How to Start a Fire with a Battery – 7 Methods

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How to start a fire with a battery

If anyone has ever been a Boy Scout or a Girl Guide in school, they most likely would have been taught how to start a campfire using dry sticks and grass. It is an acquired skill and is difficult and time-consuming. Using dry twigs and grass or “tinder” to produce fire is almost as old as the evolution of humans. There are many easier ways of producing a flame without using matches, one of the most popular being using a battery. So, in this article, we discuss various methods on how to start a fire with a battery.

During the era of early humans, fire was probably an accidental phenomenon, originating from volcanoes, lightning strikes, and bushfires and was most likely to have been feared by people of that period. However, with time, humans learned to produce flames at their own will, and use it to their advantage in many different ways.

Creating a flame was an essential activity for the early nomadic American Indians. The purpose of starting a fire was manifold. The fire provided warmth, helped them to cook their food, protected them from wild animals, and they even communicated over long distances through smoke signals.

If we are marooned in a remote location, we can quickly start a fire without matches or a cigarette lighter using alternative materials that could save our lives. So, let’s look into the various methods of doing this.

7 ways to start a fire with a battery

Method # 1 – AA alkaline battery and ballpoint pen

You will need

  • AA alkaline battery
  • Small knife
  • Ballpoint pen spring
  • Cotton bud
  • Tinder and kindle to increase the combustion
  • A hand fan or blowpipe

Method

  1. Remove the plastic coating from the battery near to the positive terminal of the battery
  2. Dismantle the pen and straighten its spring until you get a straight stretch of wire.
  3. Pull apart the cotton bud so that the cotton forms a fluffy mass on one end.
  4. While holding the cotton bud in your left hand, press the wire firmly between the outside body and the positive terminal of the battery with your right hand.
  5. Continue to press the wire until it glows red between the positive terminal and the outer body of the battery.
  6. As the wire glows red, touch it with the fluffed-up end of the cotton bud.
  7. The cotton should now catch fire.
  8. You can now transfer the flame to tinder or kindle to enhance the flame and gently fan the base of the flame with a fan or blow gently through a blowpipe to make the fire burn strongly.

Precautions to take

  • Ensure that your fingers are at a considerable distance from where the wire will glow red, to avoid getting your fingers burnt.
  • Keep some burn ointment handy in case your fingers get burnt.
  • Ensure that the cotton bud is extremely dry. Even the moisture from your fingers can prevent the cotton from igniting.

Method # 2 – 9V alkaline battery and steel wool

You will need

  • 9V square alkaline battery
  • Steel wool (finest grade)
  • Tinder (cotton wool, fine wood shavings or tissue paper)
  • A hand fan or blowpipe to enhance the flame
  • Small twigs and leaves to use as kindle

Method

  1. Open up the steel wool and intertwine it with the tinder.
  2. Touch both battery terminals on the surface of the steel wool in a few places.
  3. The steel wool should ignite spontaneously, emitting showers of sparks.
  4. As the steel wool catches fire, the tinder also combusts.
  5. Add the kindle to the burning tinder, and use the fan and blowpipe to make the fire burn vigorously.

Precautions to take

  • When steel wool burns, it produces toxic gases, so avoid inhaling the fumes which are emitted.
  • Avoid putting your face near to the burning steel wool, as you could get sparks in your eyes.
  • Tiny balls of molten metal will also be ejected from the burning steel wool, so keep your hands clear once the steel wool ignites.
  • Keep some burn ointment handy in case of burns.

Special Note: This method is by far the best one if you need to start a fire in wet conditions. Steel wool burns even if wet. For instance, if your matches are soggy and rendered useless, steel wool can still do the trick even if it is wet.

Method # 3 –  AA alkaline battery and chewing gum foil

You will need

  • Chewing gum foil
  • AA alkaline battery
  • Scissors, sharp knife or blade
  • Tinder
  • Kindle for feeding the flame, once produced.

Method

  1. Make a tinder nest and keep it ready close by.
  2. Discard the chewing gum from the foil.
  3. Cut a strip of foil lengthwise, about ¼” wide.
  4. Now fold the strip of foil in half, perpendicular to the length of the foil.
  5. Make a couple of 45° cuts at the folded corners, so that the center of the foil becomes narrow to create a double “V” notch at the center of the foil.
  6. Press one end of the foil with your finger on the positive terminal of the battery with the foil side touching the terminal.
  7. Now, still keeping the foil on the positive terminal, press the other end of the foil on the negative terminal of the battery, also with the foil side touching the terminal.
  8. The paper catches fire at the “V” notch and burns all along the length of the strip of foil.
  9. Quickly transfer the burning foil to the tinder, adding kindle to enhance the flames, once the tinder catches fire.

