How To…. Make a Damp Tinder Fire

everything you need to light your fire is under your feet

Need a fire? – Need tinders? – Look under your feet – that is what I say to my students when it comes to this basic human need.

With a little bit of patience you can take much of the leaf litter you find on the woodland floor and turn it into a toasty fire.

The Damp Tinder Fire

A number of years ago my friend Richard Neal (aka Rich59 on BCUK) was chatting with me around our campfire at the BCUK Bushmoot and he suggested an idea around lighting a fire using only what he could find on the woodland floor.

Richard and myself both have a keen interest in all things ‘fire’ and so in no time whatsoever we had collected a range of damp dead leaves, processed them down and soon had a decent fire going – breaking all the rules on having to use dry tinder.

This How To…. is about how we went about it all.

Processing

Gather a good bundle of dead leaves from the top layer of the leaf litter. You may need to do this over a wide area depending on the amount of leaf litter but collect the driest leaves you can.

Here in the UK even the driest leaves are still pretty damp on most days but don’t worry about that. Try to collect some rotted pieces of bark too as they will be useful in the processing stage.

I take small bundles of the leaves and start to rub them in the palms of my hands. I let the small pieces that break off from this rubbing fall onto one of the pieces of bark. After a short period of time I’ve accumulate quite a pile of crumbled leaf litter.

Once I stop seeing any crumbled pieces of leaf falling I put the skeletal remains of the leaf into a separate pile. (Spare pieces of bark are also useful for covering your leaf bundles when you have any wind trying to blow it all away.)

Gathering and processing

I carry on rubbing all the leaves until I feel my two bundles of fine and skeletal remains are big enough. Then I spend a little while longer rubbing handfuls of each bundle again to dry them out as much as possible.

When I re-rub the fine material I make a 3rd bundle from the finest leaf litter that falls out from between my palms. It is important that you have this finest 3rd bundle as that is the material that will eventually start to smoulder and burn first.

The Tinder Pile

I like to make a nest of the skeletal remains of the leaves first on top of my pieces of bark. Onto the top of this I add the mixed grade crumbled pieces of leaves, working the skeletal remains of the leaves around these crumbled pieces to support them.

Into the side of this pile I then make a hole with my finger and fill it with the finest pieces (the 3rd pile) of leaf litter that I have processed.

If the wind is causing you a problem at this stage keep a piece of bark handy to pop onto the top of it all and keep it from blowing away.

Building your stove

The Ember

For this fire I used a Cramp Ball (Daldinia concentrica) to get it going. I also regularly use char cloth and embers from a bowdrill or handrill. Try experimenting for yourself and let me know what works for you.

Once I had sparked up the Cramp Ball I popped it into the middle of the finest material and placed my bark on top of it all to keep everything in place.

Setting your ember

Spreading the Heat

Watching what is happening with the wind (position yourself so the smoke is not blowing in your face), start to blow gently into the centre of the bundle. The trick here is to warm up the leaf litter around your ember so that it dries out enough for it to start to smoulder.

You might get the odd flame or two here but they tend to die back quickly. Keep taking your time (I have taken up to 20 minutes doing this with very damp tinder) and the leaf litter around your initial ember will eventually dry out and smoulder.

The slow burn

Catching the Flames

Once the flames you produce start to last for longer, remove the top cover of bark and add a pile of the finest dry twigs you can find to the top of the pile. You might have to gently blow a few more time but you will soon have some beautiful flames licking their way through your twigs.

Remember also to have all your other grades of wood ready to add to the fire as it sustains itself – it would be a real shame to lose it all at this stage for the sake of poor preparation.

Feeding the flames

Variations

Instead of using bark to lay your leaf litter on try using large green leaves.

Using green leaves instead of bark

No bark or green leaves? Use small branches to lay everything on and to cover your pile.

The Master – Rich59 – at work

Finally test yourself like I did with my friend Mark Beer – get out into the woods and collect everything for making your fire (including making a bowdrill or handrill) and get your fire going using damp tinders.

