Friday, April 11, 2014

Some quick thoughts on fire starting

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission. 
One of my early claims to fame (and still a very popular post to this day) was when I reviewed four camp stoves that required no special fuel like alcohol or white gas to boil water or cook food -- just tinder and kindling that could be scavenged nearly anywhere.

Last month, I received a shipment of three such stoves from Bushcraft Essentials.  While I am not (yet) ready to review them, an afternoon of messing with fire and camp stoves has made me want to share the following observations with you:

Fire is hungry.  I know that we all know this in an intellectual, "Well of course fire needs fuel to consume, that is what makes fire fire, you know?" way,  but that is totally different from the visceral "Ah crap, I need to get more fuel AGAIN?" way.

There's a proverb that goes "Get as much fuel as you think you will need, then double it."  I can state  from first-hand experience that either this is wrong, or I do not have a good idea of how much I will need, because I needed to go for more fuel about four times. (It's probably the latter. See: Useful Idiot.)

In fact, just think of a fire as a baby:  It's hungrier than you think, it needs constant attention to keep it alive, and if you turn your back on it then it will probably get into mischief.

Know the difference between tinder and kindling.  Tinder, being smaller, is easier to find and gather, but since it is smaller it has a lower "fuel density", i.e. it doesn't burn very long. If all you have is tinder, you're going to be feeding your stove constantly just to keep it from going out; you need kindling which will burn longer and produce a nice set of hot coals.

You know what burns well?  Chunks of mulch. Not necessarily the fresh mulch with the brick-red dye on it; I'm talking about the mulch that has been on the ground for several months and is the color of the surrounding dirt but which hasn't yet started to rot. Get chunks of that in finger and thumb sizes.

Pine cones also work well, if you can get them into the stove opening.  I have a suspicion that a closed pine cone will burn for longer than one which has opened, but I have yet to test this.

Not so much apropos of camp stoves, but of fire starting in general:  if you buy a magnesium fire starter, make sure it's actually magnesium and not a chunk of aluminum or zinc or some conglomeration of pot metal.  Many years ago (before I knew better) I bought one of these from Amazon (link is for information purposes only -- DO NOT BUY), and when I went to test it today I found that it wouldn't ignite at all, even when I applied a burning ember directly to the pile of shavings.

This video will tell you all you need to know on the subject.

The video specifically mentions Doan Magnesium bars. I do not have any of this brand (oh, but I am going to fix that tout suite, have no fear), but a quick search on Amazon shows them here. Again, I have not tried this product, so I am not recommending it quite yet, but everything I have read says that Doan's the best. As soon as I get one of these I shall report back with a review.

I should have the review of all three stoves up by next Friday. Have a great weekend, everyone!

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