Wilderness Survival - Making Fire

Wilderness Survival - Making Fire

Fire has always been an important tool for the survival of mankind.  Any prepared Outdoorsman should have multiple methods of creating fire when faced with an emergency. It's easy if you have matches or a lighter but can be a challenge in the absence of these convenient modern tools. I personally carry at least three methods to start a fire with me at all times and brush up on my primitive fire-making skills as well when I have extra time.  Fire in a survival capacity has many uses depending on the climate and environment. Primitive fire-building knowledge can save your life and therefore rates very high on the priority list when learning survival skills.
The easiest way is to use modern fire-making devices but if you ever find yourself without them you can always utilize primitive fire-building skills to create fire using resources found in the wilderness (if you know how).  I have spent many hours learning and practicing the art of creating fire using sticks, rocks, sparks, and various materials in an effort to master the art.  I have concluded that although possible, sometimes the conditions and materials make it so difficult that you find yourself sitting in the dark pissed, blistered, and dripping sweat. It seems that the conditions are never just perfect for creating fire but patience usually gives way to plenty of smoke, a small ember, and then a flame that you

will mold into the life-giving fire that you need. The next step, of course, is to maintain the fire for the rest of your time at that location.  This requires the utmost dedication.  Collecting enough firewood to keep a fire going day and night is a monotonous task that uses many calories but is necessary for survival in most circumstances.  Below is just a short list of the many uses of fire:  

Uses for Fire in a Survival Situation:


Cooking Meat or insects with fire can kill dangerous parasites making them edible.  You can also boil water using various methods to purify it for drinking.  You can use fire to melt snow or ice to be used as drinking water as well.  You can use the smoke from a fire to dry and preserve meat allowing it to keep for days without spoiling.  Smoking meat has been practiced for hundreds of years allowing people to survive through all seasons of the year and allowing them to travel through areas with little or no food resources.


Fire is one of the best sources of heat for drying out wet or damp clothes that could otherwise facilitate Hypothermia. Clothes strategically placed near a hot fire can be dried in a matter of minutes but must be rotated and carefully attended so that they don't catch fire.  Fire can also be used to heat small rocks that you can insert into your pockets or bed to help your body stay warm.  You have to be careful not to get them too hot so they don't burn holes in your clothes or skin and rotate them out with new warm ones when they cool down.  Signaling: With the right materials, a small campfire can produce a large amount of thick smoke needed to attract attention to your location by rescuers.  A hot fire is required to make a large continuous plume of Signal Smoke.   Another signaling use for your fire is the light produced by a large fire at night.  The light alone can alert searchers to your location from a long distance away.


There is some controversy on whether or not a fire will actually deter a wilderness predator from making you the main course of their evening meal. I personally believe that it couldn't hurt because it not only is a distinct indicator of human presence but also it provides light allowing you to react more effectively if attacked.  Besides, most animals instinctively avoid fire.  Having a fire can also provide a bit of normalcy and soothe your mental anxieties while giving you a secure feeling allowing you to sleep and restore your energy.


The ability to see during the night-time hours is always helpful considering that in the winter months, there is much less natural light, therefore, limiting the number of tasks that be completed during the daytime hours.  There are many survival tasks that can be completed easily by firelight. It is always a good idea to do as much as possible during the daylight hours even though it is easy to sleep during the daytime because of the warmer temperatures.


Making tools and other helpful items to assist you in a survival situation can be done with fire.  You can shape wood to hunt and fish.  You can melt Pine Pitch (Tree Resin) for adhesive.  You can fire clay pottery to seal and temper it.  You can create a torch that will make you mobile for hunting or fishing at night.  You can prepare the components for snares and traps for you to set during daylight hours.  As you can see, there are many uses for fire but these are all unobtainable unless you can actually create fire.

Methods of making Fire:


Kept in a waterproof container, matches, or a lighter is usually the easiest and most common device to create fire in the world today.  The only drawback to these devices is that you usually have a limited amount of use and over time you will eventually run out of fuel or matches.  This is where primitive methods may be your only option.  With these primitive devices, you can still use them up but hopefully, you will have access to more of the components needed around or near you.


Many batteries that operate various vehicles and electronic devices such as cell phones and GPS can be used to produce a spark to make a fire.  By shorting the connections between the positive and negative terminals using a metallic object, a spark can be produced to ignite a tinder bundle.  Due to the possibility of explosions or acid burns, this can be extremely dangerous for anyone that does not know what they are doing and therefore, this is another method that we do not recommend for the Armchair Survivalist.  You can worsen your situation by injury or death and then your family may be one person short for Thanksgiving!


