Well we needed to make more amadou so it was time to make a lye solution again, the usual way we do it (there's a mini tutorial on the blog somewhere) but this time I wanted to see just how concentrated our solution was.
This was because, too dilute and it doesn't work well and too concentrate and it will eat away and destroy your amadou.
as usual we used soft water and mixed in wood ash from hardwood trees
The soft water came from a lake close by and we tested it with litmus paper to find it was perfectly neutral (a 7 on the PH scale - on the right hand side in the above picture) just what we needed for our experiment, after one handful of wood ash you can see the PH is starting to increase (about a 9 on the PH scale on the left hand side in the above picture)
Now we need to get this solution around PH 12, not too close to neutral but not too caustic so that it eats away at your amadou.
a few more handfuls of wood ash and you can see we've got the solution perfect, coming in at between PH 12 and 13.
This shows us that we have a strong solution of lye, with a mix of Sodium and Potassium Hydroxide. However I still can't understand why this makes our amadou work. Both Hydroxides are in themselves non combustible so that's not why this makes the amadou take a spark better. I have read in various papers though that they do cause air gaps to form in solid materials so maybe that's why it works. Also Potassium Hydroxide reacts with aluminium and water to produce hydrogen which is in turn flammable but as there is no aluminum in contact with the amadou when we are using it I still can't see the benefit, however some papers say Sodium Hydroxide reacts with "Metals" to form hydrogen gas, so maybe that little piece of glowing hot steel is what causes the reaction, the release of hydrogen, and the resultant smoldering of the amadou,
Regardless I know this particular way has been used a lot in times past for preparation of fungal material for fire lighting, the best description of which I found recently in Thomas Gill's "The Technical Repository" 1822..which is a very similar method to the one we now use, so though I don't know the chemistry behind it I know that it is worth while doing. Maybe someone out there with a Doctorate in Chemistry and can explain to me the reasons why it works, I'd be very interested to hear!