Smoking in the backyard.

I’ve recently found out about a old style of minimalist camping called Bushcraft.  It was created in the late 1800s and focuses on using skills to replace equipment so you don’t need to carry as much and keep your negative impact on the land as low as possible.  (It also is a great way for those with a very low budget to get into the hobby.)

Wanting to learn more, I discovered Bushcraft USA, a website that has tons of information on the subject.  In the forum section, there is a section called Bushclass that is chock full of lessons and exercises to motivate you.  (You have to join the forums to see this section.) It’s like scouting but at your own pace.  There are pictures or videos of how to do the exercise and a section to post your attempt at it.  The guy, Sgt Mac, who created the class broke it down into three sections:  Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced.  I dove in deep and so far have done ten of the thirteen required exercises along with completing three of five electives.  I just finished an exercise of making a twig fire. You’d think it would be easy, but I figured out a way to complicate it.

Here’s how I reported it.

First, normally I would just use palm frond stalks and be done with it, but since this is a twig fire, I wanted to do it right.  I collected small oak branches three weeks to a month ago for this exercise, then I piled them up nicely by my firewood to let them age/dry. Surprisingly, its been a moist month. Lot’s of heavy fog in the morning and three showers, one two nights ago. Yep. The wood was still wet. You could bend it almost in half before seeing a split. (No cracking sound whatsoever.)

It took roughly an hour to cut up the twigs using hand pruners. (The wood had dried enough to the point of being hard to cut with the pruners)

Since I was doing this, I figured I’d try and use some Spanish moss as fire starter. Grabbed a bunch and pulled it apart until I found some that felt dry to the touch. I placed the old, half burned wood in a platform and rested the moss there as I continued to work on the twigs.

Three sizes stacked up in separate piles along with a starter set, I was ready to go.

Try out the ol’ ferro rod and…

Nothing.

I was getting enough spark. No problem there, but it just wasn’t catching on the moss. Maybe it’s too wet or needs air. I pulled at it and fluffed it a little.

Again, nothing.

Sweat was dripping off my brow. (It was 80 something which is overly hot for this time of year, even in Florida.)

“That’s it! Time for the big guns.” I went to my pack and pulled out my fire bag. Inside was the starter I knew would work. Pompous grass heads. These things are like pulled cotton and roughly six inches in size. They take a spark quick and burn hot! I took a quarter of it and shoved it under the Spanish moss.

-Skritch!- The striker scratched along the ferro rod.

-Whoomp!- The fluff lit up instantly.

The moss over it didn’t light! It must’ve been wetter than I thought. Disgusted with it, I tossed it aside.

Pulling out more pomp grass fluff, I tried again. Again it lit beautifully, but the twigs would not catch. They must be too wet and too smooth on the outside.

So I took a few that I knew to be the driest (They actually snapped when I bent them by hand.) and feather sticked them.

I pushed the twig pile aside, noticed some unburned pompous grass and hit is with the rod. As it burned I set the feather sticks on it one by one. Yay! The took! I rolled the twig pile back over the burning tinder.

-Sssssss.- The twigs sizzled. Wow. Those twigs were really wet! But they caught and man did they smoke. I’ve made many fires in this pit and this was undoubtedly the smokiest one ever. But it held and it grew.

Time for some pictures.

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That should be roughly knee high.

Pictures done, I took the rest of the twigs and threw them on. After all that work, I was damned if I was not going to use them. The flame got really high. Higher than I like to be honest. It settled down quickly enough though and I threw in my new cup and a tin of cloth for some other experiments.

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I wanted to see how quickly the cup would boil the water and make some char-cloth for my fire starter kit.  (Char-cloth is a fabric version of charcoal.  It’s made of cotton, and lights easily with a spark so if you don’t have a lighter, you can still start a camp fire fairly easy. It also burns slower than the Pompous grass puff I used so the twigs would have a better chance of igniting.)

After those were done and the twigs pretty reduced to ash, I put out the fire. Again smoke billowed from the pit as water poured onto the wood and coals.

It took a bit of work, but I got my twig fire going. I was happy.

Ten minutes after I cleaned up a siren howled outside. Gee. I hope it wasn’t for me.