Fire Starting methods....

Joined
Jul 25, 2012
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838
Reading about the lost canoer and how his matches got wet and subsequent problems. For a very long time I've used cotton balls and vaseline and lit it with a match or lighter. Then I discovered these metal sticks that you scratch and they send out a shower of hot sparks.

The brand I settled on is called "Strike Force" and really nothing much can go wrong with it except if you lost the thing. Initially I caused a few problems when I used the striking part much as you would in whittling with a pocket knife. I'd over shoot and bonk the vasaline cottonball and small wood and disturb the arrangement. What works better for me is to hold the striking part still and jerk the part with all the sparks out from underneath it. You still get the shower of sparks in a now undisturbed tinder and wood pile.

If I'm being fussy I can get probably about ten or so fires from each vaseline cotton ball; but most times in actual use it's one ball per fire. Still and all it doesn't seem very woodsy crafty and a little like cheating or something.
Of course I've read about birch bark but never had any to experiment on. Here at home, I've tried shaving super tiny shavings of good dry wood but my Strike Force thing won't catch them on fire.

So what do you real outdoors guys use to make that first flicker of flame?

A very modest fire maker with
much to be modest about,

Rob
 
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I’m no pyromaniac, but I used to really enjoy setting up a fire for the evening cooking and enjoyment. As the kids got older, camp duties were delegated to them. Our eldest became a whiz at fire making. Since we’ve been going without the kids, I must have lost my knack, because one match fire starting seems impossible to me now. I’ve called on Vulcan for help, but changing methods worked better. I resort to “cheating” now. A butane lighter and birch bark are my go to tools. I have a flint and steel in my ditch kit (with b bark). I have a healthy Paper Birch in my yard which keeps me in stock, shedding just enough for annual use. There’s never a real shortage up north otherwise. One year my eldest granddaughter gave me some waxed wood shaving fire starters she made in Guides. They worked beautifully.
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2013
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Location
Ontario
I really liked Wintertrekker's youtube vid on using waxed jute and steel tube...
http://youtu.be/ZsI6H0zx0BA

Over the winters I make batches of waxed jute from old candle wax (left over from all the romantic dinners for the wife). Stuff lights up pretty good and can still light up after a thorough soaking. I just keep a bundle on my firesteel that clips into belt holder and gets stuffed down the pocket. This summer, it got pretty soaked while wading through rapids and still lit up after the jute is fluffed up with the sharp edge of the striker. Here's a shot next to a track...
Waxed+Jute+Bundle+firesteel.jpg


I was also given a heavy duty firesteel rod from a friend a while back with a brass nut handle that had a tiny bit PJ soaked cotton stuffed in. Used it to make a survival necklace of sorts. If I'm feeling real bushcrafty, I wear this around my neck...

Bark%2BFiresteel%2BSheath%2B003.jpg


Bark%2BFiresteel%2BSheath%2B002.jpg


Rolled up some jute twine into 2-ply cordage to tie around the neck. For the striker, I ended up re-using a broken file (that was supposed to become a crooked knife blade) with a nice edge that works really well. Wrapped the end of it in leather lace to form a sort of grip and loop. Sheath is folded birchbark. Figured in a worst case scenario without any usable tinder around I could I cut off a bit of the jute cordage necklace and burn the bark sheath. Either way, both parts are totally replaceable.

I also carry 2 more redundant methods of firestarting in my ditch kit...overkill maybe.
 
Joined
Jul 15, 2013
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Location
Canada
Fire starting depends heavily on where you are, what materials are available and of course the weather you are dealing with at the time.

I canoe mostly in Northern Ontario so fire starting almost always involves birch bark. The stuff is absolutely incredible and will even light when wet.

When portaging or at a camp site I will hoard as much of this dried natural naphtha I can find and store it into some plastic sandwich bags stuffed in my day bag for later use. Not the heavy bark. Just the lighter white feathery bark on the outside layer of the tree.

If you are using a striker, the important thing to remember is the spark has to light something small. If you have dried wood, try shaving it down and then rubbing it until it's furry like cattail fuzz. For birch bark, the light outer layers work very well. The lighter, drier and fluffier the material is, the easier it will be to light with a spark.

