By Rich M
Of all the things you can use to start a fire, water would be the one that most people would say is impossible.
After all, we use water to put out fires, so there really isn’t any way to start a fire with it… or is there? Actually, there are several ways of starting a fire with water; and while some might be considered mere tricks to use for impressing your friends, they will all work to get a fire going in a pinch – and some may be very useful for a survival situation.
To even think about using water to start a fire we need to think a little bit differently than we normally do. Dousing a fire with water works for two reasons: because the water removes heat from the fire and because it prevents oxygen from getting to the fuel. Since fire requires fuel, oxygen and heat, by removing two of those we eliminate the fire. However, water has other properties than those which are used to put out a fire and it is those properties which we need to use in order to start a fire with it.
Using Water and Sunlight to Start a Fire
The first several ways we’re going to look at all have one thing in common; in them, the water is used as a lens to focus the sun’s rays. Remember when you were little and used a magnifying glass to burn ants and leaves? You were really practicing survival skills, skills that can keep you alive when you need a fire.
Water and a Light Bulb
For the first method, you’ll need an old incandescent light bulb. The new CFL bulbs won’t work for this. Start by cutting a hole in the metal base of the bulb and removing the glass stem with the wires attached to it. Then, fill the bulb with water, swishing it around. You’ll notice that the white substance on the inside of the bulb starts coming off in the water. Replace the water as many times as necessary to get all of that out and have clean, clear water in the bulb.
You can’t have any air in the bulb to use it for starting a fire, so put a balloon filled with water over the light bulb’s base, squeezing out as much air as possible. The remaining air can be trapped in the balloon and tied off.
The water has now converted your dead light bulb into a perfect magnifying glass, which can be used to focus the sun’s rays onto some tinder, starting a fire.
Water and Plastic Wrap
If you don’t have an old light bulb handy, never fear; there are other ways of making a water lens. Take a piece of plastic wrap and use it to line a small bowl (about fist sized), fitting it to conform to the shape of the bowl. Pour water into the plastic wrap, filling the small bowl most of the way full. Then gather up the edges of the plastic wrap, making a bag filled with water. Twist the edges together, tightening up the plastic wrap to the point where it becomes a hard ball filled with water.
You now have a lens that you can use to start a fire. You just need to find the focal length, where the sun’s light will be the most concentrated.
Water, Plastic Wrap and a Picture Frame
Some of us are a bit clumsy with the plastic wrap and have trouble making a ball of it filled with water. That’s OK, because there are other ways in which we can use that plastic wrap and water to make our lens.
Start with an empty picture frame, about 8×10 in size. Wrap it in plastic wrap, being sure to make the wrap go all the way across the frame. Support the edges of this wrapped frame on anything which can hold it level at a couple of feet off the ground. Then, pour water into the plastic wrap. As you do, the wrap will stretch, forming a perfect lens filled with water.
Now all you’ve got to do is find the focal point below the lens and put your tinder there so that your water lens can start your fire.
Water and a Plastic Bottle
Plastic water or drink bottles can be used with water to make a lens as well. The best bottles are clear plastic ones which have very little texture to them. Every dip and swirl in the surface of the plastic will reduce its efficiency. The best bottles are those that look like a couple of balls stuck together.
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Remove the label from the bottle and clean it out. Any debris left in or on the bottle will reduce its effectiveness. Fill the bottle all the way to the brim with clean water and cap it. You want to make sure that you don’t have any air bubbles in there, as they will ruin the lens effect. Use your water-filled bottle as a lens to start a fire.
Water and Cold
Here’s an even crazier use of water to start a fire. If you’re out in the woods in the wintertime and can find a partially frozen-over stream, you have the perfect water to start a fire with. Chip off a chunk of clear ice from over the stream. Avoid the ice which looks white in color, as that has air bubbles in it, which will ruin the lens effect.
The larger your chunk of ice is, the better a lens you can make out of it; however, it will require more time and work. A good size lens is about five inches in diameter. With your knife, chip the ice to a round circle and then chip the opposite surfaces to make them both convex. Once you have the lens shaped to the right configuration, you’ve got to do the hard part. Take your gloves off and use the heat of your hands to warm the surface of the ice, smoothing it and shaping it to the final lens shape.
A lot will depend on how well you can form the ice; but if you can make a nice convex surface on both surfaces, you can end up with a lens that will work quite well to start a fire. The more convex the surfaces, the better the lens will focus the light, producing more heat and starting the fire faster.
Water and Chemicals
We all tend to forget that water is a chemical. As such, it reacts with some other types of chemicals, producing a wide range of effects. With the right chemicals, you can make water start a fire by chemical reaction.
Sodium and Water
When sodium and water are mixed together in the right circumstances, they will burst into flame. Please note that this is pure sodium and not sodium chloride, otherwise known as table salt. You’re not going to get a fire out of salty water.
To do this, you need to prepare a place for the fire. Start with a small pan or a large jar lid. Place one square of toilet paper on your pan, covering it as much as possible. Make a chimney out of half of the inner cardboard core of a toilet paper roll by cutting it in half, across the tube and cutting a half circle out of one end. That end will go down, allowing you to put the water and sodium together.
Place a small amount of sodium on the toilet paper in the pan (about 1/4 teaspoon) and place the chimney over it. Then loosely stuff some more toilet paper in the top of the chimney, so that it will catch fire from the sodium. To ignite the fire, pour a tablespoon of water onto the toilet paper, as close to the opening in the chimney as possible. Step back and within a few seconds the sodium will ignite.
Ammonium Nitrate, Sodium Chloride, Zinc Dust and Water
Mix 3 grams of ammonium nitrate and a half gram of table salt together in a mortar and pestle. You can get ammonium nitrate by cutting open the type of cold pack used for sprains and other injuries. Grind the two together, making a fine powder.
Add six grams of zinc powder and continue grinding. Be very careful at this point, as any moisture can cause the mixture to combust. Once it is all ground well, it is ready to use. Place the mixture in a flameproof container and add a few drops of water, stepping back quickly. The mixture will burst into flame almost explosively.
You can accomplish the same thing using ammonium chloride instead of sodium chloride, but table salt is easier to find.
Calcium Chloride and Water
Calcium chloride used to be called “miner’s carbide.” The lamps that miners used to strap to their heads, back in the time of the Old West, were lit by this. When calcium chloride (which is a naturally occurring mineral) mixes with water, it produces acetylene.
To make a fire with calcium chloride and water, place a small amount of calcium chloride in a flame-proof container. Add a few drops of water. The chemical reaction will start immediately, releasing acetylene. Strike a spark with a ferro rod or flint and steel and it will start burning.
What fire-starting tips would you add? Tell us in the comments section below.