Thursday, January 24, 2019

Permanent Matches

We've written a lot about fire and several different fire-starting methods over the years, because being able to build a fire is a staple of survival. A few weeks ago I got a chance to practice a couple of my favorite methods while burning a rather large brush pile (branches and limbs cleaned up from several yards), about the size of two normal parking spaces and about eight feet tall at the center. The weather was finally right (no wind, rain expected within 12 hours) so I started small fires in four different spots using four different methods. My ferrocerium rods, butane lighter, and a chemistry trick all still worked fine, but I wanted to try out a “permanent match” I'd picked up at a gun show. It worked, so here's a short review.

Permanent matches come in a couple of different forms, but they all use lighter fluid and a wick to catch a spark from a ferrocerium rod. The style I bought is similar to the ones you can get from Amazon, and since they all probably come from the same factory in China there isn't going to be much difference besides price. I bought a batch of 10 of these small square lighters for $20 at a gun show two years ago, and I've been “testing” them off and on since. You can often find these for sale in bulk displays at truck stops and lower-end stores for about the same price, so keep your eyes open.
Photo credit: Amazon link in article

The match itself is made of three pieces:
  • The body, which is packed full of some absorbent material like cotton. The lighter fluid is trapped in the packing material similar to a Zippo lighter. The model I have is a plastic shell with a very thin stainless steel skin wrapped around three sides to protect the plastic.
  • The stick, which is actually a metal tube containing a steel core with a wick wrapper around it. The wick soaks up fuel while it is stored in the body of the match and creates a usable flame when the fuel burns. The top of the stick has a knurled knob to give your fingers something to grasp and a rubber O-ring to seal the body while the stick is inserted.
  • The striker, which is a thin ferrocerium rod embedded in the side of the body. This rod is too thin to be carried alone ( it would break if you tried to use it without some sort of backing), so it is built into the body of the match. This feature also makes it hard to lose the striker.

How to use a permanent match:
  1. Unscrew and remove the stick from the body.
  2. Fill the body of the match with lighter fluid or naphtha. Gasoline will work, but diesel fuel is a bit too hard to ignite.
  3. Reinstall the stick into the body and let it sit for at least 10 minutes. This will let the wick absorb some of the fuel.
  4. Remove the stick and use the exposed tip of the metal core to quickly scratch down the striker bar on the side of the match body. The first pass or two may not produce enough (or any) sparks due to the layer of oxidation that forms on the striker, so the first use may take a few tries.
  5. The wtick should catch the sparks and give you a better flame than you'd get from a wooden kitchen match. The flame will be fairly wind-resistant, so you'll have to blow on it pretty hard to put it out.
  6. Extinguish the flame when you're done and insert the stick into the body, making sure you get the knob screwed down tight enough for the O-ring to create a good seal.

Troubleshooting is pretty simple:
  • If you don't get a flame at all, check to make sure the wick has fuel in/on it. Lighter fluid has a distinct smell, so you should be able to tell if it's got fuel.
  • If the flame is small, carefully pull more of the wick out of the tube and splay it out around the tip of the core. Unlike a lamp or candle, you want to create a spread-out wick to catch the sparks.
  • If there is no fuel left in the body and you don't have any on hand, you still have the striker and a steel core to create sparks with.

I've been playing with the batch I bought for two years now.
  • I've run them through the washing machine and dryer with no ill effects.
  • The one I use for the brush-pile had been sitting in the center console of my pickup for at least 18 months. It still had enough fuel in it to work.
  • The chains and clips that come on some models are there for show. They will not hold up to use as zipper pulls or for attaching the match to gear.
  • The rubber O-rings are better than I expected from mass-produced, cheap gear. Sitting on a bench in the basement, next to a kerosene lamp upstairs, or in the console of my truck, they've all held fuel for over a year.
  • Once lit, the fuel in the wick wrapped around the core of the stick will produce a flame for at least a minute. That's plenty of time to light a lantern or get your tinder going, and longer than a wooden match will burn.

Overall, I'm happy with what I received for the price I paid. Being cheap, small, and reliable makes these a good addition to any bag as a backup firestarter. I'll probably buy a batch of some of the other styles and give them a quick test in the near future.

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