Test yourself

I made this video for you to see the whole process in action.

Happy gathering, and remember that everything you need to light your fire is right under your feet.

Cheers

George

Spring Bimbles

Spring is a time I am normally found out and about with my camera looking to see what is afoot. This year my work has kept me much busier than usual so my usual bimbles have been curtailed slightly – though some may disagree ūüėȬ†I did though get out a little and here is a little taste of my bimbles this last month.

Early in March I was at a conference in Lincoln and as all the town centre hotels were full I ended up at the Branston Hall Hotel on the outskirts of Lincoln. As soon as I booked into the hotel I was straight out to explore its beautiful gardens.

There was not much in the way of wild flowers about but the local birds put on a fantastic display. The Black swan was majestic, the Cormorant stayed aloof and kept an eye on me and the Heron came blasting by.

Lincoln Life

When I am out and about I keep a little pocket hammock seat (the EDC Hammock) in my bag. As I was out on a couple of trips with the kids and their pals I needed to carry an extra hammock with me.

We did lots of exploring but we did a lot of relaxing as well –¬†the kids just loved using the hammocks and I was always hard pushed to get them out of them.

Hammock time

Over the last two weeks the early spring flowers like the Wood Sorrel and the Wood Anemone have started to appear. They are so easy to pass on by but when you get down close their beauty really shines through.

Rustling through the leaves we came across quite a few frogs and occasionally the odd boy ūüôā

Exploring nature

Last weekend I was in our local woods at Pamber with my family and our friends Katie and William. The weather was gorgeous and the gorse was in full bloom making for a blaze of colours to photograph.

I took the picture of my shadow as it struck me I looked like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – comes with having a nine year old son in the family I suppose.

Family time

As we move into April there will be another riot of colour and I hope a few more bimbles.

Cheers

George

Everyone Needs a Field Farm Day

Life is all hustle and bustle at times – so when it is you need some time out. A great place for this time out can be found at the Field Farm Project.

Our friends Mollie and Nick run this project and I feel as if I have entered a different world when I pop into visit. They certainly live up to their business tagline: Grow РStudy РMake.

A Field Farm Day

I met Mollie on a Bushcraft instructor course at Woodcraft School and part of the course was to undertake the Basic Expedition Leadership (BEL) award. I did not do this part of the course as I was already a qualified Mountain Leader however as I run this BEL course myself now Mollie wanted to do a bit of a refresher on her navigation as she runs lots of outdoor classes.

Along for the day’s training as well was my wife Alison, daughter Catherine, Mollie’s friend Debbie and her young son. It was a lovely sunny day but with the northerly wind it was bitterly cold at times. Before setting off we were fortified by some hot home-made celeriac/parsnip soup with a side of freshly baked breadsticks.

Lots of Nav

It was not all map and compass work (though there was a fair bit of it), we had lots of fun along the way.

The snowdrops were still in full bloom and we investigated the colourful world that is their underside, had a stomp around a flint/chalk pile and petted the odd Llama and Alpaca.

Explorations

Eventually we wound our way through the footpaths and country lanes to one of Mollie’s outdoor training areas. The central Beech tree was festooned with woodland art that Mollie’s classes had made, there was a small shelter and plenty of benches.

Personally I prefer to use my hammock seat however my daughter Catherine soon had me out of that ūüôā

A bit of bushcraft

The weather changed in the latter part of the walk with some heavy showers but that did not dampen our spirits. We were soon back at the farm where I took a little time out just to photograph the animals.

As we arrived home we were treated to a fantastic double rainbow over our house – a fitting end to a great day.

Back on the Farm

So if you are looking for somewhere to get away from the hustle and bustle of life then I thoroughly recommend spending some time with Mollie and Nick at the Field Farm Project.

Cheers

George

The Damp Tinder Fire – A Video Post

A number of years ago my friend Rich59 from BCUK taught me how to get a fire going using damp tinder found on the forest floor. This short video goes through the process – I will post a detailed How To…. on this shortly.

