Having the means to get a fire going is a vital part of any survival kit. While there are many natural forms of tinder available in the wild, in damp, rainy conditions it may be difficult to find anything dry enough to light off a spark. Fire straws are a great little project that can solve that problem. They are easy to make and small enough to fit into even the tiniest kits.
To make fire straws, you’ll need the following:
–Plastic drinking straws**
–Cotton balls or dryer lint
–A pair of pliers or a multi-tool
–Toothpicks or bamboo skewers
First, toss several cotton balls or a few pinches of dryer lint into a plastic baggie and add in a dollop of petroleum jelly. Mash it all together for a bit, making sure all of the cotton or lint is impregnated with the jelly. Leave it in the bag for the time being.
Next, cut your drinking straws to size. I usually cut them in half or into thirds, depending on the size of the kit I’m making. A great way to store fire straws is in an old Altoids tin. You don’t necessarily need to keep them in a separate container, though.
Light your candle and begin sealing one end of each cut straw. Hold the end of the straw a few inches above the candle flame, just until you see the plastic begin to soften.
Using the pliers, crimp it closed tight. After you’ve done this to all the cut straws, move on to filling them.
Personally, I like to wear a latex glove for this next step but you can use your bare hands if you like. Remove a small pinch of the now slimy cotton balls and roll it up thin enough to fit into the straw.
Use a toothpick or bamboo skewer to shove the cotton down into the straw. Keep filling until there’s only about a half inch of space left.
Once the straws are full, you need to seal them. Do this the same way you did the first time around, holding the open end of the straw above the candle flame, then crimping it shut.
Congratulations, you’ve just made a batch of fire straws! What is really nifty about these is that this is a way to carry tinder in a completely waterproof manner. You can toss these straws into a bowl of water and let them sit for a month and they’ll still work just fine when you need them.
To use a fire straw, you take a knife and cut a slit along the side of the straw. Pull some of the cotton out through the slit and light it with a match or spark. . If you lack a knife, the plastic is thin enough that you could even gnaw it open with your teeth.
As it burns, it will also light up the plastic, creating a good-sized flame that will burn long enough to get your fire going.
I add several fire straws to each and every survival kit I assemble. This is a great project for kids, too. They tend to enjoy smooshing the cotton and petroleum jelly together. If you get a couple of kids involved and make a little assembly line, you can make dozens of fire straws in just 15-20 minutes.
**Believe it or not, there is quite a range in widths when it comes to drinking straws. For this project, the wider the straw, the better. Not only will a wider straw allow you to fill it with more cotton compared to a thin one, they are easier to fill. If you happen to have a Culver’s restaurant in your area, I’ve found their straws to be the ideal size. In fact, fast food restaurant straws tend to be considerably wider than those you can buy at the grocery or warehouse stores. I’m not suggesting you grab a couple handfuls of them the next time you stop for burgers but rather save them after your meal. Take them home, rinse them out and let them dry overnight. If you go this route and use dryer lint instead of cotton balls, the only investment is in the petroleum jelly and toothpicks, both of which you probably already have in the house.
Jim Cobb is a Disaster Readiness Consultant and author of Prepper’s Home Defense, The Prepper’s Complete Book of Disaster Readiness, and Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide. His websites are Survival Weekly and Disaster Prep Consultants.