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5 ‘Crazy Russian’ Fire-Starting Hacks

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We collected five improbable tricks to make fire, courtesy of our favorite YouTube mad scientist.

The Crazy Russian Hacker has helped us split firewood the easy way, make a basic camping stove out of a tuna can, and even windproof regular matches.

His experiments run from simple party gags to ingenious, potentially life-saving survival tricks. And when it comes to survival, fire is often a key player.

Here are five fire-starting hacks you can do without matches, a lighter, or gasoline. They vary from simple to convoluted, so we ranked them according to difficulty.

1) Fire From A Flashlight

Difficulty: ★

What you need: Flashlight reflector, tinder/char cloth, sunny day.

This is by far the simplest fire hack on the list because you’re likely to have everything you need in any scenario. Unscrew the top of an ordinary flashlight and remove the reflector. This will be used to focus the sun’s rays into the middle.

Poke your char cloth or easy-burning tinder through the reflector’s hole (where the light usually goes). Point this at the sun—watch your finger tips, it gets HOT! Once the tinder catches, use it to feed a full fire.

2) Fire From Sugar (And Potassium Permanganate)

Difficulty: ★★

What you need: Sugar, potassium permanganate, stick.

This is a very straightforward method to start a fire. We gave this a two-star difficulty rating only because potassium permanganate and sugar aren’t sure things in most packing lists (though permanganate should be).

Create a small pile of the two substances, between a 1:1 and 2:1 sugar to potassium permanganate ratio.

Use your stick to mash the powders together, creating some friction. Once the fire starts (won’t take long), add some tinder and kindling.

3) Fire From A Car Battery

Difficulty: ★★★

What you need: Car battery, jumper cables, steel wool, tinder.

Electricity makes a great fire-starter, but BE CAREFUL. It creates instant sparks using live current.

This is only useful if you’re traveling the backcountry with your vehicle. We don’t recommend thru hiking with a car battery in your backpack (better hacks for that below).

Attach the jumper cables as you ordinarily would—red to positive, black to negative. Once attached, clip the other positive end to a bundle of steel wool (a mighty conductor). Then simply touch the negative clip to the wool to produce sparks.

Once the steel wool has embers, use it to light your tinder.

4) Fire From Tinfoil

Difficulty: ★★★★

What you need: Tinfoil, four or more 9-volt batteries, conductive wire, pencil, tinder.

This one requires some items that aren’t likely to be in your daypack. Think school supplies from home ec. First, cut open an ordinary pencil lengthwise so you can remove a section of the graphite. Set this aside.

Link the 9-volt batteries by connecting positive to negative nodes, you’ll notice they snap together nicely. Once linked, attach your wire (small alligator clips are best)—one wire to the exposed positive, the other to the exposed negative.

Attach the other end of the positive clip to a sheet of tinfoil. Attach the end of the negative wire to your length of graphite. Touch the graphite to the tinfoil to create sparks. Use your tinder to catch a spark and start your fire.

5) Fire From (A Lot Of) Lemons

Difficulty: ★★★★★

What you need: 20 or more lemons, a penny for each lemon, a galvanized nail for each lemon, conductive wire, tinfoil or steel wool, tinder.

This hack is apocryphal, but in theory, it can be done. It works by turning the lemons into makeshift batteries (and lemon juice into battery acid). Note, the video above shows how to produce electricity from a lemon, not fire.

It is very difficult to use this hack to produce fire, given the number of lemons necessary. This video explains why other videos purporting to show this hack in action with a single lemon are fake, and how the principle could be used to make fire.

Make positive and negative terminals on the lemon by inserting the copper penny halfway into one end (positive) and the galvanized nail halfway into the other (negative). Repeat this on all your lemons (they are weak batteries by themselves).

Using your wire, connect the positive (penny) end to the negative (nail) end on each lemon. Now, connect all the lemons in parallel by attaching the positive end of one to the negative of another so you have a string of connected lemons with one positive and negative end free. Attach wires to these ends but do not connect them.

Now you have one big battery. Attach the positive end to your steel wool. Touch the negative end to the wool to send current through it and produce heat (as with the car battery). Once (if) you get some embers, wrap it in tinder to start a fire.

Or, better yet, just bring matches. They were invented for a reason.

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