3 Clever Hacks to Start a Fire Using a Battery

Apr 08, 2016

3 Clever Hacks to Start a Fire Using a Battery

You have one fire starter in your bug out bag and another in your car glove compartment. 

Two is one, and one is none, so you’re prepared to start a fire and keep yourself from being one of the thousands of people who become hypothermic and die each year in an emergency situation… right?

Well, not exactly…

All the survival gear in the world can’t keep you safe if it gets damaged or isn’t in your possession when you need it. 

Have you thought through just how much time you’re away from you gear? 

In your office at work… travelling… out on a hike… or maybe all of your supplies get destroyed or aren’t accessible when a natural disaster strikes. 

Natural disasters alone have displaced an average of 26 million people every year since 2008…

These are the types of scenarios you may not be able to count on your survival gear - you have to prepare your mental tool kit to be effective to save yourself and family.

Fortunately, when you need a field expedient way to start a fire, you have plenty of options using common everyday items.

Pay close attention as I show you the three most effective techniques to start a fire using a battery.

I’m going to lead off with my absolute favorite field expedient technique to start fire because it’s so effective at quickly getting a fire going.

Once you’ve had a chance to review each of the methods I’m about to show you, take a few minutes to try them out so you’re ready for action if you ever need to rely on them in an emergency situation.

Let’s dive in…

 Method #1. 9 Volt Battery and Light Bulb

I want to make this clear again right away:

This method is by far the most effective method to start a fire using a battery I have come across.

All you need is a 9 volt battery and an incandescent light bulb and you will have a fire going instantly. 

Step #1: Gather your light bulb and 9 volt battery

In order for this to work, you need a functioning 9 volt battery and an incandescent light bulb.

You can find a 9 volt battery inside most smoke alarms, various children’s toys, garage door openers, lots of handheld test equipment, and even some stun guns. Using a battery already inside a device helps to ensure you don't mistake old batteries for functioning 9 volt batteries.

Incandescent light bulbs are widely used in households and residential lights because they’re inexpensive.  Search available lamps or light sources and you’re likely to find one. 

Incandescent bulbs are effective as a fire starter because they use tungsten wire filaments which heat to very high temperatures when electricity passes through them.

Lucky for us, only about 5% of the energy passing through the bulb is converted into light while the rest is being converted to heat.

The wire in a 75-watt bulb heats up to around 4600 degrees Farenheit creating a small torch we’ll use to easily get a fire going.

 Step #2: Break the glass bulb to expose the tungsten filament.

You’ll need to be careful with this step, not only so you don’t damage the filament, but also to ensure you don’t injure yourself on any broken glass.

Grab a hand towel or other piece of cloth and wrap up the bulb.

Then, using a blunt object such as a small hammer or the back of your survival knife, carefully break the glass bulb.

Carefully pick up what’s left of the light bulb and dispose of the cloth and broken glass.

 Step #3: Get your fire started.

Now the fun part.

As with any time you’re starting a fire, you need a game plan for what tinder you’re going to light, and then how you’re going to get a larger fire going.

Practicing with field expedient tinder is always fun such as paper towel, cotton balls, or newspaper. Dig through your recycling and you're bound to find something that can double as tinder.

One you have your tinder and wood supplies ready, it’s time to start our battery fire.

Carefully touch the base of the lightbulb to the positive and negative terminals of the battery and the filament will light up.

Touch the bright filament to your tinder and you will instantly have fire.

It’s that simple.

Method #2: 9 volt battery and steel wool

This is a great option if you can’t find an incandescent lightbulb to use method #1.

Whether you have to search through kitchen cleaning supplies or a wood working shop, you are bound to locate steel wool in an emergency situation because it’s very common and has so many great off-grid uses.

Steel wool has a lot of carbon content and is highly conductive making it a great option for getting a fire started using electricity.

Like method #1, you only need two items to spark a fire, a 9v battery and a hunk of steel wool.

Step #1: Gather steel wool and a 9 volt battery

In case you didn’t read where to find 9 volt batteries using method #1, they are commonly found in smoke alarms, toys, and handheld electronics such as garage door openers.

Steel wool has many uses, particularly in kitchens, garages, or wood shops, so those are great places to start your search.

Steel wool comes in a variety of thickness grades.  The finer the strands, the larger the surface area of steel that comes into contact with the air making it easier to light. 

It’s the same principle as why you wouldn’t try and start a fire by just lighting a log.  You start by lighting small pieces of grass or tinder and adding some kindling to keep the flame going.

If you can get your hands on steel wool graded between 00-0000, you won’t have any trouble getting a fire going.

Steel Wool Type Grade Fiber Thickness (inches)
Super Fine 0000 0.001
Extra Fine 000 0.0015
Very Fine 00 0.0018
Fine 0 0.002
Medium 1 0.0025
Medium Coarse 2 0.003
Coarse 3 0.0035
Extra Course 4 0.004

 If you have trouble locating regular old steel wool and all you can find are SOS, Scotch-Brite, or other steel wool pads with soap on them, you’re not totally out of luck but you’ll have to work a bit harder.

