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All About Fire

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posted on Sep, 23 2007 @ 04:48 PM
Many is the grave that was filled prematurely because its' owner lacked the ability to create fire under whatever circumstances he found himself in. Nature can be cruel and relentless and is no respecter of persons. Hypothermia can be swift, sure, and subtle. Your metabolism slows down. You feel tired and sleepy. It can happen surprisingly fast even in 60° weather. Even faster if you’re wet. Body core temperature must be maintained at all costs. This is accomplished by three means. The first is caloric intake. This gives your body the fuel it needs to create heat. The second is insulation to keep that heat from escaping once your body produces it. Think of insulation as trapped air (e.g. layered clothing, snow, sleeping bag, space blanket, etc.) Often times this is all you need but suppose you have to miss a meal or two, or get wet, or the temperature drops below the expected low, or the wind blows through the fabric and blows away your body heat, or you become wounded and lose blood. Third is to be near an external heat source such as a fire. That will be the main focus of this chapter.

Tinder, kindling, and fuel. IN THAT ORDER! The biggest single reason most people fail to build a fire is that they try to build it too big, too quick. Slow down and get it right and you'll be warm much faster and without all the frustration. Start small and try to build a small bed of coals before you build it up larger. Take the time to make it work. If bitter cold is preventing your muscles from cooperating, you might try to increase your blood flow through exercise. Sometimes a few jumping jacks or push-ups can give you just the edge you need to beat the cold. That’s temporary at best though so get to work on that fire.

Dry pine cones are at the top of my list for fire starters. They are easy to light, burn hot, and provide a decent, if short lived, bed of coals. Also, they are usually plentiful and easy to gather. Gather your small, dry sticks before lighting the pine cones and have them ready. Make sure to collect wood at this point that breaks easily and snaps when it breaks. If it is green enough to bend, even a little bit, before breaking, try for something drier. Be very particular at this point and your efforts will be rewarded. Force yourself to go slow as you increase the size of the wood. There is no substitute for building a good base in the form of a bed of hot coals.

If you have some type of flammable liquid or any paper products available to you, DO NOT use them! The flammable liquid will burn long enough to char the outer part of the wood, then burn out, usually without getting the wood to catch up. This insulates the wood and makes it much harder to light. The paper that we use nowadays is manufactured to be fire retardant. Not only is it harder to burn, the sheeting effect actually blocks airflow and decreases the much needed oxygen supply to the base of the fire. Remember the three legged stool that represents fire. The legs are named fuel, heat and oxygen. Remove any one leg and the stool collapses. Also, if you plan on cooking anything on the fire once it is built, you don't need the resulting extra chemicals in your food. Work "with" nature. Fight it and you run the risk of failure. There are no higher stakes than survival.

This has been an excerpt from a survival book I'm currently writing. My participation in this forum is, among other things, a reality check for me. I need to know if I'm up to the task before I move on to the next stage.

Fire is important beyond measure and everyone either has something to contribute or something to ask. It's my hope that this thread can be a reference for all things fire related.

Talk about your methods, tricks, cautions, maybe even cooking methods. Not recipes though. Maybe another thread for that would be in order.

You have the floor.


posted on Sep, 24 2007 @ 07:28 AM
I have one warning about starting fire without matches, lighters, or even flint, to all the armchair survivalists (which I consider myself as well)... this is my experience of a 20 year old college student with no survival experience trying to make fire with a self-constructed wooden bow drill...

I've now tried to start a fire using the bow drill method (example) for a total of about 5 hours without complete success. It is much, much harder than anyone makes it look, and there is a lot more finnicky things about it that must be exact (like how hard to press, how many times to wrap your string around the spindle, notch width, angle, depth, etc) for it to work. Practice now in the comfort of your own home, or you WILL NOT be able to do it on your first try in the wilderness. I'm telling you, it was tough to put together even using metal tools, and having real string on hand. In the wilderness it will be 10x harder. LEARN IT NOW.

