Introduction: Steel Wool Emergency Fire Starter

With only a battery and some fine steel wool, you can make a fire anytime. It's an old trick but works really well at starting fires in an emergency. Some of you might have seen steel wool fire wheels on the net. If not, check these ones out. here and here

The way this work is passing some voltage through the fine, steel wool makes it spark and set alight. the steel wool smolders at a very high heat and can be easily kept going by blowing on it. All you then need is some dry leaves or grass and your away. I've made many a fire with this technique and haven't ever not been able to light one.

To make this emergency fire starter as small as possible, I used a miniature 12v, battery which are usually used in car and burglar alarms. These are about 1/2 the size of a AAA battery so are perfect for this project.

I also used a waterproof container to keep the battery and steel wool dry.

This is an easy project but definitely one that has come in handy a couple of times.

Step 1: Things You'll Need

Picture of Things You'll Need


1. 0000 fine steel wool - eBay or try your local hardware store

2. 12v 3LR50 or MN21 battery - eBay

3. Waterproof Container - eBay

4. Electrical tape

Step 2: Practice Making Fire

Picture of Practice Making Fire

First thing I would do is to practice igniting the steel wool. To do this you need to do the following:

1. Grab the steel wool and pull the threads so it opens up a little.

2. Next place one end of the battery on the wool and touch the steel wool to the other end of the battery.

3. You should instantly see sparks and the steel wool start to light. If not, touch the battery terminals again.

4. Once the wool starts to ignite it should just continue to smolder and burn. If not, just blow on it a little and it will blaze up.

Step 3: Prepare the Steel Wool

Picture of Prepare the Steel Wool


1. Garb the steel wool and carefully unwind a piece.

2. If it seems a little thick, you can just pull it apart.

3. You should end up with a small rectangle piece of steel wool.

Step 4: Prepare the Battery

Picture of Prepare the Battery


1. So the steel wool doesn't ignite the wool inside the container, you need to wrap it in some electrical tape.

2. Take a piece of tape and wrap it around the ends of the terminals a couple of times.

Step 5: Wrap the Steel Wool Around the Battery

Picture of Wrap the Steel Wool Around the Battery


1. Next wrap the steel wool around the battery. Try and get this as tight as possible

2. Trim off the ends so it fits into the container. It should be as tight as fit as you can make it - the more steel wool the better!

3. Screw on the lid tightly



jabh423 (author)2017-03-29

I save old newspaper and fat (oils) from cooking and paint the 'oils' on the newspaper and roll up, then save in plastic bags until ready to use. No waste! And don't have to use things I'd use for something else. I do like that you can start the fire with the battery and steel wool. I've recently started adding twigs to the rolled up oil newspapers. It seems to help keep the fire going long enough to get the bigger pieces burning.

karolina81 (author)2017-02-02

Thanks for a great video! Do you think this would work with an A27 battery aswell?

Yep - I think they're the same battery. As long as it's 12v you won't have any issues

shokkt (author)2016-10-09
randyis714 (author)shokkt2016-10-13

Oh well, seems like there's ALWAYS that one

lonesoulsurfer (author)shokkt2016-10-09

Yes it shorts the battery but it's for a very short time. You won't have any issues with it going Kaboom.

DonnH1 (author)2016-10-09

Something not mentioned is good fire starter. A 35mm film container filled with dryer lint and another container filled with dry pitch from coniferous trees. The pitch burns hot like a torch and can be used to get damp wood burning. I used to take one or two disposable lighters with me until I was on a scout trip up in the mountains. It was cold and wet and the lighter that was in my pants pocket would not ignite. The fuel in it would not vaporize. That was a shocker. I was saved by a young scout who brought penny matches in a zip lock. No one was using batteries and steel wool back then. Where we went moisture probably would have made it tricky to use. We being on the wet coast of Canada. :-)

BobbyH35 (author)DonnH12016-10-12

Hand sanitizer works better and can also be used to make cocktails.

eGadgetGuy (author)DonnH12016-10-09

I like to pack laundry lint in used TP rolls into ziplocks. keeping the lint in the roll gives you a good firestarting time

darter22 (author)eGadgetGuy2016-10-11

Good use of materials that are usually thrown away!

