The ability to start a fire is foundational for survival. For quite a while now, my primary fire-starting method has been a ferrocerium rod igniting cotton balls dabbed with petroleum jelly. My secondary method has been waterproof matches. I have been searching for a durable and reliable tool/process to be my tertiary fire-starting method. I wrote a little about this search in an article published on SurvivalBlog on January 10, 2021. This article is an update about the next stage in that search process.
For Christmas this year, my wife gave me a permanent metal match. These are also known as forever matches, reusable matches, or immortal lighters. They are available in a variety of shapes and sizes from a host of vendors. By the way, if SurvivalBlog readers are aware of any permanent metal match that is manufactured in the United States, I would be interested in knowing about it. As with many other products, the vast majority of metal matches are manufactured in China.
A permanent metal match consists of two major parts: a metal rod and a fuel reservoir. The metal rod has a striker surrounded by wick material on one end and a threaded cap with a rubber o-ring on the other end. The fuel reservoir has a threaded opening that corresponds to the threads on the cap of the rod. The reservoir also has a ferrocerium rod embedded along its side. When the metal rod is unscrewed and removed from the reservoir, the striker can be run down the ferrocerium rod, creating sparks which in turn ignite the fuel infusing the wick material. Since the cap screws on tightly, it prevents fuel evaporation when the unit is not in use.
The metal match I received is smaller and heavier than I anticipated, and appears to be quite durable. I found the somewhat whimsical filigree pattern decorating the exterior to be attractive. The reservoir on my unit measures just over two inches long and just over one half inch wide. The cap on the rod adds another half inch to the length of the unit.
The unit arrived without fuel. After filling, I quickly learned something that should be obvious: it is important not to tip the unit while trying to strike a spark with the metal rod. When the cap on the metal rod is removed from the threaded opening in the reservoir, fuel will leak out quickly if the unit is tipped.
The first couple of attempts to strike a spark were hindered by a protective coating on the ferrocerium rod. Subsequent attempts produced a nice shower of sparks. In my initial testing, it sometimes took several attempts to ignite the fuel in the wick material. I eventually learned that it can be helpful to shake the unit vigorously prior to removing the metal rod to assure that the wick material is thoroughly infused with fuel, especially if the reservoir is less than half full.
The Barn Test
I initially stored the unit out in my unheated barn in order to test it under the prevailing outdoor temperature conditions.
The unit can use a variety of different fuels. I used Zippo lighter fluid first. Naphtha based fuels like Zippo lighter fluid typically ignite more readily under cold weather conditions than kerosene. In traditional lighters, the primary drawback of naphtha based fuels is their high rate of evaporation. Since the metal match has a tightly sealed cap with an o-ring, I expected evaporation to be less of an issue than with traditional lighters. I had no problems consistently igniting the metal match under below freezing conditions while using Zippo lighter fluid.
Gasoline works well as fuel in an IMCO lighter. I was uncertain if it could be used as fuel in a permanent metal match. Logically, this should work okay, since gasoline is less volatile than naphtha based fuels. But since fuel spillage is more likely to occur from a metal match than from an IMCO lighter, I decided not to take the risk of using the match with gasoline as fuel. As testing proceeded, my decision to avoid gasoline as fuel was reinforced. On more than one occasion, the wick material brushed my gloves while I was handling the unit, leaving traces of fuel on my gloves. The sparks from the ferrocerium rod then at times briefly ignited the fuel on my gloves. These naptha-based fuel fires were easily extinguished by simply blowing on them. Gasoline fires may have been more difficult to extinguish.
While the match was in the barn, I used it for tasks such as relighting my outside wood boiler, sealing the cut ends of paracord, lighting an alcohol stove, test lighting various kinds of tinder, and similar tasks.
After three weeks of lighting the match an average of more than once a day, the fuel was finally expended. Even when the fuel was expended, the ferrocerium rod and striker could be used to create enough sparks to ignite a cotton ball.
The Immersion Test
After completing the barn test and refilling the unit with fuel, I took it into the house and submerged it in a mug of water for an hour. At the end of the hour, I removed the unit from the mug, shook off the excess water, and attempted to light it. As long as the ferrocerium rod remained damp, it did not create sufficient sparks to ignite the wick material. But as the rod gradually dried, it began to create effective sparks, and easily ignited the wick material. The o-ring on the cap sealed the unit sufficiently to keep water from contaminating the fuel.
Lint from a clothes dryer is a useful and easily obtained tinder material. If you don’t happen to own a clothes dryer of your own, it would be a simple matter to collect dryer lint from the trash cans of your local Laundromat.
