It only seems a short time ago I was havering about making videos – I plucked up the courage eventually to load a video onto YouTube and now here I am on my 100th YouTube video 🙂
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Instead of using bark to lay your leaf litter on try using large green leaves.
No bark or green leaves? Use small branches to lay everything on and to cover your pile.
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.
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.
Week 3 has been a bit of a downer for myself. I found myself working long hours up in Scotland (indoors) and at the weekend I retired myself to bed with a severe bit of man flu.
So it was a rare week that I did not take a single picture. I had a look at a few I had taken the week before and this one cheered me up no end.
We pass it by every day without a second glance but with the right light and looking close enough the beautiful seed head of the clematis can be quite enchanting.
And as a bushcrafter a handful of them always end up in my pocket to be added to my tinder bag.
The Moot will have something for you – be that firesteels, bowdrills, handrills, pumpdrills, bamboo fire saws or the secret art of lighting fire from damp tinder
Many many years ago I stumbled upon a website called Bushcraft UK and realised that there were many folk out there just like me, struggling to get to grips with all the different ways of making fire.
The results on the site only took me so far so I was even happier when I spotted a thread on the Bushmoot. This was the second Bushmoot way back in 2005.
Since then I have discovered many different ways of making fire when out and about. This post is about just some of the ways we make fire at the BCUK Bushmoot.
One of the most common methods a bushcrafter will use to light a fire is a Firesteel, so there are plenty of people willing to share with you how they use theirs and explain what tinders they use.
We have included the use of Firesteels into our ‘Starter Course‘ at the Moot. They are easy to use and the kids love them. When teaching very young kids (pre school) I liken them to creating Fairy lights and this seems to catch the children’s imagination.
The first person to teach me to use a Firesteel properly at the Moot was Kevin Warrington (Laplander’s Natural Lore Blog) and after I attended his bowdrill class he asked me to come back and assist him with fire-making the next year. We have been good friends ever since and I have to thank Kevin for getting me started on the road to instructing others in the world of bushcraft.
The Starter Course
The Starter course at the Moot is not just about lighting a fire, it is also about making anyone preparing and maintaining a fire, and just as importantly it is about putting a fire out safely.
It is great to see a whole family come together to learn how to work as a team to get all the resources they need for their fire and to coax that initial burst of heat into a well-established fire.
From time to time some of the instructors will bring along some of their pump drills or other similar training aids. The pump drills prove a great hit with all the kids and once they get the hang of the system they soon have them spinning madly away as they attempt to produce some smoke.
These drills were supplied a couple of years ago by Perry McGee of the National Tracking School.
A favourite of mine over the years has to be the bowdrill. I have lost count of the number of people I have helped master this skill at the Moot. One of the reasons I love teaching this skill is that there are so many factors to take into account when bowing you can easily lose a whole day when teaching it.
Recently a number of other instructors like Mark Oriel have stepped forward to teach this skill enabling me to focus on other areas to develop myself.
While teaching bowdrill I use two methods. One is with a single wrap of cord around the drill piece and the other is with multiple wraps (the Egyptian method).
The single wrap is easy to set up however it puts a lot of strain on the cord and if the drill and the bearing block become separated the drill piece tends to ping off to the side.
The Egyptian method relies on multiple wraps, it takes longer to set up and can be more difficult to control. It does though have the advantage of not putting so much strain on the cord and the drill does not ping off to the side when it becomes detached from the bearing block.
Here is the bowdrill in action using the single wrap method.
As we get a lot of children at the Moot and from time to time someone carrying an injury you need to devise other strategies for bowdrilling. Historically I believe bowdrilling was a communal affair as it requires a lot less effort from individuals to get fire when they work together.
I set up Group Bowdrill sessions for families where a couple of people can hold a large bearing block in place and a couple of others can push the bow back and forth to generate the heat required (approx 425 degrees Celsius) to produce an ember. This method usually results in a massive ember, which increases the chance of getting a flame.
Another method is to use the large bearing block with the bowyer holding one end as a bearing block with the other end dug into the ground. In the bottom two pictures you can see that Dave is also using a ’round’ of wood to raise the hearthboard making the act of bowing easier.
I made a short video of a bow in action with the Egyptian method at the Moot a couple of years ago. This was to show how easy it was to create an ember using this method with two people on the bow.
A Master fire maker who has been coming to the moot for years now is Richard (Rich59 on BCUK) and what he doesn’t know about firemaking is not worth bothering about. He is an expert with the handrill and regularly brings along a range of woods such as Elder, Teasel, Buddlia, Mullein and Reedmace for students to try out.
Richard is a keen experimenter and will try out different techniques like attaching cord to the drill to see if that technique makes life easier for people.
This is my short video on using a handrill.
This year Richard experimented with Bamboo Fire Saws. He managed to get some spare bamboo from Wayne Jones of Forest Knights (Wayne was making Bhutenese bows) and we soon had a pile prepped up around our camp.
I did not get to see Richards class as I was running one myself but the reports were all positive with successful fires being made, Maybe next year I will make time to see his class.
Once you have your ember created (however you do that) it is time to coax that very fragile bundle of hot dust into a fully formed ember and – with the use of whatever tinder you have at hand – to get that much sought-after flame.
It is at this stage that you can see students’ faces transform from concentration into sheer joy – one of the reasons why I love this subject.
Normally you try and find the driest tinder possible to turn your ember into a flame, however Richard turned that idea upside down a few years ago. We had a chat one evening around the fire and he explained his idea to me: dimply that it was possible to walk off into the woods and pick up damp dead leaves and process them in a certain way to make tinder to start a fire.
After collecting a pile of damp leaves (take the driest ones from the top of the leaf debris) start to break them up by rubbing them vigorously. Collect the flaked pieces and grade them from minute up to piles of the skeletal remains of the leaves.
From this make a small pile wjth the finest flakes in the centre of your pile.
Make a small hole in the side of your pile to the centre and pop an ember (create that in whatever way you wish) and start to blow gently into the ember.
The trick is to do this slowly so that you create an ever-expanding dry area. If necessary you can place some green leaves or bark over the top to trap all the broken debris and stop it all blowing away. After about 10 to 20 minutes you usually get flame. Just shows you should always persevere with your fire.
Whether you are a novice to fire making or an expert looking for a new challenge the Moot will have something for you – be that firesteels, bowdrills, handrills, pumpdrills, bamboo fire saws or the secret art of lighting fire from damp tinder.