Cheers

George

How To…. Weave a Natural Birch Bark Firelighter

they burn long and fierce

Apart from making baskets and sheaths out of bark I have been experimenting these last few years with weaving bark into natural firelighters. I came across a post on Bushcraft UK by a member called Woodwalker on these firelighters from 2010 – he called them Woven Kindling.

I have since added spruce resin to mine and liken them more to Natural Frelighters as they burn long and fierce. This is the second part in my two part series on natural firelighters Рthe first being my post on Birch Bark Fire Fans.

The Birch Bark Firelighter

Removing the bark

If you can find a semi rotten fallen birch log the bark tends to come of easily so just pull of the what you need. If you use semi rotted logs just take a little piece from as many different logs as you can as these logs are home to many different invertebrates.

If the logs are freshly fallen then I use my knife to score out the area I want to cut out (ensure it is a smooth an area as possible). If the bark does not peel off easily I batton it with a small log to loosen everything up before prising it off with my knife. I go into the specifics of removing the bark in more detail in my post on the Birch Bark Fire Fan. The main thing is to take your time when the bark does not come off easily.

Stripping the bark

Once I have my section of bark I will either peel it by hand into strips of about 1 cm in length or if I am feeling the need to be very accurate I will tap my knife into a log and use that as a tool to cut the bark into even strips.

Locking the strands together

1. ¬†To make one firelighter you need four strips of birch bark. I use¬†strips about 30 cm’s in length¬†and 1 or 2 cm’s width.

2.  Fold each strip in half Рthe folded end is called the closed end and the end with the two tails is called the open end.

3. ¬†Slide one closed end between the open end of another strip so it sticks out by 2 or 3 cm’s. In the picture below in section 3 you can see a T shape is formed.

Folding – Open – Closed

4.  The closed end of a third folded strip is added to the upright part of the initial T shape to lock it off.

5. A fourth folded strip is added to the third strip to lock it off and the tails are threaded through the protruding loop of the first strip.

6.  All the strips should now be locked off.

7.  Pull everything in tight.

Locking in

The Four Strand Crown

The firelighter is formed by weaving a Four Strand Crown knot. I have added the arrows to help you visualise what I am doing.  Important РThere will be two strips of bark at each open end. Only use the top strip of each open end when you begin the weave

8.  To begin the knot fold one of the strips over. In section 8 I chose to fold the top strip on the left over first.

9.  The strip is folded over to the opposite side.

10.  To secure that strip in place I folded the strip at the top over this first strip to secure it in place.

11.  This top strip (now at the bottom) was secured in place by folding the right hand strip over it.

Four Strand Crown Knot

12.  To secure the fourth strip loosen the first strip slightly so that it forms a small loop by its fold Рknown as an eye.

13.  Feed the tail of the fourth strip into this eye.

14.  Pull the tail of the fourth strip in tight.

15. Repeat from step 8 to 14 again to form another layer of weave.

Building the layers

Flip the whole piece over and begin the weave on what were the bottom strips. Once you run out of bark to fold over tuck in the ends into a suitable slot or trim them off with your knife.

Repeating on the other side

The Resin

These little firelighters take only a minute or two to make but they can burn for far longer if you add some resin to them. I use spruce resin as it is plentiful here in the UK (again I discuss harvesting resin in my post on the Birch Bark Fire Fan in more detail).

I break of little blobs (it can get messy if the resin is runny) of resin and insert them into the little slots formed by the weave and that is basically it (use as much resin as you can).

Add the magic ingredient

When lit these firelighters burn easily for over 5 minutes so giving you time to build your fire without resorting to using fine tinder and just small twigs. I can easily hold the firelighter for the first minute before it becomes to fierce to hold.

Once it gets going and the resin is well lit then it I go no where near it with my fingers. I like to use them first thing in the morning when I do not want to faff about with collecting tinders and just get a brew on.

Ready to go

I prep mine in the evening while sitting around the fire and pack them away for when I need them. If you are looking for a viable alternative to modern firelighters then these are ideal – if you are always a purist and insist on foraging for your tinders every time you light a fire then maybe they are not for you.

