Cotton Ball Vaseline Fire Starters, How to Make and Carry Them

cotton ball Vaseline

Here is an article written by my friend Ed showing how to make a good fire starter from cotton balls Vaseline.  You will notice that he refers to them as PJCB (petroleum jelly and cotton balls).  Here is his post


I may have posted this before, if so, just repost the link, but for people who have never prepared cotton balls Vaseline tinder before in quantity, this tutorial we use for SAR and CERT may be helpful:

Cotton balls infused with petroleum jelly are reliable wet-weather tinder which has been used by ski patrol and search & rescue units for many years. This is how we teach “PJCB Basics” to our CERT teams and SAR group.

Start with a 6 oz. jar of Vaseline and a big bag of pure cotton balls from the drug store. No synthetics!

Melt the Vaseline, then pour most of the molten liquid into a #10 can with its top cut out, or a GI canteen cup. Then fill the emptied out, but still well-coated Vaseline jar with dry cotton balls. Work / knead the CBs with your fingers to take up the melted Vaseline coating the inside of the container.

If necessary, grab another handful of dry cotton balls, repeating the process until the original Vaseline container is wiped virtually dry.

Now grab more dry cotton balls, put them into your #10 can or canteen cup, and knead them with the rest of the melted Vaseline, knead, repeat, and repeat. A large CVS bag of cotton balls soaks up an entire 6 oz. jar of melted Vaseline. Take the whole batch of infused cotton balls, knead and work them together so that the Vaseline is evenly distributed through all of them. The CBs should be totally infused, so as to be both fueled and waterproofed, but not so highly saturated that they will ooze Vaseline when squeezed. This enables compressing a large number of them into a small container, so that they are easy to separate, pull apart and fluff to readily take the spark from your ferro rod or Doan Machinery too! (a magnesium and stricker fire starter made by Doan Machinery.  A Problem with Chinese Made Fire Starters Howard).

Pack your finished PJCBs into a tight, compressed mass in 35mm film cans, snuff cans, the crannies of your Altoid survival tin, to keep the other gear from rattling, etc. Then put your fire tinder containers everywhere in the odd corners of your truck, PSK (pocket survival kit), coat pockets, etc.

If you don’t smoke, a tip is to yank the filling out of an old Zippo and mash about TEN of these very LIGHTLY infused, but highly compressed cotton balls, into its fuel cavity. With a good flint you’ve now got ten fires in your pocket! I buy old lighters at garage sales, etc., field strip them, pack and stow them everywhere.

See also  Bolas are a Good Way to Silently Hunt Small Game and Birds.

To build your fire, pull an infused cotton ball out from your stash, pull it apart with your fingers to fluff well, then place it onto the tip of your metal U-Dig-It spade or K-bar. This makes it easy reposition it after lighting into your toothpick, matchstick, grass ball and wood shavings “bird nest tinder ball.” As soon as your bird nest catches, start by laying on “chop stick” sized split wood in a small “tipi fire,” then go upward in size to “pencil sticks,” then to “tent peg sticks” and so on until you can go on real split firewood.

At SERE school eons ago in a parallel universe on another planet long ago and far away Our Master Chief told us to start with at least a canteen cup full of tinder, shavings and chopstick kindling to up to pencil-sized small dry wood. If you don’t have that much, then you better go out and get some more!

My pocket “firebox” is packed in an Altoids tin and contains:

  • Four Esbit solid fuel tabs
  • Aviator’s Sparklite Kit
  • Fresnel lens
  • A twist-type hand pencil sharpener, which is great for making thin wood shavings from sticks, etc.
  • As many PJCBs as I can cram into the nooks and crannies of the box so its contents don’t rattle.
  • Box is held closed with two Ranger Bands cut from bike inner tube. Rubber is also good expedient fuel.
  • I always have a K1 ferro rod and striker on my key ring

All the above are available from Best Glide ASE, a major supplier of survival kits and individual items to the U.S. government, military, commercial and general aviation. They carry only quality, tested items, most of which are the actual U.S. and NATO specification survival equipment identified by NSN number, from the original government contractors.  Survival gear is their only business, they have been at it a long time and have a stellar reputation in the military and aviation communities. I have no connection with the firm, other than being a satisfied customer, for many years.

I owe my life to their gear being available to me and performing as advertised when really I needed it do so. There is no higher testimonial that I can provide.


If you don’t have cotton balls Vaseline fire starters in your kit, this is something your really need to aid.


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2 thoughts on “Cotton Ball Vaseline Fire Starters, How to Make and Carry Them”

  1. Great information on how to make inexpensive fire starters that actually work when you need them.
    Thanks so much for sharing the information on Best Glide ASE, the products they sell are first class with German made instruments and made in the US contents. There are not cheap but what is your life or the life of your family members worth when you really need these items. The cheap Chinese junk will let you down everytime.

  2. I have used PJCB many times as fire starters, and what I love about them as with most survival items is that they are dual purpose, they can be used on your lips and or hands, if they become badly chapped. Trekker Out.

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