How to start a fire with a drop of water

Illustration for article titled How to start a fire with a drop of water

Don't worry, it's not that tedious one that forces you to sculpt ice into a lens and then ignite some dry twigs. This one takes a handwarmer pack, and some table salt, and some zinc, and makes the entire thing go up in a ball of flame.

It's time for another explosion! This one might actually be useful, as its ingredients are sometimes included in survival packs that help people light fires in the wilderness. Judging from the results, it might just light the entire wilderness, but there will definitely be a fire, and all it takes is a little water to start it off.

To get this experiment going you need zinc powder, a chemical handwarmer, some table salt, and, eventually, some water. The handwarmer is there to be cannibalized. Cut it open and you'll find a package of water and a package of ammonium nitrate. Grab the ammonium nitrate, which should come in the form of little white balls, and grind it up. You only need to reduce a few grams of it to powder. Once you've gotten that, add about half a gram of table salt, and a few grams of the zinc powder. Mix these together, making sure you don't sweat into the mixture. Be very careful not to get any moisture near the mixed powders.


Now transfer the mixture to somewhere it can do little damage - somewhere with plenty of ventilation but nothing to burn. Tie your hair back. Maybe slip on a pair of goggles. Make a little hollow in the middle of the heap of powder, and add just a drop of water.

When water hits the zinc, the zinc ionizes. When it ionizes, it gives off a lot of heat. This is where the ammonium nitrate comes in. It's an oxidizer, meaning it will lend a lot of oxygen to the the rapidly heating zinc. If the zinc were in a block, this wouldn't make a difference, but the fine zinc powder is like kindling, and can be set off with just enough heat and oxygen. Once some of the powder burns, it sets off the powder around it, and you get water from fire.

Top Image: Julian Evil

[Via Instructables, Reeko Science.]


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why would one have zinc powder on hand? not familiar with its uses.