Tinder Bundles: Part 3, Blowing into Flame

Welcome to the third part of a three part tinder bundle blog. In this last instalment we will look at putting what we have learnt about ember extenders and tinder in the first two blogs and brining it all together to see how we can effectively blow it all into flame. We will have a look at three different tinder bundles concentrating with the first one on the construction and how we can introduce subtle changes to achieve blowing our tinder bundle into flame.Great emphasis can be placed on producing the ember alone and it is easy to underestimate the challenge of then converting that ember into flame. Presenting your ember to the right materials in the desired condition on its own will not necessarily guarantee successful results. We will take a look at how we can work with the tinder bundle and all the little subtleties that we can employ in order to fulfil its purpose.

Let us first look at the construction of the tinder bundle, with the aid of some photographs. Each tinder has its own properties and this will partly determine the quantity you will require, the other factor being the weather conditions. For this example we will use some of the Cleavers (Galium aparine) we collected earlier in conjunction with Rosebay Willow Herb (Chamerion angustifolium).  In optimum conditions we will need cleavers in the volume similar to that of a grapefruit, you may need to double this volume if the weather is against you. If your floor is wet or damp keep your materials raised above it.

photoBall of Cleavers roughly grapefruit size.

Holding with both hands form it into long sausage shape roughly 23 inches long, as you do so think about the density of your tinder as we don’t want it so tight the air cannot get through or so loose that the ember is starved of fuel. Just as a guide, have it so you have a good inch of spring to it when you squeeze it gently.

23 inch cleaver sausageManipulating the tinder into a long shape, as we get the density right.

Bring both ends together and give it a 180 degrees twist, just over half way down.

cleavers ends togetherBringing the two ends together.

cleavers twistTwist the bundle 180 degrees just below half way.

With the material below the twist bend it back and up behind the bundle. You will notice that a natural well for the ember extender to seat is created in the centre. The material you bent up behind this well act as extra fuel to help convert your ember to flame.

tail up backTinder bundle with everything below the twist tucked up behind.

 With the tinder bundle in this form, we hold the tinder bundle by cupping our hands either side. This has several advantages, it allows us to either add or release compression to the bundle to either feed the ember with fuel as it burns or increase the amount of oxygen if it is too compressed. Secondly by making sure our fingers are not behind the bundle it helps to prevent them getting too hot as the temperature increases inside as we blow through the tinder bundle.

The narrower part at the bottom of the bundle has its own advantages. It can be used as a handle to manipulate the bundle safely as the ember extender is converted into flame. We can then use it to turn the bundle gradually upside down as it helps you feed the flames with fuel as you bring it to your hearth to build upon.

We can now add the ember extender, two or three cotton ball sizes of Rosebay Willowherb is plenty, use more if the weather is against you. Fluff it right up and then gently compress it into the well of the tinder bundle, making a slight indent to seat the ember.

bundle with reosbay addedEmber extender added to the well of the tinder bundle.

Make sure your ember is well established and bring the tinder bundle down to your ember, it is always best to reduce the distance your ember travels. On a windy day the slightest of gusts can destroy a friction fire ember, keeping it low and sheltered will help prevent this. You will have also exerted a lot of energy at this point and dropping or disrupting the ember at this stage is easily done,  so reduce the distance you move it by doing it this way. Remember though if the floor is wet, keep the bundle raised. Bring the edge of the ember pan central to the ember extender. With ember pan almost touching it, tilt it like a hinge 90 degrees & give it a tap to release it into ember extender. Some encouragement with a match size stick may be required at this point, but avoid breaking up the ember.

cleavers ember in bundleAdding the ember to your tinder bundle.

We now need to establish the ember into the tinder bundle, by transferring some of the thermal energy from it into the ember extender. Bringing your lips together as if to whistle, blow with long slow gentle breaths about 4-5 inches away a couple of times, any closer and we run the risk of introducing too much of the moisture from our own breath on to the ember.  Cup your hands ever so gently as you do so to protect and feed the ember with fuel.

seating the emberSeating the ember with a couple of gentle breaths.

Now it is time to stand up and extend our lungs to their capacity. Position yourself with the wind on your back so that smoke and flame when it arrives are carried away from your body. The skill now is in reading what is happening with your ember within the tinder bundle material you have chosen to use, the weather conditions you are working in at that time and reacting to it appropriately. Like any skill this all comes with practice, but can become quite instinctive in time.

At this point we do well to remind ourselves of what is required to achieve and maintain fire, as this understanding will help us recognise how our subtle influences that we employ can impact on the tinder bundle as we work it. Fire needs three things to work in relation to each other in the right quantities; they are fuel, heat and oxygen, often described as the fire triangle. Too much or too little of any one of these elements will result in your ember falling short of its true potential. The value in getting the tinder bundle right is only too apparent after that sinking moment when you realise the last of the ember has died before being converted to flame and we reflect on what it took to produce the ember in the first place.

Well let’s turn the tables in our favour as we start to look at these substiles in more detail. In reading what is going on we are able to apply the right changes at the correct time. There are various adjustments available to you to enhance performance. The first of these I mentioned earlier, increasing or decreasing compression on the tinder bundle, increasing it if the centre starts to burn out or create a void starving the ember of fuel, releasing compression if it is too tight, otherwise it will smother it as it starves the fuel of oxygen.