With that being said, have everything you need to build the fire before you light it. That means having the extra fluffy material, the small twigs and the slightly larger shavings up to the large pieces at hand so that when the fire starts, it can be kept going without you leaving the started fire. It's the bulk of the work and can take some time, but it really is the best way to ensure you have a fire at the end of the day. You don't want to go looking for wood after the first flame starts. Be prepared.

I always like to light a fire as if the flame source I have, matches or spark, is the last one I have. One chance only. It's not just about the equipment or materials. It's has a lot to do with attitude and the the way you prepare. Practice, practice, practice. And nothing feels better than lighting a one match fire save for lighting one with a bow drill.

Making a bow drill fire. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=_r4W2Yqw20U

Just my 2 cents worth. The value may change depending on the current exchange rates.

Dave
 
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Joined
Jul 31, 2011
Messages
596
Location
Aberdeen, MD
There are people out there who can do a hand drill fire in under 15 seconds... makes you sick...

the bushcraft site i'm on has a couple bow drill experimenters who are insane in their pursuit of perfection... if it's woody, they'll try it and post a video.

I use a lighter whenever possible. Matches are my second choice. FLAME is easier to make get bigger than sparks. My third choice is a ferro rod/firesteel. I practice with them regularly. I can do flint and steel fairly easily. I have done bow drill a couple times, and it's hard work and the humidity has to be right and your wood has to be just about perfect. I can also do a fresnal lens.

I carry a lighter in my left cargo pocket at all times when out. I have a firesteel attached to my knife sheath, and usually have a small prescription bottle of PJ cottonballs handy as well. 6 of them fit nicely and will last you a few days if you need to use them. I try to use natural tinders whenever possible, again just for the practice.
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2013
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I carry multiple lighters, some in my pockets, others in the barrel, a couple in my camera case. I used to have one of those Strike Force things like Rob, and I really loved it. However, it has gone missing. As soon as i can find a supplier who doesn't charge as much for shipping as they do for the product, I will get another! I pity anyone who does not have access to birch bark. It is a wonder tinder. I never carry anything other than birch bark for fire starting. I always have a zip lock full stuffed in a barrel for emergency use. Plus I cut five cord last year and am currently burning it....smells so nice....
 
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Aberdeen, MD
The funny thing about birch bark is that it's all up north, where you really need fire when it's cold... down here in the south, we have no white birch; we have tons of pine instead... and if you can't get a fire going in the rain in a pine forest, with all the available downed pine needles, fatwood, and the pine feather sticks you can make, you're really hurting... took me awhile to discover this, having grown up in NY... there, pine needles (which are usually those little short ones from balsam, spruce, and tamarack) are scoffed at as 'proper' tinder... down here, southern yellow and longleaf pine have needles anywhere from 3"-5" long... you can make a twisted rope out of a handful and it's excellent tinder (IF you have a flame, like from a match or lighter... not worth a flip with sparks, hence my love of PJ cotton balls).

We also have something called river birch, which is very paper-like and burns well, but it's not common in areas that aren't right on a river... It's kinda like a cross between paper and yellow birches, only the strips of bark are more like flakes. I keep some in a plastic bag when I find it, usually while canoeing.

Something else I use that I forgot to mention earlier is wax fire starters and plain old candles... I carry a couple of those little birthday candles in my ditch kit (and I think I have one in my repair kit too). I also have used tea-lights. But in Scouts, we used to make firestarters from paper egg cartons... melt a bunch of paraffin (2 blocks, roughly a half pound iirc) in a double boiler. while that's going, get your egg carton and cut the lid and lip off, leaving just the bottoms. fill them with sawdust. pour the melted wax over the whole thing, being careful to saturate the sawdust too. some folks made a massive batch of wax, and dunked the carton in first, then added a little sawdust, more wax, more sawdust, etc... either way, you'll figure it out. once it's dry, cut them apart. the paper part takes a flame like a candle wick, and once the main body gets going, it will burn for about 10 minutes. we used these most in the winter or in the rain. I carry some with me on my easier trips by canoe, maybe one per day, to start the breakfast fire with minimum fuss (I hate mornings, even camping.) You can also make them from 1" strips of corrugated cardboard, about 6" long, rolled up in a coil and tied with string or wire, then dipped in the wax.
 