In the first 45 minutes or so, I fashioned the spindle, handpiece, and bow. For the next hour or so I started attemping to make a fire. The spindle was flying out of the hole I had cut into the board every 20 seconds or so. In the end I could get both the board and the end of the spindle very hot to the touch (so hot that resin was melting from the pine board I was using onto the tip of the spindle), but there was no smoke.

The next day I gave it another try. For the first while there was only the same heat as my previous attempt. I cut in a new groove and a wider notch in my board and worked it in again. I ended up clamping the board to a workbench at waist level so I could stand rather than sitting on my knees. Finally quite a time later, I found the right combination of speed and pressure (and proper balance) in order to get the board smoking. I went as the Internet had told me for 10 seconds after the smoke started, and then stopped to check if there was an ember.... nothing. The tip of the spindle and board were blackened, but that was about it. I went at it again (much easier to get to the smoke stage once you've blackened it... about 20 seconds) and got lots of smoke, and black ash began to pile up beneath the notch I had cut, but still no ember. (I had not put anything there to catch it and had no tinder on hand anyway, because I just wanted to see if I could get an ember to begin with.) At that point I stopped for the day.

I haven't tried it again, and I'm not sure if I could get it to ember and it only requires luck, or if I'm still doing something wrong... maybe the notch is still not wide enough. My friend has also given it several attempts with no luck getting an actual ember either. People stereotype cavemen as being stupid, but let me tell you, they seem pretty ingenious to me now after I can't start a fire even with modern tools at my disposal. All of your education isn't worth jack when it comes to hands-on survival skills.

If I actually get all the way to a successful fire, I will post illustrated step-by-step pictures and/or video as well as "DO" and "DO NOTs" to help anyone else who actually wants to get outside and try this out.

Sure, this isn't the most necessary skill in today's age, but if you don't take the time to learn it, I suggest you always have a lighter in your pocket, because you don't stand a chance trying to teach yourself in a real emergency.

Next I plan on trying the "fire plough" method, which is basically just rubbing a stick into a groove, to see if it is any easier, which I doubt it is. Once I successfully master one fire-by-friction method I will start attempting to self-learn various other survival skills.

[edit on 9/24/2007 by Yarcofin]

posted on Sep, 24 2007 @ 08:30 AM
Great post Yarcofin. You're doing the smart thing to go through the learning curve now, before you actually need it. I learned the flint and steel method years ago and have demonstrated that in public exibitions. However I've neglected the fire bow method. I've recently been working to correct that because I'll only write about it if I've done it and have something to say. So far I've had similar results to what you described. Plenty of heat. No fire. Thanks for the great post.

Here's another excerpt from my work in progress.

The easiest material to start smoldering with a spark or a beam from a magnifying glass is charred cloth. I know of no real substitute. You can start a fire with flint and steel, or magnifying glass if you have charred cloth. If not, you have to use the much harder and less dependable methods of some wood on wood friction method such as a fire bow.

To make charred cloth, save an old metal container with a compression or screw on metal lid (e.g. cookie tin, fruitcake tin, latex paint can). The smaller ones will probably be the best. Punch or drill a small hole (think nail hole) in the top and bottom. Don't overdo it. One in top and one in bottom. The idea is to let the gases escape but not let enough oxygen in to cause the cloth to burst into flame and consume it. Fill the can with cut up pieces of 100% cotton material and close it tightly. Place can in fire and when the material gets hot enough to char it will spew smoke out of both holes. When the smoke slows to almost nothing, use a stick or poker to roll it out of the fire. Now pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea and wait. Better yet, just leave it closed until your next fire when you need it. Do not open the can until it has completely cooled. If you do, the cloth will burst into flame and be consumed. You now have a material that you can start smoldering with a spark. Place the smoldering charred cloth into a small bed of dry tinder and blow on it until it fans into flames. Cotton/synthetic blend material does not catch a spark well so make sure it is 100% cotton.