Quick to make and lasts for ages

For those that like a video intead of the step by step I put this short video together to explain the process.

Cheers and happy weaving.

Geprge

The 2017 Adventure Leaders – Weekend 1

Since 2010 I have been part of the team running the Basic Expedition Leader (BEL) Award in London Area Sea Cadets. I have lost count of the number of potential Adventure Leaders I have trained and assessed over the years and more keep coming – we must be doing something right ūüôā

BEL Weekend 1

This year we were joined by Roy Sellstrom from Southern Area Sea Cadets as he is looking to start the course in his area. The award is nationally recognised and the success of London Area has started to be noticed now by other Sea Cadet areas.

As the course is designed to be undertaken by students with very little adventure training experience we cover all the basics that a good leader should know. These included classes on clothing, rucksacks, leaders kit, stoves, the law and tents to name just a few we covered.

Our group contained a mixed bunch in terms of experience with quite a few who have been Adventure Leaders under the old Sea Cadet qualification system and are now looking to get this nationally accredited BEL award. This helps us as instructors as we can buddy the students up to share knowledge with each other.

Learning the Basics

The first weekend is always undertaken at a Sea Cadet unit (this year once again at TS Black Swan) so that those students who are not so experienced can be introduced to the subject in a more controlled manner. As the weekends go on they will be operating out of campsites in different parts of the country and passing on their new found skills to cadets as we observe them.

Not all the classes are indoors and we get outside for subjects such as looking at tent and stove designs. These are very hands on classes designed to let the students have time to get to know some of types of kit cadets will bring along to camps. Life would be easy if we could issue our cadets with all the same kit but as we are a charity each unit must source their own kit so it all comes in different shapes and sizes.

All about stoves

One of the reasons I love running this weekend out of TS Black Swan is the great food we always get. The galley staff are always there to feed us from breakfast time to supper time and this is really appreciated by everyone as it lets us get on with all the classes we need to cram into this course.

Eating well

No course run out of TS Black Swan would be complete without a little bit of relaxation time in the wardroom in the evening :-). Also the fact that the unit is in Sunbury on the Thames helps with the great views as you walk out of the door.

Normally I get to spend my evenings on my friend Paul’s canal boat but this year¬†it was booked out with his new lady friend ūüôĀ Sort it out for next year would you Paul – I miss my bunk).

R & R

While we were running our classes there was plenty of other things going on at the unit including a Seamanship class and a Power Boat class. I spent my breaks sitting by the Thames seeing what was happening and hoping for the odd decent picture.

Other Goings On

Sunday morning was all about map and compass work. After a couple of classes by Roy and John on compasses and maps we were all off out onto the North Downs to practice our navigation.

We broke the teams up into small groups as we had plenty of instructional staff and really concentrated on giving the students some quality tuition. A massive weighting in the assessment is on navigation so this is a skill we practice and test on every training weekend.

Map and Compass time

One minute the students would be in the woods trying to figure out the paths, then out in the open gauging distance, then to find themselves trying to figure out the best way to get a group across a busy road.

In between all this we had plenty of breaks to sit down and discuss all these skills and to just appreciate the countryside around us.

Navigating BEL country

Back in the woods we started to meet up with the other groups as we took them of the paths and got them to work out their route using signs from the land around them. We get very attached to paths and I am a firm believer in getting off the path every now and then and adventuring about.

Meet Ups

There are plenty more trips on this course ahead including Dartmoor, Ashdown Forest and the New Forest before the assessment at the end of the year.

Cheers

George

How To…. Make A Birch Bark Fire Fan

Ever find yourself relying on using non-natural firelighters a lot due to their convenience? I do as I normally have a lot to organise before courses and using natural methods every time when I have a class can be time consuming when things are damp.

This is the first of two blogs on natural firelighters I like to use and how to make them. I like to prepare them well in advance of trips, pack them away in my bergen and use them instead of the likes of cotton wool and Vaseline (my usual non-natural method).

