A modernized version of a tinderbox

Before 1827, and the invention of friction matches by English chemist John Walker, a tinderbox was something to take with you when ever leaving the house. Tinderbox was a more or less weatherproof box, or a can containing everything needed for starting a fire. Typically a flint and firesteel to strike sparks, tinder, such as amadou, charcloth, or finely divided hemp or cotton, and sulphur-tipped matches to catch a fire from smoldering tinder. In short, the tinderbox was the most convenient fire starter kit in its time, equivalent to a butane lighter or a box of matches of today. Due to the fact that generally people want to use the least possible amount of effort to achieve their goals, friction match quickly killed the tinderbox.

I belong to the vast majority of people who see no reason to use flint and firesteel if something easier is available. However, it is quite possible that some day I end up being in a situation in which my butane lighter is empty, and I just ran out of matches. Therefore, I see a modern version of a tinderbox as a reasonable thing to have with me when ever going further than few hours walking distance from civilization. Since my goal is not to relive the good old pre-1827, Instead of trying to copy the original tinderbox, I’m using the most modern, low cost materials available. In fact, when I was done, the only thing left of the old tinderbox was the name. A ferro rod and a fire scraping tool are a lot easier to use than a flint and a firesteel, so, the flint and the firesteel were gone. Due to the fact that a regular cotton swab easily catches fire directly from sparks, any old tinder material, and sulphur-tipped matches, which btw are quite poisonous and no longer available, were also gone. To improve the burning time and intensity, I smeared the cotton swabs with a small amount of vaseline, and packed everything into a waterproof 50 ml plastic tube. And there it was, a fire starter kit, which, despite the fact that none of the used materials were available in the 19th century, can, without a doubt, be called a tinderbox.

In order to see whether my modern tinderbox really works, I first tested the fuel ie. cotton swabs indoors. Plain cotton swab was easy to ignite with two to three strikes of the ferro rod. The problem was that the plain cotton burned in about 30 second with rather lame flame. Vaseline smeared swabs proved to be a lot better. They caught fire as easily as the plain swabs, but burned for a lot longer time, about two minutes, with much more intense flame. Next step was to take the tinderbox outdoors. I did not try the plain swabs, but the vaseline smeared ones worked beautifully. Ignition was easy, and the flame was strong and long lasting enough to start a nice camp fire without any trouble at all.

As a conclusion, I can say that my modern tinderbox is an excellent secondary or tertiary (after the butane lighter and the box of matches) emergency fire starter kit.

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