Now let’s fast forward to the next evening. You’ve just hiked through 12 miles of rough terrain and you’re pretty beat but the temperature is dropping already and it’s shaping up to be a cold night. You used your last match to build last nights fire but not to worry. You have your charred cloth and your knife. Now if you haven’t done so already look around on the ground for a rock. It’s called flint and steel method but you can take the flint part loosely. It needs to be a hard smooth rock that will break to a clean sharp edge without multiple fractures. If it fractures too badly it will crumble in your hand before producing an adequate spark. The idea is to strike the steel and the sharp edge of the rock together in such a way as to throw a spark onto a small piece of the charred cloth. When the rock strikes the steel or vice versa it shaves off a small sliver of the steel. Friction superheats that sliver into a spark. After that it’s all in the aim so practise this to see for you.

When a spark catches on the charred cloth it will show as a tiny white spot that is slowly expanding. Take your time. It won’t burn out as long as there’s cloth to burn. Now place this in a bed of tinder and gently blow on it until it bursts into flame. This would be a good time for a nice dry pine cone or two. Otherwise, start out with extremely small, extremely dry twigs and very slowly increase size of wood to be placed onto the fire.

posted on Sep, 24 2007 @ 08:40 AM
Are you using two different woods when using the bow drill method? I made the mistake of using the same wood and never got it started. You should use a hardwood as the drill and softwood as the fire board. Every one knocks the magnesium/flint fire starters but they've always worked for me even in cold damp weather. If it's good and dry, sunny I use pocket magnifier to start fires. I haven't tried the fire piston method yet but I intend on add one to my kit. I always carry at least 2 wind and water proof methods of fire starting when I'm out in the woods. I'm very lucky that I do most of my outdoorsman type activities here in Central Texas. Plenty of good flint rock around and juniper around. The juniper will burn hot even when green and will and its condensate is oily as hell. You can scrape it off pans and such and form it into little oil balls the will light in just about any kind of weather. Pine sap will also burn very hot. Any oily and waxy plants can be used as an accelerant if you're trying to start green or damp wood on fire.

posted on Sep, 24 2007 @ 10:10 AM
reply to post by crgintx

Yes, I probably should have mentioned that... I was using pine (softwood) as the board and a dry branch from a fruit free (hardwood) as the spindle. I also used pine for the handpiece even though the diagram I posted said you should use hardwood.... I think only the spindle and board materials really matter.

I have a flint and magnesium stick (where you shave off magnesium and throw a spark onto it,) but I've never tried actual flint and steel. The magnesium stick is more difficult to use than a regular match obviously, but it is a lot easier than the bow drill method for sure. So any hard rock can be used instead of flint? That's good to know... so I guess theoretically you should be able to start a fire anywhere that has rocks if you have a knife, wristwatch, or anything made from steel... I guess I'll try that one out sometime too.

As a kid I tried starting fire with magnifying glasses, but I never got more than just smoke... I probably wasn't using the right tinder or holding it steady enough at the time though.

Just throwing out another fire-starting method that hasn't been mentioned yet, I've heard that you can light an SOS pad (steel wool for cleaning pots and pans) on fire just by touching it to both the positive and negative of a 9V battery... but I've also heard rumors that only certain brands of them have the right material. You probably aren't that likely to have both of those items in your backpack either really, but worth a mention.

[edit on 9/24/2007 by Yarcofin]

posted on Sep, 24 2007 @ 12:02 PM
reply to post by Yarcofin

so I guess theoretically you should be able to start a fire anywhere that has rocks if you have a knife, wristwatch, or anything made from steel

I apologize for an omission and after a little experimentation I'll amend that chapter accordingly. I should have pointed out that the higher the carbon content in the steel it is, the better. I've read that stainless steel won't work so I never tried it. I guess I should at least prove to myself that it won't work.