The Birch Bark Fire Fan

I came across a number of years ago a small section in Ray Mears book Essential Bushcraft on using a Birch bark fan. Ray recommended folding pieces of bark into a fan shape to stop the bark curling up quickly and becoming impossible to handle when it was lit.

I teach this method to my cadets however if I have time I like to add some melted spruce resin to these fans. This really extends the life of the fan giving me a better chance to get my fire going (great for these damp days) and because the resin soon hardens the fans they do not fall apart or deform so much when carried in a bag.

Removing the Bark

If you have a semi rotted birch log then the bark should come off easily however if it is a freshly felled log things may get a little more difficult for you. Here in the UK the birch bark can be quite thin and more difficult to remove than the thicker bark of birch trees you would find in more northern climes.

Mark out the squares

I mark out small squares with my knife and if the bark does not peel off easily I use a small batten to gently hammer the bark. This gentle hammering helps to loosen the inner bark from the sapwood.

Also having a wooden wedge helps to peel the bark of but mostly I tend to just use the curved part of my knife. Some folk say it is better to use the back of the tip of your knife but I find the curved part works well for me. The main thing is to take your time and remove the inner and outer bark from the sap wood.

Tap and Peel

Remove the Inner Bark

When I have removed a small square I gently remove the inner bark. Again do this job slowly removing the inner bark in small pieces. It is very easy when using thin bark to rip the outer bark.

Carefully strip off the inner bark

Folding the Fan

To make your fan start folding your square as if you were making a very small fan – not much more you can say about that ūüôā

Fold like a paper fan

Keep a hold on one end and with a strip of bark tie off the other end. They do not take long to make and are soon ready for the resin.

Tie a tail

Spruce resin

Here in the UK a handy and plentiful resource is Spruce resin. There are lots of conifer plantations where I live and a common tree in them is the Spruce. I keep an eye out for areas where the foresters have been using tractors to thin out the spruce as they tend to damage lower branches on trees they pass by.

To help heal itself the trees produce copious amounts of resin and this is full of oils that are flammable. By taking a little from different sites (I use a stick to scrape the resin) I can soon have plenty to melt and coat the Birch bark fans and leave plenty for the trees.

Harvest some resin

I just use a couple of tins (the inner tin has lots of little holes) to melt the resin by my campfire (I have documented this process in How To….¬†Spruce Pitch in a Tin Can) and dunk the tail of the fan into this hot liquid (good gloves or tongs are required here).

Once the tail is covered I pour some of the resin onto the area of the fan by the tail leaving the top of the fan clear of resin.

Melt, dip and pour

I find this combination works for me as the folds stop the bark from curling straight away and when the flame reaches the resin it burns for far longer.

One excellent fire lighter

I put a little video together on this to show you the process from start to finish.

The next post in this short series will be on making a woven Birch bark firelighter (again with Spruce resin).

Cheers

George

Dining Out – Brecon Style

The beginning of this year was the end of an era for the Adventure Training team in London Area Sea Cadets: our bosses Perry Symes and Graham Brockwell were standing down from their roles as Area Staff Officers after many years of hard work.

So to celebrate we headed off to the Brecon Beacons here in the UK for a ‘Dining Out Weekend‘.

Dining Out

It was a weekend of many parts – once we had settled into our bunkhouse at Gilfach Farm it was time for a ceremony of handing out certificates to those students who had recently passed their Basic Expedition Leadership Award.

Kev Lomas awarded Perry and Graham a cuddly neck teddy each to carry about for the weekend. Then it was off to the pub to get some dinner (a beer or two) and to plan for the next day.

Friday Fun

After a good breakfast I had a wander outside and was greeted by a cracking view of Pen Y Fan in the distance. She had a light smattering of snow however the skies were clear.

We were soon off in the cars and mini bus heading for our start point at Cwm Gwdi car park (old soldiers may remember this camp). This spot allowed us easy access up onto Pen Y Fan without all the masses you will find on the route up from Storey Arms.

