Start fire: back to basics

This article is more for the survivor in you. Anyone can light a fire with matches or a lighter, but how many of you can say you can light one with just friction? with a mirror? Well I guess I can offer some advice for those of you who want to go the easy way out; airflow is key I’m only going to cover two friction based fire starting methods; The hand drill and the bow drill. Friction fire starting is the most difficult of the non-match, non-light fire starting methods. It uses a stick that you will need to spin (called a spindle) and a board that you spin it on (called a fire board). Cedar, willow, hickory, and cypress make good sets. Neither of these are ideal for building a campfire, unless of course you’re having a rough time that weekend or are stranded in the wild.

friction methods

the hand drill: This method is the most difficult of the friction technique.

The first thing you need to do is build a tinder nest which will be used to catch the spark you are about to create. Whatever you use needs to be dry, whether it’s grass, wood, or even a tampon. Next, cut a V-shaped notch in your fire plate and make a small depression right next to it. Place a piece of bark under the notch that will be used to catch the friction ember. Finally, place the spindle in the depression on your fire plate and start spinning the spindle between your hands. Keep pressure on the board and make sure the shaft is at least two feet long. Once you see a glowing ember, tap the fire plate to drop the ember onto the piece of bark, then transfer the bark to your tinder nest and blow to light the fire.

The bow drill: This method is by far the most efficient because it is easier to maintain speed and pressure.

The first thing you need to get is a plug. The bushing is used to put pressure on the other end of the spindle and it is better to use a piece of wood or stone for this. You can use sap as a lubricant between the socket and the spindle. Now make the bow. It should be about the length of your arm and be a flexible piece of wood with a curve. The string can be anything from a shoelace to a vine; it just needs to be something that won’t break. Now cut the V-shaped notch in the fire board and place the tinder underneath. Finally hook the shaft into the bowstring loop, apply pressure to the socket and start sawing back and forth. Keep sawing until you create an ember, then place it on top of the tender and start blowing to create the fire.

lens methods

Traditional: Next, I’ll cover lens-based methods. This is considered one of the easiest unparalleled methods of starting a fire because all you need is a lens to focus the sunlight on a specific point. Magnifying glasses and glasses work great for this. Adding water to the lens can intensify the beam. Tilt the lens so that the sun is focused on as small an area as possible. Put your tinder under this spot and before you know it you’ll have a fire going.

Balloon and Condoms: Another way to create a lens is to fill a balloon or condom with water and tie off the end. Don’t inflate it too much or it will distort the focal point of the sun. Squeeze the balloon into a shape that produces a circle of light. You can usually squeeze the condom in the middle to form lenses. Keep an inch or two away from the tinder.

flint and steelThis is the best method and the easiest to do. It’s always a good idea to have a good Swedish FireSteel with you at all times. If you don’t have a set, you can always use quartzite and the steel blade of your knife, but you’ll also need some charcoal. Char is cloth that has been turned into charcoal that can sustain a flame without bursting into flames. If you don’t have that, any piece of dry tinder will do.

Hold the quartzite between your thumb and forefinger as you dangle it two to three inches. Hold the charcoal between your thumb and the flint. With the back of your knife blade, strike the steel against the flint several times. Sparks will fly and land on the charcoal. Fold the charcoal cloth up into the tinder nest and blow gently to light the flame.

Miscellaneous methodsIce: First things first, you need to turn the chunk of ice into a lens and use it in the same way as mentioned above. Follow these steps to create the best possible lens using ice.

Clear water. Dirt will only filter out the sun and make it harder to focus a good beam of light. Use anything else you may have (like a knife) to shape the lens. Thick in the center, narrow at the edges Polish the lens with your hands. The heat will melt the ice so you can get a nice, smooth finish. Use your ice lens to focus light on some tinder and light the fire.

Drums and Steel Wool: This is an interesting but easy method. 9 volt batteries work best here.

Stretch the steel wool about six inches long and a half inch wide. While holding the steel wool in one hand and the battery in the other, rub the side of the battery with the contacts on the wool. The wool will start to glow and burn, so gently blow on it.

Soda can and chocolate bar: The best method to use.

Rub the chocolate on the bottom of the soda can. The chocolate actually acts as a polish and will make your soda can shine like a mirror. Toothpaste can also be used if chocolate is not available. Sunlight will reflect off the bottom of the can like a parabolic mirror forming a single focal point like a mirror telescope works. Point the bottom of the can toward the sun so that the light is directed directly at the tinder. Place it an inch away from the tinder for this method to work.

I’ll cover other fire starting methods in future articles, so check back often.

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