It seems that our resident Mr. DIY, Luke Causey, inspires others to follow his footsteps in trying to fashion and improvise common, every day items into something useful for the trail. This article is an extension of Luke’s original “How To Make A Match” article. There are times that each of us like to get away from the habit of just buying our gear, and set out on the adventure of trying to improvise our own gear. It’s a way to gain knowledge, and it’s a nice hobby that gives you something to do and helps you save a little money during these hard times. Such is the case with my homemade fatwood matches. I normally keep a few fatwood splinters in my flint and steel kit (the primitive kind) for the purpose of transferring a flame or to extend the burning time of a tinder bundle when needed. The other day as I was splitting some to replenish my tin it occurred to me that I could light them directly with a Ferrocerium rod by winding some cotton wool onto their ends. After considering the implications of this observation, I thought I might be able to make some use of that knowledge and develop something for myself that would serve my needs out in the woods. That was when I came up with the idea of making fatwood matches.
I used plain cotton balls but petroleum jelly treated ones could be used as well. The amount of cotton needed is small, just a few winds. The first wind or two of cotton being moderately tight with the final wind left loose and fluffed so it can catch a spark more easily. The “match” can be left to burn completely or blown out and reused. During my experimentation with a Fatwood stick about three inches long I was able to get an average of six “lights” from a single cotton ball before it became too short to hold comfortably. I’m calling them Fatwood matches but in reality any twig or sliver of wood can be used, even spent matchsticks can be relit.
The neatest discovery is the method I’ve found to light them. The cotton wrapped stick is held with the striker when scraped against the Firesteel and you end up a holding a lit “match”. The technique is pretty sure fire as the cotton is in close proximity to the sparks for the entire length of the scrape. I’m only using the first inch or less of my Firesteel to light these “matches”. The concentration of sparks is especially advantageous when using a smaller Firesteel such as the BSA HotSpark.
The Fatwood match makes a nice mini-firestarter for my home-built GSI bottle cup stove (that’s a teaser and possible subject of a future DIY article). The longer burn time compared to a standard match makes lighting the sometimes-obstinate Esbit tablets easier. I’ve also discovered that I can use this method to light a classic fire starter…the Magic Birthday Candle. The cotton should be wound with the wick exposed so that it can catch fire without getting smothered as the wax melts into the burning cotton.