The Ultimate Primitive Torch
When You Need Hours of Fire
When the world plunges into darkness and batteries have long since been drained of life, knowing how to fire up a primitive torch is an essential survival skill to have in your arsenal.
Let their be light!
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How easy is it to build a survival torch that burns for hours and isn't a danger to use?
This is an important question to ask ourselves. So many people are preparing for a possible collapse nowadays, any smart prepper should be seriously considering how they're going to have light for months on end, if we lose power on a long term basis.
Solar power is an option for a lot of people; I personally don't want to put my focus on solar power though. There are just too many things we can expect to take place following a collapse and carrying around solar power equipment and keeping it in working condition is a big gamble.
Solar power does have it's place, in the short term
Solar power could work well the first few days or weeks people are sheltering in place. But disasters, wind storms, earthquakes and full scale war can knock a fragile solar power system to pieces; or just enough to make it inoperable.
A back up lighting source is paramount to having a sustainable, long term solution for light in the evening hours.
Survival torches can light the way
Prior to the modern age, some of our ancestors used lard or blubber (whale fat) as oil to fuel their lamps and torches. While our technologically advanced lives today don't look anything like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we can turn to a few modern tools to build our own survival torches.
Why not just stock up on batteries and use flashlights and lanterns?
Even if you manage to build up a six month supply of batteries, at some point your flashlights and lanterns are going to stop working. In decades past kerosene lanterns were common, but the problem with kerosene is that it's expensive to stock up on as a long term lighting option; plus, it's extremely flammable and can be dangerous to use on a repeat basis.
Many cabins and shelters have been set ablaze accidentally when a kerosene lantern has been knocked over.
Then there's the fumes; even small kerosene burning lanterns produce dangerous fumes that take 1.5 million lives every year in third world countries where kerosene use is still common today.
I'd like to suggest a cheaper and safer oil that can be used for homemade torches and lanterns...
Vegetable oil is cheap and it's safer to use than kerosene
Those living in third world countries don't have the luxury to buy vegetable oil in large quantities, or they simply are so accustomed to using kerosene that they have no idea there are safer and better fuels available. We in developed countries have the ability to buy vegetable oil, and we can buy it in large quantities, and safely stockpile it without fear that our entire home is going to blow up should it ever be set on fire (and vegetable oil can't be set on fire -- not unless it's heated up first to 450 degrees). So, there's little risk with a stockpile of vegetable oil.
After researching the concept behind primitive torches, and then looking closely at what's still around when it comes to torches, it turns out that there really aren't many common uses for torches nowadays, other than a backyard "Tiki" torch which commonly burns a citronella fuel.
Plus, those flames are pretty small in those backyard Tiki torches, and most of us, when it comes to using a torch, would probably prefer something that gave off heat and light on about the same scale as a small campfire.
Bigger flames, cheaper and safer fuel
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If you drop a match on kerosene oil it will ignite. It is highly flammable and thus one reason it has caused many fires and burned down many cabins and shelters in decades past.
Vegetable oil on the other hand will not do that. You can drop a match on vegetable oil and the match will go out -- the oil will not ignite. If you knock your torch or lantern over, though the wick may still be burning, it's possible that even the wick will be put out by any vegetable oil that spills on it.
This shows that vegetable oil is a much safer alternative to kerosene.
Now we need a wick
Though it would seem an actual fire torch is a thing of the past, it turns out that real fire torches are still used by entertainers such as fire jugglers and circus performers. So the question to ask is: How do they do it? How to they get their props to stay lit and not burn out or use up fuel too quickly?
It turns out that Kevlar makes a great material for use as a wick and is commonly used by today's fire jugglers and those practicing "fire poi". A 3 foot roll of Kevlar can be cut into several small wicks; each wick you cut from this 3 foot roll can be used a few times and burn for several hours in total. Whereas a candle wick can only be used once; a Kevlar wick can be used more than once. Like a Tiki torch wick, a Kevlar wick is first soaked in vegetable oil for at a minimum of a few hours, though you can simply leave your Kevlar wicks soaking in a small jar of vegetable oil and then use it a few days or weeks later, whenever a situation calls.
Assembling a fire torch
The simplest fire torch can be a medium sized stick, 2 - 4 feet in length, with a vegetable soaked Kevlar wick wrapped around the top end. Fire jugglers use two bolts to bolt their wicks to their decorative metal torches; that's simple to do also if you have a power drill and a couple bolts and nuts. When it comes to survival though, our fire torches don't have to look so neat; just some steel wire wrapped tightly around a Kevlar wick will also keep your wick in place.
When using steel wire for a fire torch, use stainless steel vs galvanized steel.
