Let’s face it, when we get out in the woods on a camping trip, there is nothing more satisfying than a campfire. A good fire while camping has been called “the television of the woods” and is known to be the only thing that scares the boogeyman away. A fire in the woods can save your life, cook your food, and boil your water. I have spent many hours in the woods watching a fire and have come up with plenty of new ideas while staring off into the utter amazement of a campfire. Fire can be relaxing and highly entertaining at the same time. If you ask any “survivalist,” they will tell you there is no one way to start a fire, which is the point of this section. Starting a fire is not hard if you know what to do. But, if you are not prepared and don’t understand the components of fire, it can become a challenging task. I will describe several ways to make a fire. At the same time, each example will have illustrations showing what is being done. Now, Let’s find out how to make your fire.
Essential Components of a fire.
Fire is defined as the phenomenon of combustion, giving off heat and light from a flame. What does that mean? Let’s take a look; there are three components to a fire. Think of fire as a triangle; on top, you have heat, and on the bottom corners, you have oxygen and fuel. When all three of these components are combined, you have a fire.
Oxygen is necessary for the fuel to burn. Oxygen must always be present during all stages of fire building and maintenance. If you do not have oxygen, you cannot have a fire. The air around us has approximately 20% oxygen in it. Our bodies only use roughly 5% oxygen when we inhale the air. When we exhale, 15% of the unused oxygen is released back into the air. This remaining oxygen is why a fire grows instead of being blown out when we blow on the coal to bring it to flame.
Fuel is necessary to keep the fire burning. You can break down the fuel part into three additional components—tinder, kindling, and fuel. Tinder is any material (natural or artificial) that can light with a spark. This material is usually folded together like a bird’s nest to catch your spark and initiate combustion. Kindling is small twigs or wood shavings that kindle or nurtures the fire and helps it to grow. Finally, you have fuel. Fuel is the large items that burn and keep the fire going. A great example of fuel would be the split logs for a fireplace.
There are many ways to apply heat. You can use friction from a bow drill, a spark from a Ferro rod, or other devices such as Flint or steel. An ordinary BIC cigarette lighter or magnified light from the sun via a magnifying glass or a plastic water bottle also produces heat.
Once your generated spark (or heat) is transferred into your tinder bundle and given oxygen, you will have a flame. This flame will then ignite your kindling, which you will gradually and continuously add fuel. And so, you now have a fire.
Tinder is any easily combustible material. The material you select as tinder for your fire should be made from thin wood shavings or very fine natural or artificial fibers. There are numerous types of fire tinder within the natural environment, such as dogfennel. Depending on your geographic location, Dogfennel will produce small flowers in the late fall, and these flowers die and dry out over the winter. When spring comes around, they make one of the most amazing tinders you can find. In addition, many other natural materials, such as goldenrod and common weeds, are just as effective. Now, depending on your environment or geographic location, you may have other things native to your area that would make a perfect fire tinder. The key is to practice with different materials before you have to use them. Artificial fire tinder such as homemade fire biscuits, wet fire, tinderwick, and hemp rope can be carried with you in a fire kit. I highly recommend making and having a fire kit with you on your adventures. They can be made for any situation and are lightweight and storable in a backpack. The options are endless for manufactured tinder, but we will concentrate on natural materials for this book. The natural environment provides so many things we can use as tinder. From Dry grasses, dry leaves, pine needles, weeds, cattail fluff, and bark from various types of trees. Any tinder you decide to use (Natural or Artificial) will lay a foundation for you to generate a spark and easily create a small flame. As I stated, this flame will be nurtured and kindled into a more significant fire.
The humidity is very high in my geographic location from late spring to early fall. During the summer, it is almost unbearable. This humidity will not help with fire production, especially with friction fires. Because it is always wet and raining, the material on the ground is always damp or very wet. So, for our kindling, we need to look up! Finding kindling is easy. Essentially, kindling is small dead twigs. When smaller trees get choked out and die, they become easy takings for your fire kindling. You will always be able to find dead limbs or sticks that have fallen from a tree and are hanging from the tops of small trees or vines. These smaller items from a small dead tree or hanging from a tree will be dryer than the material on the ground. Just grab what you find and break them up, and get ready to add them to your tinder when you are ready to start your fire.
