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!


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.


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?



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 conversation with the devil – part 2


Jack took a drag on his cigarette.  “A killer on the loose?  Haven’t heard of anything in the news.”

“You wouldn’t.”  The stranger said.  “It happened five years ago.”

“Five years?”  Jack cried in astonishment.  “They haven’t caught him yet.”

“Not even close.”  The man replied.

Amazed at the answer, Jack continued to voice his thoughts.  “What makes them think he’s still around?  That’s a long time to get away.”

The stranger’s smile sent a chill down Jack’s spine.  “Oh, he’s here alright.  Come spring time, tourist will call the police and tell them that their cabin was broken into over the winter.  Done smartly, too.  A jimmied lock here, a pried window frame there, all done neat and clean.  No bashed in doors.  No shattered glass.  Real professional.”

“Sounds like you admire him.”  Jack said, his mouth suddenly dry.

“Lots of folk around here do.”  The stranger boasted.  “The man’s a legend in these parts.”

“They admire a murderer?”

The stranger’s eyes flashed dark.  “They admire a man that pushes back when pushed.”

Jack fell silent and stared at the fire for a moment.  The glow had grown brighter under the night sky.

“You sure you don’t want any coffee?”  Jack asked.

“Nah.  I’ll take another smoke though.”  The man answered.

Jack tossed over the pack before reaching for enamel coated tin cup.  “What was your name again?”

“Joe.”  Came the man’s reply as he started to hand the pack back.  “Don’t think I caught yours either.”

“Just set them between us.”  Jack said as he poured the hot coffee into his mug.  “Jack.  My name’s Jack.”

“Nice to meet ya, Jack.”  Joe said as he took a deep drag on the fresh cigarette.  “Been a while since I talked to someone.”

“Nice to meet you too.”   Jack responded.  “It’s rare to find a straight talker nowdays.”

“Damn straight!”  Joe agreed.  “People chat like hens but have nothin’ to say.  God I hate them.”

Jack swallowed some coffee and shrugged his shoulders.  “City life. It’s bred into them.”

Joe spat on the ground.  “Yeah.  Damn lemmings.  And they think they’re better than everyone.”

“That why Rambo killed that guy?”

Joe’s eyes narrowed at the question.  “Yeah.  That’s what they say.  Someone snubbed him, so he snubbed that guy out in response.”

“A little over board, don’t you think?”  Jack asked, taking another drink of coffee.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” Jack answered as he shifted on the ground.  “It sounds to me like it went a little far.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little re-educatin’ when needed.  If someone deserves a punch in the nose, than they should get a punch in the nose.  But killin’ someone for a snub.  That ain’t necessary.”

“Seems to me it served its purpose.”  Joe challenged.

“Did it?”  Jack asked.

Joe’s body tensed and coiled.  “You questioning me?”

“Not at all.”  Jack declared.  “I’m just wondering if it was worth the price.”

“What price?”  Joe asked as he puffed heavily.

Jack answered, “His freedom.”

Jack watched as Joe’s body relaxed.  “Hah.  He’s free.  They haven’t been able to touch him for five years now.  He comes and goes as he pleases.  No one can stop him from doin’ what he wants.  That sounds free to me.”

“Does it?”  Jack pondered.  “Hiding out in the woods; Can’t get a job; Can’t go to the city; Can’t get a burger; And stuck in the same area, year after year.”

“Don’t care for any of that.”  Joe stated.  “Besides, maybe he likes the area.”

“I wouldn’t blame him if he did.”  Jack agreed.  “It’s a beautiful area.”

“So why would he leave?”  Joe asked, tossing the spent remains of his cigarette into the fire.

“Because, eventually the people will get tired of him.”  Jack said.  “More tourists will move in with their kids and dogs, and they’re gonna want to not have to worry about them runnin’ around playin’ and such.”

Jack drank the last of his coffee.  “Wanted killers and kids just don’t mix.”

Joe’s voice hissed like a steel blade being unsheathed.  “Maybe if he kills a few more, people be scared away instead.  Then nobody will mess with him.”

“That would just do the opposite.”  Jack said as he set down his cup.  “Killing the people that like him will turn the whole place against him.  They’ll be man hunts and crowds like never before.”

Joe leaned in a little.  “Well, maybe he’ll just kill you.  Just to shut you up.”

Jack shook his head.  “Nah.  He’s smarter than that.  He knows that this late in the year, any bear in the area would be hibernatin’.  There’s no big cats around here, and damn few dogs.  My not comin’ home would alert the sheriff’s department that something’s wrong.  My wife would call up right away.  They’d be searching all over for me.  Goin’ house to house.  Checkin’ all the cabins and such.  And it ain’t like the guy can hide out in the woods right now.  The trees are bare, makin’ it hard to hide, and the cold air demands a fire for survival.”

