To build a fire

It may be September, but summer is still hanging on strong in Florida. It had hit the mid 90’s again that Saturday and the usual afternoon rain hit heavily. So, of course, around 8:00, I decided it would be a great time to start a fire.

Yep. High temps and ungodly, sticky humidity just cry out for camp fires.  No?  Actually, you’re right.  This was an act of complete lunacy.

Ok. It was crazy, but not that crazy. I did have a reason for doing this.  I wanted to test myself and see if I could get a fire going without using a lighter or matches.

For a few years I’ve been watching those “survival” shows as well as various camping shows on You Tube. (Kennith Kramm is great!  So is A lone wolverine 1984)  And I can’t forget my WordPress campers.  (Lookin’ at you, Girly Camping)

This let to gear gifts. I put tons of items on my wish list as well as buying many things outright.  I don’t know about you, but I hate the idea of having all this money spent just to let it sit around and collect dust. Uh-uh.  That’s not gonna happen!

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I’ve been playing around with a fire-starter that consists of a ferrocerrium rod and striker. You shave the ferro rod with the striker which gives off extremely hot sparks.  The rod is thicker than the one glued to a metal magnesium bar found at Wal-Mart, but is smaller than the ¼” diameter that Dave Cantebury uses.  I’d scrape the rod with the striker of the back of my pocket knife just to see the sparks fly.  It was easy to tell that the back of my knife did a much better job at creating sparks from the rod than the striker did.

I also had some shavings lying in my hat. (Part of a project from Bushcraft USA forums) And then there is the clothes line wrapped up in a spool sitting next to my router on my desk.  That should be good tinder.  Along with this is a nice bucket load of dry kindling sitting quietly in the garage.  This will work.

But can I make it work?

My idea was to start a fire using the clothesline and shavings, and then building it up with the kindling before adding on the very wet wood.

I cut off two pieces of clothesline, each an inch long. Then I separated the outside weaving from the inside and shredded the outside weave while opening up the inside. Tossing it in the hat, I took the supplies outside to the fire pit.

One minor problem here. The pit is so deep that if I place the shaving bundle and shredded rope into the middle, I’m going to be stretching really far to get that spark going.  If it was dry, I’d place it all on a palm frond.  Since they’re soaking wet, I cheated and placed it on a sheet of newspaper.  I figured since the paper is just for support and transport and would not be used to start the fire, it was ok.

Now I was ready.

I took the striker and pulled the rod against it. You’re supposed to pull the ferro rod against the bottom of the striker so that you don’t accidentally knock the kindling bundle away.

One. Two.  Three pulls.  Sparks flew lightly into the air, but nowhere near enough needed to get this thing going.  I set the striker aside and pulled out the knife.  I have seen some people use the sharp edge of the knife to strike the sparks, but I didn’t want to ruin the sharp edge I worked so hard to get on this.  I used the back spine of the blade instead.  Gripping tight, I pulled again.

One! Oops!  The bundle spilled into the pit. I had held it so tightly that when the knife pulled away from the rod, the hand holding the rod moved forward and knocked the bundle away.  I quickly grabbed the bundle off the wet soil and put it back on the paper.  During the move, I could tell that the moisture in the air is getting wicked up into the bundle.  It felt moist in my hands.  Not damp, mind you, but definitely wetter than it was when I brought it out.  I needed to get this thing going.

With this added urgency I took the inner part of the cotton clothesline and pulled it to open up its fibers.

One more strike.

Fhzzzzt!

Sparks flew heavily in a shower of light and catch of the mix of cotton and wood. A flame started immediately and started to consume the small bundle with alarming speed.  The fire is started and it’s hungry!  I quickly placed the paper holding the fire into the pit before throwing some very small splinter thick pieces of wood on it.  While those were consumed, I started to build a teepee around and over it with my kindling of dried palm frond stalks.  (Dried palm frond stalks and leaves are wonderful for fires!  They have natural oils in them that burn very hot.  It burns similar to pine, but without the fumes or odor.)

After building that up came the next challenge, using wet wood. The fire wood has been sitting uncovered for a year now and that wood has been rained on constantly over the summer.  Besides the rain in the afternoon, it had rain water soaking in it throughout the week.  Only one day out of the seven did it not rain.  This wood is beyond wet.  It is soaked.

