Survival: Fire & Fire Making
The Lost Art...
Although fire making was one of the earliest skills our ancestors needed to master to survive,
it's all but a lost art in modern civilization.
Making fire is not hard to do, but it does take some fore thought, skill, and planning.
There are several ways to make fire, most are as easy as friction, but some require real skills.
Lost 'Nature Tours', unprepaired day hikers or skiers/snowmobilers cought in blizzards or avlanches that are rescued report starting a fire was next to impossible even with matches or lighters.
Wet conditions, cold fingers, lack of fuel, butane lighters not working in extreme cold all contributed.
Lost hunters and armed hikers have tried to start fires by dissambling bullets, and trying to use the gunpowder, and have failed to a man.
In the days of black powder and flint lock guns it was possible, but todays modern nitro-cellulose powders and modern cartrages make it virtually impossible, (no matter what you saw on TV...).
Most people take fire for granted until a survival situation arises...
Airplane crash victims reported that finding matches or lighters was virtually impossible among the wreckage.
Shipwreck survivors (and some logs from people that didn't survive) report that starting fires in humid or damp environments was virtually impossible.
What was impossible was starting a fire without the skills or practice in the environments described above.
"Reality" TV shows like 'Survivor' show just how little even supposedly trained persons have starting fires from scratch.
On the first 'Survivor', there was a supposed Navy Seal, people wearing eyeglasses, glass bottle rubbish on the island, and the 'Survivors' had hardened steel, and still couldn't start a fire...
In another episode, a Scouting leader couldn't get a fire started...
(I don't know about you, but I have my doubts about the credentials of these people...)
Collect lots of fuel for your fire ahead of time!
There are few things more frustrating that spending two hours making a fire board, drill, ect., getting tender burning, then having to find larger fuel for the fire, returning to find the fire out!
The best fuel for your fire is what is known as 'Standing Dead' or 'Standing Dry'.
Trees or limbs that have died, dried but not fallen to the ground.
As soon as wood hits the ground, mother nature takes over, fungi and insects start working on the wood. Pretty soon fungi, moss and insect nests are holding moisture, and breaking down the very cellular structure you want to use as fuel.
Much better to find your fuel still hung up in the tree limbs, or still sticking up off a tree that has fallen.
In the event there is no tree limbs on the ground, you can use pine cones, tree bark, fluff from cattails & milkweed, the stems and stalks of weeds and even your non-synthetic cloths.
Never stomp on limbs to break them! Your ankle is much easier to break than a lot of the limbs in the woods!
If you are already in a survival situation, taking chances with your health or physical condition just doesn't make any since.
Not only are you stranded, but now you are seriously injured...
Breaking limbs is easily done by wedging them in the fork of a tree or between two rocks, ect, and pushing on them.
If the limb is too large to easily break, then just burn one end of it at a time.
If a limb is too short to easily break, then burn the whole damn thing!
There's no set rules here, and no one is grading you on the optimum size of your fuel!
1. The 'Punk'.
The 'Punk' isn't that little foul mouthed, droopy pant, MTV clone at the mall, it's a pad or bird nest shaped collection of dried grass, twigs, shreaded leaves, leaf stems and very tiny twigs.
(Actually, birds nests work very well as punks...)
When you use friction or chemestry to make the ignition spark, the quality of your punk will decide if you get fire, or just a headache from blowing on a punk that was improperly made or too green or too damp.
A punk is your small 'Tender' to start your 'Kindeling', the medium size 'Tender'.
Take your time with the punk. This is the transision from smoke and small embers to real fire, and it is where most people go wrong.
Paper will NOT work as a punk unless you shred the paper almost into fuzz, and this is VERY time consuming, and there are better materials available naturally.
Glossy or slick coated (magazine print) won't work at all, and news print takes a lot of time to prepare.
2. The 'Kindling'.
Kindling is a little larger pieces of wood, wood shavings (long, paper thin slivers work best), and small sticks.
Very fine pieces of coal will work too, but coal is almost never found in survival situations.
Kindling is hardwood fuel that will burn down into glowing embers or coals. These coals are what is going to make a nice fire bed for you to get the rest of your fuel burning.
After you get a fire burning, don't forget to dry out more fuel for another punk and tender start, or you'll be scrambling for materials again!
