I’ve always been fascinated by the improvised tools that prisoners make with their limited resources. Some are very ingenious! Being the firecrafter that I am I wondered what ways that a fire could be made without matches or conventional lighters. There are several methods but one very simple way is to use a “C” cell battery and cigarette package foil.
In prison, a common cutting blade is obtained from disassembling a shaving razor. It may be small but still effective. The blade is used to cut away the outer covering near the bottom of the battery. The metal that is exposed is part of the positive terminal that you see at the top of battery cell. The new exposed metal makes a close contact point next to but not touching the negative metal plate at the bottom.
In a previous article I wrote about using a “AA” battery and a foil gum wrapper to create a flame (see Gum Wrapper Fire Method). The foil side of the strip is touched to each end of the battery thus creating a “short” that in turn heats up the paper substrate which then ignites into a flame. The same principal can be done with a much shorter and thinner foil with this modified “C” cell battery.
Most cigarette packages have a protective foil above the cigarettes and this foil can be cut into narrow strips measuring between 1/16th inch and 1/32nd inch wide and maybe 1 1/2″ long. The foil side should be pinched together at the center in order to create a hot spot before touching the foil strip to the bare battery areas. Once the strip is held in place the strip will begin to smoke and eventually ignite the paper substrate. The close proximity of the bared positive metal on the side and negative bottom plate enables this short piece to be used.
I tried a “AA” battery without success. I got smoke but no flame. In retrospect I see that I used a “D” battery shown in the photo, but apparently “C” batteries are more the norm at the prison commissary. It is important to note that a fresh battery should be used for this fire method. There seems to be an optimum balance between battery size (power) and foil width with enough paper substrate to fuel a flame. It would also be wise to hold fuzzy cotton or tissue piece next to the pinched area in order to capture the brief flame that is created. In any case it can be a fun time to experiment with different combinations to accomplish a flame and could be a life saver in an emergency situation.