How to Make a Fire
Water, fire, food and shelter are essential for survival. You can argue which one is most important or which one should come first, but all are required.
A human in good condition can survive for weeks without food, but only days without water. Lack of shelter can cause hypothermia or severe sunburn which can greatly threaten your survival chances. Fire can purify water, prepare food, provide light, security, warmth, help make tools and is a signal to your rescuer. Three fires together is a universal signal for help. The coals from burnt wood can be used to filter drinking water, used as toothpaste, make a writing tool and as charcoal to start other fires. The smoke from a fire can help signal a rescue, keep the biting insects away, mask your body odor and prepare food that can last for weeks or months longer than just raw or cooked food. Smoke and flames from your fire can be signal beacons to help rescuers find you or can be minimized to prevent discovery. Smoke and the light from your fire can also give away your location to those who wish you harm. Fire can also destroy your shelter, your food and you if you are careless. Fire releases carbon dioxide, a poisonous gas.
It is absolutely essential that you learn how to make a fire and use it to boil water, cook food and stay warm. We will discuss all of this and more in detail in our seminars and training camps.
There are many ways to create fire. Fire must have fuel to burn, air to breathe and heat to continue burning. Gather all the materials for your fire first. Start with a small bundle of very dry material formed in the shape of a bird’s nest, add a spark or flame and allow it to get plenty of air and you will have a fire. Keep the fire going and hot by adding increasingly larger sticks and dry material to the fire usually in the shape of a pyramid to allow plenty of air around the fire. Now it is ready for larger logs that can burn all night. Place stones around the fire to contain the fire and collect heat to last long into the night after the flames die down.
Methods of Creating Fire
Hand Drill Method Find a soft wood (hardwoods can be difficult) and split it into a board, cut a notch out of it to allow the ash and embers to collect. Take a round-blunted straight stick of the same kind of wood to use as a drill and place it slightly behind the cut notch. Kneeling on one knee is the desired posture while holding the flat board with your foot. Place the round stick between your two hands with outstretched fingers and rub back and forth with a downward motion designed to drill a hole into the flat, notched board. The wood must be very dry. When your downward spinning, drilling motion causes your hands to become too low, then start over from the top of the round stick again and again while watching for smoke and a glowing ember. The hand drill stick does not have to be short; it can be any length that is comfortable to hold upright. When you get a glowing ember it is time to transfer it onto a small bird’s nest shape of dry and highly combustible material called a timber nest or ember nest. Blow on it gently, but forcefully until it ignites into flame. Then add more fuel to the fire like small twigs, dry grass and dry leaves until it can consume larger sticks and eventually logs.
Bow Drill Method Same method as the Hand Drill Method but not as hard on your hands and the drill rod will spin faster. Find a curbed piece of green wood (type does not matter) and place a string (your shoe lace will do nicely) joining the two ends. Now twist your soft, straight, blunted drill rod around the center of the string and use the bow and string to cause the rod to rotate as a drill into the flat board with the notch in it. Use a stone or another piece of hard wood to use on the top of the spinning rod to keep downward pressure on the drilling rod. You need skill in getting the tension in the string just right and the pressure correct on the top of the drill rod. A second person helping is desirable.
3.Weighted Bow Drill Method Drill a hole in the center of a piece of wood to insert your drill rod and again at each end of the wood to tie string onto. Attach equal lengths of the string at the top of the drill rod and twist the string around the drill rod with the attached stick as in the illustration above. Now push with both hands downward on the stick with the holes in it while applying downward pressure of the drill rod into the fire board. The bottom of the drill rod should be drilling a hole into a soft wooden board with an ember notch cut into it as the methods above describe. Tie a string on the drill rod where the string is fully extended to ease the chances of breaking your string. Allow the spinning motion to make the drill rod wind with string again and again until you reach the desired results.
Use Flint and steel to make the sparks or matches, waterproof and windproof matches or cigarette lighters to make a flame to light your fire. Even the sparks from the flint in an out-of-fuel cigarette lighter can ignite your tinder nest bundle. The flintlock trigger sparks or flashes from the barrel of a black power gun can start a fire. Gunpowder from a bullet or shotgun shell makes a quick fire with just a spark. Use great caution when handling gunpowder. Tightly compacted gunpowder explodes when ignited; loosely spread out gunpowder will burn in a flash. A magnifying lens and bright sunlight can start a fire or ignite an ember. The magnifying lens can be made from a piece of ice, a clear plastic bag or bottle with water in it. Batteries from flashlights, cellphones, vehicles and other devices can produce a spark using two pieces of wire, steel wool or even chewing gum wrappers that have a foil backing. A cotton ball soaked in alcohol or petroleum jelly, candles, Sterno liquid or solids, lighter fluid, fatwood, carbon cloth and many other flammable items can be used to start a fire with just a spark or weak flame and many will burn in wet weather for a long time. Be inventive. Learn to use what you have or can find. However, reading all this and more cannot beat experience. Practice making a fire with whatever you can find and with various types of wood before you find yourself lost in the wilderness.
