PNG images: Matches

A match is a tool for starting a fire. Typically, modern matches are made of small wooden sticks or stiff paper. One end is coated with a material that can be ignited by frictional heat generated by striking the match against a suitable surface. Wooden matches are packaged in matchboxes, and paper matches are partially cut into rows and stapled into matchbooks. The coated end of a match, known as the match "head", consists of a bead of active ingredients and binder; often coloured for easier inspection. There are two main types of matches: safety matches, which can be struck only against a specially prepared surface, and strike-anywhere matches, for which any suitably frictional surface can be used. Some match-like compositions, known as electric matches, are ignited electrically rather than from friction.

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Historically, the term match referred to lengths of cord (later cambric) impregnated with chemicals, and allowed to burn continuously. These were used to light fires and fire guns (see matchlock) and cannons (see linstock). Such matches were characterised by their burning speed i.e. quick match and slow match. Depending on its formulation, a slow match burns at a rate of around 30 cm (1 ft) per hour and a quick match at 4 to 60 centimetres (2 to 24 in) per minute.

The modern equivalent of this sort of match is the simple fuse, still used in pyrotechnics to obtain a controlled time delay before ignition. The original meaning of the word still persists in some pyrotechnics terms, such as black match (a black-powder-impregnated fuse) and Bengal match (a firework akin to sparklers producing a relatively long-burning, coloured flame). But, when friction matches became commonplace, they became the main object meant by the term.

The word "match" derives from Old French "mèche" referring to the wick of a candle.

Prior to the use of matches, fires were sometimes lit using a burning glass (a lens) to focus the sun on tinder, a method that could only work on sunny days. Another, more common method was igniting tinder with sparks produced by striking flint and steel, or by sharply increasing air pressure in a fire piston. Early work had been done by alchemist Hennig Brandt, who discovered the flammable nature of phosphorus in 1669. Others, including Robert Boyleand his assistant, Ambrose Godfrey, continued these experiments in the 1680s with phosphorus and sulfur, but their efforts did not produce practical and inexpensive methods for generating fires.

A number of different ways were employed in order to light smoking tobacco: One was the use of a spill, a thin object something like a straw, rolled paper, or a thin candle, which would be lit from a nearby, already existing flame and then used to light the pipe or cigar - most often kept near the fireplace in a spill vase. Another method saw the use of a striker, a tool that looked like scissors, but with flint on one "blade" and steel on the other. These would then be rubbed together, ultimately producing sparks. If neither of these two was available, one could also use ember tongs to pick up a coal from a fire and light the tobacco directly.

The first modern, self-igniting match was invented in 1805 by Jean Chancel, assistant to Professor Louis Jacques Thénard of Paris. The head of the match consisted of a mixture of potassium chlorate, sulfur, sugar, and rubber. The match was ignited by dipping its tip in a small asbestos bottle filled with sulfuric acid. This kind of match was quite expensive, however, and its usage was also relatively very dangerous, so Chancel's matches never really became widely adopted or in commonplace use.

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