Starting your fire:
Throughout history, Flint and iron pyrite, commonly known as fool’s gold, have been used to create sparks for fire lighting. With the development of iron, the fire steel eventually replaced pyrites. A metal striker was fashioned in a “D” or “C” shape to easily fit around two or three fingers. The metal striker paired with a sharp edge of Flint, quartz, or chert creates hot sparks when struck. When you pair the Flint and steel with char cloth, you can quickly and efficiently catch an ember onto the char cloth, which can then be transferred to your tinder bundle and blown into flame. By holding the sharp edge of your stone roughly 45 degrees in one hand, you want to take the striker and strike it against the stone in a rolling manner as you hit it. You’re not trying to chip the rock but rather scrape metal shavings off the striker. When rapidly oxidized by striking the stone, hot sparks then ignite the char cloth.
The Ferrocerium rod or the Ferro rod has become the GO-TO method for survivalists and bushcrafters worldwide. In 1903, ferrocerium alloy was invented by the Austrian chemist Carl Auer. Ferrocerium takes its name from its two primary components, iron and the rare earth element cerium. Ferrocerium is a synthetic pyrophoric alloy blended with cerium, iron, and magnesium. A pyrophoric material is any material liable to ignite spontaneously on exposure to oxygen in the air. When the Ferro rod is struck with the 90-degree spine of your knife, or other hard material, you are essentially scraping off fragments of the rod. These fragments are then exposed to oxygen in the air while igniting the pieces by friction heat. These little scrapings become hot sparks reaching 5430 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ferrocerium produces hot sparks when rapidly oxidized by the process of striking the rod. This ease of flammability gives ferrocerium many Commercial applications. It can be found in cigarette lighters, strikers for gas welding, and cutting torches. Due to ferrocerium’s ability to ignite in adverse conditions, Ferro rods are commonly used as an emergency fire-making device in survival kits and widely carried by bushcraft hobbyists.
Ferro rods have been used since the early 1900s. Survivalists and Bushcrafters have used them because of their ease of use, convenience, and reliability. Ferro-rods come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. From one-inch diameter rods down to 1/32nd of an inch or smaller in modern cigarette lighters, survival kits include them on survival bracelets, necklaces, and key chains. With the ability to start thousands of fires and low-cost affordability, the Ferro rod has become the primitive fire-starting device of choice.
Ferro rods can ignite a very diverse group of fire tenders. The 5000-degree sparks can make quick work of any dry flammable material, from dry grasses and pine needles to wood shavings, if it is correctly processed. Striking the Ferro rod is not complicated. It requires holding the rod stationary while you use the spine of your knife to scrape material from the rod. Many Ferro-rods come with a striker tied onto the rod with either a leather strap or paracord. I have found that you have to use the included striker differently from a knife. To use the included striker, place your tender where you want to ignite it, usually on a solid surface. Firmly place your rod on the edge of The tender and scrape the rod a few times back and forth until your tinder ignites.
I use my knife to strike the Ferro rod in two different ways. I hold the knife stationary and upside down while I scrape material off the rod into the tender. And the other way, I hold the knife stationary with a 90-degree spine facing up while I pull the rod against the knife to remove the ferrocerium. Either way takes a little practice to be proficient.
Suppose you notice your Ferro rod developing ridges or bumps where you have previously scraped it. In that case, this is caused by not applying steady pressure down the length of your rod while striking it. These bumps are easily corrected by scraping them off until smooth again with a file. Remember, practice makes better. Always take the time to practice and always practice with different fire starting materials.
Hold your knife upside down with the spine facing toward the Ferro rod. Be close enough to your tender for the sparks to land in it. Pull the rod back against your knife. You’re not going to start a fire every time on the first strike if you don’t just repeat the process. You should get ignition within three or four strikes. If not, reassess your tinder source.
This time turn the knife right side up and do the same process. Like I said earlier, this takes practice. Hold your knife on the edge of your tender, and pull the Ferro rod back. Remember, it is OK if the tender does not ignite on the first try; keep repeating the process until you succeed. Practice with different types of tender and find out which ones ignite faster.
Check out this video on starting fire