Urban Bushcraft – Match Feather Stick

Match Feather Stick

It’s all too easy to practice a skill and then once you’ve had a success or two you consider it mastered and move on to something else but that doesn’t do a skill justice or create the muscle memory to get you out of trouble when it really matters.  It’s with this skills ethos of going further and, if I’m honest, with a healthy challenge gauntlet thrown that I found myself practicing feather sticks… but not how you’d expect.

Now even if you’ve never made one you’ve probably come across the idea of a feather stick.  In principle the approach is that even in the wettest of weathers you can split open dead wood to expose dry, seasoned material that can then be carved finely to help start a fire.  To get the fine curls and various grades of material and all the while keep them on the stick that is carved so thin it becomes the next grade of fuel to burn takes patience and persistence to master.  But as with my other Urban Bushcraft projects we have to accept getting out into the woods regularly may not be possible and even if you can how can you progress your skill set?  Enter the match feather stick.

All you will need (apart from patience and trying not to stick your tongue out when concentrating) is a baking tray, knife, ferro rod, matchsticks (who knows how many you’ll get through) and a candle of some sort.  Assemble your items onto the baking tray and set yourself up somewhere safe… preferably outside or at least nowhere near your smoke alarms.

What you'll need...

Before we start carving we need to understand what makes a good feather stick and how to achieve this.  The end result should have very fine long curls to begin with that gradually become smaller and towards the end almost just fine dust like shavings pushed up under the original curls.  The final stick should also have been carved so thin that once the curls are on fire it will spread onto the stick and become part of the tinder and fuel to build your fire up from.  Sound easy right?  Well let’s take the understanding a bit further to help you on your way and achieve success.

When you look at the non-business end of a match you’ll see they are square; and a good feather stick comes from working with corners.  On larger feather sticks I would normally be using the section of blade closest to the handle to keep steady control but for this challenge I found I needed the finer profile of the tip of my knife so control will need extra concentration (hence the tongue).  The first curl is going to be taken from one of the corners as you gently shave it down towards the head of the match.  This shaving from the first corner will create a flat surface that has now created two more corners – one to the left and one to the right of the corner you just worked on.  You now repeat the process of removing the new corners as before which in turn creates more corners.  Keep going until you feel the match is becoming too fragile to continue and remember the curls ideally have to stay attached so the fire can spread throughout the match.

The edges of a match.
The edges of a match.
Match Feather Stick
The curls take shape.

So what’s next?  You have a feather stick to be proud of, you’ve only used half a box of matches and no-one saw your tongue sticking out.  Now we need to get it into flame.  Using your ferro rod we need to employ good technique of slow but very firm pressure to maximise the sparks landing on the curls without hitting the match or destroying the very delicate structure.  Now some would advocate covering the curls with ferro rod shavings before landing the sparks but I’ll leave that up to you to decide how much you want to challenge yourself.  Once you’ve got your match feather stick to flame you now need to act quickly to light a candle before it burns itself out.

Feather stick into flame.
We have fire!
Extend the flame
Act quickly to light the candle and extend the flame.

I know this may all seem a bit daft but practicing skills before it really matters is a better approach and if you can do this just imagine the improvements in the quality of your knife skills and larger feather sticks – not to mention you now have the ability to light matches even if the box gets wet or damaged.  Have fun practicing and remember to upload your photos or videos to our social media sites.

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