This will expose both my technology geek side and my backpacking nerd side in one blog post. So, just the other day, I was reading my self-made eBook version of Horace Kephart’s classic, “Camping and Woodcraft“, on my iPod Touch when I came across a beautiful little nugget of camping wisdom explaining how to weather-proof matches using shellac and thought I would not only give it a try myself, but share my results with you all. Here’s the full paragraph that I am referring to:
Matchbox. — Do not omit a waterproof matchbox, of such pattern as has a cover that cannot drop off. I prefer a flat one. It can be opened with one hand. The matches in this box are to be used only in emergency. Carry the daily supply loose where you can get at them. For this purpose I like a pigskin pocket with snap-button, worn on the belt. The matches I waterproof, before starting, by dipping them half-length in shellac varnish thinned with alcohol to the right consistency, which is found by experiment, and laying them out separately on a newspaper to dry. This is better than using paraffin, because shellac does not wear off, and it is itself inflammable, like sealing-wax. Matches so treated can be left a long time in water without spoiling.
I didn’t particularly like the way Horace dipped the matches and then laid them flat on newspaper because it seemed to me that one side would lose a lot of the shellac coating. So, instead I came up with a simple solution that allowed me to dip them in the shellac and then “hang” them up to dry. All you need to follow along at home (in true Blue Peter style) are some strike anywhere matches, shellac, a pair of tweezers, an old cardboard box, some double-sided sticky tape, and a little spare time.
As shown in the picture, attach a small strip of double-sided sticky tape to the edge of the cardboard box and remove the second layer of paper to expose the stickyness. Carefully hold each match upside down with a pair of tweezers and dip them into the shellac but not up all the way as far as your tweezers. Then lift them up, give them a gentle shake and push them against the sticky tape upside down so that they stick and can drip dry as they are. You’ll notice that I placed a piece of kitchen towel underneath the matches to catch any rogue drips of shellac. That’s it! Just let them dry and then store them however you want.
I’ve tried dipping matches in melted candle wax before, but found that it crumbled off or made such a mess that it rendered the matches almost useless. However, the shellac seems to make a crisp hard covering that protects the matches from moisture and leaves them easy to light with a normal swipe along a rough surface – what a great solution! I’ve kept a handful of my first batch of shellac-dipped matches aside to see just how long they survive in one of my backpack pockets, only time will tell. I hope find this useful and give it a go for yourselves. If you do, please leave a comment to let me know how it goes.