Fire Building Notes Part II


It is the wood used to raise the flames from the tinder so that larger and less combustible materials can be burned. The best kindling consists of small dry twigs and the softer woods are preferable because they flare up quickly.Those that contain resins burn readily and make fire lighting a snap. The drawbacks of soft woods are that they tend to produce sparks and burn very fast. Have lots of slower burning wood ready when you get the fire going, resinous softwoods like lighter knot burn very fast.

As a general rule, the heavier the wood the more heat it will give, this applies to both dead and green woods. Mixing green & dry wood makes a long lasting fire, which is especially useful at night.


Hickory, Beech or Oak for instance burns well, give off great heat and last for a long time as hot coals, they keep a fire going through the night.


Tend to burn too fast and give off sparks. The worst spark-makers are: Cedar, Alder, Hemlock, Spruce, Pine, Chestnut and Willow.

Remember that damp wood is sometimes advantageous -- producing smoke to keep off flies, Midges, and Mosquitoes.

Use your fire to dry damp wood.

Always cut an ample supply of firewood, you never know when you will get a spell of rain or snow. 3 days is best provision.

(Sniper Note: In cold weather it is not unusual to burn a cord of wood a day to stay warm. A cord is a heaping full size pickup truck load. If you are conservative you can stretch this considerably. I add this note because those who have little experience will usually gather to little firewood. You do not want to discover this at 10:00 at night when you have 8 hours to go until daylight. Gather a lot more than you think you will need. When first stranded, everyone in your party should devote an hour to gathering firewood. If it looks like there is plenty, then send some people to collect other useful items for the shelter. )

MAKE SURE that you do get one stack ready also you will need 4 mores for your signals -- Should one pile refuse to light the extra one will do it.


These make excellent fuel; frontiersmen of the Wild West used buffalo chips for their fires. Dry the droppings thoroughly for a good smokeless fire. You can mix them with grass, moss & leaves.


Peat is often found on well drained moors. It is soft and springy underfoot and may be exposed on the edges of rocky outcrops -- looking black and fibrous. It is easily cut with a knife. Peat needs good ventilation when burning. Stacked with plenty of air the peat dries rapidly and is soon ready to burn.


Coal is sometimes found on the surface-there are large deposits in the Northern Tundra.


Shales are often rich in oil and burn readily. Some sands also contain oil-they burn with a thick oily smoke that makes a good signal fire and also gives off a good heat.

(Sniper Note: Shales can also explode when heated!)


If you have had a mechanical failure and crashed or broken down with fuels intact you can burn petroleum, antifreeze, hydraulic fluid and other combustible liquids. Even insect repellent is inflammable

Anti-freeze is an excellent primer for igniting heavier engine oils. With a little Potassium Permanganate from your survival kit, you can set it alight in a few seconds.

In very cold areas; drain oil from an engine sump before it freeze. If you have no container drain it on to the ground to use later in its solid state.

Tires, upholstery, rubber seals & much of any wreckage can be burned. Soak less combustible materials in oil before trying to make them burn

Mix petrol with sand and burn it in a container as a stove, or dig a hole and make a fire pit. Burn oil by mixing in petrol or antifreeze.

(Sniper Note: Liquid fuels like gas or a mixture of gas and oil when soaked in a sand pot make a very hot, long burning fire. Ice fisherman use a coffe can with a roll of toilet paper soaked in kerosene (fuel oil) to do the same thing. JP-4 (Jet fuel) can be used too. High octane AvGas is pretty dangerous stuff, you must be very careful with it. )

Do not set a light directly to liquid fuels but make a wick and let that provide the flame. The same goes for insect repellent.


About the easiest method is to place a steel or iron plate on a couple of stones a foot above ground level.

Light a fire beneath this plate to make it really hot and while it is heating up arrange a pipe or narrow trough about 2 or 3 feet long. One end of this pipe is over the centre of the plate and theother end is a foot or so higher than the plate.

