When it comes to fire tinder and fire starting materials, I could probably write a book on all of the different natural and store bought materials I have used – some working better than others. However, for the purpose of this post I am going to focus on what I think is the most effective and economical home-made fire tinder/starter available. Here at Willow Haven Outdoor, we call these very cheap & very effective fire starters PET Balls. This stands for Petroleum Balls.
Put simply, a PET Ball is a wad of dryer lint saturated with petroleum jelly. In my experience, a PET Ball will successfully take a spark from almost any ignition device (flint & steel, fire steel, match, lighter, friction coal, etc…) even in horrible conditions.
I keep a container of PET Balls in both my Bug Out Bag and also my excursion pack. They are SIMPLE & CHEAP (REALLY CHEAP) to make. Below is the process.
The Raw Materials
PET Balls Raw Ingredient: Dryer Lint
The first ingredient is completely FREE and abundantly available – Dryer Lint. Dryer lint is the perfect consistency to use as a fire tinder material. It’s fluffy, fibrous and highly flammable. This, combined with run-of-the-mill Petroleum Jelly, makes for an incredible fire starter combination.
PET Balls: Dryer Lint + Petroleum Jelly
When mixed with dryer lint, petroleum jelly acts as what’s called a FUEL EXTENDER. By this I mean that it allows the flame to burn longer than normal. The fibrous dryer lint is what catches the flame and the petroleum jelly acts of a fuel source and allows the flame to burn longer and slower – giving you more time to feed the small flame with little twigs and wood shavings that you have already prepared. Without the EXTENDED burn time, your window of opporunity goes up in a flash of smoke – literally! It’s possible, but more difficult. Petroleum jelly can be a fuel extender for many different materials including cotton balls, cattail down, milkweed down, dried grasses, etc… I always carry a tube of CARMEX Lip balm in my pack for this reason. CARMEX is a petroleum based lip balm and can be mixed with a variety of tinder to make excellent fire starters.
Making PET Balls is a very simple process. The first step is to slather a big scoop of petroleum jelly on a descent sized chunk of lint like you see below.
PET Balls: Step 1
Then, with your hands, vigorously mix the 2 ingredients until the dryer lint is completely saturated.
PET Balls: Step 2
Finally, simply roll the saturated chunks of dryer lint into small quarter sized balls.
PET Balls: Finished Balls – Ready for a spark.
When you are ready to use them, simply pull them apart to form a small nest – stretching out the fibers a bit. Then, land a spark right in the middle and watch the magic.
Packing & Containers
Choosing a container for your PET Balls is pretty basic. I prefer a waterproof container – even though PET Balls will successfully take a spark even when damp. You can use any small container and jam in as many PET Balls that will fit. There are several good small container options in the SMALL TRAVEL SIZE section at most pharmacy stores. You can also get creative and use containers such as Altoid Tins and old film canisters.
PET Balls: Container Ideas
Once you choose a container, the more PET Balls you can fit, the better. Jam them is as tight as you can get. If I were using the Altoid Tin below I would cram in at least double that many. It helps to saturate the dryer lint even more. Besides, these little fire-balls weigh virtually nothing and can be life savers in damp & rainy weather conditions.
Sure there is excellent fire starting tinder available at camping and outdoor stores. But why spend $10 on something when you can spend virtually $0 and a few minutes to create a product equally as effective. This is exactly what being a survivor is all about – using the resources at hand to meet your basic survival needs – in this case, FIRE.
A BIG lesson from a very simple project.