How To Lay And Light A Fire An Experience With Tenderfeet -- Modern Fear Of Doing Manual Labor -- Matches -- Fire-Makers And Babylonians -- The Palpitating Heart Of The Camp -- Gummy Fagots Of The Pine -- How To Make A Fire In Wet Weather -- Backwoodsmen's Fire -- The Necessity Of Small Kindling Wood -- Good Firewood -- Advantage Of Split Wood -- Fire-Dogs -- How To Open A Knife -- How To Whittle; How To Split A Stick With A Knife -- Bonfires And Council Fires -- Camp Meeting Torch Fires -- Exploding Stones -- Character In Fire -- Slow Fires, Signal Fires And Smudges. How to Build a Fire. "By thy camp-fire they shall know thee." A PARTY of twenty or thirty men once called at the author's studio and begged that he would go with them on a hike, stating that they intended to cook their dinner out-of-doors. We went on the hike. The author asked the gentlemen to collect the wood for the fire; they did so enthusiastically and heaped up about a quarter of a cord of wood. There was no stick in the pile less than the thickness of one's arm, and many as thick as one's leg. A fine misty rain was falling and everything was damp. While all the other hikers gathered around, one of them carefully lighted a match and applied it to the heap of damp cord wood sticks. Match after match he tried, then turned helplessly to the writer with the remark, "It won't light, sir," and none there saw the humor of the situation! Had anyone told the writer that from twenty-five to thirty men could be found, none of whom could build a fire, he would have considered the statement as highly improbable, but if he had been told that any intelligent man would try to light cord wood sticks, wet or dry, by applying a match to them, he would have branded the story as utterly beyond belief. It is, however, really astonishing how few people there are who know how to build a fire even when supplied with plenty of fuel and abundant matches. MATCHES It may be well to call the reader's attention to the fact that it takes very little moisture to spoil the scratch patch on a box of safety matches and prevent the match itself from igniting. The so-called parlor match, which snaps when one lights it and often shoots the burning head into one's face or on one's clothes, is too dangerous a match to take into the woods. The bird's-eye match is exceedingly unreliable on the trail, but the old-fashioned, ill-smelling Lucifer match, sometimes called sulphur match, the kind one may secure at the Hudson Bay Trading Post, the kind that comes in blocks and is often packed in tin cans, is the best match for woodcrafters, hunters, explorers, and hikers. Most of the outfitting stores in the big cities either have these matches or can procure them for their customers. When one of these matches is damp it may be dried by running it through one's hair. Nowadays manual labor seems to be looked upon by everyone more in the light of a disgrace or punishment than as a privilege; nevertheless, it is a privilege to be able to labor, it is a privilege to have the vim, the pep, the desire and the ability to do things. Labor is a necessary attribute of the doer and those who live in the open; no one need attempt so simple a thing as the building of a fire and expect to succeed without labor.
One must use the axe industriously (Figs. 39, 42 and 43) in order to procure fuel for the fire; one must plan the fire carefully with regard to the wind and the inflammable material adjacent: one must collect and select the fuel intelligently. The shirk, the quitter, or the side-stepper has no place in the open; his habitat is on the Great White Way among the Babylonians of the big cities. He does not even know the joys of a fire; he never sees a fire except when some building is burning. His body is heated by steam radiators, his food is cooked in some mysterious place beyond his ken, and brought to him by subservient waiters. He will be dead and flowers growing on his grave when the real fire-makers are just attaining the full vigor of their manhood. Captain Belmore Browne says that the trails of the wilderness are its arteries; we may add that all trails proceed from camp or lead to camp, and that the camp-fire is the living, life-giving, palpitating heart of the camp; without it all is dead and lifeless. That is the reason that we of the outdoor brotherhood all love the fire; that is the reason that the odor of burning wood is incense to our nostrils; that is the reason that the writer cannot help talking about it when he should be telling How TO BUILD A FIRE Do not forget that lighting a fire in hot, dry weather is child's play, but that it takes a real camper to perform the same act in the damp, soggy woods on a cold, raw, rainy day, or when the first damp snow is covering all the branches of the trees and blanketing the moist ground with a slushy mantle of white discomfort! Then it is that fire making brings out all the skill and patience of the woodcrafter; nevertheless when he takes proper care neither rain, snow nor hail can spell failure for him.
