Monday, September 24, 2007

Catching Things On Fire

This whole post is about following the old boy scout motto of “be prepared.”

I am not sure how many non-outdoors people follow this type of thing. But, whenever I go into the woods I usually take a minimal amount of stuff with me. The more remote the area, the more stuff that usually goes with me. One of the things I always have is at least a couple of means to make fire. A lighter is the good old standby, and is more than likely the only thing you will ever need. It has been all I have ever needed for a long, long time. But, things can happen. You can have a leak of fluid which could render it completely useless, or simply take a dunk in the lake which may make it useless until it can dry out. That is where the ferro rod comes in. They are very compact, very tough, and still work when wet. Even if you manage to break one, you still have plenty use in terms of pieces. That is why it is good to have one to fall back on.

For years, I have always had one to fall back on. But, the extent of my testing with it was to scrape it quickly, and to see it spark. Sure enough, I would get a spark, and it would go back in my bag. It is a far cry from actually starting a fire with one. So, I figured I better experiment a little.

The old standby tinders are cotton balls (usually soaked in petroleum jelly) and dryer lint. Lighting both of those are EXTREMELY easy. In fact, I can probably light a cotton ball from 4 feet away if my aim is good. I carry a couple of PJ soaked cotton balls in an old 35mm film canister in my outdoors pack. Enough testing? No way!

It should go without saying that a means for firestarting should literally be strapped to you, and in your pocket. It is cool to have more in your pack, but this is the norm for all those that believe in Mr. Murphy. The classic example of this is flipping your canoe in cold water, and becoming separated from your pack. Cold and with no gear, you will need a fire. So, I wanted to try the ferro rod on natural materials found in the typical woods around. Brendan and I have tried a few things so far.

I should stop here to note that Brendan has the same pyro tendencies as me. He likes fire. So, I let him help me start the BBQ and the campfires. If he sees me using the ferro rod, he wants to also. He is actually pretty good, and has started a few fires with the ferro rod. More specifics below.

Birch Bark – I rate this one an easy. Take a knife and scrape the bark a little to get some fine shavings to catch sparks. Once you do this, the shavings catch the spark, and the rest of the bark burns like gasoline! Birch bark actually contains an oil and is famous for being able to be lit even after it is soaked in water. Brendan was able to do this one on his own too.

Dry field grass – Dry grass alone is not so easy. It just requires more precision with where the spark is landing, and you need to get a good hot spark. This one was hard enough that I didn’t let Brendan try. Although, you combine this with cattail fluff and you got a GREAT combo. More on that later.

Cattail Fluff – I tried this once with cattail fluff that just felt very “green.” It didn’t light well, and I couldn’t even start it with a match. So, I tried one that was beginning to shed naturally. I could instantly tell that was much drier. This stuff is rated extremely easy. Brendan did this one extremely easy as well. The only issue with this one is that it is almost like gasoline. The smallest bit of spark an it takes off like an explosive and it is very FAST. Since your flame do not last that long you are better off combining it with another tinder (see the next one). The flame on this one is so explosive that I had some dried pine needles setting about a foot to the side to experiment lighting those later. The cattail went up in such high flames it caught those on fire too! I guess I will have to get more pine needles to play with!

Cattail fluff and dry grass – Combining these two made things real easy. The cattail lights so easy, and the dry grass will carried the flame for a longer period of time. Brendan did this one with no issues.

Pine Firestick – This one was the most fun. As Ray Mears would say “firesticks are the most undervalued source of tinder.” I used about a 1 ½ diameter dried branch from a white pine. With a very sharp knife, you carve increasingly smaller curls into the wood (that stay on the stick) until you end with real FINE curls. They have to be fine, because they need to catch a spark. This lit pretty easy, but you have to be a lot more accurate with where you are shooting sparks. You are not just shooting sparks into a big pile of dry stuff. Because of this, I did not let Brendan try this one. I am anxious to try other types of wood, like maple. I picked pine for this one because it was my first go at a firestick with a ferro rod, and I figured it would be easy. So, we will see how the other ones do.

Maybe next time I will have a couple photos of Brendan in action.


At October 20, 2007 at 7:17 AM , Blogger The Suburban Bushwacker said...

I know what you mean about the cattail fluff being best with another material, birch bark was the perfect complement to it, guaranteeing a light for even the crudest tinder stick.


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