DIY Firestarters

Last week a listener told us you could use Twisties as firestarters.

Being a scientist I had to check it out of course. And while I was at it I thought I’d check out some other snacks.

So here’s the list:

  • Twisties
  • Chezels
  • Smiths chips
  • Burger rings
  • Woolworths rippled wholegrain chips
  • Chezels bacon boy rashers
  • Peanuts

The test was that I simply lit them and see how well they burnt.

Did the Twistie work? Yes it did, and as it burnt you could see the fat melting and running back down it.

In fact, they all pretty well worked OK, but there was one standout performer – the Chezel. It’s cylindrical shape meant that there was enough air flow to ensure highly efficient combustion, and in fact it was the only one that burnt completely.

So there you go – next time you go camping, pack the Chezels, just in case you forget the firestarters.

No one can say that I don’ttackle the big issues on this blog.



How to Make Your Own Toothpaste

I came across the recipe for making your own toothpaste.

The basic idea is sound, but I have a few suggestions that would improve upon this recipe.

Firstly, baking soda would probably be too abrasive, mostly because of the relatively large particle size.  And I don’t think that substituting salt in its place is a very good idea, beef only because it would taste terrible.

Want would be much better is alumina, which is what’s in commercial toothpaste anyway.  Alumina is aluminium oxide and is a very fine, free flowing white powder that is used to make abrasive pastes in many different industries, such as optical and jewellery.

It should be readily available from most chemical suppliers and shouldn’t cost much, which is the whole point of the exercise anyway.

But you will will still want some sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), in there, as it neutralises food acids.  Perhaps three parts alumina to 1 part bicarb is what you want.

But I’d go very easy on the hydrogen peroxide, as you won’t need much to burn your skin.  I’m not sure how many places sell it, but it’s available as a 50% solution from Tasman chemicals in Wangara, which is mighty strong. Make sure you take note of the safety instructions on the label.

As a starting point for toothpaste, I wouldn’t use it at any more than 1% (so a one in 50 dilution).

if you have a go at this, let me know how you get on.

Washing Dishes Without Detergent.

Incredible but true! in fact it works so well that you don’t even need to use a scourer.

Here’s how it works.

Anything that is water soluble will just rinse straight off with water.  That just leaves you with the oils and fats from the food.

There are two ways to attack this:

Firstly, use a detergent.  The detergent molecules wrapped themselves around the fat, form themselves into micelles, and then the water can carry them away.

The second approach is to use an alkaline substance to convert the oils and fats into soaps.  And this of course is how soap is made – you react fat with caustic soda.

So it’s simple.  Run some hot water into the sink, and as you do it throw in some washing soda – a heaped tablespoon should be plenty.  Now, just let it soak for about half an hour, so that it cools down a bit.  Now, just lift the plates out, rinse them under cold water, and Bob’s your uncle.

You will be amazed at how well it works.

By the way, the same approach will work with detergent, although not as well.  Letting the dishes soak in hot water for half an hour allows the detergent molecules to do their stuff.  The thing that separates the detergent from the washing soda is baked on cheese (e.g. from nachos) for which the washing soda leaves detergent in its wake.

Homemade Rat Poison

Got rats? Then do I have the solution for you??!!

this topic came up as a result of a news article regarding so-called “super rats” on the east coast.

Apparently there are some rats that are developing resilience to the traditional poisons.  Some, apparently, have actually become addicted to them.

So, what do we do about it?

Well, it’s not an easy answer.  Rats are very smart creatures, and apparently possess an uncanny similarity to humans particularly with regard to the neural processes, which is where the term “lab rat” comes from.  The reason they are used so widely in neural research is not only because they are firm and, but because of this similarity.

Because they are so smart, they are very good at detecting traps and poisons, and will even smell the human scent left behind on a rat trap for example (so if you are going to set a rat trap, use gloves).

And when it comes to poisons, they behave as scavengers, only edit eating a bit at a time.  Now, as it happens, D chemicals contained in rat sack or “the big cheese”


Alternative Flysprays

You see a cockroach scuttling across the floor and you don’t have a flyspray handy.

What do you do?

Well if it is true that there is more than one way to skin a cat, it is also true that there is more than one way to kill a cockroach.  Insecticides are of course the most popular way, but there are other approaches.

You see this if you look in the gardening chemicals section of Bunnings.  One of the products they sell is simply called white oil. White oil is designed to be sprayed onto plants and its purpose is to kill the little bugs that eat plants – aphids and so on.  But they don’t contain any insecticide, they simply work by suffocation.  The tiny little insects are smothered in this white oil (which it is essentially light paraffin oil).  It fills all their orifices and they simply suffocate.

Cockroaches, flies, and mosquitoes are similarly prone to many forms of attack other than insecticides.  Insecticides, such as the synthetic pyrethroids that you find in Mortein, work by attacking an insect’s nervous system.  They are very specific to insects, and very deadly, with extremely low human toxicity.

But they can be killed other ways as well.

One of the best approaches is the use of alcohol-based products – examples would be any personal products such as hair sprays and deodorants.

We’ve all seen the classic cliche on police shows where the cop has been involved in a fight with a bad guy, and is being debriefed by his superior officer while his minor wounds are being attended to by medical officer.  Between questions, when the medical officer dabs his wounds with alcohol swabs, he winces.

The reason is that while alcohol has a cleansing effect on skin, if it comes into contact with any exposed wounds or mucous membranes it stings like hell.  I’m not sure of the mechanism for this, but insects are not covered with skin like we are, and have lots of delicate membranes that the alcohol will play merry hell with.

Today I killed a fly with “vanilla fresh” fridge and kitchen wipe.  It’s an alcohol-based kitchen cleaner with a vanilla fragrance.  It was buzzing around and had landed on the kitchen benches.  The only thing handy with the vanilla fresh – I got to within about a foot of the fly and then gave it a single squirt.  The fine mist hit the fly and disabled it immediately, and my foot did the rest.

The alcohol won’t kill insects – it merely disables them for a few seconds while your foot or a flyswatter does the rest.

Hair sprays are particularly good, as they also contain all the sticky resins that are designed to hold your hair together.  Sprayed onto a cockroach, they make a real mess of them.

The best ever was Preen aerosol, as the trichloroethane actually dissolved their outer shell – but that formula is no longer with us.

Essentially, if you can get a direct spray onto the fly or cockroach, then virtually any aerosol will disable it – whether it be a cleaning spray, degreaser, WD 40, ironing aid or air freshener.  When the insect is smothered with either alcohol, a solvent, or an emulsion, it will disable them long enough for your foot to finish the job.