Most Def - see the above comment on a ible' that I made using lint and wax

outlaw777 (author)DonnH12016-10-09

Something that helps (if you've got room to carry it) I roll up newspaper, about six inches long and 1 inch diameter and dip it into a pan of melted canning wax which is easily available. Once lit it'll burn for 5 or ten minutes and helps very much in getting the fire going.

lonesoulsurfer (author)DonnH12016-10-09

Dry Lint is great. I made a shot instructable about adding wax to the lint which can be lit using flint. It burns for over 2 minutes and is very easy to light.

Wax and Lint Tinder

BobbyH35 (author)2016-10-12

I do not recommend this site. The hot dogs roasted on this fire tasted bad.

KISELIN (author)2016-10-09

Hah Hah you made my day, (got a good laugh LoL).

I allways go around with a steel wool, (just for in case), in my left hand inside pocket.

And a set of battery's in my right hand inside pocket, (just for "if")

And a pocket knife, (the Swiss-made), in my left hand pant's pocket.

And a "nutrician set for astronaut's" in my lower left hand pocket

And my cellphone in my lower right front outer pocket

And..... And... Lol Gee... I just gained some 5 kgr, (yes you in U.S.A did read right, in SI-system the baseunit for weight is a gram, so a kilogram makes it to be 1000 times that)

jlmowery (author)KISELIN2016-10-11

Actually, that would be 5Kg, and I really doubt that all added up to 11 pounds.

KISELIN (author)jlmowery2016-10-11

Actually the baseunit for weight is: Gram, the prefix only tell’s you the multiplicator of the baseunit, ”k” stands for kilo = 1000x1gram , ”m” stands for mega 1000x1000kilo = 1000000, ”g” stands for giga = 1000x1000mega =1000000000 etc… kG is the ”right” one
They are wery often ”miss-used”: NOT MHz, but mHz, (Herz is the baseunit the ”m” is a prefix and should be written with the lowercase ”m”). Oooohh… my bad, sorry, the lowercase ”m” allso is used with fractions of 1meter/1000 = (millimeter). Gee… the life is so complicated. Why didn’t they tell me that?

darter22 (author)2016-10-09

Nice job.! I also like to add a couple of cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly to my kit. A23 batteries are dirt cheap on Amazon with free shipping.

Chezl (author)darter222016-10-11

I also read that tampons soaked in petroleum jelly work for longer because they are more dense.

Cowboys From Hell (author)2016-10-09

I always use a 9 volt battery every store sells them from gas stations, Walmart to dollar stores. Puff up the steel wool the 9v battery's neg. and pos. Are in the same end so you just press it to the steel wool. So much easer. It turns the steel wool cherry red and will catch wet tender on fire. I keep both in me jeep and SHTF pack.

I'd use an Altoids can for the 9v. That would give you extra room for some tinder like paper to help the fire along. Good call.

FlyPot (author)Cowboys From Hell2016-10-09

Yep, me too. 9v's aren't that much bigger and they not only keep your fingers out of the flames on start up - they're also easier to handle with leather mitts on in the dead of winter.

9v is best, but as AlejandroR23 has mentioned is all about the portability.

This is awesome. Thank you for posting.

I second that motion, but the portability aspect of taking you kit in a small pill bottle does have its merits!

ScarletRed14 (author)2016-10-09

Will this work with any steel wool or just fine steel wool

danzo321 (author)2016-10-09

Cool but I also like starting a fire with a gum wrapper. Do you know that one?

lonesoulsurfer (author)danzo3212016-10-09

Is that the one where you touch the silver side of the gum wrapper to the battery terminals and it ignites?