Don’t forget your tinder bundle is mobile, and this should be used to your advantage. If your ember extender is burning out in a particular direction then angle your tinder bundle so as you blow into it so the remaining unburnt fuel falls into the path of your breath behind the ember.

tinder bundle being angledChanging the angle of this clematis tinder bundle to direct the ember into the path of the remaining unburnt ember extender.

Ideally when it comes to using the air from your lungs you need to be aware of the moisture content as it leaves your body. Typically this is about 4% water vapour.  This is easily demonstrated by giving a few good long huffs on the palms of your cupped hand. Placing your hands together straight after you will immediately feel that they feel clammy with a slight tackiness to them. This is the moisture from your breath leaving a residue. We want to avoid this moisture coming into contact with your ember. The simplest way to achieve this is by holding your tinder bundle four to six inches from your lips to lessen its effect on your ember.

bundle 4-6 inches awayKeeping my distance at 4-6 inches.

Lips are key to focus your breath to where it needs to be in conjunction of your lungs to help control the volume.  Blowing too hard and the ember in your tinder bundle will spit back at you as it breaks up. Blow too softly and you will starve it of oxygen before enough heat is generated to ignite your tinder. To produce a suitable airflow bring your lips together as blowing out a candle, this will give you a concentrated air flow as you exhale. Unlike blowing out a candle though you want a steady flow rather than a short sharp blast. As a guide with lungs full of air look to exhale steadily for a good five seconds before you feel you need to draw your next breath. This will obviously vary from person to person, so don’t turn yourself blue reaching for five seconds if you can maintain up to two or three at most.

As we feel our breath drawing to a close on a still day we can keep the ember fed with air by keeping the tinder bundle moving, allowing us to also draw fresh breath at the same time to apply to the tinder bundle again. As we reach this point, in one seamless motion, turn your head to one side to avoid any smoke and draw all the fresh air to fill your lungs, as you do so swing your tinder bundle on the opposite side with your arms fully extended down beside you, bringing straight back up to coincide with your next fresh breath. We repeat this process increasing the size of our ember as we do so and the mass of heat produced, this helps drive out the small amounts of moisture in the fuel before it becomes part of the ember. This thermal energy then transmits to the coarser tinder, again driving out any moisture before it to becomes part of the ember.


bundle swingSwinging the tinder bundle and drawing my next fresh breath.

As the tinder starts to smoulder, the smoke increases in volume. The colour of the smoke is a good indicator of what is going on in inside. As the thick white plumes of smoke build as the amount of moisture driven out is increased you will notice it change in colour to a grey green/yellow colour. This is all the oils within the tinder as they start to evaporate. (If your tinder is exceptionally dry or fine this may not be evident.) This is an indication that you are not far from achieving flame. It won’t combust all the time you are blowing into the tinder bundle, only when you rest and it is these oils that will combust, bringing your ember to flame. As this happens slowly roll over the tinder bundle to continue to feed the fire. Bring it down to your prepared fire site where you can add further coarser fuels in ever increasing gages to establish your desired fire lay.

smoke colour changeNotice the faint yellowy grey smoke in the centre as the oils start to evaporate.

combustionShortly after the smoke changes the oils combust

rolling over tinder bundleRolling over the tinder bundle to feed the fire

Now is the time to take a moment and bath in the heat and light of your labour as our ancestors had done for thousands of years. It is a truly wonderful achievement in creating fire using the natural materials around you. It warms the soul as well as your body when you achieve it.

fire burningFire by friction, warming the soul and body for thousands of years

Let us now turn our attention to two other tinder bundles we can produce from some of the materials in the first two blogs.

Phragmites Reed – Phragmites australis

Phragmites or Common Reed is an amazing plant. Not only do we have everything we need to get our ember converted into flame, but we also have the first stage of our kindling to start to maintain it.

Using the dried dead leaves from the reed, rough them up to increase the surface area and form the tinder bundle as we did with the cleavers. We will need a little more though this time as the leaves are quite fine and it will burn down quite quickly. Adding half again as will give us the time we need to ignite the first stages of our kindling, in the form of the reed stems.

Now add the seed heads of the reed into the well of the tinder bundle, as before two or three cotton balls worth is fine and we are ready to go.

common reed tinder bundlePhragmites tinder bundle being prepared.



Clematis – Clematis Vitalba

Using both the vine bark as our tinder and the seed heads as our ember extender we can create an effective tinder bundle with just less than half the volume of the cleavers bundle. We need to prepare the bark well for it to be effective. Rough it up quite firmly to break it up into finer strands, you will find they are quite coarse. Lots of smaller fibres will break up and fall through, don’t worry though, we can keep hold of all of this and place it in the well of the tinder bundle when we have created it. When you have done that, place the four or five cotton balls worth of seed heads in, no need to fluff them up this time, unless they have been heavily compressed. Now continue as we did with the cleavers. You will find that although the bundle is smaller it will burn for a good while, giving you the time you need to establish it with kindling.

clematis tinder bundle                               Clematis bark and seed head tinder bundle                                

Well that’s it for this the last part of this tinder bundle blog.  It’s just about getting out there and trying it out for your selves. I hope you have found it useful and inspired you to maybe try something a little different to get your next tinder bundle going.


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