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Combine charcloth and a non-functional lighter for ignition


If there is  an all-around firemaking method that works every time, under every condition, I haven’t found it!

Suppose your butane and/or Zippo-style lighter both fail, but continue to spark. Here is how you can use a piece of charcloth to catch a spark and get that initial ignition.

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by Leon Pantenburg

Essentially, there are two main types of lighters: butane and those fueled by lighter fluid. Both rely on a wheel that creates a spark from being turned against a flint. Under ideal conditions, both styles of  lighters are excellent choices for survival fire making.

But who ever said survival situations occur under ideal conditions? And possibly the environmental conditions cause the survival situation.

Here’s some lighter background:

Butane lighters work fine as long as they are warm and dry.

Butane: I carry a BIC mini butane lighter in my pants pocket, another in my jacket pocket and a third in my pack. If I need a fire quickly, I hope to flic a BIC and get the job done. A standard BIC lighter, according to my tests, will have about an hour’s worth of flame in it.

But the Achilles heel is fuel temperature. The boiling point of butane is approximately -0.5 C at sea level, according to answers.com (This boiling point will drop with an increase in altitude given the reduced pressure). This means that as the lighter nears freezing, less gas will be vaporized inside the fuel reservoir and will make it hard to light. And the higher in elevation you are, the less chance you have for ignition!

The fuel supply of a Zippo-style lighter tends to dry out quickly, making it non-functional.

Zippo-style: I filled my Zippo with lighter fluid to the saturation point, then sat down to see how many fires it would make before it failed (Grand total: 974).  When full of fluid, the Zippo worked immediately after a one-minute ice water bath. It came out the freezer overnight and fired on the second try. I sealed the hinge and opening with a piece of duct tape, and left it alone for a month, and it still fired.

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But the Zippo-style lighter was wildly inconsistent in other areas. A fully-saturated lighter dried out completely in three days in the desert. Having it sealed didn’t matter. And sometimes, for reasons I couldn’t figure out, the Zippo just wouldn’t light.

While you can fuel a Zippo with gasoline if need be, the system was too unreliable.

So suppose you carry both kinds of lighters as backups for each other, and neither will work. If the sparking mechanism on either style functions, you can catch a spark with charcloth.

Check out this video to see how:

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