You can conceal your fire and smoke in several ways if you do not wish to be discovered. A small fire inside a metal container with no top and several small holes near the bottom to allow air to flow through will serve as light, heat and cooking surface. Many call this a Hobo Stove. Further conceal the fire by constructing a wall several inches away from the container so the faint light can’t be seen from a distance. Use only small dry sticks and twigs that produce little smoke. Another way is to dig a Dakota Fire Hole. Dig two 1’ deep and 1’ in diameter holes in the ground 2 to 3-inches apart and burrow a 4” to 6” hole at the bottom between the holes. Leave one of the holes as an air chamber and build your fire in the other hole. Use the loose dirt to quickly extinguish the fire if someone approaches. When finished with your fire, cover the holes with dirt and forest floor debris to conceal the fact that you were ever there. To conceal the smoke build your fires under a tall tree with dense foliage. The smoke will filter through the tree leaves or needles and be barely visible above the tree even during daylight hours. Keep your fires small.
Pyramid shaped fires are not the only way to build a fire. The Swedish Torch is an upright level log that has been quartered. Place a few sticks forming an “X” down the center of the upright log separating the log slightly and providing a base that will allow air to circulate. Then place your tinder bundle near the bottom on those sticks. Fill the rest of the quartered log up with sticks in an X fashion. Light the tinder bundle, then the sticks and the quartered log will also burn. Another method of the Swedish Torch is to gather a bundle of sticks or tree limbs, even if they are wet or green. Cut them the same length and tie them together near the bottom of the upright bundle loosely with a vine, string or wire. Place a few sticks in between the upright bundle as you would when using the quartered log pushing them down to the bottom to form a base to place your dry tinder bundle. If you can’t find dry material use a modified utility candle or cotton ball soaked in alcohol or Vaseline. Fill the rest of the log bundle with small sticks up to the top.
With both types of Swedish Torches the level tops serve as a place to set cooking pots and pans. On the quartered log, lay two sticks under the pots to allow air to circulate or you risk smothering the fire.
CAUTION: Heating rocks or stones can sometimes explode due to water trapped inside coming to a boil and hot gases escaping. However, hot stones or rocks can be used to boil water in containers that cannot survive a direct flame such as plastic or cloth bottles or bags. Bring the hot stones into your shelter to provide warmth without the risk of burning the shelter down or succumbing to carbon monoxide. You can boil water over flames in a plastic container as long as the flames do not touch plastic that does not have water behind it. Leave the top open. Never heat a container that is sealed, the steam and gases must vent.
Ok, now you know several ways to make fire by rubbing dry sticks together, using flint and steel and other ways to make a spark or flame. How do you find dry wood in the rain, in a rain forest or when everything is covered in snow and ice? Look for natural shelter around the base of trees and tree roots that grow above ground, under rocks, fallen trees, hollow trees and in caves for dry areas full of old leaves, dead grass, pine needles and small sticks. Use your knife to shave off pieces of wet wood until you find dry wood, usually right under the bark. On rainy days in the morning gather a small bundle of damp twigs, leaves or grass and carry it in your inter-pockets until your body heat dries the bundle and use it at night to start your fire. Look for trees with dense foliage that acts as an umbrella to keep areas beneath them dry. Wet sticks and logs will burn as long as the fire is hot enough, although it will produce more smoke and noise.
Looking for dry areas is also ideal for locating or building a shelter. Many trees provide a natural shelter from wind and rain. You will lose a lot of body heat sleeping on the ground and be susceptible to crawling and biting insects, snakes and other wild things. Always make a bed frame to get you off the ground or at least make a bed of whatever foliage you can find to insulate you from the ground.
This leads us to other topics….Building a Shelter. Dangers of Weather, heat and cold. First Aid. Weapons. Building a Bug-out Bag. Food for the Survivalist. Finding editable food and how to test for poisonous plants. Many more subjects and training sessions will follow.
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