an emergency whistle, which is surprisingly loud, and a waterproof storage compartment for tender. The waterproof storage container is large enough for two tightly squashed cotton balls. This may not sound like much, but in an emergency this could mean the difference between a fire and no fire. It also has some simple signaling instructions printed on it. These instructions are nice, but after a few weeks in my pocket are already rubbing off.

The field test

The firesteel itself is heavy duty. It is over 1/4 inch wide and is about two inches long. This will make quite a few fires and produce lots of nice sparks. The handles on both the firesteel and the striker are well made. I do not believe they will break with hard use. If anything, the entire unit is heavy. I think an ounce or two of weight is worth the added functionality this firestarter brings.

To give the Bear Grylls Survival Series Fire Starter a honest test I took it with me on my last hunting trip. While I was waiting for a squirrel to show itself, I tried to make a small fire using this firestarter and a cotton ball. The ground was damp from a recent rain and a quick search for tinder came up with only damp stuff, so I did not have much hope. To my surprise I had a fire going in less than ten seconds. The cotton ball caught fire with the very first strike. I was impressed!

The results of the test
This is one of the few products I have reviewed that I have NOTHING bad to say about. It is priced reasonably, $12 - $20 depending on where you shop. It is rugged and has more features than most firesteels. Best of all, it works every time!

I will never go into the woods without this in my pocket.



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Friday, January 20, 2012

Fire Steel - 5500 Degrees In Your Pocket

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! This is the third post in a series on ignition sources.

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.



Fire Steels, commonly refered to as flint, are actualy made of ferrocerium. Ferrocerium is an alloy of rare earth metals that give off a shower of very hot sparks when scraped across a rough surface. That "flint" in your BIC lighter? It's ferrocerium. A traditional flint and steel works by shaving off pieces of steel with the flint rock. Ferrocerium works by shaving off pieces of ferrocerium with a piece of steel. Ferrocerium makes more sparks and burns at a higher temperature than steel.

It happens so fast it is hard to get on camera. That big white flash is a spark from a fire steel.

You use a firesteel by rubbing a striker, or the back of a knife over it. This creates a 5500 degree Fahrenheit shower of sparks. The sparks last long enough to get dry grass, bird nests, cattail fluff, and other fine materials lit.

Firesteels come with a black coating on them. This coating needs to be scraped off for you to get a good spark. When striking these with a knife most people use the knifes edge. This is not the best way. Ideally, you should use the back or your knife. The right angle on the back of your knife is perfect for a good spark. This also prevents you from dulling your edge. One caveat however, if the back of your knife is rounded off, it will not make sparks. This is the case with my Swiss Army knife.






Firesteels work when it is wet, cold, or windy. It is small, lightweight, and always works! They are the perfect all weather fire starting device. They are more reliable than a match or lighter and work in any condition.

The downside to them is that they require a small amount of practice to use. This is simple to remedy, just go in your back yard and use it! You should make several fires in a controlled atmosphere before you go into the woods and try to light a fire with just a fire steel. This goes for any fire starting device. You can read all about it, but nothing beats hands on practice.

The fire steel on the right is of high quality. Notice the thick rod.
The fire steel on the left is for emergencies only. It's thin rod will not spark well.
When buying a firesteel look for one at least 1/4 inch thick. The thicker the better. A thick rod will last longer and produce more sparks. I like a ferrocerium  rod that is at least 2 inches long. A good one will cost $10 - $20. You can buy thinner ones for cheaper, but they are only good for emergency situations. Thin rods are prone to breakage after much use and do not spark as well.

One tip while using them; touch your tinder with the end of the firesteel. The sparks cool down very quickly. The closer you are to your tinder, the hotter the sparks will be when they hit.



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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Matches - The Old Standby

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! This is the second post in a series on ignition sources.

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.



I'll just start out by saying that matches are my favorite way to light a fire. They are consistent and effective. You don't have to worry about them leaking or breaking like you do with a lighter. They do not take a specific skill set like firesteels or flint and steels do (more on these soon). Most of all, I love how they smell when they flair up. I even love the sound they make!

If I could only choose one fire starting method to bring with me in the woods it would be matches. In fact, I generally only bring matches on a short hike. In a short term situation they are all you need.

They are not without their drawbacks, however. Regular matches are very sensitive to moisture. Even a very humid day can make them ineffective. They are also a one shot deal. If you run out of matches you are just out of luck. On windy days they are frustrating to use, although proper match lighting technique will help overcome this.

