Stranger than friction: when matches were dangerous

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The folks would get wasp nests in the winter and stick the fire chief matches in the cells to use as match holders for the patio fireplace.


One of my favorite people is Crazy Russian Hacker guy {“Where safety is our number one priority”) Just got a whole box of firestarter and steels. these are the modern day equivalent of tinderboxes. One of them is the size of a cudgel, and will probably last for hundreds of years.

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Safety First!



Tabletop lighters died sometime after match holders, both killed by pocket lighters. Which means scenes like this were incredibly mysterious to me in the days before google:

Today, a minute with Google tells me that Sam Spade owns a Ronson Touch Tip lighter, but back when I first saw this movie in college, I was mystified.


I know what a tinder box is from Dungeons and Dragons.

I remember going to this orienteering day camp and we were supposed to make our own fire. I brought a magnifying glass and some orange note pad paper to make mine. The adult person there (instructor?) didn’t think it would work. I have a piece of wood with my name burnt into it and lots of burnt paper that said it would. In a few minutes I had our fire going. “Huh, must have been some chemical in the paper.”

I remember thinking, “Are you serious?”

Also, survival tip if want to really get a fire going, take some steel wool with you. Connect two ends of it to a common flashlight battery and watch it go up.

And finally, the tribe I belong to, Potawatomi, translates to “keepers of the fire”.


On flammable planet, animal insane enough to harness fire is king.


I never realized how many advances in how many fields contributed to cock safety


It’s fascinating thing. I thought it was wonderous too. I think that’s why they put it on his desk.

And you can use it to fend off wild animals or for recreational purposes, too!

Besides, most of the firestarter sets you can buy are more of a novelty. They sort of work as such (if they are made of the right materials), but they are far too small to use them conveniently on a day-to-day basis. So you try them out once, use them a second time to show off your mad surviwahl skillz - and make sure you’ll always have enough lighters and matches and whatnot in your backpack to make sure you’ll never have to use the stupid thing.
The bug one from the vid? Now that looks like you can actually use it.

If you really want to make fire from scratch with sparks in the wild: bring your own tinder/kindling. Tree fungi actually work great - but only if they are really dry.
Bring a zip-loc bag or tupperware container with lint from the lint trap in your tumble dryer. Dry, very good ratio of surface area to volume, burns really well. (It’s not a coincidence that a lot of house fires start in the tumble dryer. Clean that lint trap regulary.)
Another thing that works good as tinder is steel wool. Same thing about the surface area/volume ratio. BUT make sure that it’s not the kind of steel wool intended to scrub pots and pans. That one usually comes with a coating of some sort of soap or other. As you can use detergents to put out fires, you’ll need a blowtorch to ignite it. There is "pure"steel wool available; for de-rusting metal etc.

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I should be good to go for the next 4000 years for lint supply. lemme check my jean’s watch pocket

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Don’t tell people you have pocket lint!

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And when you really need fire - cold, wet conditions with your hands frozen and all the available tinder damp - there’s little chance you will get a fire going with one. There’s a Quebecois wilderness expert I saw on a documentary about surviving in the wilderness with nothing, not even a knife. After a great deal of struggle he managed to construct a bow drill and start a fire. His comment was that learning that was an important survival skill, because once you had that experience, you would never forget your matches.

Yes. My favourite is cotton balls smeared with Vaseline. One or two sparks will consistently light them, and they burn for some time.

That’s a new one for me, thanks!

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The trick is to get the cotton ball well-impregnated with Vaseline, but not so much that there aren’t stray fibers sticking out to serve as wicks.

I’ll try that.

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Another enthusiastic vote for Vaseline-impregnated cotton. It lights well with a firesteel (or with my knife and a bit of chert or pyrite, if it comes to that). Both work after falling in a river. Matches and lighters do not. I’ve fallen in a river in near-freezing air temperatures and was glad I had firesteel and tinder, and that I’d had the foresight to recognize that the ford was dodgy and laid firewood on the near bank so as to have a safe place to retreat to.

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Trial By Stone!