Friday, 28 April 2006

Making Tinder

One of the best bits of kit that I have is my Firesteel, it is a simple device made from a composite of seven different metals that will create a spark. With a little practice the spark can be used to make a flame and the flame can then be used to make a fire. I bought the Firesteel long before moving to the woods, it was dead handy to try to impress girls with at festivals when they asked for a light. Mostly I think they thought I was sad but my mates were all impressed, making fire out of nothing? That’s got to be an Ug factor 5 on the primitive scale of many activities. After living in the woods for a bit I stopped using my petrol stove, it broke, then I stopped using my Jet Boil, it wore out, and so I started cooking over an open fire. At first I had difficulty lighting a fire even using the left over petrol. Soon enough though I was lighting fires as efficiently as when I was a kid playing in the woods, I seem to recall an occasion when the fire brigade were called after an attempt to bake a potato (Mum I’m only joking, it was the big kids they made me do it). The next step from lighting a fire with matches was to use the Firesteel; this took a little while to get used to as there is a different technique to building the fire. Still I was using tissue paper to catch the sparks with and I soon came to thinking that this was cheating. I knew that it was possible to find natural tinders but I had not idea what they were. I tried all kinds of things but never got anything to work, I later discovered that some of the things I tried were suitable to use as tinder but I couldn’t get them to work. I guess if I knew that they did work I would have persevered. Eventually I remembered seeing Ray Mears making char cloth on TV and that is what gave me the idea for the following.

To make the tinder you do need to have a fire going in the first place so it is best to think ahead :)

First find some very rotten wood; you know those branches that you pick up only to discover that they weigh about a 6th of what you would imagine they would? That's the kind of wood you need. Carve off some very thin strips; if they are not dry let them dry out. Put these dry slivers in an air tight tin - a tobacco tin would be perfect - then put the tin into the fire with a log or something on top to stop the lid from popping of when it gets hot. Leave the tin in the fire for just the right amount of time, this is the tricky bit. What you are aiming for is wood that has burnt off almost completely but is not quite black; trial and error is the key I find forgetting about the tin and putting a brew on and drinking it before remembering about it is far too long. The wood in the tin does not burn evenly so whilst some bits may be black others will be "raw" somewhere in amongst will be the perfectly cooked material. I should be a very dark brown, almost black, and will crumble to dust between fingers and thumb. The dust will, if you get it right, be ignited on the first strike with a Fire Steel. I now always carry my tin of home made tinder alongside my Fire Steel and have stashed some dry rotten wood in a plastic bag in my rucksack so whenever I get low I can make some more.

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TheJamMan said...

One of the best bits of kit I own is my weed burner, it has a 500ml gas bottle and a built-in piezo-electric igniter. Best of all, at just under 1m in length it is perfect for lighting those special fires where more than arms-length is a must!

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