High carbon steel is usually dark in color. Examples would be files and old car springs. Also the softer the steel is, the better spark it will throw. Maybe there's a blacksmith out there that can give us better information on that.

posted on Sep, 24 2007 @ 01:06 PM
Finding dry wood is essential as well. Look for it under tree cover when in wet weather, the closer to tree the better. Dry leaves and needles can often be found on the leeward side as well. Another trick if you can't find dry tinder is to make split open a larger piece of dead wood that is still in the tree and shave off as thin a strip as possible. Wood that's been setting on the ground will some times stay wet for several days/weeks after the rain stops but dead wood in trees is usually dry within a day or two and and never get completely wet as long as it's in the tree. Hunter gatherers often cached wood under shelter on their regular routes. A friend who hunts in the Big Thicket Wilderness of Texas carries a small plastic aspirin bottle filled with cotton balls that are soaked in flammable liquid. As small bottle filled with sterno gel would also provide a hot long lasting flame to get small wet tinder going. I've seen driftwood dry out and start to burn when next to a small but hot fire. The ultimate all weather fire starter is however is the now much harder to find road flares. They'll even start fairly waterlogged wood on fire really quick.

posted on Oct, 8 2007 @ 02:02 PM
After spending most of the weekend trying to perfect the firebow method here's what I've learned:

1) Cussing doesn't help
2) If the wood is too hard it won't create an ember
3) Cussing doesn't help
4) If the wood is too soft it won't create an ember
5) Cussing doesn't help
6) Nylon line bowstring stretches too much
7) Did I mention that cussing doesn't help?

I thought that because I knew the basics and could reliably start a fire using the flint and steel method, I'd be able to use a firebow without much problem. Boy was I wrong!

The closest I came was when I notched the top end of a yucca stalk and put a loop in both ends of a short piece of nylon line to fit in the notch with both loops dangling. I then put one loop on each thumb and spun the stalk by rubbing my palms together with the stalk in between. The line was to keep my hands from sliding down the stalk and to help me to apply pressure to the fireboard. My problem was that my fireboard was a little too seasoned (hard). I think that when I finally do succeed at wood on wood friction fire the string and stick without the bow will be my preferred method. I should say that I wrapped the stalk with string at the bottom of the notch so it wouldn't split out.

Also I bought my first magnesium stick. I always thought that since I could do the flint and steel thing that the magnesium would be like cheating. That was a foolish thought. If we're talking survival there's no such thing as cheating. Also flint and steel need charred cloth to work. You can go straight from magnesium stick to tinder even if you just fished the mag stick out of the water. To survival, that's priceless. I started 2 fires right back to back like that very easy. And that was the first time I ever even saw one used. From now on I'll never be without one. I'm thinking they'll make good barter stock. Wonder if I can find a good deal in a case of them.

posted on Oct, 8 2007 @ 02:21 PM
Are you sure cussing doesn't start fires? Did you use Hot enough words?

posted on Oct, 8 2007 @ 06:41 PM
Ever try the Steel wool / battery trick, SemperParatus ?

I've had luck with C, D, and 9volt batteries.

Pretty neat.

A google search will show many examples.

Here's one -

posted on Oct, 8 2007 @ 08:19 PM
reply to post by Jbird

Thanks Jbird. Here's a couple of good links for firebows.

[edit on 8-10-2007 by SemperParatus]

posted on Oct, 8 2007 @ 08:51 PM
great links guys, thanks

watching a " Suvivorman " marathon right now
good stuff
Les uses a fire bow in the northern canada episode
anyone know if this series is on DVD ?
makes you think - his problems could be your problems someday

posted on Oct, 8 2007 @ 09:50 PM
I've been an avid outdoorsman for 12 years, going camping an average of 3 dozen times per year, for 2-3 days or longer each time.

I purposely try to start fires with tools OTHER than lighters, and from my experience.. these bows and strings, and chipping rocks, etc, just don't work easy enough to consider.

EVERY survival kit needs to have 3 ways of starting fires.