Precautions to take

  • Ensure that your chewing gum paper is totally dry.
  • Make sure to press the foil very tightly onto the battery terminals to secure a good connection.
  • You will have to be quick in applying the flame of the burning paper on the foil to the tinder, as it only burns for a few seconds.

Method # 4 – Using a car battery directly

If your vehicle is stuck in a remote area without matches and the temperature is dropping rapidly, as in a snowstorm, you may have to resort to starting a fire. Without matches or a cigarette lighter, you may have to resort to using your car battery to start a fire.

Be aware that this method is by far the riskiest one. The lead accumulator of a car or a truck produces flammable and explosive gases like hydrogen as a result of the electrochemical reaction that generates an electrical charge. A short-circuit or a spark could ignite these gases causing the battery to explode.

On the other hand, using the right process, and if your battery is connected correctly with no loose contacts, you can start a fire safely using a car battery. Sometimes, it can be a matter of pure survival, and you need to weigh the pros and cons, whether it is riskier to attempt starting a fire with the battery, or if you are ready to risk getting hypothermia.

After weighing the pros and cons of the situation, if you decide to go ahead with starting a fire, here are a few methods you can use:

You will need

  • An earthing cable
  • Jumper cable pair
  • Tinder
  • Kindle
  • Insulated gloves

Method

  1. Put the insulated gloves.
  2. Connect the cars battery’s negative terminal firmly to a point in the ground a few feet away from the battery
  3. Connect the jumper cables to the positive and negative terminals, taking special care that the bare ends do not touch each other.
  4. At a location away from the car battery, brush the bare ends of the jumper wire against each other. Sparks will get created between the ends of the two cables.
  5. Direct the sparks onto a clump of tinder to make it catch fire.
  6. Once the tinder catches fire, start adding kindle to the flame to sustain the fire.

Precautions to take

  • Ensure that the negative terminal of the car battery is well-grounded
  • There should be no loose connections at the battery terminals.
  • Use insulated gloves to prevent electric shock.
  • Maintain a safe distance from the car battery while touching the jumper cables with each other.
  • Don’t allow the two jumper cables to be in contact with each other for more than a few seconds.

Method # 5 – Using a car battery with a pencil

You will need

  • Pencil
  • Sharp knife
  • Long jumper cables with clips on both ends
  • Tinder
  • Kindle
  • Insulated gloves

Method

  1. Splice the pencil down its length, so that the lead is exposed, lengthwise.
  2. Join the positive and negative clips to either end of the pencil, ensuring that firm contact is made with the pencil lead.
  3. Place the pencil and clips on the ground and cover them with tinder.
  4. Take the other ends of the jumper cable and clip them firmly to the negative and positive terminals of the car battery respectively.
  5. The graphite in the pencil will glow red and will soon burst into flames as the wood from the pencil ignites.
  6. The tinder then catches fire.
  7. Remove the jumper cable from the fire and add some kindle to feed the fire.

Precautions to take

  • Ensure that all your battery connections are firm.
  • Maintain a safe distance from the battery as soon as you have connected the jumper cables completely.
  • Build your fire at a comfortable distance from your car. This ensures that you are able to maintain a safe distance from the vehicle and moreover, your vehicle is protected from the heat of the fire, once it is lit.
  • Use insulated gloves to avoid electric shock – there are cases where people have been electrocuted by car batteries.

And below a slightly different way to proceed which seems to work well too:

Method # 6 – Using a car battery with steel wool

We will not go into an elaborate description on how to start a fire with a car battery and steel wool, as we already discussed how to do this with a 9V alkaline battery. However, in this case, you just need to attach your jumper cables to the car battery and touch the other ends on a clump of fine-grade steel wool. Ignition is spontaneous. If you add a bit of tinder and kindle to the burning steel wool, you will soon have a fire burning quite nicely.

Method # 7 – Using a car cigarette lighter

Special note: We put this method as a second preference as many people, especially if they are non-smokers, opt out of the cigarette lighter option in their car. However, if you have a cigarette lighter, it is the simplest and safest method of starting a fire with a car battery.

You will need

  • Car cigarette lighter
  • Tinder
  • Kindle

Method

  1. Place some tinder near to the car.
  2. Insert your cigarette lighter into the lighter receptacle.
  3. Once the core of the lighter is red hot, quickly touch it on the tinder, and gently blow the tinder until it catches fire.
  4. Place kindle on the flames to make the fire burn brightly.

Precautions to take

  • Ensure that you build your fire at a safe distance from your vehicle.
  • Keep the area just outside your car door clear of obstacles – you don’t want to trip up when you need to get to the location of your fire quickly.
  • Add kindle slowly to prevent it from smothering the fire.

The physics of fire

Whatever the method, we first need to have a basic understanding of what creates fire in the first place. Let us first consider what fire is. Unlike matter which occupies space and has mass, fire is not matter because it does not have mass. It is the result of the combination of two chemical substances, fuel and oxygen in the air.

