Tuesday, January 3, 2012

How I Build A Fire

It seems easy to make a fire. Just take some wood and light it with some matches. However, most outdorsmen have experienced the frustration of not being able to make a fire. Consistently making a fire actualy takes a plan and some practice. Everyone has a different ritual for making a fire. This is how I make one when conditions are perfect.

Every fire needs four things; an ignition source, tinder, kindling, and fuel.

The ignition source can be anything that can make fire or a spark. A lighter, matches, fire steel, or magnifying glass are good ignition sources. If I had to choose only one I would choose matches. I've had nothing but bad luck with lighters blowing out or running out of fuel. Fire steels are awesome, but take skill to use. Magnifying glasses are amazing, but only work with direct sun. Matches are not perfect, but are reliable and easy to use.

Tinder is possibly the most important part of building a fire. It can also be the hardest to find. You want to look for dead grass, leaves, bark, bird nests, or wood shavings. They must be bone dry. After you have found some tinder, rub it vigorously between your hands to rough it up. You want to create as much surface area as possible for the fire to catch.

Many people carry their own tender with them. This is a wise idea. Cotton balls, dryer lint, tissue paper, or even commercially made chemical blocks make perfect tinder.

Today I chose a handful of dead grass for tender.
Kindling is basically small sticks. Tinder only burns for a few seconds. Kindling is used to transfer the fire from the tinder to the fuel. Make sure you gather a bunch of kindling. A good rule of thumb is to gather three times as much kindling as you think you will possibly need.

Gather sticks that are smaller than a pencil for kindling.
Fuel is what you will actually burn to make your fire. I like to begin with sticks about ten inches long and about as big around as my thumb. This will allow you to create a suitable fire for cooking or staying warm. A large fire wastes wood and is hard to control. You can always add larger sticks after the fire starts to burn.

Before you begin making your fire, gather a lot of fuel. I mean a whole lot.

A small pile of fuel. In a real life situation I would want about ten times this amount.

Making a fire requires a plan. Don't just light your tender and pile everything on top of it. Your fire needs fuel and oxygen to burn. You need to stack your wood in such a way that oxygen can get to the fire and that there is enough surface area of fuel for the fire to catch.

I like to make a log cabin type structure out of sticks to place my tinder in. This will protect the tinder from wind and it creates a structure for me to build the fire on.

Light the fire from the bottom of the tender, not the top. The tinder will burn very quickly, so be prepared to put the kindling on fast. You will have about five seconds before your tinder burns up.

Place the some of the kindling inside your wooden structure as the tinder burns. Place the rest over the structure like a roof. It should catch quickly. Do not add fuel until you are sure the kindling has caught fire. If you add the fuel to quickly you run the risk of smothering the fire.

As soon as you are sure the kindling has caught fire, place fuel over the structure. Cris cross the sticks like you are building a tower. Make sure there is plenty of space between the pieces of fuel. This will allow oxygen to get down into the fire.

Notice how the large sticks are placed in a cris cross pattern. This is critical.

If your wood is dry, you make a good structure surrounding the fire, and you build it properly, you should have a strong fire within one or two minutes. Once you have a nice bed of coals, you can add bigger logs. Just be careful not to make your fire too big. A big fire wastes fuel and is dangerous.

For the next few weeks I am going to explore different ways to create and build a fire. So stay tuned!

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