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

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

Shelter building with the Boys

Last weekend I went for a walk in the woods with my lad Finlay and his friend William. I was planning a bit of a hike however I spotted a glade in our local woods where an area has been set aside for kids to build dens.

This post follows the steps I talked the lads through the principles of shelter building. This is not a full on How To…. guide to shelter building but more of an introduction to the principles of it all.

Photo 11-04-2016, 12 40 28
The principles of shelter building

We had a wander around some of the shelters that had been left up by other groups and talked about the positive elements of each shelter. I find that this focuses the mind on what has worked well and how these elements can be incorporated into any other shelter.

We looked at how high a shelter needed to be, how many walls were really needed, how much thatch was needed and what was needed to keep them warm dependent on different weather conditions.

Photo 11-04-2016, 12 40 20
The positives

I told the lads that we only had time to build a small shelter (Sunday Dinner was calling) so they found some rope and wood and I showed them how to tie everything together to form a spar. We had no tools at all so had to work with what we had.

Photo 11-04-2016, 12 40 18
Setting out

After a chat they opted to go for a simple lean to shelter as this they felt would take the least amount off time.

I told them they would need lots of sticks to lean up against the spar (more than they thought) and that they needed to be roughly the same size. After a quick demonstration on how to snap wood using the base of two tree trunks that were close together they were soon hard at work.

Photo 11-04-2016, 12 40 21
Sizing up

We put a pole on the ground to roughly mark out where each pole should be driven in and soon they had the basic skeleton of the shelter formed.

Photo 11-04-2016, 12 40 22
The Skeleton

One of the hardest things to get across to them was the need to always have a tidy working area. we had lots of dead wood lying about so I made them clear it all away from the shelter so we had a safe area to work in.

Once that was all done we had a good forage around for some spruce boughs. There were plenty lying around that had been cut down by the foresters for the kids to use (I wish all woods had an area like this).

Photo 11-04-2016, 12 40 23
Tidying and foraging

After layering some of the spruce boughs onto the skeleton of the shelter I got the boys doing the penguin walk. This is the way I get the kids to gather up lots of leaves in a very short space of time. They would quickly make little piles of leaves and throw them over the spruce boughs.

Once the bottom half was all done they got some more spruce boughs for the top and covered that in leaves as well. Finally to keep the leaves in place they laid a load of small sticks over the leaves (to try and help stop the wind from blowing it all away).

Photo 11-04-2016, 12 40 24
The layer system

Once they had finished the outside it was time to sort out the interior design. They spent a little while weaving back in all the loose (well some of them) spruce needles back into the thatch.

Once that was done they foraged for some more spruce and made themselves up a little bed to keep themselves off the cold earth.

Photo 11-04-2016, 12 40 26 (1)
Interior design

We did not have permission to have a fire in the woods but that did not stop us from pretending – after all that is what we kids do ūüôā

I got them to build themselves a heat reflecting wall in front of the shelter (about two paces from the shelter). They just pushed two sticks into the ground and stacked some logs up against them.

Photo 11-04-2016, 12 40 26
Reflector wall

All that was left for them to do was construct their long log fire (one step away from the shelter) and relax.

Photo 11-04-2016, 12 40 27
Fire and finish

This took us about one and a half hours to complete and managed to have fun along the way as well.

As I said this was more about the principles of shelter building (done really to help towards one of their Cubs badges) and not a full on How To…. to building a shelter. If we had more time we would have put about 3 times as much debris over the top, the bed would have been raised up with a much thicker mattress of spruce and the sides would have been closed in.

Oh yeah – and the kettle would have been on ūüôā

Cheers

George

Picture of the Week – Week 13 – Hobbling Along

This last week has found me cooped up in the house nursing a ripped muscle in my calf – the after effects of a nearly 50 year old going to a trampoline centre¬†with his children (my advice is don’t do it – no matter what they say about how much fun it will be).

So today I got out (well hobbled out really) to The Vyne National Trust property here in Hampshire.

Photo 03-04-2016, 20 20 36
Spring Shoots – Sycamore

I was taught a while ago that any decent photographer can stand in any spot and after considering all the angles take a half way decent shot. This is what I did here at the side of the man made lake at The Vyne.

I spotted some newly burst sycamore shoots at the base of a tree at the edge of the lake and thought that the angles could work for me. It was a bit of a struggle to get low down for this shot without causing myself any further damage but the soft mud at the edge of the lake worked for me ūüôā

I have worked on the picture to brighten the new sycamore shoot on the right but to to give the picture a slightly darker look all over – probably to reflect my current mood where I do feel slightly better now but am still really frustrated over my lack of mobility.