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I use a lighter whenever possible. Matches are my second choice. FLAME is easier to make get bigger than sparks. My third choice is a ferro rod/firesteel. I practice with them regularly. I can do flint and steel fairly easily. I have done bow drill a couple times, and it's hard work and the humidity has to be right and your wood has to be just about perfect. I can also do a fresnal lens.
I've used (and made fire) with each of these choices plus a fire piston (both home made and commercial versions). Beyond using cotton balls and PJ as a potential source of ignition, another choice in this category is char cloth. It is often easier to get a spark to ignite char cloth when using (for example) flint and steel than some other options. (By "ignite" here I am actually referring more to catching and holding an ember that can be blown into a flame.) Making char cloth is reasonably simple to do and I carry a few sheets wrapped in aluminum foil inside a tiny baggie.

At some point, I guess I'll need to try the hand drill and plow methods of making fire ... both seem energy intensive by comparison, however. But if you are stuck without cordage (or boot laces), it might still be an option to try.

BTW: If you are looking for a light source that will last for perhaps a half hour, you can pack a metal shell casing with a petroleum-based substance (e.g., PJ or chapstick) and insert a heavy cotton thread for a wick. It will provide some sustained light with minimal materials. (Hand sanitizer can also be used, but burns rather quickly because of its alcohol content.)

dd
 
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Joined
Jul 25, 2012
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838
Thanks guys, a lot of good ideas! you folks up North; I don't envy you your winters but that birch bark sounds like grand stuff!
All these primitive ways to get a fire going; I remember that film with Tom Hanks when he was on that desert island. Character building that!

One time I tried to make a bow drill fire maker. I followed the directions exactly; the right kinds of wood for the drill and did it exactly as the directions said. Nothing, oh, some small blisters and a lot of sweat, but no glowing ember. I could imagine how if you had two guys to work the drill it'd go better.
Anyways...I got exasperated and chucked the thing up in my drill press; figuring that now by dab I'll get some ember! Ha! Not a chance, smoke and smell but no spark. I think that was about when I went to the cotton balls and my zippo lighter.

Thanks everyone!

Rob
 
Joined
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dentondoc, I have tried the fire piston thing, and couldn't get it to work. I have given up on it... in a backwoods situation, the likelihood of my starting a fire with one I made would be near zero, so i'll stick with the bow drill.

I also tried putting the drill in the chuck of my drill press, with no success.

btw, one's reaction upon successfully starting a coal, in all cases I've come across, is just about like tom hanks' in Castaway... lots of whooping and hollering, and manly feeling. the second and subsequent times, it's more an internal glow of supreme satisfaction, like "I've GOT this, and will never be cold again!"
 
Joined
Sep 27, 2013
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Colrain MA
Every June we paddle the Allagash, with kids and first timers to canoe tripping, so I try to have backwoods activities to keep things interesting and the kid from hiding in the tents. Fire is one of their favorite.

I had no luck with a bow this year, we tried a couple times but couldn't get the drill to spin. It's on my list of things to work out this winter.

We've use all the flint, steel, mag sticks, last year we used steel and rocks which really gets to main point of this thread. Turns out a lot of rocks will produce a spark, rock to rock or steel to rock.

The next thing is what you use to pick up that spark. The 'Bids Nest' is fine materials that easily light, but if you add fir pitch to it it's a lot easier. All you need is a stick to probe the bubbles in the bark of the tree. OR my new favorite fire starting medium, Chaga aka Tinder Fungus. Chaga will take a spark very easily and then you can transfer that spark to your birds nest.

Chaga is found on all the species of Birch trees. it's easiest to find near water preferable small streams in a wood that is 50% or more evergreens. I think it likes an area where the moisture is held in and out of the direct wind.

chaga - wild.jpg

It needs to to dry so if you need it and find it you'll need a fire to dry it out but from then on you'll be good to go.

Here a vid on starting a fire with Quartz and chaga

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ic_EUtH-JQA

Here's one on finding Chaga

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AM2STJ790k8

And here a link to Chaga. Chaga is an important fungus and has many uses to you in the wild beyond fire starting. I use it everyday in my coffee 3:1 mixed in the grounds.

http://www.relfe.com/2010/chaga_powder_raw_low_acid_coffee_substitute_healthy.html
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2013
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Sweeper, are you using chaga that you collected yourself, or stuff you bought? I recently started reading about it, and am quite intrigued. Is there a method for processing it? I know there is lots of it around me, and I think I will get some this weekend.
 
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Sep 27, 2013
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Colrain MA
If you have it in your area you don't want to be buying it.

