The ability to make a fire is the basis for survival. For a long time, my main method of making fire was a ferrocerium rod that lit cotton balls in petroleum jelly. My second method was to use waterproof matches. I was looking for a solid and reliable tool/procedure that would be my tertiary method of starting a fire. I wrote a piece about this research in an article published on SurvivalBlog on January 10, 2021. This article is an update on the next phase of this research.
For Christmas this year, my wife gave me a durable metal match. They are also called eternal matches, reusable matches or immortal lighters. They are available from many suppliers in different shapes and sizes. By the way, if SurvivalBlog readers know of durable metal matches made in the United States, I’d love to hear more about them. Like many products, most metal matches are made in China.
A permanent burner consists of two main parts: a metal rod and a fuel tank. The metal rod has a firing pin surrounded by wick material at one end and a screw cap with a rubber gasket at the other. The threaded hole on the fuel tank matches the threaded holes in the rod cap. The tank also has a ferrocerium rod in the side. When the metal rod is unscrewed and removed from the tank, the firing pin can move down along the ferrocerium rod and create sparks that in turn ignite the fuel that enters the wick material. Because the cover is securely screwed on, the fuel cannot evaporate when the unit is not in use.
The metal match I received is smaller and heavier than I expected, and it looks pretty sturdy. I found the whimsical filigree pattern on the outside attractive. The contents of the mine tank are just over two inches long and just over half an inch wide. The rod cover adds another half inch to the length.
The unit arrived without fuel. After fueling, I quickly learned something that goes without saying: it is important not to knock the unit over by trying to hit the spark plug with the metal rod. If the cap on the metal rod is removed from the threaded hole in the tank, fuel will escape quickly when the unit is knocked over.
Initial attempts to generate sparks were hampered by the protective coating on the ferrocerium rod. Later attempts produced a nice shower of sparks. During my initial tests, it sometimes took several attempts to ignite the fuel in the wick material. Finally, I learned that it can be helpful to shake the device vigorously before removing the metal rod to ensure that the wick material is properly filled with fuel, especially when the tank is less than half full.
The sanding experience
I originally stored the unit in my unheated shed to test it in the prevailing outdoor temperatures.
The device can use different types of fuel. I first used Zippo lighter fluid. Naphtha-based fuels, such as Zippo lighter fluid, tend to ignite more easily than kerosene in cold weather. For conventional lighters, the main disadvantage of naphtha-based fuels is the high evaporation rate. Since the metal match has a tightly sealing lid with an O-ring, I expected evaporation to be less of a problem than with conventional lighters. I have never had a problem lighting a metal match in sub-zero temperatures, as long as I use Zippo lighter fluid.
Gasoline works just like the fuel in an IMCO lighter. I wasn’t sure if it could be used as fuel in a permanent metal lighter. Logically, it should work fine since gasoline is less volatile than naphtha-based fuel. However, since a metal match is more likely to leak fuel than an IMCO lighter, I decided not to risk using a match with gasoline as fuel. As testing progressed, my decision to avoid gasoline as a fuel was reinforced. More than once, the wick material cleaned my gloves while I was working with the aircraft, leaving traces of fuel on my gloves. Sparks from the ferrocerium rod sometimes briefly ignited the fuel on my gloves. These ignitions of naphtha-based fuels could be extinguished by simply blowing. Gasoline fires were perhaps more difficult to extinguish.
When the match was in the shed, I used it to light my wood stove outside, seal the cut ends of paracord, light the alcohol stove, try out different types of filing cabinet lights, and other similar tasks.
After lighting the match more than once a day for an average of three weeks, the fuel finally ran out. Even when the fuel ran out, the ferrocerium rod and firing pin were able to produce enough sparks to ignite the cotton ball.
After testing in the barn and refilling the device, I took it inside and submerged it in a beaker of water for an hour. At the end of the hour, I removed the device from the beaker, shook off the excess water, and tried to turn it on. As long as the ferrocerium rod remained wet, it did not produce enough sparks to ignite the wick material. But as the rod dried out, it began to produce effective sparks and easily ignited the wick material. The sealing ring on the lid sealed the device sufficiently to prevent water from contaminating the fuel.
