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  1. #1
    ChinMusic's Avatar
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    Default Potassium Permanganate + Glycerin = Fire

    I just saw this on a Survivorman episode and decided to look it up.

    Does the method of fire starting by using potassium permanganate (KMnO4) and glycerin have any practical use in backpacking or survival, or is this just show? Weight-wise it didn't seem like it took much to do the trick.

    Comments?

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    Default

    How much do those chemicals cost and how much space in a pack? And are they dangerous?


    If you are going to start a fire with something you took backpacking, a Bic Lighter is hard to beat. The things he uses on the show are cute & creative, but I will bet that he has a regular lighter when he’s out in the wild and not doing the show.

    I saw an episode where he used a thing called a “Fire Piston” I thought it was cute, I looked them up on the net. They cost $70.00 and up. If I’m going to carry a fire piston, why not a Bic lighter? For $75.00 I can buy a lot of lighters.

  3. #3
    Registered User shelterbuilder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob S View Post
    How much do those chemicals cost and how much space in a pack? And are they dangerous?


    If you are going to start a fire with something you took backpacking, a Bic Lighter is hard to beat. The things he uses on the show are cute & creative, but I will bet that he has a regular lighter when he’s out in the wild and not doing the show.

    I saw an episode where he used a thing called a “Fire Piston” I thought it was cute, I looked them up on the net. They cost $70.00 and up. If I’m going to carry a fire piston, why not a Bic lighter? For $75.00 I can buy a lot of lighters.
    The fire piston lost its popularity when phosphorus-tipped matches were invented. It now occupies a small niche of popularity with a segment of survivalists and "primitive" campers. Yes, they do work, but they are very expensive for what they are. Yes, Bic lighters are infinitely cheaper!

    Permanganate and glycerin is much the same thing - it's cool to be able to show off your chemistry skills, but there are cheaper, easier ways to get a fire started. And God help you if the two chemicals leak together in your pack - I would hate to be known by the trail name "Roamin' Candle"!

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by ChinMusic View Post
    I just saw this on a Survivorman episode and decided to look it up.

    Does the method of fire starting by using potassium permanganate (KMnO4) and glycerin have any practical use in backpacking or survival, or is this just show? Weight-wise it didn't seem like it took much to do the trick.

    Comments?
    It does work well and it doesn't take much to light up. Be advised if you go to a chemical supply house to buy these items you'll likely be required to show some ID for obvious reasons.

  5. #5

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    the whole point of primitive tools like a fire piston is that you can make them yourself

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    In other words, don't forget the ID. A list you might not want to be on...

    Might not want to try and buy the Jethro size.

    Isn't this the stuff used to make volcanos blow in grade school? (70's)

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    ChinMusic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by take-a-knee View Post
    It does work well and it doesn't take much to light up. Be advised if you go to a chemical supply house to buy these items you'll likely be required to show some ID for obvious reasons.
    I prob could get a small sample from my old college chem lab, unless it is something protected to a greater degree than I know.

    bob s - For SURE you would not want to carry the two items near each other.

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    ChinMusic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mudhead View Post

    Isn't this the stuff used to make volcanos blow in grade school? (70's)
    Can't be. There would have been too much heat.

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    Default Careful

    Combining potassium permanganate with certain other easy to find chemicals will create explosives. That is not the problem with using these combinations. The big number one rule is DON'T TRY TO CONFINE IT OR STOMP IT OUT!! I'm just sayin.....
    Life is what happens while you are making other plans. John Lennon

  10. #10

    Default Thermite

    Those chemicals create a thermite reaction. It's nothing you want to mess with unless you've got specialized training; very very dangerous.

    If any authority types find out you've got them on your person, or word travels around on the trail that you're making intense little explosions with chemicals, plan on eventually spending some quality time with law enforcement. Perhaps of the federal flavor. Making explosives is taken seriously in these times...

    The bic is best. (And won't get you detained or arrested.)

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Darwin again View Post
    Those chemicals create a thermite reaction. It's nothing you want to mess with unless you've got specialized training; very very dangerous.

    If any authority types find out you've got them on your person, or word travels around on the trail that you're making intense little explosions with chemicals, plan on eventually spending some quality time with law enforcement. Perhaps of the federal flavor. Making explosives is taken seriously in these times...

    The bic is best. (And won't get you detained or arrested.)
    It isn't an explosion, it is an iciendary. There is quite a difference. Some charges are sort of both, like foo gas, which is what hollywood uses mostly. If you think a bic lighter is the best source of fire in the woods you shouldn't be giving advice on such matters, cause you are clueless.

  12. #12

    Default agreed

    Quote Originally Posted by Darwin again View Post
    Those chemicals create a thermite reaction. It's nothing you want to mess with unless you've got specialized training; very very dangerous.

    If any authority types find out you've got them on your person, or word travels around on the trail that you're making intense little explosions with chemicals, plan on eventually spending some quality time with law enforcement. Perhaps of the federal flavor. Making explosives is taken seriously in these times...

    The bic is best. (And won't get you detained or arrested.)
    guys, i'm a chemist, and that s*%t definitely falls under the category of "don't try this at home". not to mention the environmental impact.

  13. #13
    Registered User GGS2's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by take-a-knee View Post
    If you think a bic lighter is the best source of fire in the woods you shouldn't be giving advice on such matters, cause you are clueless.
    Nothing wrong with a Bic on the trail, provided you don't consider it to be your backup, too. Can be troublesome depending on climate and weather, but convenient and compact. Just a ready-made spark and tinder device. But if you want to be a true woodsman, you should know several ways to make fire, and be practiced in them all. For lunch on the trail, a Bic will do you well most of the time. In a survival situation, I wouldn't like it to be the only thing between me and a cold death.

