Torch balls

Torch balls are our solution to the problem of keeping our flames lit as we process round the Hill. In the old days, we had wooden torches which would only burn for a short period of time and have to be replaced once or twice en route. The new torches, though, consist of a metal rod capped at one end by a metal mesh container into which we put a torch ball - a ball of cotton soaked in paraffin. There are two advantages to this: we can carry a supply of torchballs with us in a bag and we can - to some extent - increase the light at particular stages by burning two balls at a time.

Burn time: a surprisingly consistent 25-30 minutes, shortening to about 20 when doubled up.

Torchball Making

You will need:

  • Consumables:
    • Nightlights
    • Cotton sheeting
  • Equipment:
    • Cutting device
    • Pudding tins
    • Blue barrels - these hold about 40 torchballs each.

Ball making is also more fun if you have a group of people (not least because of the traditional bad jokes).

First, take a cotton sheet and shred it: the easy way to do this is to make lots of ~5-10cm cuts every 2cm or so down the narrow edge. Then - and this is best done in pairs - have one person grab all the even strips while the other grabs the odd ones. And pull!! Keep pulling until you are each holding a large bundle of thin strips of cotton.

Now, take a nightlight and remove it from its metal coating. Also pull out the wick and its small metal base from under the candle. Hold the remaining lump of wax in one hand, and in the other take a length of cotton and start winding it round the core. As you do this, make sure that you keep twisting the material as if the ball is too compact, it won't hold much paraffin. When you're down to a few inches left of your strip, tie another one on.

Continue until your torchball only just fits comfortably into a pudding tin, and then tie off the cotton strip (it's useful for some balls to have about 20-25cm of "tail" - this helps light the first ones).

Check the ball (or have it checked) and bung it in the blue barrel.

"Rinse and repeat".

At the end of the session, spend a few moments tidying up the venue and head off for a refreshing beverage.