Cheers

George

Memorable Moments 2015 – Winter

I tend to put what I think are interesting photographs I have taken up on my Instagram account and as I was looking through it tonight certain ones caught my eye and brought back some good memories.

Memorable Moments will be a short series of themed posts of pictures that I enjoy looking at time and again.

Starting with last winter I was strolling along a path in North Wales and was struck by the simple beauty of this footpath marker – reminded me of a sugared bun.

image
Marking the way

While walking with a group of Sea Cadet friends below the summit of Snowdon a shepherd appeared out of the mist and stood by us. He did not look at us or speak to us. He just stopped, surveyed the land around him, spotted his sheep and was then off – quite a surreal moment where I instantly was reminded that one persons playground is another persons workplace.

image
Work and play

Late January brought the Snowdrops out and as I was practising my macro photography I was soon out and about looking at these beautiful flowers.

I somehow managed to catch this one in the right light and our local magazine thought it good enough to make the cover page in last February’s issue.

image
Simple beauty

I love taking my kids out into the woods to explore and we have some great adventures. My son Finlay though was stopped in his tracks by a simple feather that was caught up on a branch.

I came along to see what he had found and snapped this little pic of him admiring some simple beauty in nature.

image
An eye on nature

My final picture in this winter theme is staged I am afraid. I was walking along in the woods looking for an interesting shot when I spotted this rather skeletal leaf on the ground.

I was so taken with it that I picked it up for a closer look and inadvertantly looked at it with the sun in the background Рso in no time it was hanging off a branch for what I think is a pretty good pic.

image
Winter skeletons

Thats it for the Winter Memorable Moments however there will be a few more soon.

Cheers

George

Late Summer Bimbles

July, August and September were very busy months for me this year so I did not post up much about the bimbles around my local village of Bramley.

Part of this was due to receiving a rather lovely birthday present in September from my wife Alison of a new Nikon D3200 DSLR camera. I have never owned a camera that requires anything more than point and shoot before so I have spent many an evening reading up on it and practising.

Some of the pictures in this post have been taken with my Nokia phone and some with my new DSLR.

I have  put up just a few of the many pictures I have taken over the last two months and separated them into categories.

Butterflies

I am not that knowledgable about these lovely creatures so had to rely on a guide book to ID them. The three below from top left clockwise are a Comma Butterfly, a Marble White and a Silverwashed Fritillary. All were photographed in woodland glades enjoying the sunlight.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 37 24
Comma Butterfly, a Marble White and a Silverwashed Fritillary

Flowers

As usual flowers are my passion with the range of smells, colours and textures they offer. I am still confused by some flowers I find in and around the woods by our village Рthere must be lots of garden escapes. The yellow flower my daughter is looking at was a late bloomer; I could not identify it from my books but she liked it.

The cornflower is always a nice find but the most unusual I spotted was at The Vyne National Trust property on the outskirts of Bramley. The little flower on the bottom right was sitting on top of a perfectly manicured hedge and was too good a shot to miss.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 37 47
Cornflower (bottom left) and two unknowns

Two beautiful plants for late summer are Woundwort and Borage. Both plants have been used medicinally in the past, for treating cuts and kidney problems respectively.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 38 03
Woundwort and Borage

Ok not a flower but the flowering heads of the hogweed when caught at the right angle and light turn into a thing of beauty.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 39 32
The majestic hogweed

Fruits and nuts

I luckily have a local woodland next to me that has a carpet of wild strawberries. In the summer it was great to see these little red berries appearing and getting to nibble the odd one before the birds or slugs got to them. I managed to photograph far more hazlenuts this year (bottom left) before the squirrels snaffled them all. I don’t know if that was because I was really looking for them, there were more than usual, there were fewer¬†squirrels about, or a combination¬†of all of the above. As usual though there were plenty of horse chestnuts for my kids to collect. My rucksack always ended up being full of them every time I took the kids out.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 38 24
Wild Strawberries, Hazelnuts and Horse Chestnuts

Finlay spotted the apple tree in full bloom and was soon scrumping for apples in its branches. I took the bottom shot as I really liked the contrast of red and green with the rosehips and apples, both beautiful and full of vitamin C.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 38 56
Scrumping for apples through the rosehips

Leaves

I have been watching the leaves grow all year and now into the autumn I am watching them start to die off. They can be quite striking though at times with the higgeldy piggeldy white trail of the larvae from the moth larvae Nepticula aurella. A hazel leaf (bottom picture) may seem quite boring to look at first but if you put it to the light and peer closely then you see a whole new world.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 39 19
Leaves up close

Seeds

The wood aven flower is a lovely yellow colour and the plant has many uses but the flower only lasts a few months. To know it all year round you need to recognise the shape of its leaves and also the spiky seed head it produces (top left). Once you have identified one you will see them all over the place.
I like to peer inside the little capsules containing the bluebell seeds just before they fall apart and drop their seeds (bottom left). This is a second period of beauty to me with this plant, often overlooked by most people. I have no idea what the seed pod in the top right is from (taken in my garden) but it is striking.

