No Dry Tinder?

The following idea has been published in Volume 1 of “Primitive Technology a book of Earth Skills” but only takes up half of page 57 and has only diagrams of the method.

By the way, the above mentioned book is a must have for your bushcraft library!

The idea set out by E. J. Pratt is that on those occasions where no tinder is available or all the available tinder is saturated you can create tinder by carving and scraping varying grades of tinder from standing dead wood.

This is nothing new to anyone who has made their own feather sticks to get a fire going in soaking wet woodland where all the cleavers, bracken, dead grass and other usual tinder suspects are saturated.

But you can take the principles behind the feather stick further by doing away with the feather stick companions of the match and the fire steel and instead achieve a fire by introducing a bow drill ember into a nest of carefully made fine shavings.

All these loose shavings would just get blown away or at least fall apart (part of the genius of the feather stick is that all the various curls of tinder remain attached to the stem which itself becomes small fuel eventually) so the first task is to build a type of corral to hold them all together.

A small circular raft of twigs (the driest you can find) is placed on the ground and then hemmed in by more twigs pushed into the earth.

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Into this woody container you want to put in the coarsest grade shavings first – around the size of the curls made on a standard feather stick. Almost fill the container with these shavings and then push a hole in the centre of them creating a small well shape.

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Into the well you have just made create some extra fine curls and shavings of the driest wood you can find.

If you have cuttings tools with you then splitting some standing dead wood to get at the dry centre should not be hard. In the article offered by E. J. Pratt it is suggested that these curls would be simple to create with basic flint scrapers…choose your level of technology!

Finally you should add some incredibly fine shavings by rasping your knife (flint scraper) over the dry wood at 90 degrees like a cabinet scrape – this will provide you with lots of soft fine fibres to add to the top of your slightly odd looking tinder bundle.

The next step is to get that bow drill ember. That was quick, well done! Now carefully place it directly onto the finest scrapings in the centre of the wooden corral.

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More very fine shavings can be carefully added to the top of the ember each time allowing a few seconds for the smoke to build up – don’t rush this and if necessary blow gently to keep the oxygen going in.

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The Massai tribe we are fortunate enough to spend time with each February use a similar tactic of covering their hand drill ember with finely powdered donkey dung. Far from smothering the ember if done gradually and carefully material added in this way will build the ember generating more heat.
After a while the finest wooden shavings will begin to char and blacken, the smoke will build and with a little more breath you will have ignition. As soon as you do it’s over to the typical fire ‘building’ approach of adding gradually coarser shavings until you have a good sustained blaze.

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I hope the  photos bring this method to life for those of you without a copy of Primitive Earth Skills. Give it a go it really is a very simple technique and that added satisfaction of a bow drill success on the wettest of days with all natural materials can’t be beaten.


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