PE - My quick fire test results

John LaTorre jlatorre at
Thu Feb 3 22:31:45 PST 2000

Samuel Walters wrote:

> Greetings all,
> Just a quick note to let you know the results of my tent material fire test.

You did the test! Good for you! And thanks for sharing the results with the
list. As you guessed, the primary purpose of a flame test is to make sure that,
when ignited, the material doesn't go WHOOMPH and singe your eyebrows (or
worse). But another purpose is to determine what kind of fiber it's made of. In
a nutshell:

Pure cotton burns without a lot of smoke and leaves a fine powdery ash.

Wool smells like burning hair ("Well, duh!" I hear you say.) It's slower to
burn, and harder to ignite than a cotton.

Dacron, Nylons, and most of the other "-ons" will burn fiercely, smoke a bit
with a thick "smudge-pot" smoke, and melt as it burns, leaving a hard residue of
charred plastic. Do NOT touch this stuff right away ... it gets fiercely hot,
keeps its heat a while, and sticks to your finger. Not fun.

(A true flame-retardent fabric, by the way, would have burned when lit by the
Zippo, but would have self-extinguished as soon as the flame source was removed.
If any of you firebugs out there want a sample to play with, just let me know.
I've got plenty.)

The foregoing should be required knowledge for all costumers, particularly those
who make garb for outdoor use in the SCA, where there are all sorts of fire
hazards. I remember one group that tested its Gold Key stuff, and promptly threw
out half of it once they saw how easily and nastily it burned. And my lady gets
the chills when she sees all those candles at skirt-hem level in the privies;
she's convinced that there will be a major accident one of these days.

It sounds like your samples behaved pretty much the same once they began
burning, although the greater speed at which your drop-cloth caught fire might
be significant. What did the stuff smell like as it burned --- pretty much the
same as the cotton duck, or did it have petrochemical overtones? (If you send me
a sample, I'll bring it to the Estrella tentmaking round-table so the others can
have a look at it.) And if I were you, I'd pitch that finished tent in a hot sun
and leave it set up for a couple of weeks, so that the finish could outgas as
much as possible before I put my lungs in there overnight.


John LaTorre (Johann von Drachenfels)

"Always do right. It will gratify some people & astonish the rest."
--Mark Twain

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