# Is it possible to light a match by scratching it on hard surfaces, like they do in movies?

In movies cool guys don't need a matchbox − they just light a match by scratching it on whatever hard surface − concrete walls, wooden bar tables, leather belts, etc. Is it just a movie trick, or is there actually a type of matches you can do that with?

So far I've tried scratching usual matches on a ton of different surfaces and the heads just smear without even a smoke.

• I figured this has to do with friction, but if there's a better site for this question, please comment. – user1306322 Nov 3 '13 at 9:02
• Do you mean the regular matches you need to strike on the side of a matchbox's brownish paint thing? Are they "safety matches"? – user1306322 Nov 3 '13 at 9:16
• @user1306322 See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Match for information. In particular, note the sections on strike-anywhere matches and frictional matches. – David H Nov 3 '13 at 9:18
• Yes, those matches existed, I have had them myself. Lightening them by rubbing on the sole of your shoe was popular then. But later on they have been forbidden, they were thought to be too dangerous. – Urgje Nov 3 '13 at 13:08
• Wow this question suddenly makes a certain person feel old... – rch Jul 9 '14 at 7:56

Most "regular" matches now are safety matches. The brownish strip has red phosphorous in it. The match head has potassium chlorate $\ce{KClO3}$. Combine those two with friction, and you get fire.
There are still striking matches, with heads of phosphorus sesquisulfide $\ce{P4S3}$, still around. Though largely in countries where consumer protection is not yet well-developed.