Sunday, February 13, 2022

Fire Making Tools

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

The post I wanted to publish on Friday couldn't be finished for a variety of reasons, some of them technical and some of them logistical, and hopefully I will have those issues sorted out by next Friday. 

However, in the course of trying to overcome some of those issues I realized that I wasn't happy with my ability to build fires. Specifically, I can't seem to start them without cheating, and by cheating I mean using accelerants like Sterno or alcohol or lighter fluid. As as been said before, "In a life or death situation you'd better cheat to win," so I don't mind having those tools at my disposal, but this bothers me enough that I've decided to prioritize learning how to build a fire using just a flame or a spark.

Of course, knowing myself as I do I acknowledge that I will likely screw up more than a few times, and so I will need lots of tinder and kindling before I get this to work. To that end, I acquired some things from Amazon which ought to be useful in this pursuit, and if they aren't, I'll tell you about that too. 

Keep in mind that I'm going to making small wood stove fires, not big campfires, so my fuel needs will be smaller than what you see listed below. 

The first thing I'm going to need is tinder, and quite a lot of it. Since I'm starting from scratch I figure I might as well try to teach myself how to build a fire using a spark or ember instead of open flame, so my tinder needs to be plentiful and super fine. To that end I bought a Smith's Tinder Box to use with some dry, almost-crumbly wood. I've read the reviews and I know opinions of it are mixed; I bought it mainly as a novelty, but if it works then so much the better. 

Its use is fairly simple: you run some wood over the blades like cheese over a grater, and the tinder catches in the box. I think the hole in the box is so that you can dump the tinder out without removing the grater, but I'm not certain. 

The grating was quick and easy, although I don't know how much of that is due to the dryness and crumbliness of the wood, and how much is due to the Smith's tool. What I can tell you is that at least half the gratings didn't make it into the box, so I just grated into a bowl. 

The picture looks deceptively small. That's a soup bowl, and there's a fair amount of what is basically dust in there, all for just a few minutes' work.

In theory you ought to be able to store tinder in the box, but I don't trust it to do that. Instead I just shaved down that stick until it fit into the box. That way I have it handy and can always make more without the risk of making a mess. 

For kindling, I bought a carpenter's pencil sharpener. It's made to sharpen those flat, non-rolling pencils that carpenters and contractors use, so it will accept a larger diameter piece of wood and has a beefier blade. Then I took off the inside collar so I could fit larger sticks inside. 

That produced very nice shavings to feed to an ember-based fire to help it grow. 

I also split some finger-thick sticks into thinner pieces, closer to popsicle sticks in shape and thickness, but I didn't feel the need to photograph them. 

I've been talking a lot about using an ember to start a fire, and to do that I plan to use a slow match, which is just a length of cotton rope and a spark wheel. You spark the wheel to create a smoldering ember on the rope, which in theory lasts long enough for you to coax the ember into a fire, and if you don't, you just spark another ember onto it. 

I've handed these slow matches out as gifts to prepper friends, and they all say it's a nifty if old-fashioned bit of kit. I'll let Lokidude explain in detail in this video from last year. 

Oh yes, here's another infographic you may find useful. The trees behind my house are pine ("burns messy, don't use as your exclusive firewood") and maple ("should season at least one year", which of course this scavenged wood hasn't done), which may also explain why I'm having such a hard time starting fires without cheating. 

Found across the internet in various places.

So that's what I did this weekend when I wasn't able to finish my testing for the post I wanted to write. I'll let you know how these tools helped me, or didn't as the case may be, when I try to build a fire next week. 

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