The ONLY thing that looks like it is a burl on a Cherry tree, once you lean to ID it, it's easy to harvest with a small hatchet. You may want to take a chisel with you. One other note on harvesting don't dig out ever last piece of the conk. Leave some of it in the cavity on the tree so it will grow back. The big conks of Chaga may be 20 years old and it takes a while for them to grow to harvestable size.

Clean it BEFORE it drys. It is a lot easier to chop the conk up right after harvesting. If you want it for tinder use only the inner brown 'corky' layer. If you see yellow or white threads in it, that is the mycelium and if you have a lot of that save it for its medicinal value. Also save the BLACK outer layer, it can be used as tea. The inner layer makes a milder tea and both can be used as a filler with ground coffee.

Cut the pieces into usable small sizes, and grind up what you want for tea, then DRY everything to prevent mold from setting in. I use an old meat grinder for the Chaga I want as tea and add to my coffee.

Be careful if you dry the Chaga in the oven, lowest temp for a 5 or 10 minutes shut it off for a while then another 5 or 10 until its dry. I've turned the oven into an incense burner.

If you don't have it in your area let me know.
 
Joined
Aug 2, 2011
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Scituate, RI
When I'm feeling lazy, and getting a fire started quickly with minimal effort is a priority (which is most of the time) I'll go with the paraffin-soaked sawdust option and a lighter. It's easy and nearly foolproof, even if I haven't taken the time to shave off tinder and little kindling.

As a back-up to the lighter, I keep waterproof matches in a waterproof container.

If the lighter and matches fail (or are unavailable) here's my favorite boy-scout secret weapon: steel wool. Use a flint & steel (e.g. firestick) to hit it with sparks, or touch a 9V battery to it, to instantly get the steel wool red hot and glowing, feed it pre-shaved tinder of whatever is available (yes, I LOVE birch bark), and blow on the steel wool until the tinder lights. This also is nearly foolproof.

-rs
 
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Just for grins ... here are a few of the home made fire pistons I have crafted in the past year or so. Of course the ones constructed of a metal tube work best due to the non-porous nature of the outer casing, but an appropriate amount of lubricant, they will all create an ember.

FirePiston-1.jpg
 
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Joined
Sep 13, 2013
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427
Location
Long Island, NY
I am terrible at lighting fires. I don't enjoy the extra work and I really don't like everything smelling like a campfire when I get home. I'll only make a fire if I need a fire.

I'm a strange one, I know.

That being said, I carry Bic lighters, matches, a ferroccerium rod and PJ Cotton Balls that will light up easily using all of the methods I carry.
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2013
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Thanks for the info Sweeper. If I'm finally mobile this weekend, I'll go looking. I found a nice new birch stand a few weeks ago, so I'll combine a little bird hunting with chaga hunting.
 
Joined
Jul 31, 2011
Messages
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Location
Aberdeen, MD
I am terrible at lighting fires. I don't enjoy the extra work and I really don't like everything smelling like a campfire when I get home. I'll only make a fire if I need a fire.

I'm a strange one, I know.

That being said, I carry Bic lighters, matches, a ferroccerium rod and PJ Cotton Balls that will light up easily using all of the methods I carry.

Funny... my wife always buries her face in my chest when I get home from a trip, inhales, and says "man, I love how you smell like the outdoors when you get home."

I don't enjoy the work involved in processing a large quantity of firewood, and quite frequently do NOT have an evening fire if on a solo trip where I'm only spending a single night at a site (except a small one to cook on.) However, if I'm going to hang out at a site for 2-3 days or more, I find a good dead maple as soon as the hammock and kitchen tarp are set up, and take the time to reduce it to split wood roughly 9" by 2" as a first order of business. This gets it under cover, dries it out a little, keeps it dry if it starts raining, and makes life very pleasant. You can also split some more if you have plenty of rounds already cut from that first session. Finally, you can leave the next site user a nice gift... tinder, kindling, and firewood, already laid and ready to go.
 
Joined
Aug 23, 2013
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Location
Red Lake, Ontario
To Light a Fire by Jack London was a short story that had a very important lesson it. The ability to light a fire using a variety of methods and in an variety of situations is the fundamental survival tool one can possess.

I respect that some may not like fires, when solo I too may not have a fire many nights, but please do yourself the good dead of getting good at making them. In August the temperature at night can reach single digits (Celsius) and I have seen hypothermia happen in the middle of summer.
 
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