GUMMY FAGOTS OF THE PINE In the mountains of Pennsylvania the old backwoodsmen, of which there are very few left, invariably build their fires with dry pine, or pitch pine sticks. With their axe they split a pine log (Fig. 42), then cut it into sticks about a foot long and about the thickness of their own knotted thumbs, or maybe a trifle thicker (Fig. 40); after that they proceed to whittle these sticks, cutting deep shavings (Fig. 37), but using care to leave one end of the shavings adhering to the wood; they go round and round the stick with their knife blade making curled shavings until the piece of kindling looks like one of those toy wooden trees one used to find in his Noah's Ark on Christmas morning (Fig. 37). When a backwoodsman finishes three or more sticks he sets them up wigwam form (Fig. 38). The three sticks having been cut from the centre of a pine log, are dry and maybe resinous, so all that is necessary to start the flame is to touch a match to the bottom of the curled shavings (Fig. 38). Before they do this, however, they are careful to have a supply of small slivers of pitch pine, white pine or split pine knots handy (Fig. 36) . These they set up around the shaved sticks, maybe adding some hemlock bark, and by the time it is all ablaze they are already putting on larger sticks of ash, black birch, yellow birch, sugar maple or oak. For be it known that however handy pitch pine is for starting a fire, it is not the material used as fuel in the fire itself, because the heavy smoke from the pitch blackens up the cooking utensils, gives a disagreeable taste to the food, spoils the coffee and Is not a pleasant accompaniment even for a bonfire. In the North woods, in the land of the birch trees, green birch bark is universally used as kindling with which to start a fire; green birch bark burns like tar paper. But whether one starts the fire with birch bark, shaved pine sticks or miscellaneous dry wood, one must remember that... SPLIT WOOD ... Burns much better than wood in its natural form, and that logs from twelve to fourteen inches are best for splitting for fuel (Fig. 42) ; also one must not forget that in starting a fire the smaller the slivers of kindling wood are made, the easier it is to obtain a flame by the use of a single match (Fig. 36), after which the adding of fuel is a simple matter. A fire must have air to breathe in order to live, that is a draught, consequently kindling piled in the little wigwam shape is frequently used. FIRE-DOGS For an ordinary, unimportant fire the "turkey-lay" (Fig. 54) is handy, but for camp-fires and cooking fires we use andirons on which to rest the wood, but of course in the forests we do not call them andirons. They are not made of iron; they are either logs of green wood or stones and known to woodsmen by the name of "fire-dogs." While we are on the subject of fire making it may be worth while to call the reader's attention to the fact that every outdoor person should know how to use a pocket knife, a jack-knife or a hunter's knife with the greatest efficiency and the least danger. To those of us who grew up in the whittling age, it may seem odd or even funny that anyone should deem it necessary to tell how to open a pocket knife. But today I fail to recall to my mind a single boy of my acquaintance who knows how to properly handle a knife or who can whittle a stick with any degree of skill, and yet there are few men in this world with a larger acquaintance among the boys than myself. Not only is this true, but I spend two months of each year in the field with a camp full of boys, showing them how to do the very things with their knives and their axes described in this book.
How TO OPEN A KNIFE It is safe to say that when the old-timers were boys themselves, there was not a lad among them who could not whittle with considerable skill and many a twelve year old boy was an adept at the art. I remember with the keenest pleasure the rings, charms and knickknacks which I carved with a pocket knife before I had reached the scout age of twelve. Today, however, the boys handle their knives so awkwardly as to make the chills run down the back of an onlooker. In order to properly open a knife, hold it in your left hand, and with the thumbnail of your right hand grasp the blade at the nail notch (Fig. 45) in such a manner that the line of the nail makes a very slight angle; that is, it is as near perpendicular as may be (Fig. 46) , otherwise you will bend back your thumbnail until it hurts or breaks. Pull the blade away from your body, at the same time drawing the handle of the knife towards the body (Figs. 47 and 48). Continue this movement until the blade is fully open and points directly from your body (Fig. 49). Practice this and make it a habit; you will then never be in danger of stabbing yourself during the process of opening your knife you will open a knife properly and quickly by what is generally termed intuition, but what is really the result of training and habit. How TO WHITTLE The age of whittling began with the invention of the pocket knife and reached its climax about 1840 or '50, dying out some time after the Civil War, probably about 1870. All the old whittlers of the whittling age whittled away from the body. If you practice whittling that way it will become