Proper match lighting technique?!? You strike it and it lights. Where's the technique? Good question. Most people strike a match, let it catch fire to the stick, and then apply it to whatever they want to burn. The trick to using a match in the wind is to strike it and apply it to the tinder in one motion. You have half a second when the match is lighting and when it will not blow out. That half a second is all you need to light your tinder.

There are four basic types of matches that are suitable for a fire making kit. You have your regular safety matches, waterproof safety matches, strike anywhere matches, and stormproof matches.


Safety matches are the easiest to find. I always have a box close. I believe they are in every drawer in my house. I keep a box permanently in every hunting pouch, vest, and jacket. They do not work when wet and need a match striker to work.


I like them for their small size, dependability and cost. A dollar will get you eight boxes.

Waterproof matches are just like plain old safety matches, but they are waterproof. I was dubious about their waterproofing claim, but after some tests I can say it is true. They are waterproof. These tend to have slightly smaller sticks than the other matches, so they sometimes break when you light them.


I really should replace all my standard matches with these. They are a little more expensive, about 75 cents a box, but make up for it by being waterproof.

Strike anywhere matches used to be the standard for camping and survival.  Now they are hard to find. There is a myth that they are illegal in the US. I proved this myth wrong in one of my most popular blog posts.



I am disappointed to report that they are not made up to the standards that they where when I was a kid. Now, the sticks are of poor quality, one out of five breaks when I light them. They are also harder to light. I used to be able to light them with my fingernail, now it takes something flat and rough, but not too rough to light them. One out of every three will not "strike anywhere" at all.

I used to recommend dipping them in wax to waterproof them. Now I do not. The wax makes them even harder to light. It is very, very sad, but I cannot recommend them for an emergency fire starting kit. They are just not reliable enough.

Stormproof matches are half match, half firework. They are, in my opinion, the ultimate emergency fire starting tool. NOTHING beats them.


When you light them they burn like a fuse and will not blow out. They are truly waterproof and any amount of rain will not put them out. Just watch for yourself:






The manufacturer claims that they will burn for 15 seconds and will even burn underwater. These claims are exaggerations at best and outright lies at worst. They will burn for about 10 seconds (still very good) and if they are briefly dipped in water will sometimes stay lit (amazing in itself).

They are fairly expensive at three dollars for a pack of 25. However, they are well worth it. These are the very best fires starting tools you can put in your survival kit.

A note about match books:

One type of matches that you should never consider putting in you fire starting kit is match books. They are hard to light, delicate, and do not burn long. Matches are cheap. Buy good ones.


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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SOPA - The End Of Blogging As We Know It


The Stop Online Privacy Act has been making headlines lately. It is a bill in congress that is trying to stop online piracy. Stopping online piracy is a good thing. I don’t want my copyrighted material stolen. However, SOPA is written poorly and will punish entire sites for one users misconduct. It will destroy blogging.



It is a complex bill. I recommend you go to Wikipedia and research it for yourself. In a nutshell, it will give the government power to shut down any US based web site that hosts or links to copyrighted content. It also gives the government power to block and foreign web site that hosts or links to copyrighted content. We complain about China and Iran’s Internet censorship. If this bill passes, the US will be worse.

You may be thinking, I don’t host or link to pirated material. This will not affect me. Do you allow comments on your blog? If someone posts a link to copyrighted material in your comments section YOU are responsible.

Say someone adds a link in their comment that goes to a video that has a song in it that is copyrighted. You will be required to not only remove that comment, but search all of your comments for additional links to the video hosting site's domain and remove them. To clarify, if ONE file on a site breaks copyright laws you are required to remove all links to that site, even perfectly legal ones. If you do not then you are liable.

Do you use content from YouTube, Flickr, Picasa or other picture and video sharing sites? Do you store your content on these? They break this law. They will be gone as we know them..

Do you promote your site on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+?  They break this law. They will be gone as we know them..

Do you do research on Wikipedia or other user generated information sources like forums? They break this law. They will be gone as we know them..

Is your blogging platform hosted by a service such as Blogger, Tumblr, or WordPress? They break this law. They will be gone as we know them..

Do you promote your site on StumbleUpon, Reddit, or Digg? They break this law. They will be gone as we know them..

