Bushlore Topics > Fire!

Quest for Fire

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Old Philosopher:
Not to be confused with the 1981 movie of the same name, this is about this deals with how we go about finding material suitable for our fires.

Not sure where this quest will lead, but Punty's post below, and Nuke's post in the same thread, got me wondering how different folks go about procuring fire - in their region?

--- Quote ---"Now, I spent last week in the bush for 7 days. End of July, but it rained every day except for 2, scattered showers, and everything was pretty well soaked..the air was humid so nothing really dried out well between showers.

   A few things I learned....

1. I had a CRKT Woods Kangee. It's a great hawk, and splits wood better than other hawks, but with teh short handle (about 15 inches, I think), I just wasn't comfortable...it was hard to get a good swing and split maple...the head would just bury itself with minimal splitting.
    I busted out the laplander, cut myself a baton, and then broke out Binky (my BK9), and it felt much easier to split wood with it, and safer, frankly.

2. Tons of spruce around, and I used a lot of dead spruce branches for starting fires, but when I cooked with it, it was soot city! Turned my entire cook kit black, and I couldn't cook directly over the flame for my pork chops, which I would prefer.
    Thus, it's easy to get a fire going in my area with what can be foraged, but for cooking, I want dry hard wood. This is where being able to split up things like dead oak or maple come into play, and my BK9.  Even branches don't create a very good fire unless they are split, bark just doesn't sustain fire very well, and stripping the bark just makes the branches burn in a smoldering sort of fire.

3. I carved a wooden cup and spoon out of maple, dead but still somewhat green. To get to the wood you want, you have to split the wood...and controlled splitting is best....i.e. batoning.

   So, if I want a campfire, I can get it going without tools. But if I want a cooking fire, or a smokeless fire, or a sustainable hot fire to get a hot coal base, split hard wood works so much better.

   We often talk about wood processing and tools to do it, but sort of generalize fire. Fire can't be generalized so easily. A simple fire for warmth and light is one thing. A fire that will burn hot and long and produce a solid coal base is something else, you can't just grab dead branches and evergreens for good cooking coals....you need hardwood, and you need it split. A few unsplit branches in there are fine, but try getting a good coal base with nothing but hardwood branches. It will burn slow and cool, be hard to keep going, and the first coals will turn to ash before the rest of the wood becomes coal.

    So, what sort of fire you want determines what sort of fuel you need, and what sort of fuel you need determines what sort of tools you need....especially in damp conditions."

--- End quote ---
We've all watched endless videos of batoning branches to get piles of firewood of gradated sizes. We've learned all about saws, axes, and various tools hauled into the woods to make little sticks out of big sticks. We know about feather sticks, and shavings, and other 'crafty' tricks.  But what do YOU do?really?

I grew up, and still play, in the boreal forests of the Pacific Northwest, from the Olympic Rain Forest, to the west slopes of the Rocky Mountains. Along the Washington coast, the woods are never dry. On the east slopes of the Cascades, or the Kootenai Range, the woods are nearly always dry. Conditions vary, but some things are constant.

I've never relied upon an axe to forage for firewood. A machete is about all the horsepower I ever felt I needed. That, or a hefty belt knife. Most all my firewood is scrounged "as is", either dead branches, or standing deadwood saplings.  Dry, dead twigs can be broken off conifers under the shelter of the main tree cover. Before the days of PC, it was affectionately known as "squaw wood", because it doesn't take much effort to gather a pack board full of the stuff.  On those same branches, you can find different types of dead moss, a great tinder. Almost every fir, hemlock or spruce has good sized dead branches low down on the trunk. If they are out of reach, just throw a light rope over them and pull to break them off.
Rotting stumps can often be kicked apart, yielding dry punk wood, and even fatwood if you're lucky.
In pine country, pine needles catch fire like they were soaked in kerosene. A good place to find dry pine needles in wet weather is ant hills. Ants aren't stupid, and they don't like wet feet, so a digging stick in an ant hill will usually produce ample material
As for larger dry wood, I mentioned standing deadwood. Don't waste your time/energy trying to bust open wet deadfalls that have been laying on the ground. You can break off an armload of dead, standing saplings in half the time (and effort) than trying to split a log that's been soaked by rain and snow.  I was taught from an early age, "If it's on the ground, leave it be."  Concentrate on windfalls that are leaning, or suspended above last year's snow level.
Larger poles can be broken into 3-4 foot lengths by laying one end on a log and just stomping on them. Don't try to break 'em off shorter that about 3 feet, or you might catch a flying chunk in the shin!  I use 3-6 foot logs to feed a "star fire" lay
Anyway, that's a couple of my tricks. Got any you want to share?

Moe M.:

  Sit down, have a cup of coffee,  rest,  you must be tired after all the work.    >:D

