Instructables

Improvised Emergency Handwarmer / Firestarter

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The winter months are approaching, and for those of us who live up North, this means that we must prepare ourselves for frigid temperatures and lots of snow. Now, regardless of how much we prepare, believe it or not, sh** happens. Your heater might fail during a blizzard, or your car might die on the highway in the middle of nowhere, etc. There are numerous things that can happen to you that would put you in an urban or rural survival situation.

Don't believe me?

Well, here's a quick example: Last January, my area got several feet of snow, and I was lucky enough to NOT be one of the hundreds of motorists stranded on Lake Shore Drive (in Chicago) for more than six hours. Hypothermia was a real threat for those people, and if the rescue workers hadn't gotten to them in time, they would have all perished, and some of them did.

Now, I am going to show you how to make a quick and easy MacGyver-like contraption that will keep you warm long enough to preserve your life, if you are to ever find yourself in a survival situation with minimal supplies.
 
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Step 1: Materials

All you need to make this is chapstick, some sort of porous material, and a flame source.

1) To my knowledge, any type of lip balm will work, whether it is based from petroleum, beeswax, or shea butter. I don't know about you, but I carry chapstick with me when it's cold outside. And if you don't, then now's a good time to start.

2) The porous material could be anything from paper to a piece of clothing. Cotton works best, but anything is better than nothing.

3) The flame source can be a lighter or matches; this is another thing you should always carry with you. A small book of matches will easily slip into your wallet, and you won't even realize that it's there until you need it.
Genius. I keep handwarmers in the car but this is a great back up. I also keep Chapstick on me (it used to be in my Altoids tin when it was designed for EDC rather than a PSK). Favorited.
chemkid422 years ago
helpfull hint: not that I'm some sort of boyscout who would use his head or anything. but if you needed to start a fire the matches/lighter you already have. Dont waist things such as clothes or chapstick
I'm offended you would think a boy scout would do such a thing as a boy scout I would use the guy next to mes head
punkhead58 (author)  chemkid422 years ago
Well, the problem with that is that if your tinder is moist (which it would be if you are in the snow), you need a small sustained flame to dry it out enough to light, so that it can then dry out your kindling enough so that it can light, and so on...

Matches do not have a large enough burn time to be able to do this, and while a lighter would work, this would burn up a lot, if not all of the fuel, depending on how full the lighter is. Personally, I would much rather sacrifice some chapstick and a small strip of cloth (which could be from anywhere, not just your clothing), rather than waste my source of ignition.

However, as I said in my article, something like this would mainly serve to heat up the interior of your car if you were stranded, and didn't have any candles in your emergency pack. In this day and age, cell phones have given people a false sense of security, and many don't even have emergency packs in their cars anymore.
vincent75202 years ago
Nice idea.
One stupid question though (just for the sake of have new ideas spring up … ) :
what about the car's tank fuel ?
Of course gasoline is dangerous but diesel is more manageable. Would anybody try to get some fuel from the tank and impregnate a wick with it ?
What would be the pros and cons ?
This, of course, is in a survival situation, otherwise there is no point of doing such a thing that seems quite foolish.
Whilst petrol (gasoline) would work as an explosively burning fuel, diesel does not burn at atmospheric pressure and explodes under sufficient pressure/temperature making it useless for this exercise.
oh !… OK
thank you
punkhead58 (author)  vincent75202 years ago
Well, even though gasoline is petroleum based, due to the volatility of octane, liquid fuel would just flash up and burn the wick. However, I know that you can fill Zippo lighters with gasoline, so if a simple lantern-type contraption was rigged up (similar to an alcohol burner), it would most likely sustain a relatively controlled flame. I will test it and get back to you.

However, this would have to be something done in an outside environment, because even if the gas doesn't flash up and burn you alive, gas vapors are still dangerous to inhale.

The advantage would be that car fuel is readily available, the disadvantages would be everything else. ;P

Car fuel was designed to be explosive, it should really only be used to start fires; there are plenty of other fuels that would be available for use in stoves, lanterns, handwarmers, etc. in an urban survival situation, such as: any solution that has more than 50% concentration of any alcohol, stable hydrocarbons (propane, butane), organic solvents (i.e. paint thinner), any type of oil or grease, and the list goes on and on.

Your question wasn't stupid at all, thanks for the comment.
Thank you for the insight.
I was thinking about being stuck in a storm in the middle of nowhere, not in the city where help is closer at hand.
Still my idea seems more dangerous than practical.
Again thank you.
punkhead58 (author)  vincent75202 years ago
Despite what you may think, being in the city does not automatically guarantee rescue: if a natural disaster strikes, the people in urban environments are just as screwed as the people in the countryside. But regardless, I understand your point.

As I said, a gasoline lamp would work, I just don't recommend it. (By the way, a simple lamp can be made from a tin can and a strip of cotton fabric. Maybe that will be my next instructable).

A better substitute would be motor oil: you can either temporarily disconnect one of the many small-diameter hoses under the hood and use it to siphon out a bit of oil, or, if you can get under the car and reach the oil pan, you can loosen the drain plug and collect a little of the oil, but make sure you quickly re-tighten it before too much leaks out!

Oil, unlike gasoline, is slow burning. If you tried to keep a gasoline lantern burning all day, you'd use up a lot of gas - gas you will desperately need for traveling. However, an engine that requires four quarts of oil will run on three, and that quart of oil will last you a while.