a habit. Indians use a crooked knife and whittle towards the body, but the queer shape of their knife does away with the danger of an accidental stab or slash. Cobblers use a wicked sharp knife and cut towards their person and often are severely slashed by it, and sometimes dangerously wounded, because a big artery runs along the inside of one's leg (Fig. 41-1/2) near where most of the scars on the cobbler's legs appear. When you whittle do not whittle with a stick between your legs as in Fig. 41, and always whittle away from you as in Fig. 44. How TO SPLIT WITH A JACK-KNIFE Fig. 40 shows the proper way to use the knife in splitting a stick, so that it will not strain the spring at the back of the handle of the knife, and at the same time it will help you guide the knife blade and tend to make a straight split. Do not try to pry the stick apart with a knife or you will sooner or later break the blade, a serious thing for a wilderness man to do, for it leaves him without one of the most useful tools. Remember that fine slivers of wood make a safer and more certain start for a fire than paper. All tenderfeet first try dry leaves and dry grass to start their fires. This they do because they are accustomed to the use of paper and naturally seek leaves or hay as a substitute for paper. But experience soon teaches them that leaves and grass make a nasty smudge or a quick, unreliable flame which oft times fails to ignite the wood, while, when proper care is used, small slivers of dry wood never fail to give satisfactory results. There are many sorts of fires used by campers and all are dependent upon the local supply of fuel; in the deforested districts of Korea the people use twisted grass for fuel, on our Western plains the hunters formerly used buffalo chips and now they use cow chips, that is, the dry manure of cattle, with which to build their fires for cooking their meals and boiling their coffee. In the Zurn belt, in Tartary and Central India cattle manure is collected, piled up like cord wood and dried for fuel. A few years ago they used corn on the cob for firewood in Kansas. It goes without saying that buffalo chips are not good for bonfires or any fire where a big flame or illumination is an object.
BONFIRES AND COUNCIL FIRES Are usually much larger than camp-fires, and may be made by heaping the wood up in conical form (Fig. 50) with the kindling all ready for the torch in the center of the pile, or the wood may be piled up log cabin style (Fig. 51) with the kindling underneath the first floor. In both of these forms there are air spaces purposely left between the sticks of wood, which insure a quick and ready draught the moment the flames start to flicker in the kindling. The best form of council fire is shown by Fig. 52, and known as the ... CAMP MEETING TORCH Because it was from a somewhat similar device at a camp meeting in Florida, that the author got the suggestion for his "torch fire." The platform is made of anything handy and is covered with a thick flooring of sod, sand or clay for the fire-place. The tower is built exactly similar to the Boy Scout signal towers but on a smaller scale (Fig. 52). DANGER or EXPLODING STONES However tempting a smooth rock may look as a convenient spot on which a fire may be built, do not fail to spread a few shovels of sand, earth or clay on the stone as a fire bed, for the damp rock on becoming heated may generate steam and either expand with some violence or burst like a bombshell and scatter far and wide the fragments, even endangering the lives of those gathered around the fire. CHARACTER IN FIRE The natives of Australia take dry logs, 6 ft. or more in length, and laying them down 3 ft. or 4 ft. apart, set them on fire in several places. Letting shorter logs meet them from the outside, and placing good-sized pebbles around them, they then stretch themselves on the ground and sleep between the two lines of fire, and when the wood is consumed the stones continue for some time to radiate the heat they have previously absorbed. Many tribes of American Indians have their own special fashion of fire building, so that a deserted camp fire will not infrequently reveal the identity of the tribe by which it was made. SLOW FIRES The camper's old method of making a slow fire was also used by housekeepers for their open fire-places, and consisted of placing three logs with their glowing ends together. As the ends of the logs burned off the logs were pushed forward, this being continued until the logs were entirely consumed. Three good logs thus arranged will burn all day or all night, but someone must occasionally push them so that their ends come together, when they send their heat from one to the other, backwards and forwards, and thus keep the embers hot (Fig. 53) . But who wants to sit up all night watching a fire? I prefer to use the modern method and sleep all night. Sharpen the ends of two strong heavy stakes each about 5 ft. in length, cut a notch in the rear of each near the top, for the support or back to key into, drive the stakes into the ground about 6 ft. apart. Place three logs one on the other, making a log wall for the back of your fire-place. Next take two shorter logs and use them for fire-dogs, and on these lay another log and the arrangement will be complete. A