  Seriously,  In my area of the country and especially in my area of New England the woods are fairly dry most of the time compared to the Pacific Northwest's rain belt,  and we have a pretty good mix of Hard & Soft woods,  so finding decent campfire wood is not usually a problem unless you happen to be in a designated camping area or camp ground that is heavily foraged.
  Most of the time you can find both hard and soft woods in the same area,  so is not unusual to scrounge the lower dead branches of of pines, spruce, and cedar for tinder and kindling,  and forage dry and standing dead hard wood for when your fire is going good.
  Like you,  I usually don't have to do a lot of processing with axe or knife to get enough wood to start and sustain a good campfire,  there's usually enough stuff in the three foot or under range or that can be broken easily to that size that you don't need a cutting tool.
  I don't mind sharpening my knives, hatchets or hawks, but it's not my favorite pass time, so if I can get by without using them frivolously I will,  the one tool that I do count on quite a bit is a good folding saw,  I've found that when it comes to cutting fire or shelter wood to length a saw will outcut a knife or small axe most any day,  and with a lot less calorie loss.
  Now I'll get to the heart of what I think your OP is about,  everyone here that knows my posts know by now that I'm not a big fan of Mora knives or of big tactical/survival knives,  they may be just the tool for some folks and I don't begrudge them for using them,  and I'm sure that in different parts of the country they are the right tool for the job,  for where I am and how I camp they just aren't needed, you mentioned that your go to wood processor is a Machete,  while a great tool,  in my area if you see someone with a Machete in hand or in the bed of their truck you know they are either cleaning up around their house or they are Landscapers/grass cutters.
  My first "woods" knife was a US Marine Corp. Ka-Bar that my uncle brought back from the war and gifted to me when I was about six or seven years old,  I built a lot of forts and camps in my local woods with that old and beat up knife,  but as I got older and started fishing and hunting on my own I learned that it wasn't the best choice for a good all around woodsmans/sportsmans knife,  later, when I got old enough to hunt with the big dogs it was reaffirmed that most of them felt that any knife with a blade over six inches was more a hinderence than a help.
  That's not to say they don't have their place,  they do come in handy in some situations,  but for my woods and my style of enjoying the woods, not so much.

 Another conformation for me that I'm not "off trail" with my thinking is watching the various "Survival" shows, the people who star in them,   and what they carry,  people like Cody Lundin, Ray Mears, Dave Canterbury, Bear Grills, and a few others prefer a knife with blade lengths of 4" ~ 6" inches,  although there are exceptions,  Myke Hawks and his wife and Joe Tedi seem to favor the longer more tactical blades,  but that could be because of their military backgrounds.

 But the bottom line is it comes down to personal preference and "to each his own".        :shrug:

I'm glad these fellas weighed in first as their experience will set the bar for a lot of people who have drank the "batonning/wood processing with your bacho, GB axe and woodlore knife" kool aid...

(Phew, that was a mouthful!)

And before someone takes offence, please understand that I mean absolutely NO OFFENCE... And.... Sometimes I do that kinda thing too. I'm not opposed to new ways of skinning the cat.

But, as I said in the post Ol P alluded to, I have had the NEED to baton wood (with my knife)  for a fire only once that I can recall. And even then, it wasn't a "survival" situation.

Are we talking camping out, bush cooking or a rendezvous? Then I think Punty's post makes good sense. If you don't want a smokey, sooty fire, maybe take your saw and process away. Knock yourself out! :)

If you're stopping on an epic day-long grouse hunt and want a fire to boil up and maybe fry something, I don't think you will care much about hardwood coals.

If your talking keeping warm in a survival or other less controlled setting, personally, I don't see the calories burned up processing wood worth the effort, myself. YMMV.

Of course, this depends on where you find yourself.

In my neck of the woods (mainly boreal forest) wood dry enough to burn abounds. Standing dead hard wood is harder to find. But I've never had a problem scrounging more than enough wood for a fire. I burn my big logs in two; I generally don't saw or chop. I break wood between the notch of two trees. Honestly, I rarely need to process wood at all.

As far as dry wood, there's almost always dry thumb sized and smaller wood that, with attention to tinder, will catch and deliver fire... IF you know where to look.

Old Philosopher:

--- Quote from: kanukkarhu on August 09, 2014, 09:05:42 AM ---I'm glad these fellas weighed in first as their experience will set the bar for a lot of people who have drank the "batonning/wood processing with your bacho, GB axe and woodlore knife" kool aid...

(Phew, that was a mouthful!)

Yeah, but it was worth it! :lol:


As far as dry wood, there's almost always dry thumb sized and smaller wood that, with attention to tinder, will catch and deliver fire... IF you know where to look.

--- End quote ---
I guess that is really the thrust of this thread. We have 3 people weighed in here who could apparently get by easily with a pocket knife with a 4" blade, ostensibly for cutting cordage, or whittling chopsticks. ;D

So for the crowd that may have been tainted by Nuke's "kool aid", just where DOES one look for suitable firewood, without having to launch a full scale logging operation?  One of the main reasons for Forums like ours is to pass on information to the benefit of all.
FWIW, Les and Cody are the only two people I've seen gathering "squaw wood", and explaining what they were doing. 

From the 1956 edition of HANDBOOK FOR BOYS, the Official Boy Scout Handbook and attributed to Ernest Thompson Seton....

"First a curl of birch bark as dry as it can be,
Then some twigs of squaw wood, dead, but on the tree,
Last of all some pine-knots to make the kittle foam,
And there's a fire to make you think you're settin' right at home."

Good advice for sure, IF you happen to be on a canoe trip in the Northwoods, but that ain't workin' here in Nebraska!  We have it just about as easy, but our materials are a bit different.  We have an abundance of very good hardwoods to select from up here in the northeastern part of the state. Lots of dead, standing timber and easily harvested downed branches, etc.  It would be unusual to have to venture farther than a few feet from the firesite, in the places I camp, to obtain all of the firewood I would need for a three day camping trip.....or need a tool to do it! 8)    A saw is nice for sectioning a wrist-sized oak limb (you ain't gon'na snap that stuff over your knee 8)), but I SELDOM need an axe for anything here.  A SAK or Opinel will suffice for making a few shavings for tinder, but I seldom even need to do that.....just grab a handful of loose cedar bark, rub/roll/squish it into a loose wad, and you're good to go! 

I've got the tools and the know-how for travel in in the North and the West, from experience gained through camping in those regions, but truly, I've never been anywhere yet, that was as easy to build and maintain a fire in than right here in God's Country! :camp:


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