Dryer lint is a useful and easily obtained binding material. If you don’t have your own dryer, you can easily collect the dryer lint in the recycling bins at your local laundromat.
Due to the use of a ferrocerium core, the lint produced by our dryer is not flammable like the lint from most other dryers. Our hair dryers contain an inordinate amount of dog hair. But even dog hair does not prevent the lint from quickly igniting when exposed to the flame of a durable metal match.
I mentioned above that my basic method of making fire uses a ferrocerium rod to ignite a cotton ball soaked in petroleum jelly. The cotton ball ignites very easily and in turn ignites the petroleum jelly. The jelly then burns for a minute or two, with the cotton ball serving as a wick. This flame can ignite large ashes/small kindling, which in turn can be used to ignite larger kindling, etc. The jelly then burns for a minute or two, with the cotton ball serving as the wick.
Vaseline is often offered in a jar, which is not the most practical packaging for use in the field. It can be frustrating to remove a vaseline rod from the jar. A compression tube, on the other hand, is a much more convenient container for flammable primers.
Coghlan fire paste is a handy fire starter that fits into a compression tube. It’s easy to light with a ferrocerium rod without the aid of a cotton swab, and a pea-sized drop burns in a minute or two. The problem is that at the time of writing, the 3.75-ounce tube costs $8.50 on Amazon. (The Amazon prices in this article are for comparison purposes only. I recognize that people may prefer a different source for various reasons.)
Vaseline can also be purchased in tubes. The best price I could find on Amazon at the time of writing is $9.92 for five 3.25 oz tubes. That’s $0.62 per ounce, which is much more reasonable.
I decided to experiment with a different solution. I had an old refillable camping tube in a box in my shed. I bought a 10-liter can of petroleum jelly at the local big-box store. I took the petroleum jelly out of the shed, lit my alcohol stove in the Norwegian Storm kitchen with a strong metal match and began to melt a pot of snow on the stove.
As the snow melted, I made a coil out of an old wire tent and placed it on the bottom of the pot. The idea was to prevent the bottom of the vaseline jar from overheating from direct contact with the bottom of the jar. I then placed the vaseline pot on the wire coil and covered the pot with a large pan to slow heat loss. I did this project in the barn so as not to ruin my wife’s kitchen.
While the water was heating up, I cleaned the press tube and fitted it with a filler hole. I used a vise on my workbench to hold the tube open and upright. Then I made a funnel out of an old milk jug to make a hole in the press tube.
Alcoholic storm stoves usually take a long time to heat up, but once they do, they start burning much harder. After an hour or so, the little stove was burning very hot. The water was boiling heavily, and more than half of the petroleum jelly had melted. At that point, I removed a jar of petroleum jelly from the boiling water with tongs and used a milk funnel to pour the appropriate amount into the open end of the squeeze tube. Then I turned off the stove and let the dog out while I let everything cool.
Twenty minutes later, the freezing cold in the barn caused the petroleum jelly to solidify again. I pressed a small amount of jelly onto a dry lint and lit the lint with a permanent metal match. When properly inflated, the mixture of dry lint and oil jelly worked almost as well with the metal match as the mixture of cotton ball and oil jelly. I still prefer cotton balls for use with ferrocerium sticks because they are easier and more stable to ignite.
A 13 ounce can of petroleum jelly cost me $3.49, which works out to a price per ounce of 27 cents. If you don’t have a camping tube, at the time of writing it is available in duplicate on Amazon for $3.78. So combined with the cost of the tubes, your first batch costs $0.56 per ounce, while subsequent batches cost less than half that amount.
There is another source of catalyst in the tubes that you should be aware of. If you inspect your medicine cabinet or first aid kit and discover that your tube of triple antibiotic ointment is past its date, don’t throw it away. The ointment is essentially petroleum jelly. Instead, use the tube of ointment as a handy dispenser for starter fuel.
I am very pleased with the durable metal match. It seemed to fire reliably in a variety of temperature conditions, resistant to immersion in water and excessive evaporation of the fuel. I plan to make it my first method of making fire unless I can find a better one. If possible, I hope to buy two more: one for our fireplace and one for my mini survival kit.
Explanation of disclaimer
I have received no financial or other incentive to mention the vendor, product or service in this article.
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