If you are out of options and have one of the following devices, you can break them apart to expose an optical lens that can be used to harness and condense the energy from the sun to create a fire. Cameras, Binoculars, or a spotting scope all have an Optical Lens that works very well.  You can also create a lens from ice or from a clear balloon or any translucent flexible container filled with clear water as long as you can manipulate the shape into a sphere to bend and focus the light from the sun through it.  If you wear prescription eyeglasses, you can use this same concept to create fire with one or both of the lenses together.  The drawback to all of these devices is that you must have a strong ray of sun for them to work and would be completely useless on a cloudy day or at night.


Steel and iron produce hot sparks when struck against any glassy stone material such as quartz, jasper, agate, or flint. A flint alone does not produce incandescent embers, it is the flint’s ability to violently release small particles of iron, exposing them to oxygen, that starts the burning.  Many stores sell manufactured Flint and Steel sets that you can buy cheap and keep in your survival pack for just this occasion.  It will be much more difficult to create a fire if you are required to get the materials from the wilderness.  Many times the average person may have an object made of steel or iron with them such as an axe or pocket knife that can be used but finding a stone in the wilderness to be used in combination can prove to be difficult.


Sometimes called a fire syringe, a fire piston is a small device used to create a small ember to be inserted into a tinder bundle and blown into fire.  A small piece of punky wood is inserted into the air-tight chamber followed by a rod or piston that is struck using the palm of your hand causing the interior temperature to rise sharply to 260°C (500°F) which will ignite the punky wood.  The piston is quickly withdrawn and inspected.  The end of the piston should contain the burning ember which is then carefully transferred to your tinder bundle.  It may take several attempts before you get a glowing ember.  Very dry punky wood is a must to get this to work.  Any attempts to use damp wood will yield poor results.  There are many fire pistons available on the market today and will eventually be sold in the Butler Productions store when we get it operational.  Also, soon to follow will be free illustrated instructions on how to build your own using materials from your local hardware store.


Creating fire using friction is a primitive method that has been used globally for thousands of years.  Rubbing or grinding one piece of wood against another produces wood dust and heat.  The idea is to get the correct match of wood types to create the dust and at the same time create enough heat to ignite the dust.  These basic methods include Bow Drill, Fire Plow, and Hand Drill.

Sometimes extremely difficult to execute, all of these methods will work but the Bow Drill is probably the easiest to learn and have success with.  There are many factors that will affect your ability to make fire including the materials, the weather, humidity and temperature, and of course your level of patience and stamina.  If even one of these factors is stacked against you, it can mean the difference between a nice warm fire and you sitting in a puddle of sweat with blistered hands, swearing at the top of your lungs.


Accelerants are always helpful in achieving success when making fire.  The issue is that you will eventually run out of them so you will want to use them conservatively and only as a last resort when nothing else works. Typically these are prepared preemptively or included as a secondary-use item that you happen to have with you at the time.    


Char cloth is an extremely valuable item to have to assist in any method of creating fire.  It will take and maintain a spark where other tinders will not. Commonly used with the Flint & Steel fire-starting method, a Char Cloth (also called charred cloth) is just a small piece of 100% cotton fabric that has been charred or burned in a simple process and then stored in a moisture free container in your survival pack to be used in an emergency. This, of course, is something that you would prepare at home and take with you on an outing.


Cotton Lint from clothing, if completely dry, can be an excellent tinder.  Pulled from your cloth clothing using the tips of your fingers until you have a small amount, you can then use it to catch a spark easily.  It burns quickly but even the smallest spark produced by a stone on your axe head can ignite cloth lint.  The trick is to keep the ball of lint loose and fluffy and have a tinder bundle nearby so you can quickly ignite it before the lint burns out.


The chemicals in some Bug repellant sprays as well as in some first aid kits can be flammable and therefore used as an accelerant to assist you in making fire.  Take the time to read the ingredients and warning labels to determine if they are flammable before you try to use them as they could very easily hinder your progress.


The best way to protect yourself from becoming a statistic while on a wilderness outing is to prepare yourself before leaving your house.  Take the time to learn about the area where you are going. Buy yourself a small backpack and supply it with the basic survival items and then never leave home without it.  Know how to use each item and practice with them ahead of time.  Don't wait until you are sitting in the rain with only a few minutes of daylight left to try to figure out how a firestarter works.  Above all, SAFETY FIRST! Then keep your head on straight at all times, and no matter how bad the situation seems, never panic.  If you have prepared properly, then help will be on the way and you will have the tools to survive until they reach you.       

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