The dryer lint produced by our clothes dryer does not ignite as well as most other dryer lint while using a ferrocerium rod. Our lint contains too high of a percentage of dog hair. But even the dog hair does not prevent our lint from rapidly igniting when exposed to the flame of the permanent metal match.
Accelerant in Tubes
I mentioned above that my primary fire starting method uses a ferrocerium rod to ignite a cotton ball that has been dabbed with petroleum jelly. The cotton ball ignites quite easily, and then in turn ignites the petroleum jelly. The jelly then burns for a minute or two using the cotton as a wick. This flame can ignite coarse tinder/fine kindling, which can be used in turn to ignite larger kindling, and so forth.
Petroleum jelly often comes in a jar, which is not the most convenient container for field use. Getting a dab of petroleum jelly out of a jar can be messy. A squeeze tube, on the other hand, is a much more convenient container for fire starting accelerants.
One handy fire starting accelerant that comes in a squeeze tube is Coghlan’s Fire Paste. It is easily ignited by a ferrocerium rod even without the help of a cotton ball, and a pea-sized dab will burn hotly for a minute or two. The problem is that a 3.75 oz tube cost $8.50 on Amazon at the time of this writing. That comes to $2.27 an ounce, which is somewhat pricey. (Amazon prices are referenced in this article strictly for the purpose of comparison. I recognize that individuals may prefer a different source of supply for a host of reasons.)
Petroleum jelly can also be purchased in tubes. The best price I could find on Amazon at the time of this writing was $9.92 for five 3.25 ounce tubes. That comes to $0.62 an ounce, which is much more reasonable.
I decided to experiment with another solution. I had an old, refillable camping squeeze tube in a box in my barn. I bought a 13-ounce jar of petroleum jelly at a local big box store. I took the petroleum jelly to the barn, lit my Norwegian “Storm Kitchen” alcohol stove with the permanent metal match, and began melting a pot of snow on the stove.
While the snow was melting, I made a coil from an old wire tent stake, and dropped it in the bottom of the pot. This was to prevent the bottom of the petroleum jelly jar from possibly overheating through direct contact with the bottom of the pot. I then put the jar of petroleum jelly on top of the coil of wire, and covered the pot with a larger pot to slow heat loss. I did this project in the barn so that I would not mess up my wife’s kitchen.
While the water was heating, I cleaned up the squeeze tube and set it with the refill opening up. I used the vise on my workbench to help hold the tube open and upright. I then made a funnel from an old milk jug that fit the opening in the squeeze tube.
“Storm Kitchen” alcohol stoves usually take a long time to warm up, but once they warm they begin to burn much hotter. After about an hour, the little stove was really burning fiercely. The water boiled vigorously, and more than half of the petroleum jelly melted. At that point, I removed the petroleum jelly jar from the boiling water with a pair of pliers, and poured an appropriate amount into the open end of the squeeze tube with the help of the milk jug funnel. I then extinguished the stove, and went to take the dog for a walk while I let things cool down.
Twenty minutes later, the freezing temperatures in the barn had caused the petroleum jelly to re-congeal. I squeezed a small amount of jelly on to some dryer lint, and ignited the lint with the permanent metal match. When it was properly fluffed, the dryer lint/petroleum jelly combination worked almost as well with the metal match as a cotton ball/petroleum jelly combination. I still strongly prefer cotton balls for use with ferrocerium rods because they ignite more easily and consistently.
The 13-ounce jar of petroleum jelly cost me $3.49, giving me a cost per ounce of 27 cents. If you don’t happen to already own a camping squeeze tube, they were listed at the time of this writing on Amazon at two for $3.78 . So including the costs of the tubes, your first batch would come to $.56 per ounce, with subsequent batches costing less than half that.
There is one other source of accelerant in tubes that you should be aware of. If you are inspecting your first aid kit or medicine cabinet, and you discover that your tube of triple antibiotic ointment is outdated, don’t throw it away. The ointment consists primarily of petroleum jelly. Instead, use the tube of ointment as a handy dispenser of fire starting accelerant.
I am very satisfied with the permanent metal match. It seemed to ignite reliably under a variety of temperature conditions, withstand immersion in water, and resist excess fuel evaporation. I plan to make it my primary method of starting fires unless I happen to find something better. As opportunity allows, I hope to purchase a couple more: one for our fireplace, and one for my mini survival kit.
I did not receive any financial or other inducement to mention any vendor, product, or service in this article.