By February 5, 2007

Flaming Cotton Balls and Spark-Lite firestarter review

A way to make fire is important in any preparedness kit. Ideally, you should have two ways to start a fire. I have a few cheap Bic lighters and then the Spark-Lite Fire Starter. The Spark-Lite is a simple but effective piece of kit. The starter is a two inch high piece of plastic with a roller and flint at the top. Push the roller in the indicated direction and the Spark-Lite spits out some sparks. The kit also includes a plastic case that holds eight Tinder-Quik tabs and basic directions. The Tinder-Quik tabs are treated with a flammable material and are waterproof. They are also quite small. Each tab is about the size of a piece of Dentyne gum. You can find the Spark-Lite kit all over the place, but I purchased mine from Four Seasons Survival for $9 before shipping. They processed my order quickly and I’d buy from them again.

So, the Spark-Lite is awesome and the Tinder-Quik tabs are great, but who wants to use up their precious waterproof, super-compressed tabs if they don’t need to? And keeping true to our desire for redundancy, it would be great to have a secondary tinder/kindling source. Enter a low-tech solution for a low-tech problem: cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly.

For the price of ten Tinder-Quik tabs you can make roughly 150 flaming cotton balls. It’s messy and requires some grunt work, but it’s cheap and the components are readily available. Here’s the low down:

  1. Buy a bag of cotton balls. I bought 200 generic, low-quality average-sized cotton balls at Wal*Mart for $0.99.
  2. Buy petroleum jelly. Wal*Mart’s Equate house brand does the trick just fine; it has the added advantage of being cheaper than the name-brands like Vaseline and is unscented. I think this was about $1.99.
  3. Get a plastic bag, empty 35mm film canister, or similar container. The cotton balls are kind of messy, and you don’t want these rolling around in your preparedness kit.
  4. Lightly compress one cotton ball with your fingers. Dip the cotton ball in the jelly, enough to cover most of one side.
  5. Use your fingers to work the jelly around the entire exterior of the cotton ball while compressing the cotton ball as much as you can. Use the jelly to “seal” stray fibers in place.
  6. Repeat until you’ve had enough. I usually make ten at a time.

That’s it — it doesn’t take long to make one. Some people put magnesium flakes in their jelly, but that seemed like overkill. Just in case the directions aren’t clear, here’s a video, in DiVX format:

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/2024-2/make_it.jpg
DiVX player required.

Disco inferno
Lighting your homemade fire starter is easy. Gently pull apart the compressed cotton ball with your fingers, making a “nest.” The nest makes it easy for the sparks to catch, and allows the fibers to burn more easily.

Even on a very windy day, the Spark-Lite and homemade fire starters work without a hitch. On a non-windy day the cotton ball will light in one or two sparks. I think it took me eight or so tries the day I filmed this.
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/2027-2/torch_it.jpg
DiVX player required.

You can’t go wrong with the Spark-Lite. For $9 plus shipping it’s a great deal. It’s easy to use, and very portable. You should have this in your preparedness bag, and maybe even one in every car. Add the homemade fire starters to your kit, and you have an extremely lightweight and dependable way to make a fire in almost any situation.

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3 Comments on "Flaming Cotton Balls and Spark-Lite firestarter review"

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  1. Stomper says:

    Very cool. Impressive, well scary how well and long the little balls burn.

  2. Stomper says:

    I just heard this one and it sounds pretty wild to me.

    Supposedly Frito corn chips have so much oil in them that you can use them as fire starters and they’ll burn for about a minute.

    Have you heard of this? Do you know if it’s true? I think this calls for some pyro-experimentation!! We should give it a try this weekend!!

  3. Dave says:

    Nice job… FYI, try taking dryer lint, some paraffin (wax), and an empty cardboard egg carton. Fill the egg carton sections half full of dryer lint. Coat them with melted paraffin, and whalla… Fast easy fire starter that last forever. I cut them out from the rest of the carton and make sure they’re well coated with the wax before storing in a zip lock bag.
    Probably larger than your cotton balls but not as messy.