Magnesium Fire Starter (you need a sharp knife, because shaving this off WILL be hard with a dull knife)

Flint (Blast Match, or even the flint bars with the small red 2 finger tab like handles, with the black cords, and silver scrapers.. these work fairly well)

Waterproof Matches (lots of them, people tend to under estimate how hard it is to keep a fire goin with these when you start)

I also suggest you pack 2 types of tinder in your kit. The small white wick looking tinders, as well as some waterproof fuel tabs. This will enable you to make a fire every time your out, in any weather, and all of these items are small enough together to weigh less than a pound in total weight.

posted on Oct, 9 2007 @ 12:24 PM
here is somethings i have found usefull to take camping steel wool if i am camping light or a ten pound bag of lump charcoal and green flame charcoal lighter gel. put a squirt on a large coal lump and light it in a minute or 2 you will have a nice white coal to add other wood to. steel wool makes a good tinder when you are packing light. in a real emergency hair can be a good tinder.

posted on Oct, 9 2007 @ 12:40 PM
Even though we go blapping around in a small camper van disasters can happen. On our first trip of the year last year, wild camping, we found our matches very damp., No cooker to light AND NO TEA !!!!!
Got out my SOS pack as I call it. I have a flint and steel bought from Ebay and a female tampon, still in its cardboard thingy.
When you tear that tampon apart the amount of quite highly flammable material is amazing. Got some small twigs and things. Two hard scratches on the flint stick and we were away. Nice fire.
Next day it was off to a shop to get matches, then to steal one of the wifes Tampons to put back into the SOS box.

posted on Oct, 9 2007 @ 12:53 PM
reply to post by Chorlton

Just to clarify, was that a true flint and steel or a magnesium stick? They work pretty much the same except that the flint and steel requires a charred organic material that has been protected from the elements since it was charred. The underside of a fallen charred log that is suspended above ground can work too. I like the tampon idea. Cattail heads work similarly.

posted on Oct, 9 2007 @ 01:20 PM
reply to post by SemperParatus

It was a Flint and Steel, same as the ones they give to the Army boys .

The tampons light amazingly easy and once you start pulling them apart they expand from a tiny little thing into an enormous ball of whitefluffy stuff.
I should say Ive used a magnesium stick and didnt like it at all.

[edit on 9/10/07 by Chorlton]

posted on Oct, 9 2007 @ 07:49 PM
reply to post by CANADIAN-guerilla

Yep I caught that Survivorman marathon on OLN as well
. He has used pretty well every fire-starting method mentioned in this thread, and some we haven't talked about yet. Too bad they didn't have a Ray Mears one too... haha. Did you catch that Pioneer Quest marathon the day before? Kind of off-topic from firestarting, but they have some general survival-esque information on that show too, although they do some very, very dumb things in the process, like wasting an entire bag of seeds and only getting 1 potato out of it. (The premise of the show is 2 couples living like pioneers for an entire year, having to dig their own wells, put up their own log cabins, farm, etc.

And yes there is a Survivorman DVD.

[edit on 10/9/2007 by Yarcofin]

posted on Oct, 9 2007 @ 09:37 PM
my little fire starting kit is cheating i know- but i take the blue tip matches(the kind that will light off of almost any surface- even your thumbnail- learned my lesson the hard way on that one tho but it worked) i dip them in melted wax and pack them in 35mm film canisters- this keeps them waterproof and they burn like a candle. in a few more canisters i stuff as many cotton balls in as i can(just like your tampon trick) i carry a couple dry and a couple soaked in isopropyl alchohol (at least 90%) but tehy have to be packed in something with a screw on top so it won't evaporate. i put these canisters ina small waterproof box and am good to go. cheating but beats freezing to death and makes a fast fire

posted on Oct, 9 2007 @ 10:21 PM
If you have a lighter that is out of fluid, but still sparks, you can start a fire very easy. Take your sock and pull off the little lint balls from the outside. These really work great for a fire starter. just spark the lighter next to these lint balls and instant flame.
In my woodshop class, a student accidently touched the +/- areas from cordless drill battery to some steel wool, and nearly lit himself on fire. The steel wool burnt up really quick.

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