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    Potassium permangate wouldn't be my top choice for inclusion in a survival kit and I'd never keep it in my house. I wouldn't trust untrained people to handle it and a clever 13 year-old could go from making chemical fires in his backyard to building a bomb with just one trip to the refrigerator. There are many other compounds that yield fire when mixed and are much easier to obtain than Potssium per, and they would have other uses in survival situations. I'm not going to list them, sorry. But the last time I was at Wal-Mart I saw two examples on shelves a couple of steps from each other.
    You never turned around to see the frowns
    On the jugglers and the clowns
    When they all did tricks for you.

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    Registered User GGS2's Avatar
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    Ah! Exothermic reactions, what fun. Reminds me of my misspent youth making gunpowder mortar tubes. Those days are long gone, thank heaven. Survived with all my fingers and eyebrows too. Some didn't.

    Why not learn from our predecessors? There are several ways to make fire by friction with nothing more flammable than wood. It takes practice, but when you know how to do it, you'll never be out of fire making materials. Then there are the ferrocerium and steel methods (spark sticks, lighter flint wheels), and the old favorite flint and steel. Tinders range from traditional thru natural to exotics like steel wool, and various petroleum derivatives. And as the story goes, boy scout to boy scout, making fire by rubbing two sticks together works best if one of them is a (waterproofed) match. Resort to deflagration reactions (other than matches safely waterproofed in wax -- make sure they are not safety matches) is not safe, nor in these days of hysteria, likely not legal. I'm sure there are even more nifty ways to make fire in extremis. Why not learn a few? I generally carry a lighter plus a ferrocerium rod and striker, and some waterproofed matches. I also carry a knife (two actually) with which to gather tinder. The lighter is most convenient, the matches next up, the ferrocerium is almost foolproof, and if all else fails, I will try to make fire by friction using a bow drill technique. I'm not ultra reliable at that, so I need more practice. I plead a mis-spent youth with too much technology.

  16. #16

    Default

    Take a knee: It isn't an explosion, it is an iciendary. There is quite a difference. Some charges are sort of both, like foo gas, which is what hollywood uses mostly. If you think a bic lighter is the best source of fire in the woods you shouldn't be giving advice on such matters, cause you are clueless.
    An explosion is just a very fast (often in a confined space) burn. Types of explosives are categorized by the speed of their burn. If you put an incendiary (your word) into an enclosed space, you get an explosion. In any case, I'd say the number of hikers making and using thermite to light their camp fires and stoves compared to the number using Bic lighters is, uh, how you say, insignificant, if not nonexistant.

    Also, Mister Knee, the term of art is "fougasse." The type of reaction, as you described it, is of a fuel-air explosion -- it's also a Vietnam War-era term for a type of explosive anti-personnel expedient using diesel and an explosive device to spread and ignite that fuel -- descriptions can be found in mil. field manuals of that time period. Another definition of the word is for a type of French bread, but you likely know that already.

    Also, someone would have to check on this, but I'm pretty sure mixing up thermite reactions on federal land is ILLEGAL, especially in the context of hiking and camping. Telling someone it's OK to do this is not a good idea, not merely from a law enforcement perspective, but also from the fact that a person could get badly injured/burned or even killed doing it.

    Calling someone clueless for suggesting that a Bic lighter is good for use on the Appalachian Trail transcends stupid and enters the realm of mental defect.

    Just 'cause you seen it on the teevee doesn't mean it's good to do yourself. Unless you want to go for a Darwin Award. In that case, never mind the boring little Bic.

  17. #17
    Registered User kayak karl's Avatar
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    Default Rockets

    Quote Originally Posted by GGS2 View Post
    Ah! Exothermic reactions, what fun. Reminds me of my misspent youth making gunpowder mortar tubes. Those days are long gone, thank heaven. Survived with all my fingers and eyebrows too. Some didn't.
    same miss-spent use, but with me it was rockets, every combination zinc, sulfur, potassium, nitrate, azide you can think of. we used the permanganate thing for time delay fuse. ended up using a flash bulb (w/ glass broken) could time take off better. rocket career ended with hole in baseball field and 11 broken windows in school. if that happened with todays laws, i'd probably be getting out about now.
    Potassium Permanganate is very unstable (potassium nitrate is used to make it; saltpeter, fertilizer). will soak up moisture quickly and then is useless for fire. turns everything purple. handlotion can set it off

  18. #18
    Registered User GGS2's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kayak karl View Post
    Potassium Permanganate is very unstable (potassium nitrate is used to make it; saltpeter, fertilizer). will soak up moisture quickly and then is useless for fire. turns everything purple. handlotion can set it off
    Good for removing blood stains from lab glassware, I'm told. I don't have any bloodstained glassware, so I've never tried it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ChinMusic View Post
    I just saw this on a Survivorman episode and decided to look it up.

    Does the method of fire starting by using potassium permanganate (KMnO4) and glycerin have any practical use in backpacking or survival, or is this just show? Weight-wise it didn't seem like it took much to do the trick.

    Comments?
    The show is about using the things you have at hand. I read an interview where the Survivorman uses the normal things we do when he goes out for fun. By the way I started a thread yesterday about the show.

  20. #20
    Registered User kayak karl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Terry7 View Post
    The show is about using the things you have at hand. I read an interview where the Survivorman uses the normal things we do when he goes out for fun. By the way I started a thread yesterday about the show.
    potassium permanganate and glycerin are not found in todays med kits. i think some of the show is a little sensationalizm. its a fun to know, but not a need to know to survive. i still like the show

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