The last one at the bottom right shows the seeds from the willowherb starting to unfurl.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 39 46
Seeds – Woodaven, Bluebells, Willowherb and one unknown (top right)

I could not resist putting this picture of the willowherb up on its own as it captures the moment the little hairs with their attached seeds are just starting to float off.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 40 00
The beauty of a Willowherb seed pod unfurling

I came across this little chap (not my son) Mr Squirrel (though it could have been Mrs Squirrel) lying in the leaf litter on one walk with Finlay. Over a number of weeks we would see this little chap slowly decomposing and both Finlay and myself found it totally fascinating.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 40 12
Mr Squirrel returning to the earth

Insects

Over the summer I have been trying to get some good macro shots of insects and I was particularly impressed with the spider in the top left picture. I took this one with my new camera as well as the honeybee (I think that is what it is) at the bottom right. The other two were captured using my Nokia phone camera.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 40 31
Up close and personal with the insects

This little packet of pink madness is the red gall of the gall wasp. I found it hanging off a bramble branch and was very confused to what it was at first until I had looked it up. I will be looking out for more of them next year when I will hopefully have some extension tubes for my camera lens so as to take far better macro pictures.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 39 09
The red gall of the gall wasp

A last little look at the beauty of the small fly and the daddy long legs.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 40 48
The fly and daddy long legs

My last picture is of one of the few ground-dwelling fungi I spotted over the summer. As far as I am concerned it is an LBJ (Little Brown Jobbie): I do not study these little critters enough to identify the different types of LBJs. I liked this one for the forlorn look it had sitting on its own on the woodland floor after something or someone had snapped it.

Thankfully as autumn has progressed more and more fungi have started to pop up all over the woods which I can identify.

Photo 27-10-2014 09 41 01
An early dejected looking LBJ

I had a great summer photographing around my village and look forward to getting some great pictures as the autumn comes to a close and winter sets in.

Cheers

George

Stunning Sycamore

Last weekend I stopped for a break at one of the roadside services you find on most main roads these days. I decided to have a wander while the rest of the lads got what they wanted from the shop.

I was lazily staring at the trees and noticed something about one tree in particular, a sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). The tree had buds on it at every stage of growth. I could track in a zig zag pattern across just one small part of the tree all these stages.

When the lads arrived they asked what I was doing and shook their heads pityingly as I took out my phone to capture the pictures.

Here are all the stages I saw. No need for me to try and describe them as the pictures say it all.

Photo 22-04-2014 15 39 28
A stretching bud
Photo 22-04-2014 15 40 09
Peeking out
Photo 22-04-2014 15 41 29
Unfurling
Photo 22-04-2014 15 42 41
The small leaf bundle then appears
Photo 22-04-2014 15 43 17
Gathering in that first sunlight – like a young butterfly drying its wings out
Photo 22-04-2014 15 43 29
Preparing to unfurl the central leaves
Photo 22-04-2014 15 43 53
Unfurled, growing and working

I have been trying to capture this process of growth on different trees this spring but was struck by the sight of all these stages on just a few branches of the same tree.

Cheers

George

Spring Growth – 16th of April 2014

As the spring growth is coming thick and fast I popped back out on Monday to see what was coming through around Bramley.

I found that the ash had started to burst through but only on some trees. The top two pictures are of ash as well as the bottom right picture.

Bottom left is lime and in the centre (bottom) I found one English oak tree that was starting to push its leaves out.

1404142
Bursting buds

That English oak had just one solitary leaf showing when I photographed it so as I write this three days later I expect it will be well covered now. The beech tree (bottom left) that I have been monitoring had been chopped in two as they had been doing some mechanical hedgecutting in the area. Thankfully as you can see the bottom half of the beech is managing to push some leaves out.

The silver birch in the middle picture has produced masses of leaves and they taste exceptionally good at the moment. On the right looking very shiny the lime tree I have been watching has just a few leaves showing now. Finally on the bottom right the alder is well established with leaves as it had started two weeks ago.

160414
Young leaves

There are plenty of flowers out there still, including  primroses, stichworts, wood anemones and wild strawberries to name a few, but two caught my attention this trip. The top two show the early purple orchid and the bottom two the masses of bluebells that have appeared over the last week.

1604141
New Flowers

My kids had a great time looking for these orchids so we decided to make a little video of it.

Orchid Hunting with Catherine and Finlay

Cheers

George