Most kids have a real fascination with fire. There is something magical and alluring about an open flame. As parents, we’re constantly warning our children not to play with matches stressing the consequences if they disobey. Nevertheless, it’s an important part of their education to understand the proper use of and correct way to build and lite a fire.
Growing up as a boy scout, learning how to properly prepare and lite a campfire was an important rite of passage. Understanding how to find and create the proper amount of tinder was crucial. Then building the structure – a teepee, a log cabin, a pyramid or a lean-to was always a thing of pride.
In our scout troop, one had to qualify to be a good fire starter – it wasn’t something everyone could do well. It took practice and experience as well as the knowledge that each of the three key components of starting and maintaining a fire cannot be neglected. These three factors are:
1. Ignition source
Most failures in building a fire come from not properly securing and preparing the right kind of fuel. Whether it be the lack of flammable tinder or using too large of pieces of wood or trying to ignite damp or wet wood – many boxes of matches have been wasted trying to ignite a poorly built fire.
As a scout leader, one of my goals was to make sure every scout knew how to properly build a fire that could be ignited with just one match. We would have an annual competition to prove each scout could start a fire under adverse weather conditions in simulated survival conditions. Each scout was given 30 minutes to prepare his tinder by creating feather sticks.
Then the simulated adverse survival conditions – we would hold this competition during the winter, usually in December. The temperatures were always below freezing and there was almost always snow on the ground. The boys were required to strip down to just gym shorts and shoes – no shirts, jackets or hats. They were given just one match and were expected to start their fire and use the heat to keep from freezing. Just a side note, we did this in our backyard so we were always close to a warm house if needed.
On the count of three, the boys all ran outside, set up their fires and lit them with their sole match. As soon as their fires got going, each would stand over the flame to benefit from the warmth of their small fires. As leaders, we would always join the scouts in this competition. Each year, every scout was successful because we had spent the time to teach the essentials and helped them understand the necessity of taking the time to properly prepare their tinder and build their fire correctly.
One must be patient. The lack of patience in preparing your tinder and properly building your fire will in most cases result in no fire at all.
In the event you have a limited supply of dry fuel to keep you fire going, you can increase the temperature of your fire by adding more oxygen similarly to how blacksmiths do – by using a bellows.
I learned how beneficial extra oxygen can be in burning moist, difficult to burn wood. I had a large tree in our yard that was blown over in a terrible wind storm. I cut most of it up to use as firewood. When it came to the stump and roots, I figured I’d just need to haul it off to the dump because there was so much dirt compacted within the intertwined roots, I knew it would never burn.
I decided to try an experiment; I was able to start part of the stump on fire and I brought a portable fan outside and placed it close to the burning stump. When I powered up the fan, the flame immediately increased and I was very curious to see how far the stump would burn. After a few hours, there was no longer a flame but just bright orange coals glowing as the fan blew on them.
I left the fan going all night and when I went out in my yard in the morning, I couldn’t believe what I saw. All there was in front of the fan was a pile of dirt, the dirt that had been compacted around the roots. Every bit of wood from the stump and all the roots had been completely burned – all due to the increase in oxygen.
When working with a campfire that is not burning well, the very inefficient and sometimes painful way we have all tried to add more oxygen is by blowing on the coals at the base of the fire. For me, this has never been a pleasurable experience. First, it’s hard to get close enough without getting burned and second, I would always get smoke and ashes in my eyes.
Then I discovered the solution; I learned how to make a portable bellows that solves the problems of smoke and ash in your face plus being much more efficient is getting the additional oxygen right where it’s needed.
You can easily make one these portable bellows for just a buck and it will collapse and easily fit in your pocket. You’ll need to make a trip to your local dollar store and purchase a “Selfie Stick”. Then with a hacksaw, cut off the very end that has the attachment to hold your phone. Then peel back the rubber grip on the end of the handle and cut off the very end of the handle as well. Voila – you now have a portable bellows. Check out this video to learn how to make several different sizes:
This will be a fun project for the whole family. Everyone should have their own portable bellows and become an expert in building and maintaining a fire. Now is the time to learn and practice – not when you’re in an emergency situation.