The reason is this: When galvanized steel is heated by fire it releases toxic fumes. Galvanized steel is steel with a zinc coating in place to protect from corrosion; not only are the zinc fumes toxic, there can also be small amounts of lead and hexevalent chromium present within the coating on the galvanized steel, both of which also produce toxic fumes (according to reports I found).
Like the popular backyard Tiki torches, you'll need a small container (fuel base) to hold the vegetable oil that the Kevlar wick will supply it's fuel from. While a person could use a commercially produced Tiki torch for this scenario, in survival you may need to build your own fuel base for your torch from materials you can gather. An empty soda can will work (use a knife to make the opening larger for your rolled up wick) and even a small beer, wine, or soda bottle can also be used (the opening needs to be big enough though for a rolled up wick to be stuck from the top; keep in mind that the thicker you roll your wick, the larger the flame, and the longer the wick will last).
Remember that steel wire? Use it to secure your fuel base (small container holding your fuel, which the wick rises up from) to the stick you are using for your torch.
Caution: If the wick does not fit snuggly in the fuel base, oil will drip out if you hold your torch at an angle. For example, if you stuff a rag into the top of a small jar filled with water, and tilt it sideways, the rag will catch the water, but some water will drip out because the rag is not snug or thick enough to stop the water; so, that is why a thick, rolled up Kevlar wick is important for your homemade torch; it will plug the top of the container and keep vegetable oil from spilling out if your torch is held at angle for a few moments.
For the most part, though, exercise caution and keep your torch held vertically.
What your torch should look like
Large flame burning from wick at the top
Rolled up wick long enough to reach to bottom of small container (fuel base) holding vegetable oil
Steel wire clamping small container to stick or pole (2 - 4 feet in length)
How to put your flame out safely
Place small metal can over the top of your torch's flame; the can should fit snuggly over the top of the flame (where the wick sticks up from the fuel base) and your flame should be abruptly snuffed out. This is the same way that a commercially produced Tiki torch works.
How much wick do I need?
By my estimate, I can take a 6 inch strip of Kevlar from my Kevlar roll on a weekend camping trip with my family, build a blazing survival torch and still have several weeks left of survival torches just on this 3 foot roll.
Packing heat resistant gloves
When it comes to things like using fire torches, working with burning Kevlar wicks, etc., as long as you exercise caution you can do this without getting burned. As an added precaution though, heat resistant gloves give you the added protection of handling burning or hot materials with out risk of burning. As an added benefit, heat resistant gloves may have multiple uses in long term survival or living life off the grid. Primitive oven building, using wood stoves, using kilns; each of these has a valuable role to play in living off the land, allowing you to cook foods (primitive ovens), heat homes and cabins (wood stoves), and melt metals (kilns).
Creative uses for a Kevlar torch
Build a Reusable Candle Tin campfire Requires:
Six candle tins with lids
Kevlar wicks (you can cut several 4 - 6 inch wicks from a 3 foot roll of Kevlar; "Play" is the company I purchased my roll from for testing; it is a high quality Kevlar wick)
1 gallon of vegetable oil (can last you several days of use)
Stainless Steel Wire (26 gauge should work fine or an even thinner gauge can work would be my bet)
Need a campfire in a hurry? Use six "candle tins", each filled with vegetable oil with a Kevlar wick propped up in the center, and then group these six candle tins together in a circle.
With six of these burning, you now have an instant campfire, no fire wood required. Since there is no risk of burning ash falling on trees or brush in the vicinity of your campfire, this should be legal to use in an area where campfires may presently be banned due to drought or fire danger to a national forest.
When it's time to put your "campfire" out, put each of the six lids back on each candle tin, and each of your wicks will be instantly snuffed out. Since the vegetable oil will have heated up while each candle tin has been lit, let each one cool for a few minutes before handling with bare hands (or just have those heat resistant gloves handy and these tins will be safe to handle).
Building a survival torch without a fuel base
By far, using a fuel base can provide you with several hours use at a time, for just one torch. Several torches can ring your campsite with light and even keep intrusive wildlife at bay. In a survival situation though, where you are carrying a torch around to travel by night or even for exploring caves (which comes with several precautions and is too much to go into in this article), then you can use the same techniques that professional fire jugglers
use for their torch
Cut several inches from a roll of Kevlar wick and soak it in barbecue lighter fluid or kerosene (paraffin) or even Coleman fuel. After your wick is thoroughly soaked, use it to wrap the head of a long stick or poll and secure it with stainless steel wire (wrapped tightly around the wick); and now it's ready to light.
When using a torch, always exercise caution
Like anything that has to do with fire or heat, exercise caution at all times and you now have a new skill to add to your growing arsenal of survival skills, one that can provide light and even heat in an emergency or long term survival following a collapse of government or loss of the power grid from an EMP or other disastrous event.
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