Into this top end of the pipe arrange by means of a funnel and trough water and sump oil or any oil to be fed down the pipe to the hot plate. The proportion of flow is 2 or 3 drops of water to one drop of oil. When the water and the oil fall onto the hot plate it burns with a hot white flame of very great heat.

The rate of flow can be governed by cutting a channel in corks that plug the bottles holding the oil and water, or if tins are used, pierce holes in the bottom of the tins & use a plug to control the flow.

This type of fire is excellent for an incinerator when great heat is required to burn out rubbish. It also makes an excellent campfire where strong flame and light are required.


These can also be used with a wick n a suitably ventilated tin to make a stove. Bones can add bulk when fat is being burned as a fire. Sometimes it is the only available fuel in polar regions.

Start flame with tinder or a candle then place a network of bones cover it to support the fat or blubber. Use only a little fat at first. Unless it is surplus, burning fat means sacrificing food value, but seal blubber spoils rapidly and makes good fuel.

Whenever you strike a match light a candle. Many things in turn can then be lit from it -- saving matches. Place it in the wigwam of kindling to start a fire and remove it as soon as the flame spreads. Only the smallest amount is burned & even a small candle will last a long time.

Paper matches are zip no good in bush for they easily get wet, or damp, from perspiration & outer wetness.

Strong direct sunlight, focused through a lens, can produce sufficient heat to ignite your tinder. Accidental fires are caused by the sun shining through broken bottles on dry leaves or pastures.

Your survival kit magnifying glass or a telescope or camera lens will serve instead. Shield tinder from the wind. Focus sun's rays to form the tiniest brightest spot of light. Keep it steady. Blow on it gently as it begins to glow.


Flint is a stone found in many parts of the world. If it is struck vigorously with a piece of steel hot sparks fly off which will ignite dry tinder.


Among the top best to start a fire even after being hidden 3 days in icy mud. A necessity to be included in your survival kit.

FLINT 2001 BC-AD!:

Flint and stone were the common methods before matches were invented and not great skill is needed for their use. Yet the synthetic flint used in a cigarette lighter is a considerable improvement on natural flint.

A couple of pieces of synthetic flint pressed into a small piece of Perpex make an excellent emergency fire lighting unit.

(Heat the Perpex and press the flints in while it's hot. Hold under the water and the *Perpex will shrink on the flints and hold them securely).


In parts of S. East Asia people make fire using this ingenious method of suddenly compressing air in a cylinder and thereby concentrating the heat in the air to a point when the heat is sufficient to ignite tinder. Their fire-making sets, frequently a cylinder of bone or hollow bamboo with a bone or wooden piston.

A small piece of tinder is inserted into a cavity in the lower end of the piston. The piston is placed in the cylinder and the flattened end opposite the piston head struck a smart blow with the palm of the hand, driving suddenly down the cylinder. Compression of air with concentration of the heat it carries produces a small glowing coal in the tinder placed in the recessof the piston head.

Frequently the jar of the blow will shake the tinder loose, so a spark remover is used with the set to pull out the glowing tinder if it lodges in the cylinder.

The dimensions are roughly as follows:

Cylinder: 4" to 6" long outside diameter 3/4" to 1", inside diameter about 1/2".

Piston: 4" to 6" long of which the shaft is 3" to 5", piston length 3/4" to 1", diameter to nicely fit the cylinder.

Recess at the lower end of the piston--about 1/4" wide by 1/4" to 5/16" deep. Piston shaft end is smooth & about 1" to 1 1/2" in diameter for striking with the palm of the hand.


You take 2 sticks of wood and you rub them vigorously against one another in a sawing movement. This method is often used in jungle. The stick that you use as the "saw" is a split bamboo or any soft wood type. The other wood stick must be very dry. The friction is done over a mass of good tinder.

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Copyright 1995, David R. Reed
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