In this case, you need to aggressively loosen up the strands and get as much of the soap material off of the strands as you can.

You may even consider rinsing them out with water to remove the soap, but…

If you soak the pad in water you need to completely dry it before attempting to start a fire.  This technique won’t work with wet steel wool.

If you work the strands of wool aggressively loosening up the bunch and removing much of the soap, you should be able to get a fire going without having to soak it.

Step #2: Prepare your steel wool by loosening up the strands

No matter what thickness grade you were able to get your hands on, it’s always a great idea to loosen up the strands of steel wool.

This should just take a few seconds. 

Simply grab the steel wool with your fingers on both hands and pull away from each other.

This will create more surface area and an easier surface to light.

Step #3: Start your fire

Just like with any other method of starting a fire, make sure to gather extra tinder and materials, like kindling, to maintain your fire.

Any sort of paper, dry grass, or synthetic tinder material will easily light.

Once you’re ready, position your steel wool near the tinder you’re planning to light.

Touch both the positive and negative terminal of the battery to the loosened strands of steel wool and it will start to burn.

You’re now making a “short circuit” as the electrical current flows along the short pieces of steel wool connected to the terminals creating a temperature of more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.

Contact the burning steel wool to your tinder and blow carefully, catching your tinder on fire.

 Method #3: AA battery and foil gum wrapper

Using a battery and gum wrapper to get a fire going is a great technique to know since it’s generally easy to get your hands on both items.

AA batteries are found in nearly all common battery powered devices these days and someone is almost always nearby with gum on hand.

With this technique, you don’t have quite as much time to transfer your flame to your tinder, but it’s still effective as long as you’ve prepared your tinder materials in advance. 

Step #1: Locate your AA battery and gum wrapper

As with any of these field expedient techniques, the first step is locating your materials.

Finding a AA battery shouldn’t be a problem if there are any electronics in your vicinity.

Whether it’s a remote control, headphones, flashlight, or any of these other 20 common items using AA batteries, you’re bound to find at least one.

If you can only get your hands on an AAA, D, or C battery, don’t sweat it, those will work too.

Now that you have your battery, it’s time to find a gum wrapper.

For this to work, you’re looking for a foil gum wrapper lined with paper.

These types of wrappers have become less common, but there are still common brands which use them including 5 Gum which is America’s fifth favorite brand of gum.

Step #2: Shape your gum wrapper

Once you’ve located your gum wrapper and battery, it’s time to shape the gum wrapper so it can easily catch fire.

For this step, I recommend using a pair of scissors if you have a pair handy, but you can also use your survival knife or carefully tear the wrapper if necessary.

From a single gum wrapper, you can create three opportunities to start a fire.

Start by evenly cutting your wrapper lengthwise into three strips.

Next, you want to cut the thin strips into an hour-glass shape approximately 1/16th of an inch at the center.

The thin section in the center is the point that will spark into a flame acting as a flammable bridge to the other sides of the gum wrapper.

 Step #3: Start your fire

The gum wrapper and battery technique while effective, has less margin for error than the first two methods.

You only have a few seconds to transfer the flame created by the battery to your tinder so it’s even more important you have your tinder close by and ready to light before you spark the gum wrapper.

Once you’re ready to get your fire started, carefully touch the foil side of each end of the gum wrapper to both the positive terminal and negative terminal of the battery.

I have found that sometimes it slightly burns your fingers on this step, so if you have a glove or rag nearby you can use to protect your fingers I recommend using it.

As soon as the center of the gum wrapper sparks into a fire, quickly light your tinder.  You will only have a couple of seconds so you need to act quickly.

If you can’t get the fire going on the first try, diagnose what went wrong and use one of the other pieces of the gum wrapper you prepared in the first step.

I have found the most common issue people have is getting the wrapper to spark into a flame.

This is nearly always the result of the hour glass shape not being thin enough at the center.

If you don’t get a flame on your first attempt, try making the center of the wrapper even thinner and trying again.


The ability to start fire may be the most important survival skill to have.

But in many situations, you might not have your survival fire starter to rely on.

That’s why I’ve given you these 3 highly effective field expedient methods.

Start with just one of them for now and practice getting a battery fire going.  When you get good, try out one of the others.

At first, you might struggle a bit. I hope the detail I’ve provided is enough to limit that struggle.

Over time, you’ll continue developing your survival mind and it will get easier to diagnose, solve, and ensure you can be safe and thrive in nearly any survival situation. 

Practice and continued learning are the keys, and it will pay off.

If any of these methods work well for you, or you have any questions at all, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.


About the Author

Kevin is the co-founder of Go Time Gear.

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