Fire requires a catalyst for it to occur, which is heat. Each type of fuel has a different temperature at which it ignites known as the combustion point; hence the amount of heat that needs to be applied varies accordingly. Wood, for example, needs to reach about 300°F (148.9°C) to achieve its combustion point.

Fire produces three physical products from burnt fuel – smoke, char, and ash. Smoke is the volatile gases that emit while fuel burns, while ash is composed of all the materials that are no longer combustible, like minerals and other chemicals. Char is nothing but carbon, which can be reused as a refined form of fuel known as “charcoal.” All combustion does not produce char – burning gasoline or liquified petroleum gas (LPG) are two prime examples.

As fuel burns, the atoms that rise emit light, which is the visible part called the “flame.” The flame consists of incandescent gases, and the color of the flame depends on the type of fuel that you are burning.

There is a variation of color within the flame of a particular fuel as well, and this depends on the region of the flame. The hottest part of the flame is at its base, and it burns with a blue color. The higher parts of the flame which are cooler from the base may vary from yellow, to orange or red.    

Survival fire
Survival fire | Siim Lukka

The role of tinder

Since we show you how to start a fire with a battery in this article, the next thing you need to know is how to start a fire in the first place. Although you may have heard the term “spontaneous combustion” in actual fact, it can be a tricky business if you are not sure how to go about it.

In the section above, we discussed that fuel needs to reach its combustion point to catch fire. While applying heat to fuel, the mass of fuel to which you are applying heat is critical to the combustion process. For example, if you apply a lighted match to a toothpick, it will burn quickly. On the other hand, if you do the same thing to a massive log of wood, the match will soon burn out entirely with little or no impact on the log.

So, from this example, we see that the ease of combustion of fuel depends on its mass. If you want to start a fire, start with small quantities of fuel. The light combustible bits of fuel that you use for combustion are collectively called tinder. Tinder can be cotton wool, dry grass, the bark of certain trees or dandelion clock, and even some types of dried mushrooms. We use tinder to start the fire, and kindle, small twigs, leaves and a few larger pieces of bark to sustain it, once the flame appears.

The primary process of starting a fire

Before we go into different methods of starting a fire, we need to understand the primary process. To start a fire, you will need:

  • Firestarter (matches, cigarette lighter or a firesteel)
  • Tinder
  • Kindle
  • Firewood or charcoal
  • Hand fan or a blowpipe to apply air to the embers

People often get confused between tinder and kindle. The difference, however, is rather simple. Tinder is dry, combustible material that is capable of producing a flame or at least red-hot embers by the application of a single spark, whereas kindle is loosely-arranged fuel that gets ignited easily from the flame that emanates from the tinder.

To start a fire swiftly and with the least effort you need to follow these simple steps:

  1. Keep all the required materials close at hand.
  2. Make a “tinder nest” by arranging the tinder in a nest-shaped configuration.
  3. Apply the fire starter to the tinder nest.
  4. Once the flame appears, start adding kindle to the burning flame.
  5. Once the kindle starts burning, start adding the smallest pieces of firewood or charcoal to the burning kindle, but ensure that while adding fuel, you don’t smother the burning kindle.
  6. Gently blow or fan the base of the flame to enhance the burning, until you see that the fire is burning on its own.
Camp fire
Camp fire | Monoart

Precautions to take

  • Place a bucket of water nearby, in case the fire gets out of control and also for when you need to extinguish it before you leave the site.
  • Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from the nearest tent or any other combustible material.
  • Ensure that no motor vehicles are parked close to your fire.
  • Keep the surrounding area clear of brushwood and loose leaves.
  • Ensure that the fire isn’t lit too close to overhanging branches of trees.

Now that we have studied the basic procedure of how to start a fire let us go into the details of how to start a fire with a battery.

There are different types of batteries available. However, all sorts of batteries have one thing in common, and that is, they produce electrical energy that can be converted into heat, which in turn can cause combustion. Here are a few methods that show you how to start a fire with a battery:

Be prepared at all times

Now, you should be quite skilled with the different methods to start a fire with a battery, when you don’t have matches or a cigarette lighter at hand. If you find yourself stuck in the wilderness, you may need to start a fire due to many reasons, like keeping warm or protection from wild animals. If you are stranded in the same location for a long time, you may even need to use it to cook some food.

Although being able to start a fire under any circumstances is a useful skill to have, never forget that it can be as dangerous as it is useful, if it gets out of control. Always take necessary precautions when dealing with fire, and follow camping safety procedures while making a fire outdoors. If you are careful and act sharp, you can definitely get a fire going and enjoy the benefits of it.

You cannot know when you will be caught unawares without the usually available resources. It is better to be safe than sorry, so learn these simple tips that tell you how to start a fire with a battery to keep you safe in even the most difficult of situations.

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