How would you go about preparing an old fashioned torch for use in survival situations where an electrical torch has failed?

  • 1
    As in the kind you'd see in 1960s Medieval films?
    – user2766
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 12:13
  • 1
    @Liam yes, can you tell I've been watching Vikings? Alternatively if one can be more safely made with more equipment then please include these too :)
    – Aravona
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 12:15
  • @Avarona: Mind editing your question title to mention "in a survival scenario"? I was sorely disappointed to see that it was about survival situations, rather than actual torch making. I was all geared up for an experience-based answer.
    – Zach L
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:21
  • 1
    Oh no that is, and I said in my comment above more safer versions with more equipment are welcome (you never know what you'll find in a survival situation, might be a polar bear) please post away! I'd be glad to read it (and might just forgive you spelling my name wrongly hehe!)
    – Aravona
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:34
  • 2
    Oh man. I've been reading your name wrong for months. Sorry!
    – Zach L
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 19:53

2 Answers 2



  • hardwood
  • 2 to 3ft long

Wick (I guess that's suitable terminology)

  • cotton rags


  • lamp oil
  • or in the context of a survival situation, animal fat.†


  • nails
  • or fence staples


  1. Soak the rags in the fuel
  2. Wrap the rags around the stick
  3. Fasten the rags to the stick with the nails, staples, or something similar.
  4. Apply fire from an open campfire or use a blow torch.


  1. Kerosene, gas, alcohol, etc.. they don't burn long enough when exposed. Plus they're unpredictable.
  2. Nylon, polyester, etc.. they fall apart in clumps of melting goo and smells worse than burning hair.
  3. Do not use indoors. :P


†Basically when fat is rendered it's very flammable, once it's congealed then it's properties are more akin to wax candles. Tallow fat (from beef) burns steady and slow. See this article

Here is another article on the previously mentioned site that addresses the topic of primitive torches.

  • 1
    I like point 3. Though I may choose to ignore this. I can totally run around the garden with a flaming torch now.
    – Aravona
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 14:55
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    Just advice, just remember I am not responsible :P I just thought of something else like moltov.. er I mean tiki torches
    – zer00ne
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 15:01
  • @zer00ne Have you ever tied to set fire to animal fat? (Honest question. I would guess that it is quiet hard until it is very hot (thus the need for camp fire/blow torch), but I am not sure) Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 7:49
  • @Oxinabox Have you ever tried to set fire to animal fat? No, not intentionally at least. ...it is quiet hard until it's very hot, ... need for camp fire/blow torch very correct. Basically when fat is rendered it's very flammable, once it's congealed then it's properties are more akin to wax candles. Tallow fat (from beef) burns steady and slow. I added the animal fat item for the sake of the survival aspect of the question. An (un?)educated guess at the time. I'll update accordingly.
    – zer00ne
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 17:40
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    @ZachL Sir, your post is excellent +1 to the true Pyromancer. :)
    – zer00ne
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 19:15

I've helped a few friends make torches for medieval events they were hosting. As I was the only one who managed to burn themselves during assembly and testing, I feel somewhat informed, if a bit clumsy.

Your choice of materials will depend on how long you want your torch to burn for, as well as how brightly. Specifically, your wick material and your fuel.

Handle: Ordinarily, you can bet on using a fire-hardened hardwood. Fresh greenwood will crack from rapid heating. Avoid anything too rotted (e.g.: average stick laying on the forest floor), or anything that has the remotest chance that it was painted or chemically treated (Fun Fact: Some chemicals, as well as the fumes they give off, make for quite the brow-remover if/when ignited by the unwary.).

The diameter and length are whatever you deem acceptable, but I would caution against going less than about 2 ft/~61 cm in length and 1.5 in/~38 mm in width (these dimensions are from a dicey memory). If doing this at home, I suggest looking up the dimensions of a juggler's torch and working from there.

Wick: Natural fibers are the way to go here. Many synthetics will melt when exposed to flame and high-heat. We went with a large amount of jute twine, but I have successfully used burlap and hemp rope. Some careful knotwork and a few well-placed nails will keep it securely bound to the handle throughout the majority of the burn.

Fuel: Avoid fuels used in cooking, as they often burn too quickly or too hot. I have used tar, pitch, pine resin, lard, and bear fat. I favor a pine resin/lard mix (mostly because it's readily available and doesn't smell as bad as tar or resin).


  1. If the fuel is not viscous: Submerge the wick in the for soaking and leave it for a few hours, depending on the thickness of the wick. If the fuel is viscous, don some gloves and coat your wick in the fuel.
  2. Fire-harden your handle (see YouTube for how-to guides).
  3. Once your wick is done soaking/coated, put on gloves (Unless you like your hands igniting. Each to their own).
  4. Wrap and fasten, via knots and/or fasteners/nails/screws/wire, your wick to the fired end of the handle.
  5. When ready, hold the torch away from your body and ignite.

On safety and legality: Check your local fire codes. There's a solid chance that a "torch" will be specifically mentioned somewhere. We've had specific permission and supervision by a couple of on-duty firemen during a ceremony where the torches were handled and moved.

Do yourself a favor and keep the torch tilted away from yourself and others at a 45-60 degree angle. This reduces the odd fuel "leak" from dripping down on your hand. I advise thick gloves, usually of animal hide, when handling a lit torch.

  • 3
    Anyone else feel like this should be cross-posted to SE: Role Playing Games? (Dungeon Master: "Your torch drips on your hand. You take 3 damage from the burn. Make a saving throw or lose 1 point of Dexterity permanently.") Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 23:47

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