Discussions

Hi Rich. Thanks for the questions. “Kinds of firewood” is a long ways off from the topic of starting a fire but it’s worth a quick answer. “Hardwood” consists of deciduous trees (with leaves). Examples are oak, maple, birch, and ash. Hickory (that baseball bats are made from) was the ultimate hardwood-cum-firewood but is nearly extinct. “Softwoods” come from trees with needles and include pine, hemlock, and cedar. Hardwoods are more dense that softwoods and make better firewood. A quick Google search will provide you with a long evening of reading entertainment. How best to preserve the glowing coals mixed in with the ashes? I wish I knew. The fact that the coals are hot and glowing means that combustion is ongoing. If you uncover the coals, thereby exposing them to more air, then the rate of combustion increases and the coals burn out faster. But if you remove all oxygen (by sealing the glowing coals in an empty paint can, say) then combustion stops completely and the coals die even faster. No kerosene laying around? Hmm. Personally I do go into the winter with a bunch of rags (torn up so they are 1/4 the size of a washcloth) that I refer to as kerosene rags. But they’re not all kerosene. Over the months, I save up all kinds of unwanted combustible liquid — kerosene, paint thinner, mineral oil, turpentine, etc. Stuff I’ve used to wash out paint brushes or wash my hands or wipe down machinery. The one thing these materials have in common is that they will burn. So I soak my rags in this Magic Solution and store them in empty metal paint cans with metal lids (mostly pint size) until needed. I handle the soaked rags with needlenose pliers and, after starting a fire, wash my hands with soap and water to remove any smell. (And no, BTW, kerosene does not “go bad.”) After all that, please note that if you do “color outside the lines” so to speak — by playing with fire or playing with firearms — then you must take responsibility for your own actions. Hope this answers your questions.

How to start a fire
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Gideon, you pose four issues. First is the smell of canola oil versus olive oil. I grant you that rancid oil of whatever flavor smells bad while burning but, aside from that, all vegetable oils, including canola, have very little smell when burning. They all smolder and stink, however, when you blow them out. The way to stop the smoldering is to pour a spoonful of oil over the flame. It shuts off all oxygen and puts out the flame INSTANTLY. Second, have I tried coconut oil? Yes. It works very well. It’s similar to other cooking oils — corn oil, grape seed oil, olive oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, the oil that tuna fish comes packed in, etc. I’ve tried everything I could get my hands on. Coconut oil solidifies at 75°F so it really should be grouped with the semi-solid fats discussed next. Third, you say, “Butter and animal fat can also . . . double as an emergency candle (though I haven’t tried it).” I have tried it. Lamps that burn semi-solid fats are named fat lamps. They’re also called Betty lamps, Dutch lamps, stone lamps, grease lamps, slot lamps, and crusies. I’ve made fat lamps and used them to burn butter, margarine, lard, Crisco, bacon grease, and Vasoline. The only thing on that list that doesn’t work well is bacon grease. It sputters. And ghee? Yes, I have close friends that are Indian (from India). They cook with ghee and eat ghee every day. I’ve purchased ghee and made ghee and burned it in lamps. It works. Please know that my lighting books, from candles to pressure lanterns, are not armchair science. They are based on first-hand experimentation, up close and personal. The beauty of the scientific method is that you don’t have to take my word for anything. You can repeat what I did, see the results, and judge for yourself.

Emergency lighting
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How to start a fire
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Emergency lighting
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Hi Rich. Thanks for the questions. “Kinds of firewood” is a long ways off from the topic of starting a fire but it’s worth a quick answer. “Hardwood” consists of deciduous trees (with leaves). Examples are oak, maple, birch, and ash. Hickory (that baseball bats are made from) was the ultimate hardwood-cum-firewood but is nearly extinct. “Softwoods” come from trees with needles and include pine, hemlock, and cedar. Hardwoods are more dense that softwoods and make better firewood. A quick Google search will provide you with a long evening of reading entertainment. How best to preserve the glowing coals mixed in with the ashes? I wish I knew. The fact that the coals are hot and glowing means that combustion is ongoing. If you uncover the coals, thereby exposing them to more air, then the rate of combustion increases and the coals burn out faster. But if you remove all oxygen (by sealing the glowing coals in an empty paint can, say) then combustion stops completely and the coals die even faster. No kerosene laying around? Hmm. Personally I do go into the winter with a bunch of rags (torn up so they are 1/4 the size of a washcloth) that I refer to as kerosene rags. But they’re not all kerosene. Over the months, I save up all kinds of unwanted combustible liquid — kerosene, paint thinner, mineral oil, turpentine, etc. Stuff I’ve used to wash out paint brushes or wash my hands or wipe down machinery. The one thing these materials have in common is that they will burn. So I soak my rags in this Magic Solution and store them in empty metal paint cans with metal lids (mostly pint size) until needed. I handle the soaked rags with needlenose pliers and, after starting a fire, wash my hands with soap and water to remove any smell. (And no, BTW, kerosene does not “go bad.”) After all that, please note that if you do “color outside the lines” so to speak — by playing with fire or playing with firearms — then you must take responsibility for your own actions. Hope this answers your questions.

Gideon, you pose four issues. First is the smell of canola oil versus olive oil. I grant you that rancid oil of whatever flavor smells bad while burning but, aside from that, all vegetable oils, including canola, have very little smell when burning. They all smolder and stink, however, when you blow them out. The way to stop the smoldering is to pour a spoonful of oil over the flame. It shuts off all oxygen and puts out the flame INSTANTLY. Second, have I tried coconut oil? Yes. It works very well. It’s similar to other cooking oils — corn oil, grape seed oil, olive oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, the oil that tuna fish comes packed in, etc. I’ve tried everything I could get my hands on. Coconut oil solidifies at 75°F so it really should be grouped with the semi-solid fats discussed next. Third, you say, “Butter and animal fat can also . . . double as an emergency candle (though I haven’t tried it).” I have tried it. Lamps that burn semi-solid fats are named fat lamps. They’re also called Betty lamps, Dutch lamps, stone lamps, grease lamps, slot lamps, and crusies. I’ve made fat lamps and used them to burn butter, margarine, lard, Crisco, bacon grease, and Vasoline. The only thing on that list that doesn’t work well is bacon grease. It sputters. And ghee? Yes, I have close friends that are Indian (from India). They cook with ghee and eat ghee every day. I’ve purchased ghee and made ghee and burned it in lamps. It works. Please know that my lighting books, from candles to pressure lanterns, are not armchair science. They are based on first-hand experimentation, up close and personal. The beauty of the scientific method is that you don’t have to take my word for anything. You can repeat what I did, see the results, and judge for yourself.