Pulling the thinnest branches out, I started to break them into proper lengths. Some parts bent rather than broke.  Other thicker pieces just crumble in my hands.  They were so wet that they were rotting!  Placing these on top of the kindling, I worried the fire might not be hot enough.  The cure for that?  More palm stalks.  Dead palm fronds stood in easy reach.  The problem was that they were wet from the rain, just like the wood.  Would they work?  I grabbed a few from the palmettos and was instantly sprayed by the water that had collected in the pockets of the frond leaves.  This was going to be interesting.  Six fronds later and I was ready.

I placed them strategically in the fire and watched in amazement as they lit up. The oil in the palm fronds really helps out.  I relaxed as I watched the soaking wood dry out and catch fire.  Plus the mixed sound of sizzling water and cracking fire was such a treat.

Finally I pushed the limit and threw in a decent log. It was four inched thick and over two feet long.  The fire would have to dry it before cutting it and then dry it again to consume it.  Would it work?

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Yep.

So I succeeded in my experiment. I was able to get a fire going and was able to burn very wet wood.

Was it a true test of wet weather fire building? Definitely not.  I used dry tinder and dry kindling.  I didn’t try to carve out dry wood from the inside of logs, nor did I forage for dry inner bark of pine trees.

Did I start a fire in somewhat adverse conditions? Yes!  It was dark when I started the experiment and very humid.  The tinder was absorbing moisture very quickly and had a limited time of use.  I think I did well.

Did I accomplish my goal of starting a fire without a lighter or match. You bet. Even if I hadn’t gotten the wood to take, I had built and lit a small starter fire with nothing but a ferro rod and a knife.  That was cool.

Do I recommend using a ferrocerrium rod over a lighter? No way! Lighters are so much easier it just makes sense to use them.  This was a test of a new skill and an experiment to see what I could learn from it.  It was fun to do, but in an emergency I would rather have a lighter.

I had a great time with this experiment and when I was done, I was sweaty, smoky and smelly. I was also proud of my accomplishment.

My wife just thought I was crazy.

A writer doesn’t write always.

Hi.  How are you?  Nope, I’m not dead.  (Nor is this blog.)  I’m sure you’ve been wondering where I’ve been.  I wish I could say I was swimming the Nile, hiking the Appalachians, or restructuring the entire Formula One racing series, but no, my reasons are more mundane.

My time and creativity have been usurped by family matters and a relentless growing season at work.

There were two deaths in the family and the memorials were two weeks apart.  They were for my Grandmother and my Mother in law.  I wish you had met them.  While completely apart in style, both enjoyed life and were honest about their opinions and observations.  One traveled a lot while the other stayed home, yet both of them believed that family mattered most.  They loved when everyone would come over for the holidays and reveled in cooking up a storm.  They were both modern and traditional at the same time.  I’m so glad I was able to share so much time with them.

Work, on the other hand, was a mess!  We didn’t have a lot of rain this year, but wow did things grow!  Trying to tame the wildness left everyone wet and worn out.  The humidity was so high (still is) that in the first half hour you are drenched in sweat.  It got so bad this year that I was actually entertaining the idea of going to Las Vegas just to see if their dry heat was really worse than our damp.  Then I remembered that they have no grass there, so it wouldn’t matter anyway!

Even my daydreams were stunted this season.  Normally I can come up with three or four ideas each day while at work.  Most of them will fade away by the time I get home, but I’ll still have one that is good enough to post.  Not this time.  I was lucky if I got two in a week.  I was suffering a drought of creativity.

My motivation had disappeared too.  It wasn’t just in writing.  I had planned on doing some hiking and even a little overnight camping this summer, but the heat and humidity just destroyed that notion.  I had no desire to walk around like I had been in a wet t-shirt contest, and I sure didn’t feel like sleeping in what would feel like a steamed up bathroom.  Nope. Rain check please.

But the good news is that there are some things I do want to talk about.

Remember how I longed for a travel/adventure magazine that was designed around realistic choices and not extreme buildups?  Well, I found it!

I also recently purchased Dave Cantebury’s new book “Bushcraft 101” and am looking forward to telling you all about it.

The sun is setting sooner now and a cool breeze can be felt on my skin.  Summer’s still here but I feel a changer coming.  As a writer, we might suffer from unspeakable times of creative drought, but that doesn’t mean we stop all together.  Take this time to sort things out and take a look around you.  Without even trying you’ll find something that will sew new seeds of creativity.  Then, just as quick as the drought hit, creativity and motivation will rain upon you again.

Keep the faith.