Tuesday, July 30, 2019
Fire is always handy. But sometimes, there's no tinder*. Or there's tons of it, all dripping wet. And you need something handy to catch a match, a magnesium bar* or spark rod* spark, and ignite or dry out your other fuel.
Your best friend is a simple cotton ball, soaked in petroleum jelly, wrapped in a foil layer.
Bag of 100% cotton cotton balls.
Roll of aluminum foil*
Jar or tube of petroleum jelly
Metal bowl or dish
No-flame heat source
First, get a bag of cotton balls at the store (or, a cotton plant, if that's an option).
Note that we said cotton balls, not polyester balls. Read the label. Only 100% cotton will do.
Get petroleum jelly. Vaseline™ preferred, but generics will do fine, as long as they're pure petroleum jelly.
Over electric (flameless) heat, melt a large blob of the jelly into a clear liquid.
If you use an open flame source, you are solely and totally responsible for the house fire and 2nd and 3rd degree burns you ignite. Personal choice for a vessel is a small stainless steel pet bowl, and an electric warming plate, or electric radiator.
Monitor your batch of melting jelly closely.
Get tongs, long tweezers, hemostats, etc., and once the jelly is liquid, dunk the cotton balls into the liquid. Push them under with the tongs to insure they are thoroughly saturated with the liquid. Once again, if you try this with your fingers, or anything equally dim-witted, you are solely and wholly responsible for the 2nd and 3rd degree burns you will suffer.
I will, of course, be happy to laugh at you after the fact.
Once they're completely soaked, set them, one at a time, onto a large sheet of aluminum foil to cool off.
Take some more of that aluminum foil, and cut it into approx. 3" x 6" rectangles.
One at a time, put one of the completely cooled off cotton balls onto one side of each piece.
Fold the sheets so they are now 3" x 3".
Fold the three open edges together about 1/8" so they overlap and seal.
Twice if you're a bit anal about leaky petroleum jelly.
Smash the cotton ball flat enough to make this work.
When you're done, you'll have a stack of relatively flat, mostly leakproof tinder patties.
They can be stored inside a plastic baggie in your gear, and pulled out as needed.
You can also fold the corners in, and take a dowel slightly smaller than an old 35mm plastic film canister*, or short piece of PVC*, and ram them in, one at a time, and have little round tinder patties, also safely leakproof. Cap the ends of the pvc, or put the cap on the film can, and you're set.
4-6 of them can fit into a film can or similar sized container.
You can put eight of them in an Altoids tin*. You can also skip the foil, and just make a monster block candle in any small metal container, like an old shoe polish can (for those of you who still shine shoes, and know what I'm talking about there).
You can even make them one at a time by hand-smashing Vaseline into cotton balls, but it's far slower and messier, so I recommend the dunking method, because I do 40-50 at a time.
You can get a few thousand handy illustrations of this by typing "cotton balls soaked in Vaseline" into Google, and looking at "images". So I won't bother.
To use one, take a small, sharp blade, and cut a small "X" in the center of the cotton ball tinder patty. Peel the triangles open, as seen in the header for this post.
Pull out a few strands of the cotton.
That's your wick.
It will start a larger fire of wood, or dry it out to do so.
It will burn as a candle*, or small heat source, for 30-60 minutes. (My record was 74 minutes on one ball).
If all you have for shelter is a poncho*, it will keep you quite warm underneath with no other help, under the poncho. (If you screw that up, and light the poncho or yourself on fire, it will keep you much warmer, for a much shorter period of time. Don't be That Guy.)
They're small, light, bombproof, and mostly idiot-proof.
(The usual caveats regarding some idiots will always apply.)
And they'll start a fire on a wet rock in a stream. Or anyplace easier.
And you can make them yourself, by the dozens, for a couple of bucks, far cheaper than commercial tinder balls and such.
*The Sergeant Major notes "You will see this material again."