How to Build a Parabolic Mirror

Written by samuel sohlden
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How to Build a Parabolic Mirror
You can craft a pop can into a parabolic mirror for lighting fires. (top of can image by jimcox40 from

Everyone with outdoor experience knows the importance of being able to start a fire. While conventional methods such as matches and lighters work, knowing how to improvise in times of shortage is essential. Creating a parabolic mirror or solar reflector is the perfect solution for these instances. You can fine tune a parabolic mirror at home or improvise one on site in the wilderness. It works by reflecting the sun's energy in a more concentrated form, in the same fashion as a magnifying glass.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Soda can
  • Chocolate bar or toothpaste
  • Scissors
  • Steel wool
  • Polishing rag
  • Emery cake buffering wheel compound
  • Brown tipoli buffering wheel compound
  • Red rouge buffering wheel compound
  • Tinder fungus (or other fire-starting material)
  • Spare paper

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  1. 1

    Unwrap the chocolate bar and break off a small piece.

  2. 2

    Roll the chocolate piece in your hands. This will soften the chocolate, making it easier to apply to the soda can. If toothpaste is available you can skip this step.

  3. 3

    Flip the pop can upside down, so that the bottom portion of the can is exposed. Smear chocolate onto the bottom of the pop can or apply a layer of toothpaste.

  4. 4

    Polish the bottom of the soda can with a torn piece of the chocolate bar wrapper or a spare rag. Apply more chocolate or toothpaste as necessary to continue polishing the bottom of the metal can.

  5. 5

    Remove all chocolate or toothpaste after polishing for at least an hour. Try starting a fire using tinder fungus or other spare fire starting material by holding the can in a manner that reflects the sun's light onto the material.

  6. 6

    Polish the can more thoroughly if a fire will not start. If scissors are available, cut off the bottom of the can, making it more portable.

  1. 1

    Cut of the bottom portion of the can with scissors.

  2. 2

    Polish the bottom of the soda can with steel wool to remove the outside finish and labels.

  3. 3

    Polish the bottom of the soda can using increasingly finer abrasives. Use the emery cake followed by the brown tipoli, then red rouge.

  4. 4

    Light a fire using tinder fungus or other fire starting material.

Tips and warnings

  • To find the focal point, hold a piece of paper above the can and attempt to focus the sunlight by moving the can in different directions. Once the light becomes concentrated enough to burn a hole through the paper you've found the focal point.

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