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What Are the Components to Match Heads?

Updated February 21, 2017

Matches are comprised of three parts: a combustible head, a tinder to continue the flame, and the stick to gain distance from the flame. Matches fall into two categories: strike-anywhere, which can be lit with friction against any surface, and safety matches, which require the use of a strike stripe -- usually on the box or matchbook cover -- for ignition to occur.

The stick

Matchsticks are made of either wood or cardboard. Two of the most common woods used for matchsticks are white pine and aspen. After a matchstick is cut, manufactueres treat it with a fire retardant chemical to prevent smouldering once they are out. The burning tip of the match can be dipped in paraffin wax to act as another source of fuel for the match.

The tip

Strike-anywhere matches are comprised of two parts; the tip and the base. The tip includes phosphorus sesquisulfide, which is highly combustible when exposed to friction. The base includes potassium chlorate to provide the oxygen for the match. Strike-anywhere matches also include animal glue to bind everything to the tip. Glass particles may be added to help with friction when striking. Diatomaceous earth is used to regulate the speed of the burning of the match.

Safety matches are made up of antimony trisulfide, potassium chlorate, and sulphur. Animal glue is also used as a binder. The safety match uses a striking strip, which contain red phosphorus and glass particles to light the match. The red phosphorus chemically changes to white phosphorus from the heat of friction, causing ignition of the antimony trisulfide.

Strike-Anywhere vs Safety Matches

Strike-anywhere matches are able to light from friction of practically any surface. Some strike-anywhere matches can be manufactured to light even when wet. The Strike-anywhere match may be considered dangerous because they can be easily struck. The safety match requires the strike strip for ignition making these match types much safer to use.

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About the Author

Michael Carpenter has been writing blogs since 2007. He is a mortgage specialist with over 12 years of experience as well as an expert in financing, credit, budgeting and real estate. Michael holds licenses in both real estate and life and health insurance.