But this is all assuming that your car is still running...if it isn't, obviously you can use up whatever you want.
Oil ! … How stupid not to have thought of it !…
That's how such lack of creativity leads to mishaps ! …

By the way, you're right about the possibility of being stranded in a city. I simply had my own country in mid (France) which is lucky enough to be usually safe from major natural disasters. My bad ! … I should have recalled my life in San Francisco where I experienced a few earthquakes.
Funny how we remember the good things in life and do away with the bad ones when they don't leave permanent marks ! …
chuckr442 years ago
My winter car kit contains a dollar store candle, one that will run for 8 hrs or more. Plus 2 clean metal cans for melting snow, matches, lighter, and blanket. I find that cars are not sealed up that well so a buildup of carbon monoxide is not an issue.
I wouldn't bet on that : volume of air in a car is very limited. Just give it a try by closing all air (warm or cold) intakes and stay there. Pretty soon you'll have a headache and feel drowsy from your own exhaled CO2.
STAY ON THE SAFE SIDE by keeping a window opened even slightly to let in fresh air.
punkhead58 (author)  chuckr442 years ago
Yeah, the cabin isn't airtight, but you have to play it safe. Burning a candle is fine (and is the preferred method, if available), but burning something like this would yield much more incomplete combustion, ergo, carbon monoxide. It would still be fine for a while, but I wouldn't recommend falling asleep with it; you might not wake up.

Plus, if I didn't say it, somebody else would've.
I agree. Go with the level of risk you feel comfortable with. I've been poisoned with Carbon Monoxide twice in my life, so I am very aware of the symptoms. Boy was that weird. I was hallucinating about gangster rabbits trying to steal our carpet.
punkhead58 (author)  chuckr442 years ago
Also, thank you for the comment.
kmcgee12 years ago
Some people keep vaseline impregnated cotton balls in a film can or medicine bottle or a zip lock. But any kind of oil, alcohol, or petroleum product works. Bits of cloth work fine, but make sure they are cotton or a natural fiber. Synthetic materials like the acrylic in sweatshirts and sweaters and the polyester in cotton blends will produce poisonous gasses and carcinogens when burned. NEVER BURN PLASTIC.
Ranie-K kmcgee12 years ago
Some types of plastic burn just fine with little or no poisonous gases (except for CO2, of course). It's good for starting a fire if you put it on top of the firewood and light it on fire. This way, the plastic burn and drip burning pieces of plastic onto the firewood.
punkhead58 (author)  kmcgee12 years ago
Thanks for the comment.
B2BSurvivor2 years ago
Good ible ! Regarding carbon monoxide, better to err on the safe side. A state trooper (law enforcement type) friend of mine says he has twice found people dead in cars from carbon monoxide. Both had burned candles in their car to keep warm, and no, the car did not catch fire. It was just the candles.
punkhead58 (author)  B2BSurvivor2 years ago
Wow, I didn't think that regular candles produced substantial amounts of CO, atleast not enough to be deadly. Thanks for the information.
kz12 years ago
Good one. When I lived up north, I carried a half pound coffee can with a toilet roll stuffed inside and a bottle of alcohol. This could be used in several situations but the main purpose was to use as an emergency heat source.

Pour the alcohol over the toilet roll and let it soak in, then light it up. It'll last for hours but DO provide adequate ventilation. The flame is almost invisible so be careful. To put the flame out, simply cover top of can with something inflammable (I carried foil in the trunk too) another caution: careful with the hot can!
nicwitzke kz12 years ago
if you have time to prepare this, this a great firestarter
melt about half a block of parrifin wax on a hotplate or double boiler and soak kleenexes in the wax. when the wax dries, you have a fast burnung firwestarter with a suprising big flame.
punkhead58 (author)  nicwitzke2 years ago
Cool, but when you say "fast burning", do you just mean that it catches on fire easily? Because it wouldn't be good if it burnt up quickly.

Thanks for the comment.
if you added more wax to the kleenex it would burn at a slower rate and work more as a hand warmer(you could also use paper towels of cardstock) with just one kleenex it would be used for more as a fire starter instead of a handwarmer also one advantage of using a piece of paper/kleenex that is already soaled with parrifin wax is that it is (mostly) waterproof. and it does cath on fire quite easily.

one question: does all type of lip balm work with your idea?
punkhead58 (author)  nicwitzke2 years ago
Well, I don't know much about the different brands and types of lip balm, but I suppose any kind would work. The reason that chapstick works is because it is usually made from petroleum based wax. However, there are some organic lip care products that are made from shea butter, or something like that. I haven't tested those, but I imagine that they wouldn't work as well. I would stick with the cheaper kinds, like Blistex or Carmex.
punkhead58 (author)  punkhead582 years ago
Oh, nevermind. I just looked it up: shea butter IS flammable. So, as I said, any kind would work.
ok thanks
Andib2 years ago
Very kewl thing to know. Thanks for sharing.
punkhead58 (author)  Andib2 years ago
Thanks
llune2 years ago
Pretty nice . Thx for sharing
punkhead58 (author)  llune2 years ago
Thank you
l8nite2 years ago
very interesting, thank you for sharing
punkhead58 (author)  l8nite2 years ago
Thank you