There are a lot of different materials that have been used for fire spinning wick over the years. We will try to describe a few.
Asbestos is a group of minerals with long, thin fibrous crystals. In the early days, some fire tool makers used this material for wick because of its high heat resistance. Asbestos can cause severe illness and should never be used as fire tool wick. Its use has been banned from most countries and it is unlikely that you will be able to purchase it.
Fiberglass is a fiber that is made from extremely fine glass fibers. While nontoxic, care should be take not to inhale excessive amounts of the fiber. This is rarely a concern to the user of a fire tool and more of a caution for someone that regularly makes tools from it and has to cut and shape it. Also some people have a sensitivity to it that can cause their skin to itch. Wearing gloves while handling it is advised. The low cost and high temperature resistance (about 1000 Deg F / 540 Deg C) makes it a good fire tool wick. However fiberglass alone is not commonly used because of its low durability. Fiberglass will quickly fray and the fibers will break if it is repetitively hit on the ground or flexes as poi and staves commonly are. A loose fill fiberglass can be used as a fuel reserve inside a Kevlar based wick. This this takes advantage of the fiberglass heat and absorption properties, while not putting and demands on it from a strength standpoint. This is what we use for our stuffed hybrid wicks. This allows us to create long round wicks with double the brightness and burn time of rope wicks.
Kevlar is a class of materials called Aramids and is known for its strength and toughness. According to DuPont, it is 5 times stronger than steel. One of it's best known uses is for bullet proof vest. This makes Kevlar ideal for even the most demanding wick applications. Kevlar is is typically listed as having a working temperature of 600F / 351C. While this is lower than the flame temperature on fire tools, the evaporation of the fuel on the wicks tends to cool the wick to a range that the Kevlar can withstand. Over time, the kevlar will disintegrated from the heat. Putting your tools out before all the fuel has evaporated will greatly extend your wicks.
Pure Kevlar is not commonly used for wick. Usually wick is woven from yarn that has kevlar on the outside and fiberglass as the core. This reduces the price, because Kevlar is very expensive, and takes advantage of Fiberglass's higher heat resistance. This is the standard on fire performance wicks and can be seen on most almost all our tools. When a wick gets old, it will often appear white in color. This is because the kevlar has burnt off and the fiberglass is showing through. This is an indication that the wick is reaching the end of its life.
Nomex is also in the Aramid class. Nomex has a little more heat resistance then kevlar but is not nearly as strong. Nomex is commonly used for high temperature clothing, and can be useful as a wick in some special situations. Nomex is available as a highly absorbent felt. This makes it ideal as an absorbent layer under kevlar wicking. We uses it to wrap our swords before covering them with a Kevlar wicking. We have found that this has increased the burn times on our swords up to 3 times what a layer of Kevlar wicking alone provided. While nomex is not extremely strong, it will not fray if struck like fiberglass will. It's is almost as expensive as Kevlar and is hard to distinguish from cotton in appearance and feel.
Terry cloth is just cotton towels. Fire tools made from this material burn bright and long, but the cotton tends to burn out after only a few uses. Caution must be taken, because terry cloth tends to release burning embers which are a fire hazard. Terry cloth can be used under layers of Kevlar to increase absorbency, but may still burn up if it is not buried deeply in the kevlar.
Cotton in the form of cotton balls is sometimes used to stuff Kevlar wicks to increase burn time. Like terry cloth, the cotton usually burns out after several uses. using fuels like White Gas and Alcohol will give the longest wick life, while oily fuels like Kerosene and Paraffin (Lamp Oil) can often destroy a wick in one use. It is possible for the wick to continue to smolder for hours after the tool has been put out. Because of this we don't recommend using cotton balls.
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