What about the OBN and other blogger networks? They break this law. They will be gone as we know them.

These are not idle, alarmist fears. If the government follows this bill to the letter, it will happen. Reddit and Wikipedia are taking it so seriously they are shutting down their sites today in protest of the bill.

The wording in SOPA would force all of these sites to censor themselves. If a user submits illegal content they would be required to remove it and all traces of the domain it came from. If they do not, their entire site could be brought down. This self-censorship is very expensive. From a business standpoint, it would make most of them unprofitable. Also, it is simply not possible.

Any site that uses user generated content would be at risk.

This is not even the worst. The way SOPA is written we will have to fundamentally change how DNS, the backbone of the Internet, works. With current technology, it will be a big step back with respect to security. Simply put, there will be no way for computers to determine whether the government blocks a site or a hacker blocks a site.

This bill is fundamentally flawed.

Please contact your congressmen and let them know that you oppose this bill. The easiest way to do this is here. Also, I think we should not re-elect any congressman who votes for this bill, republican or democrat.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.




Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lighters - A Deadly Safetynet

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! This is the first post in a series on ignition sources.

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.



Lighters. They are the lazy mans fire maker. Not that everyone who uses them are lazy! They are just consistently very easy to use. Press a button and you have fire! I would wager that most campfires and BBQ grills in the US are started with a lighter. Have you noticed that every super market cash register has half a dozen different lighters to choose from hanging next to it, but matches are getting harder and harder to find? This is because lighters are viewed as superior.

We want to know if lighters are a good choice for a fire making kit. A kit that will be used to start a fire at camp or, if you get lost in the woods, a fire to keep you alive.

There are two basic types of lighters; soft flame and windproof. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.



Soft flame lighters include your normal disposable lighters and the typical Zippo type lighters. Most burn butane, but some use naphtha. The burn time on a typical BIC disposable lighter is about 30 minutes in ideal situations. I don't own a Zippo, but I've read that it is about the same for those. Keep in mind that they are not designed to burn constantly. After about three minutes they over heat and can become permanently damaged.

Soft flame lighters use a "flint". It is not actualy flint, but ferrocerium. Ferrocerium makes a 3000 degree spark that lights the fuel. This is very useful. Even after a soft flame lighter runs out of fuel you can light a fire with its spark, although it is very difficult even in a controlled enviroment. The best tinder to do this with is char cloth or petroleum jellied cotton balls.

Soft flame lighters have three big drawbacks.
  1. They are blown out easily. Very easily. the slightest breeze will blow them out. In a strong wind you cannot even light them.
  2. They do not work when wet. I'm not sure why, but this is my experience.
  3. They can leak fuel and are prone to run out of fuel. Most disposable lighters have a button that releases the fuel when you press it.   It is very easy to accidentally press this button while it is in your pocket, causing your lighter to empty. Older lighters leak fuel from deteriorated seals. They also have a tendency to run out of fuel when you need them most. I can't count how many times this has happened to me.

Windproof lighters have a different set of pro's and con's.



It is commonly believed that wind proof lighters create their torch flame by increasing the pressure of the fuel. This is not true. They use a Catalytic Coil which basically burns the fuel more efficiently. They burn much hotter than soft flame lighters and are quite windproof. I have used them in a hurricane. Wind proof lighters are usually better made and more expensive than soft flame lighters. They do not use a "flint". They light with a Piezoelectric crystal (a really cool technology), which basically creates an electrical spark.

Windproof lighters seem to work OK while wet, although it may take a few tries. I recommend drying them out as much as possible before trying.

They also have two big drawbacks.
  1. Since they do not light with a "flint", once they run out of fuel they are worthless. There is no practical way to light tinder with a Piezoelectric crystal from a lighter.
  2. They run out of fuel just as fast or faster than soft flame lighters.

Lets sum up and choose the best lighter for our kit.

Soft flame lighters area easy to use and have the ability to make fire when empty. However, they blow out easily, do not work when wet, and do not last long. Windproof lighters work well in most environments, but are useless when empty and also run out of fuel quickly.

In my opinion the best lighter to carry is a windproof one. It may be useless when empty, but chances are you will only need to use it once or twice. In a survival situation, the first fire is the most important. Just top off its fuel each time you go out.

