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Making fire seven ways from Sunday

January 9, 2014

Well, as ‘global warming’ rears it’s ugly head with record COLD temperatures, with accompanying blizzards, ice storms, power outages and deep snowfall, from one corner of the USA to the other, a relevant topic would be ‘how many ways can one build / start a campfire?’ to stay warm.

This will be a mix of methods, tools and various ideas to boost / ignite your tinder and kindling, while assuming you pretty much know how to lay wood for a basic campfire.

Let’s start off without matches (no fun doing it the easy way, right?) to start your fire. Got a spark? Throwing a nice hot pile of sparks into some nice, dry and well prepared tinder has been going on for a couple thousand years, flint and steel being the old school method while ferrocerium rods and scrapers are the ‘new’ thing, which will spit sparks that are at around 3,000º F. ferrocerium-rodIf your tinder pile is properly done, shouldn’t take but a couple good hits using ferrocerium to get you going. Having a decent quality spark-maker is crucial for your survival kit or every day carry. Sparks onto a Vaseline soaked cotton ball, all shredded out, will light up nicely. Also, sparking into a stripe of Purell or similar brand, high alcohol content (around 65% content) hand sanitizer works great. The flame is just about invisible in daylight, so don’t stick your finger into it to see if it’s lit. Also, certain fire starting products like “Fire paste” will work great with sparks. Dryer lint is another excellent starting aid. Keep some in a baggie to catch sparks or a match and amp up your tinder pile.

Got sunlight? A clear sunny day and a magnifying lens of just about any type will give you a hot spot to concentrate in your tinder pile, getting it smoldering and gently blow the spot into flames, then into the rest of the tinder and kindling pile. You can even use a clear, filled with clean water bottle, a very clear and hand shaped (into a ‘lens’) chunk of ice, the little magnifying lens that comes with a number of decent lensatic compass cases, lens compassreading glasses, one of the large lenses from your binoculars, or a very polished soda can bottom. While not being a lens, the can bottom will act as a collecting reflector and will accomplish the same result.

Friction. Now, here we get into some serious work to get a fire going. You will have to practice these techniques (you should actually practice all these methods) to expect any kind of results. The ‘fire plow’ involves rubbing a hardwood stick rapidly along a softwood channel, a method that Tom Hanks used in the movie “Castaway.” Then we try the fire saw method, which generates heat by using a hardwood stick to “saw” a softwood stick. The hand drill method requires a great deal of practice. A smooth, straight shaft of wood is spun between the palms of the hands, forcing the tip of it into the hearth wood, generating an ember. Seems I remember Tom Hanks trying that one for a while as well.  The same principal is used in the bow drill method, but instead of using your palms to spin the wooden shaft you use a cord held by a wooden bow.

Battery and steel wool. A typical 9 volt battery and some ultra fine steel wool will give a pretty good start to your tinder pile. Just shred out some of the wool and stick the battery terminals into the wool. Then act quickly to get it into your tinder pile and gently blow it into flames because the steel wool will quickly run through itself. This also will work using your cell phone battery. You can combine this idea with some of the ‘starters’ mentioned, like the the Purell sanitizer or the cotton balls or others to come, for improved effect. A top quality spark maker would probably make hot enough sparks to catch this steel wool going as well.

OK, let’s proceed from here assuming we have matches or lighters, but we have stubborn kindling or damp wood to deal with. In that case, dig out the stale snack food! Really, stale Fritos, Dorritos, Cheetos, Pringles and that kind of junk will light up like little candles with your matches! It’s the grease from the deep fry process of cooking them. Take a handful, plunk them down with your tinder and fire ’em up!

Other ‘aids’ can be home made, like wood chips and scrounged paraffin wax melted into it. Take a few paper bathroom cups and fill about half full with wood chips, melt the old wax in a double boiler and pour over the chips, just enough to soak the materials. After cooling, you can either light the cups directly under your kindling pile or cut the cups in half or quarters to start more fires.

‘Recycle’ your kids used birthday candles into your fire starting kit, they work great to get some stubborn wood going. You can make a similar idea by soaking cotton string or cord in your wax while making the wood chip starters, they’ll accomplish the birthday candle idea very well.

You can buy fire starting aids, like ‘wax sticks’, a commercial version of the above wood chips idea, and then there’s Coghlan’s fire lighters, which strike like a big old match and then burn for several minutes. A product called ‘Wetfire‘ will even catch a flame while floating in water. There’s ‘fatwood’, a resin dense wood material. You can find it in the wild or buy it by the box full commercially. While you’re in the woods hunting fatwood, pick up the dry pine cones under the trees, they’ll take off pretty well if they’re nice and dry.

Well, there’s a good start at various tricks of starting your campfire. I’ll say again, practice these ideas while you DON’T need to desperately start a fire, or die of exposure. A few shots at making a campfire in your back yard after a cold rain (0r even during!) will show the places you need to improve, leaving you more competent and confident of surviving when it’s SHTF time.

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