Yttrium (author)lonesoulsurfer2016-10-09

Yes. There needs to be a thin bridge of metal and paper in the middle of the wrapper in order for it to heat up enough to ignite, though. Good Instructable, by the way.

tig1 (author)2016-10-09

Good instruct able .... thinking I'm a little naive here but wouldn't a bic lighter do the trick, waterproof, self contained, fast, able to light hundreds of campfires,

Seems there is a bit of prep with your method and others I have seen similar to yours and they don't really have any advantage over a lighter that I can see.. or say wooden matches dipped in paraffin magnesium stick.

DonnH1 (author)tig12016-10-09

In my comment I mentioned that up in the mountains on a July 1st weekend with the scouts it was snowing, sleeting, being really nasty. My Bic would not light. Too cold for the fuel to vaporize. They work fine if the weather is decent. Dry matches still work. Steel wool will work most of the time but up in the mountains on a crappy misty day everything gets wet, even the steel wool, then you need something else up your sleeve or you'll freeze. Someone else mentioned empty toilet rolls stuffed with dryer lint and stored in zip lock backs. That works. If you've never tried pitch from pines and firs give that a goe some time. You will find its amazing at helping to get a fire going with damp wood. Really a hot flame. When I'm home with the fireplace out comes the propane torch for a rallly quick start. No liquid ozygen for that just yet. Just kidding of course.

lonesoulsurfer (author)tig12016-10-09

I would always take a lighter as well. This is just an emergency, back-up option. Something that you can clip to your bag and forget.

lordgreystork (author)2016-10-09

Just a correction note, its a 23A battery, not a 23 amp battery. And I prefer to use a 9 volt because they are more readily available. You could also uae a cell phone battery in an emergency.

Cool - updated

SeamusFrederick (author)2016-10-09

That's really cool..would be interesting to learn about the science behind this.

HI Seamus

The science:

When a current passes through a wire, there is a heating effect due to the increased (and directional) flow of electrons from the negative end of the battery to the positive terminal. These collide with the metal ions; imagine a lot of children running through a corridor, barging into the adults, making them vibrate, becoming 'hot' and angry!

Because the strands of wire are very thin, the wires get hot enough that they start to oxidise causing the combustion of the iron ions (forming iron oxide) and a lot of heat.

Hope this makes sense! There is a bit more to it than that, but it is the crux of it.

As a side note, it is more effective when the wire is teased out to form a less dense mass to get it started.

eGadgetGuy (author)ChrisPDavies2016-10-09

current makes thin wires hot.


battery make steel wool go woosh!

Cowboys From Hell (author)2016-10-09

I also keep germ-X hand sanitizer In my jeep and back packs squrt some of that first, it will burn for a long time. I use it on my hand I keep the large refill size to refill my travel size bottles I keep in my jeep and packs plus the pump size in the bathroom

r14290 (author)2016-10-09

Agree with all the 9 volt comments it the standard and likely to be on hand & have double duty.

This is much better for the portable size in a hiking day-pack/ first aid kit vs a full scram bag.

corey2280 (author)2016-10-09

9v is much easier just touch it to the wool and poof fire!!

kibukun (author)2016-10-09

I've seen this at scout camp. However, they use 9-volt batteries. Work just as well.

offseid (author)2016-10-06

Wow that is cool. Thanks for the idea!

GlenR16 (author)offseid2016-10-09


JohnD316 (author)2016-10-09

Back in our Scouting days we used to carry a 9 volt battery and fine steel wool for the same purpose. This was in the mid 1950s when that battery made a debut.You had to be careful to cover the anode and cathode with a non conductive material.Usually we carried them in an old leather marble sack.

Cheese Queen (author)2016-10-06

Note that the best thing about the battery/steel wool combo is that it will still ignite when wet.

gravityisweak (author)2016-10-05

Also a great visual demonstration of what happens if you overload an electrical circuit!

rafununu (author)2016-10-05

This is how we fired our rockets when I was almost a man.

goldgriffin05 (author)2016-10-04

You should add this to the survival ready contest, I would vote for it!

Nice idea! I've added - just waiting approval :)

goldgriffin05 (author)2016-10-04

add to contest please!

About This Instructable




Bio: I've always liked pulling things apart - it's the putting back together again that I have some issues with.
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