The second best lighter to keep in you pocket is a disposable BIC style soft flame lighter with a child lock. It will make fire when empty and the child lock will prevent the fuel button from accidentally being pressed in your pocket. These can be hard to find. Most child lock devises on lighters do not allow the flint to strike, but do allow the gas button to depress. You can get around this by placing a small zip tie around the base of the fuel button. This will prevent it from accidentally being depressed and is easily removed.

But should you carry one at all? I don't. Here is why:

Lighters give people a false sense of security. They throw a lighter in their pack and think they now can make a fire anywhere. They do not learn how to gather proper tender or make a good fire. They have no backup in case the lighter gets wet or runs out.

I keep lighters around the house, but most of the times I need one they do not work. I end up using a match. Lighters are simply not reliable. Lighters are not bad. If you like them, use them! Just be sure that you have a backup ignition source and know how to light a fire from just a spark.



Monday, January 16, 2012

Tinder Rundown

Here is a quick post comparing each of the tenders we have looked at, plus a few others.



Tinder Flammability Waterproof? Messy? Windproof? Burn time
Dryer Lint Wafers Low High Low Moderate 8 -10 Min
Petrolium Jellied Cotton Balls Very High Low High Moderate 4 - 6 Min
Char Cloth Very High Very Low Moderate Very High 1 -2 Min (depending on its size)
Candle Moderate Very High Low Low 1 Hour or more
Fatwood Stick High Moderate Low High 1 Min Shredded / 10 Min Whole
Trioxane Very High Moderate Moderate High 10 - 12 Min
Alcahol pad Very High High (if sealed) Low Moderate 1 Min
Hand Sanitizer Very High High (if sealed) Moderate Moderate 2 -3 Min
Hand Sanitizer soaked Cottonball Very High Very Low High Moderate 4 -6 Min
Dead Grass High Low Moderate High 1 Min
Birch Bark Moderate Moderate Low Moderate 2 Min
Cedar Bark Low Low Moderate Moderate 2 Min
Pine Pitch Moderate High Low (if hardened)
High (if liquid)
Moderate 6 -8 Min



These are all according to my tests. In my tests the Fatwood, Trioxane, and Dead Grass were the  winners. The Fatwood and Trioxane would light with a spark, were moderately waterproof, and burned for a long time. Dead grass is easy to find, lights with a spark, and burns well.

Finding Tinder In Your First Aid Kit

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! In keeping with the theme for the month I am doing a short series on pre-made tinder. This is part 7.

So far we have discussed tender that you can make or buy and bring with you into the woods. Bringing your own tender is a wise choice. Finding dry, suitable tender in a real life situation can be extremely difficult. But what if you forgot to grab your fire starting kit? You may have dry, pre-made tinder with you already. Even the smallest first aid kits have several items that can catch a spark.

I carry a very small first aid kit with me every time I go into the woods. If I plan on going deep into the woods, I carry a slightly larger one. My small kit contains three band aids, two alcohol wipes, a couple cotton balls, a package of triple antibiotic ointment, a couple q-tips, some mole skin, four Tylenol tablets, and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. This kit is plenty to keep me in the woods and hunting after a minor accident.

You can probably see several things that can be used as tender.

Alcohol wipes

Alcohol wipes catch fire very quickly with just a spark. They also burn for plenty of time to get small twigs or even damp grass and leaves burning.

Cotton balls

These do not burn for long, but light quickly. The can be improved by....

Cotton balls and triple antibiotic ointment

Coat some cotton balls in triple antibiotic ointment. They will burn as well as cotton balls coated in petroleum jelly. These are a life saver.

Hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is mostly alcohol. It catches quickly and burns for a surprisingly long time! I probably should have written an entire post on it. Lather some twigs with it and you will have a fire in no time!

Hand sanitizer and cotton balls

Soak a cotton ball with hand sanitizer and it will burn for quite a while. This is a fire starter on par with some of the dedicated fire starters we have discussed!

Perhaps I should add a few strike anywhere matches to my first aid kit. Then it would effectively be a first aid/fire starting kit!



Saturday, January 14, 2012

Trioxane - When All Else Fails...

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! In keeping with the theme for the month I am doing a short series on pre-made tinder. This is part 6.

In my last post on tender we looked at an all natural tender; fatwood. Today we are going to check out a tender that is anything but natural; Trioxane tablets. Trioxane tablets are made of a chemical compound containing trioxane and hexamine. They are very, very flammable.