Some paper can be used for this, but is not recommended. It doesn't produce embers, burns very rapidly, and requires a lot of preparation.
3. The 'Fire Build'.
Most people use a 'Tee-Pee' type fire build for the large Tender.
This means they start with a small sticks, and arrange them so they look like a 'Tee-Pee', with a hollow spot in the middle and an opening in one side to insert the punk and kindling.
This arrangment works very well, and has been used for thousands of years (I'd call that 'Time Tested!).
Another type of fire build is called the 'Log Cabin'.
It gets it's name from the way you stack some of the medium size sticks around the outside, log cabin style.
If you are old enough to remember 'Lincln Logs', you know what I'm talking about.
This type of build still requires the punk and kindling to be inserted into the middle of the 'log cabin', and medium size sticks placed over it, like the roof of a cabin.
If your kindling is very dry, this method works particularly well, producing a good fire bed very quickly.
4. The Bow Drill...
The bow drill is probably what most of you think of right after rubbing two sticks together.
It's not as easy as it looks, but with a little bit of knowledge, and a little bit of preparation, anyone can do it.
(8 Year old cub scouts do it every day!)
The tools needed to make your bow drill... NONE!
Like all primitive actions, you will use what is around you naturally.
You will also need to find a relatively straight, round piece of wood. Tree limbs that are straight for about 12 to 24 inches work great.
This will be your 'Drill'.
Now, you will need a relatively flat piece of DRY wood.
You will need to fabricate a 1/4 inch wide slot in that wood around 1 to 1-1/4 inch deep.
By turning the "Drill" over this slot very rapidly, you will produce smouldering charcoal, and that is what will start your fire.
Some tips that might help...
Using the drill to make a depression in the board before making the slot might be a good idea.
The drill will want to follow the slot off the board if you don't.
Making a bow is easy if you have cordage of some kind.
This can include a shoe string, fishing line (nylon 'monofilament doesn't work), draw string out of a sweatshirt hood or out of a jacket waist, some kinds of electrical wiring will work, use your imagination.
Make a Bow from another tree limb, a piece of pipe, broken fishing rod or car antenna, ect.
Attaching the cordage to the ends of your bow can be tricky, but I find cutting or grinding "V" notches in the end of your bow helps keep the 'string' where you want it.
This 'Limb' does not have to be stright. In fact, a 'dog leg' bend in it may be very useful.
If you use a bow, you will need a palm protector for you off hand, the one holding the top of the drill.
Another smaller piece of wood, leather, rock, metal, anything with a depression in it to hold the drill in place will work.
5. Fire Starting Lenses
Starting fires with a magnifying glass type lens is relitavly easy, but it has a few limitations friction fire starting doesn't, namely, it has to be full sunlight for the lens method to work.
For anyone that played with a magnifying lens as a kid, this is a no brainer!
If you ever chased ants, burned holes in paper (or your shoes!) you can figure this one out.
Early pioneers used to highly value 'Fire Glass'. 'Fire Glass' was one of the most sought after trading items.
Fire glass was nothing more than a crude magnifying glass, usually made by rolling around a blob of molten glass. I have seen some of the old 'Fire Glass' specimens in collections, and the glass will often times have grains of sand, bubbles, dirt and other impurities, along with odd colors, all of which reduce it's efficiency as a magnifying glass or fire starter.
Times have changed.
In a survival situation, you can use eyeglasses, the bottom of a bottle, or a clear bottle full of water or other clear liquid.
I've heard tell of using watch crystals, lenses from mechanical gauges, pieces of broken light lenses, and of course, using the lenses out of binoculars and rifle scopes.
At one point, I was screwing around with some friends, and one of them recounted a story he had heard about a drop of water acting like a lens and starting a fire. Being the kind of guy I am, I had to try it.
You CAN do it, but you have to hold the drop of water on the point of a stick (or something like it), and you have to hold it ABSLOUTELY STILL...
Also, early morning and late afternoon are the only times the sun is at the correct angle.
When the sun is overhead, it casts too much of the water drop in shadow.
By the time you get the drop large enough to work, ANY movement and the water drop falls off.
All of the rules from above apply, you will need a VERY DRY punk, and the same amount of both small & medium size tender, along with larger fuel for the actual fire.