Matches consist of two essential parts, a stem (which may or may not be combustible) and an igniting composition.

In the case of common matches, the stem is made of wood. The wood roost generally used is soft pine, which is sawn into blocks to fit the machine. The wood, having been cut into splints, is taken out and tied up into bundles of a thousand each, and then thoroughly dried by being left in a heated chamber for some time. The next process is ordinarily to dip the ends in melted sulphur, which is commonly done by hand, the dipper giving to the bundle a kind of twist which makes the ends spread out a little, so that they get coated all round with the sulphur, and do not stick together in cooling. Each end is dipped in turn, and, when dry, the bundles are cut through the middle by a circular saw. The object of dipping them first in sulphur is to supply a substance which will readily take fire on the ignition of the compound with which the end is afterwards tipped. The fumes of burning sulphur are, however, disagreeable, and some matches are therefore made without it. In this case, the ends of the splints are slightly carbonized by pressing them for a moment upon a plate of red-hot iron, and then just touched with some melted stearine or paraffin, a small quantity of which is at once absorbed by the wood.

These burn even better than the preceding, as the wood then takes fire immediately, while in the others it does not until the sulphur is nearly burnt out. The stearine or paraffin is more expensive; but, on the other hand, a much less quantity will answer the purpose, and the matches so made are altogether preferable for the consumer.

The next step is to apply the material which is to be the source of fire, and which must be of such a nature as to take fire readily with moderate friction. This composition is made up into a pasty mass, the most important ingredient being phosphorus; but both the proportions and the subsidiary articles vary greatly in different manufactories. The object is to make a paste which, when dried, will not be affected by exposure to the atmosphere, which may be readily ignited with moderate friction, and which shall be sufficiently tenacious to adhere firmly to the end of the splint until the wood has taken fire. Ordinary phosphorus cannot be preserved in a dry condition in the air, as it rapidly oxidizes and takes fire spontaneously, emitting very poisonous fumes at the same time. It has therefore to be kept constantly under water, and, except in combination with other substances, would be most unsuitable for domestic use. Chlorate of potash, which is a highly-explosive substance, is free from some of the objections attaching to phosphorus, and it is substituted for it by some makers. Most, however, use a little of each in their paste.

The worst feature of the chlorate of potash is its readiness to explode on a very slight concussion, the violence of its action throwing off sparks which might prove dangerous. Matches containing much of this article may be recognised by the sharp detonation with which they go off; those which are called "noiseless " contain no chlorate of potash. These are the two principal light-bearing ingredients. The rest are glue or gum, to give them coherence; some fine sand or pulverized glass, to give increased friction; and some substances which will readily give up a large amount of oxygen - such as nitrate of potash, the peroxides of lead or manganese, and sulphide of antimony - to promote rapid ignition. Some mineral colouring matter is added, according to the fancy of the manufacturer. It will be quite unnecessary to go into detail as to the relative proportions which may be used, for they may be varied almost infinitely. Even the most important article of all, the phosphorus, varies in quantity from 5 to 50 per cent.

The larger proportions are generally to be found in those which contain no chlorate of potash.

The matches made on the Continent are compounded with gum; but in England, glue is generally used, because of the greater humidity of this climate. The plan adopted in mixing the ingredients is as follows: - The glue is broken into small pieces and put into cold water, in which it is left to soak for some time; it is then boiled up gently until thoroughly dissolved. The pot is then taken off the fire, and the required proportion of phosphorus is gradually added. It melts immediately with the heat of the watery glue; but it must be kept constantly stirred to make it mingle thoroughly, care being taken to keep it below the surface of the liquid. The other articles are then added, and the stirring is maintained with rigour, as the compound thickens both with the cooling and with the addition of the solid ingredients; it must, however, be kept in a pasty condition, and therefore the temperature is not allowed to fall below about 97° F. (36° C). The paste is then spread in a thin layer upon a flat table of marble or iron, which is kept just sufficiently warm to maintain the glue in a soft condition until the dipping has taken place. If gum be used instead of glue, no artificial heat is required at this stage of the process, as it will not solidify by cooling.

The paste is spread evenly upon the table to an exact depth, so that in dipping the matches one shall not get a larger share of the composition than another. After dipping, they are left to dry for 3 or 4 hours in the air, and then are placed for 2 hours in a heated chamber, the temperature of which is maintained at 80° to 90° F. (27° to 32° C). The matches are by this time finished and ready for packing.

The question whether or not "safety matches" will ignite when rubbed on other surfaces than " the box " has been practically settled in the affirmative, but under such circumstances that the fact does not detract from their merit as " safety " matches. The answer to the question would seem to depend entirely on whether the surface on which the match is rubbed is capable of imparting sufficient heat by friction to fire the paste with which the end is tipped. Linoleum has been found to answer, and W. Preece recently stated that the matches would light on ebonite. C. Tom-linson, F.R.S., states, in a recent number of Nature, that he has succeeded in igniting safety matches by friction against glass, an ivory paper-knife, a steel spatula, zinc, copper, marble, and a fresh-cleaved surface of slate. For the sake of strength, two matches should be taken and held close to the tipped end, and they must be rubbed with some degree of pressure.

The readiness with which the match ignites by friction, says Tomlinson, depends greatly on the nature of the surface. Lead is too soft and tin too smooth. The metals produced by rolling have a sort of skin on the surface, over which the match glides without sufficient friction,' but if the surface of zinc be rubbed with sand-paper, or with a fine file, it becomes active in firing the match. He noticed that the polish of his ivory paper-knife became worn before it acted well. Nor is it very easy to fire the match on glass. A long sweep repeated about a dozen times with considerable pressure seems to be necessary. The two specimens ef sheet copper used by him had a sort of grain which was favourable to the success of the experiment. The copper acted equally well whether the surface was dirty or cleaned with dilute sulphuric acid. After rubbing a match 10 or 12 times on zinc, without effect, the same match rubbed on copper immediately took- fire. As a rule, it may be taken that polished surfaces will not ignite the matches until the polish itself is destroyed by the friction.

In the case of slate, lead, tin, and some other surfaces, the composition on the match acts as a polish, and thus renders it unfit for ignition. On the other hand, a finely-cut file removes the composition from the end of the match without igniting it.

He thinks that many other surfaces might be found on which the safety matches would ignite with greater or less difficulty. Notwithstanding this, the match is still a safety match, although it does not fulfil the statements made on the box. It does not ignite readily on any of the surfaces pointed out, except copper and marble (unpolished), but it does ignite with wonderful facility when rubbed against the side of the box.

Ordinary matches made with phosphorus were during many years dangerous contrivances. They were luminous in the dark, liable to ignition on a warm mantelpiece, poisonous - children have been killed by using them as playthings; and, moreover, they absorbed moisture, and became useless by age. But the chief inducement in getting rid of ordinary phosphorus and substituting the new variety was to put an end, as far as possible, to the "jaw disease " to which the workmen were subject. The red or amorphous phosphorus gave off no fumes, had no smell, was not poisonous, and the matches made with it were not luminous in the dark; they did not fire on a warm mantelpiece, did not contract damp, and would keep for any length of time. But there was a difficulty. When red phosphorus is brought into contact with potassic chlorate, a slight touch is sufficient to produce an explosion, in which the red phosphorus reassumes its ordinary condition. Many attempts were made to form a paste, and many accidents and some deaths occurred in consequence.

At length the happy idea occurred to a Swedish manufacturer not to attempt to make a paste at all with the red phosphorus, but to make the consumer bring the essential ingredients together in the act of igniting the match.