When I was a boy we started all of our fires with Trioxane. Back then you could buy them at army surplus stores for super cheap. Once, while duck hunting, I fell through the ice of a frozen river. This was before cell phones, so I just had to wait until my dad came at our prearranged time to pick me up. I used a trioxine tablet to quickly start a fire. It kept me comfortable until my dad arrived to pick me up. They are harder to find today and fairly expensive, but are worth the effort to locate.


Tioxane tablets come wrapped in foil wrappers. Each wrapper contains one large tablet that can be broken up into three pieces. Each package can reliably start three fires. They start with even the weakest spark and burn for ten minutes or more. The fire from them is so hot it burns blue and can be hard to see.


There is no trick to using Troxane. Just apply a flame or spark. It is a common Internet myth that Trioxane tablets are 100% waterproof. They are not. They are water resistant. You can light them in the rain, perhaps even a downpour. However, if they are dunked in water for very long they will absorb the water and will never light.

Here is a video of my wet test:











A quick dunk doesn't faze it. However, if I had kept it under water for too much longer it would not have lit.

The next video shows how fast it catches with a spark:












Trioxane and other chemical fire starters are probably the easiest way to start a fire. They only have one drawback; they are relatively expensive. I don't recommend using them for every fire you build, but they are perfect for emergencies.

A note about other chemical fire starters:
It is tempting to buy a package of charcoal fire starters at your local hardware store. They are much less expensive than the chemical fire starters used by outdoorsmen. They also work almost just as well at starting fires. The problem with chemical fire starters designed for charcoal grills is that they give off a strong odor. Their odor will bleed into your clothing and gear. This is acceptable if you are just a hiker, but hunters should not use them. Nothing screams "Human!" like the smell of lighter fluid.

The fire starters that you can purchase from the links below are perfect for hunter.




Friday, January 13, 2012

Review - Ka-Bar Little Finn Field Knife

Some knives you pick up and just don't want to put down. They are so beautiful you just want to put them in your collection, but so rugged and practical they beg to be used. When you show it to your friends they cannot help but smile. The Ka-Bar Little Finn is one of those knives.



 The Ka-Bar Little Finn is a field knife. It is a classic design from back in the early 1900's. When I showed it to my dad he remarked that he had one just like it when he was younger. It is designed for general outdoor work. It meets the needs of garden and camp chores, cleaning small animals, cooking, and survival situations.


Before we get too far into the review, here are the specs:


Weight0.10 lb.Butt Cap/GuardBrass
SteelDIN 1.4116 Stainless SteelBlade Thickness0.094
MeasurementsBlade length 3-5/8"; Overall length 7"

Edge Angles20 Degrees

ShapeStraight Point

GrindHollow

Handle MaterialLeather

HRC55-57


There are a lot of things to like here. It is light weight, yet has a substantial enough blade thickness to do heavy work. It's small blade size makes it maneuverable and the straight point gives it a large work area.



I like the hollow grind and the 20 degree edge angle. This steep of an edge angle means it is designed to heavy work. A shallow edge angle makes a very sharp knife, but it also dulls faster. A steep angle cannot be as sharp, but lasts longer. I like a 17 degree angle on my knives, but since this is a work knife, the 20 degree angle is a good choice.


The leather sheath is top quality. A generous belt loop accommodates wide belts. Sheaths are becoming overlooked with modern knives. It is nice to see a company that still includes good ones. I would have preferred the snap to be at the hilt instead of the butt.


Ka-Bar is known for making high quality, nearly indestructible knives. The Little Finn is no different. The fit and finish of this knife are on par with knives five times its cost. It is hard to find a problem with it's finish. The steel used is highly stain resistant. It has a steel similar to the steel used in Buck knives, but only tempered a little softer. This makes it slightly more springy and easy to sharpen, but dull faster. Those of you who read my knife reviews know I prefer carbon steel to stainless. However, this knife is so elegant, stainless steel is the logical choice.


The Ka-Bar Little Finn is small. If you have big hands then you may want to look for something more substantial. I personally think it is perfect. It retails for $36.40, but you can find it for less. My only complaint is that is came out if the box fairly dull. It sharpened up very quickly, but I like it when knives come out of the box razor sharp. 

Do you like the Ka-Bar Little Fin? If you do be sure you enter my contest to win one! Yes, I am giving away the knife I reviewed here. Good luck!





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