Camping Classic – Waterproofing Matches

Waterproofing Matches

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.

Waterproofing Matches

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.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15335992720987876441 Norseman

    It’s rather serendipitous that I should run across your blog, and this entry in particular, today. I brought my copy of Backwoodsman Magazine with me to work today because there was an article on using shellac for waterproofing matches in similar fashion to what you describe. Rather than dipping each match individually though the person writing the article inserted the matches in between the corrugations of a strip of cardboard then rolled the strip up and dipped a dozen or so at once. Ever try it that way? (Hope my description makes sense…)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    @Norseman: Thanks for you comments, and feedback on my post. This was my first encounter with a reference to using shellac for waterproofing matches and as such my first attempts to reproduce them myself. They seem to work really well, but time will tell how effective the shellac is at keeping out the damp.

    Using a strip of corrugated cardboard as a multi-match holder is sheer brilliance and an idea that plays into my belief of keeping it simple and using the things you have around you. I haven’t tried it that way but can see how it would speed up the process dramatically. The one real downside of the method I used is that it’s time consuming. I’m going to hunt down some corrugated cardboard and give it a try – thanks for sharing!

    BTW – I like your blog, just added it to my reading list :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15335992720987876441 Norseman

    I knew I saw a blog post on waterproofing matches somewhere, but when I wrote my latest post I forgot exactly where. I have updated my post to include your reference. Sorry for my error of exclusion!

  • Lori

    sorry, brian, mollyanne hesser also stole this content as well – http://homeschoolscout.wordpress.com/2011/03/28/waterproofing-matches/

  • Tunblor

    Two words: Bic Lighter.
    If you think matches are somehow superior, then you’re doing it wrong.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Three words: Bic – mini – lighter

      If you’re carry a full size Bic, YOU’RE doing it wrong.

      • Tunblor

        Funnily enough, I refer to both by the same name, as they are the same device in two sizes. I carry a Mini-Bic; but I disagree that carrying a larger Bic is necessarily doing it wrong: much larger gas reservoir, easier to hold, size and weight benefit of mini is tangible, but by no means earth shaking.

        How do you feel about Ferro-cerium/Misch Metal rods?

        • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

          I’m not such a fan of misch metal rods as I am of a good ferro one. Here’s a short post on my UL firestarting kit that you must have missed.

          The best part about the Bic mini is not the weight save (minimal) it’s how cool and tiny it is making it easy to have in my pocket at all times.

  • Tunblor

    Two words: Bic Lighter.
    If you think matches are somehow superior, then you’re doing it wrong.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Three words: Bic – mini – lighter

    If you’re carry a full size Bic, YOU’RE doing it wrong.

  • Tunblor

    Funnily enough, I refer to both by the same name, as they are the same device in two sizes. I carry a Mini-Bic; but I disagree that carrying a larger Bic is necessarily doing it wrong: much larger gas reservoir, easier to hold, size and weight benefit of mini is tangible, but by no means earth shaking.

    How do you feel about Ferro-cerium/Misch Metal rods?

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I’m not such a fan of misch metal rods as I am of a good ferro one. Here’s a short post on my UL firestarting kit that you must have missed.

    The best part about the Bic mini is not the weight save (minimal) it’s how cool and tiny it is making it easy to have in my pocket at all times.

  • Bryan

    Growing up I was taught by my dad to use simple nail polish. If you have a wife or girlfriend I am sure you have tons of it laying around.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I’ve never thought to even try nail polish. With a wife and young daughter I can honestly say that I DO have lots laying around – I’m going to give it a shot, thanks! ^BG

  • Bryan

    Growing up I was taught by my dad to use simple nail polish. If you have a wife or girlfriend I am sure you have tons of it laying around.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I’ve never thought to even try nail polish. With a wife and young daughter I can honestly say that I DO have lots laying around – I’m going to give it a shot, thanks! ^BG

  • Tonya Hamilton

    came across this on Pinterest. Are you ok with being pinned on Pinterest? I always like to ask before I Pin if I don’t see the link on a website.
    Thanks!

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Tonya, there should have been a Pinterest icon on my post – sigh I’ll have to fix that, but yes feel free to Pin away. I’m also on Pinterest and have several boards that I maintain :) I appreciate you asking.

      • Tonya Hamilton

        Thanks!

  • Tonya Hamilton

    Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/roberta.chabot.3 Roberta Chabot

    Hi Brian. I stumbled across your blog from pinterest. I love it! And I thought I would add another point about using matches and not bic lighters. Have you ever found a lighter while walking on a trail or camping? I always pick it up and dispose of it properly. Have you ever found a match on a trail or camping? Never. And if they are lost while in a canoe or on a trail they have a better chance of wasting away before an animal makes a meal out of it. It’s all about enjoying nature/the great outdoors with minimal impact as possible.
    Love your blog.
    Thanks and happy trailing!
    Roberta :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/roberta.chabot.3 Roberta Chabot

    Hi Brian. I stumbled across your blog from pinterest. I love it! And I thought I would add another point about using matches and not bic lighters. Have you ever found a lighter while walking on a trail or camping? I always pick it up and dispose of it properly. Have you ever found a match on a trail or camping? Never. And if they are lost while in a canoe or on a trail they have a better chance of wasting away before an animal makes a meal out of it. It’s all about enjoying nature/the great outdoors with minimal impact as possible.
    Love your blog.
    Thanks and happy trailing!
    Roberta :)

  • http://twitter.com/audriemallory audrie

    Thank you for this info! Nail polish fumes give me headaches and I have plenty of shellac around because it’s the only non-toxic finish I know of–it’s actually food safe. I’m planning on a large emergency hoard of matches now. Still don’t see a Pinterest button, so pinning by pinmarklet. I’ll look for you there.

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I’ve had trouble integrating Pinterest and other social gadgets into my Blogger template because I’ve customized too much over the years. Appreciate the manual “pin” though. Let me know how it works out for you or if you come up with a better process for doing these in bulk :)

  • http://twitter.com/audriemallory audrie

    Thank you for this info! Nail polish fumes give me headaches and I have plenty of shellac around because it’s the only non-toxic finish I know of–it’s actually food safe. I’m planning on a large emergency hoard of matches now. Still don’t see a Pinterest button, so pinning by pinmarklet. I’ll look for you there.

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    I’ve had trouble integrating Pinterest and other social gadgets into my Blogger template because I’ve customized too much over the years. Appreciate the manual “pin” though. Let me know how it works out for you or if you come up with a better process for doing these in bulk :)

  • http://drawne.com Andy Feliciotti

    Awesome tip, I had no idea it was so simple

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      Simple = great. Great = awesome!

  • http://drawne.com/ Andy Feliciotti

    Awesome tip, I had no idea it was so simple

  • http://www.briangreen.net/ Brian Green

    Simple = great. Great = awesome!

  • Ed

    I like this tip; but I have one question. Where can one find strike anywhere matches. I can only find strike on the box matches. thanks.

  • ZipZooDa

    Judging by your photos, I guess this works with strike anywhere matches. That’s the only real benefit I see to doing this. You can easily buy waterproof strike-on-box matches, and they’re really not that much more expensive than regular matches. But I have a hell of a time finding strike-anywhere matches at all, let alone waterproof ones. Very handy article. Thanks for writing it!

  • Deez

    Love the article. I do it a bit differently though. I use the matches in the smaller boxes. They fit the length of a diabetic testing strip canister, to which I attach the sand strip vertically. I also don’t use shellac. I go to the dollar store and just by the cheap fingernail polish and dip. This way I can know which matches are older and which ones have been through wet or high humidity weather.