Saturday Start

The majority of the group were outdoor instructors and all had worked with Perry and Graham in one way or another over the years . Today though the emphasis was on ‘doing your own thing’.

Alan and Dave Lewis went for a low level walk as Dave was carrying an injury while the rest of us set off up the Cefn Cwm Llwch track on the northern slopes of Pen Y Fan. The going was wet underfoot at first however we soon climbed above the snow line.

We snaked along the path, well spread out, enjoying the views and chatting as we went along. I decided to record my very first Live Facebook video on this part of the walk. The videos were not top quality because of the weak signal and wind noise but I enjoyed making them.

Pen Y Fan – The Approach

I spent most of my time scouting out good photography positions and ordering the lads to pose for me ūüôā Kept me happy and I think everyone liked that they could for once go at their own pace and do their own thing.

The final bit of the track up to the summit was quite icy but safe enough if you took your time. Once on the top it was like Piccadily Circus with all the folk coming up from the Storey Arms. We soon got the pictures taken and Ben found time for a few push ups before we set off.

Pen Y Fan – The Summit

It was at this point we broke up into three groups. The first set off at breakneck speed to ascend Cribyn and Fan Y Big. I bimbled along with the middle group but soon left them, ascending to the saddle below Cribyn. After a break on Cribyn I descended off the hill on its Northern slope down the Bryn Teg track where I met the third group being led off the hill by Jacques.

Descent Time

Soon the teams met¬†up again and while Jacques sped off to pick up the minibus James produced a rugby ball from his bergen (there was not much else in it). I asked him why he had not produced it on top of Pen Y Fan and he said he forgot (would have been an excellent photo opportunity). Anyway the guys had a good half hour mucking about and doing the odd ‘Dab’ on the side of a bridge.

Waiting for a bus

The Saturday evening was spent in the Red Lion pub in Llangorse enjoying a slap up meal. We were given the upper floor to use and it was probably a good move on the staff’s part – it got pretty noisy¬†at times.

When I arrived though we were all downstairs in the bar and some of the guys were playing pool. They had been there a couple of hours¬†to watch England play in the Six Nations rugby championship. I was standing at the bar when one of the locals approached. ‘Be careful,’ he¬†advised me, nodding at my kilt, ‘There’s¬†a bunch of rowdy English fans in the bar.’ I looked over his shoulder – then back at him – and said that it was OK, those rowdy¬†English fans were my so-called mates ūüôā His face was a picture!

Dinner Time

The evening was a great success with good food, plenty of wine, speeches, and a few war stories before retiring to the bar downstairs.

In the morning there may have been one or two fuzzy heads as we packed up and made our way to Dinas Rock located in the South of the Beacons. The plan was for some of the guys to do some Mountain Leader ropework on the rocks while the rest of us headed off to the waterfalls at Sgwd Yr Eira. In the end no one got there as we all kind of split up (after going the wrong way initially) and did our own thing.

I found a nice spot to sit in my hammock by the river while Jacques as usual dived in.

Sunday Stroll (top left picture courtesy of Ed Juanrude – top right courtesy of Dave Lewis)

It was a fantastic weekend and it was great to be part of it. I think the pictures confirm that Perry and Graham had a great time. Below, pictured in between Perry and Graham, is Ben McDonald, the latest Mountain Leader to the team who has taken over Perry’s role as Sea Cadet Area Staff Officer (ASO) for Adventure Training in the London Area. Perry aims to stay on as the Assistant ASO for a year before stepping back totally.

A Salute

The guests were (in no particular order):

  • Paul Kelly
  • Kev Lomas
  • Deano Nicholas
  • Jacques Daragh Moore-Hurley
  • James Rawlings
  • Ben McDonald
  • Ed Juanrude
  • Duncan Boar
  • Jim Stilgoe
  • Jacob Leverett
  • Jennifer Burdett
  • John Kelly
  • Alan Lewis
  • Dave Lewis
  • Chris Bonfield
  • Chris Cook
  • Graham Brockwell
  • Perry Symes
  • and myself ūüôā

Cheers

George