Ways to Light a Match

Written by michael e carpenter
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Ways to Light a Match
Safety matches have strike strips for lighting. (match box and matches image by Warren Millar from Fotolia.com)

Old western movie characters took out matches and struck them against their faces to light their cigars to show how tough they were, but can you really do that? It depends on the match. There are two kinds of matches: safety and strike-anywhere. The type of match you have determines how it may be lit.

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Safety Matches

Safety matches are limited in how they can be lit. The match tip head will not ignite with the heat of friction alone because it contains antimony trisulfide which only combusts when exposed to very high temperatures. The strike strip on matchbooks and matchboxes contains red phosphorus and powdered glass. The friction between the match and the strike strip turns part of the red phosphorus on the strip into white phosphorus. The white phosphorus ignites and is hot enough to cause the match to light. Safety matches can only be lit by being struck against a strike strip or exposed to an open flame like a lighter or burning candle.

Strike-Anywhere Matches

Strike-anywhere matches can be lit by friction alone. The match tip heads on most strike-anywhere matches contain phosphorus sesquisulfide which can cause initial ignition using only friction. The match heads typically have powdered glass to aid in creating friction when struck on any surface. Strike-anywhere matches are popular for camping because they may still light when wet.

Ways to Light a Strike-Anywhere Match

Any surface that can create sufficient friction will light a strike-anywhere match. Flat surfaces work best as they create better planes for continuous friction to be applied. The rougher the surface, the faster the match will light. Strike-anywhere matches can be struck on jeans, walls and even your face. However, they are very dangerous and the initial combustion of the phosphorus is very hot, causing burns and possibly catching clothing or hair on fire.

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