fire of this kind will burn during the longest night and if skillfully made will cause little trouble. The fire is fed by placing fuel between the front log and the fire-back. SIGNAL FIRES When the greatest elevations of land are selected the smoke signals may be seen at a distance of from twenty to fifty miles. Signal fires are usually made with dry leaves, grass and weeds or "wiry willows," balsam boughs, pine and cedar boughs, because such material produces great volumes of smoke and may be seen at a long distance. The Apaches have a simple code which might well be adopted by all outdoor people. According to J. W. Powell, Director of U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, the Indians use but three kinds of signals, each of which consists of columns of smoke. ALARM Three or more smoke columns reads impending danger from flood, fire or foe. This signal may be communicated from one camp to another, so as to alarm a large section of the country in remarkably quick time. The greater the haste desired the greater the number of smokes used. These fires are often so hastily made that they may resemble puffs of smoke caused by throwing heaps of grass and leaves upon the embers again and again. ATTENTION "This signal is generally made by producing one continuous column and signifies attention for several purposes, viz., when a band had become tired of one locality, or the grass may have been consumed by the ponies, or some other cause necessitated removal, or should an enemy be reported which would require further watching before a decision as to future action would be made. The intention or knowledge of anything unusual would be communicated to neighboring bands by causing one column of smoke to ascend." ESTABLISHMENT OF A CAMP, QUIET, SAFETY "When a removal of camp has been made, after the signal for ATTENTION has been given, and the party have selected a place where they propose to remain until there may be a necessity or desire for their removal, two columns of smoke are made, to inform their friends that they propose to remain at that place. Two columns are also made at other times during a long continued residence, to inform the neighboring bands that a camp still exists, and that all is favorable and quiet." Therefore, THREE or more smokes in daylight, or THREE or more flames at night, is a signal of alarm, ONE smoke a signal for attention, Two smokes tells us that all is well, peaceful and happy. SMOKE SIGNALS The usual way of signaling with smoke is to make a smudge fire of browse or grass and use a blanket as an extinguisher. By covering the fire with the blanket and suddenly removing it, a large globular puff of smoke is made to suddenly appear, and is certain to attract the attention of anyone who happens to be looking toward the site of the fire.
How TO BUILD A FIRE ON THE SNOW If it is practical it is naturally better to shovel away the snow, but personally I have never done this except in case of newly fallen snow. Old snow which is more or less frozen to the ground may be tramped down until it is hard and then covered with a corduroy of sticks for a hearth (Figs. 55 and 56) or with bark (Fig. 57) and on top of this flooring it is a simple matter to build a fire. Use the turkey " lay" in which one of the sticks acts the part of the fire-dog (Fig. 56) . Don't fail to collect a generous supply of small wood (Fig. 58) and then start the fire as already directed (Fig. 58). The reader will note that in all these illustrations (Figs. 55, 56 and 57), there is either a log or stone or a bank for a back to the fire-place. When everything is covered with snow it is perfectly safe to use a log for a back (Fig. 56) but on other occasions the log may smoulder for a week and then start a forest fire. No one but an arrant, thoughtless, selfish Cheechako will use a live growing tree against which to build a fire. A real woodcraft knows that a fire can ruin In a few minutes a mighty forest tree that God himself cannot replace inside of from forty to one hundred years. While we are talking of building fires in the snow, it may be well to remark that an uninhabitable and inaccessible swamp in the summer is often the best of camping places in the winter time. The water freezes and falls lower and lower, leaving convenient shelves of ice (Fig. 57) for one's larder. The dense woods and brush offer a splendid barrier to the winter winds. Fig. 59 shows an arrangement for a winter camp-fire. How TO MAKE A FIRE IN THE RAIN Spread a piece of bark on the ground to serve as a hearth on which to start your fire. Seek dry wood by splitting the log and taking the pieces from the center of the wood, keep the wood under cover of your tent, poncho, coat or blanket. Also hold a blanket or some similar thing over the fire while you are lighting it. After the blaze begins to leap and the logs to burn freely, it will practically take a cloud-burst to extinguish it. End of Text This (Complete) Text is available in the SSRsi Survival Library Return to Outdoor Survival or Survival Fire or Family Camping
Please Read The Website
Copyright 1986-2012, The Survival & Self-Reliance Studies Institute (SSRsi), All Rights Reserved
Site conceptualized, designed, created & maintained by MEG Raven
Snail Mail: SSRsi, PO Box 2572 Dillon, CO. 80435-2572