Joe sat still and let the words sink in deep.

“Besides,” Jack continued.  “As I said earlier.  I ain’t no threat.  Why risk everything over something so little as me.  He’s much smarter than that.”

“Yeah.”  Joe said, calculating.  “No threat.”

Jack looked directly at Joe.  “Yep.”

Joe looked back at the man for a moment and then said, “Well, I’m gonna go.  It’s late and unlike you, I got a bed callin’.  Been a good talk.”

Jack looked up at the man as he stood up.  “Yep.”

“Mind if I take these?”  Joe asked as he took the pack of cigarettes.

“Help yourself.”  Jack replied.

Joe stood straight and looked out into the countryside.  “A week, huh?  Well, be careful.  Rambo’s out there and he’ll be watchin’.”

Jack took a stick and started to poke at the waning fire.  “Thanks.  I will.”


A conversation with the devil – part 1


The tree line stood in inky contrast to the background of the dull red sky as the sun’s rays slowly darkened into twilight.  Jack leaned forward, prodding the camp fire with a stick.  Satisfied, he leaned back and pulled a worn stone and his Buck knife from his pocket.  Spitting on the stone, Jack casually flipped open his knife and commenced sharpening it.

“Nice night.”  A voice said from behind.

“Yes it is.”  Jack replied, not pausing on the job at hand.

“Mind if I join you?”  The voice continued.

Jack motioned vaguely, “Not at all.”

Jack silently studied the man as he sat down next to the fire.  While clean shaven and appropriately dressed, something seemed odd with the man.  There was a harshness to him that put Jack on edge.

“Coffee’s still fresh.”  Jack said, nodding to the pot resting near the fire.  “There’s water to rinse out the cup, if you want.”

The man glanced at the offering, but passed.  “Not that thirsty.  Got a smoke?”

“Yep.” Jack said as he set the stone down and fished for the pack.

The stranger noticed that Jack kept a hold of the knife in his other hand.  “Marlboro?”

Jack shook his head as he tossed the pack.  “Paul Mall.”

A flash of disappointment crossed the man’s face as he caught the cardboard pack.  “Hmm.”

Flipping the box open, he pulled one from the ten remaining cigarettes and nonchalantly tossed the pack back.  “Thanks.”

Jack caught the pack with his free hand.  “Don’t mention it.”

The stranger took a piece of wood burning in the fire and used it to like his cigarette.

“Hunting season’s over.”  The man said behind the flame.  “Usually the woods are empty.  What are you doing here?  Poachin’?”

“Camping.”  Jack answered, patting his pack.

The stranger looked sidelong at Jack’s rig.  “Not much there.  You playin’ Rambo?”

Jack shot him a glance.  “Longhunter.”  He stated.  “I’m campin’ old school.  1800’s.”

“I don’t recall them smokin’ cigarettes and havin’ foldin’ pocket knives back then.”  The man coldly challenged.

“They didn’t.”  Jack replied, holding the four inch blade up for view.  “But they would’ve used them if they had.”

Jack folded up the knife and stuck it in his pocket.

The man’s shoulders relaxed a little as he took another drag of his cigarette.

“You?”  Jack asked as he flipped the pack open and pulled out one for himself.

“What about me?”  The man asked as his eyes darkened.

Jack clarified.  “Why are you here?  Like you said, ain’t huntin’ season and nobodies around.”

The eyes cooled and the man responded, “That’s why I’m here.  No one’s around.  I like my privacy and I can get it here; Usually.”

Jack smiled at the not so subtle comment.  “I won’t be here long.  Just the week.  You’ll have the place all to yourself soon enough.”

“It ain’t me you gotta worry about.”  The stranger replied.  “There’s a killer on the loose out here.”

“A killer?”  Jack echoed.

“Yep.”  The man asserted.  “And he is Rambo.”

Thoughts of: After the storm

Palm fronds lay strewn over the soggy green lawn like children’s beach toys tossed across outdoor carpeting on a summer day.

I turn the valves and set the breaker before exiting the noisy pool shed.  The water is high, allowing me the luxury of time.   With nothing to do but wait, I drink in the surroundings.

A warm breeze thrums in my ears as it gently flows through my hair.

Branches and bushes wave to and fro as they imitate the waves on the pond.

Iron grey clouds veil the sun and contrast pleasantly with sharp rays of a Florida summer.

A mix of earth and lawn gently spice the air, filling it with fragrance.

Absent of high humidity or heat, I breath deep, drinking in the coolness.

Opening my eyes, I see the pool water is lowered.

Shut the breaker.

Back to work.