Toasty toes from Sweetcorn tinder

Autumn has well and truly arrived here in the northern hemisphere and, since I’m one of those people who feel the cold badly, now is the time when I get to practice one particular bushcraft skill indoors on an almost daily basis, namely fire making. Wind back the clock a few weeks to sunnier times and my fridge had several, slightly ropey looking, corn on the cobs lurking in the salad drawer. (There is a connection between sweetcorn and fire lighting, bear with me!) Having de-skinned the sweetcorn, I was left with the usual enormous pile of leathery skins and a tangle of fibres, with my blogpost deadline on the far horizon, I thought I would experiment with using what would usually end up in the compost bucket to add another string to my fire lighting bow.

Sweetcorn leathery skins out to dry

The first thing to do was to dry it all thoroughly and, since it was sunny, I pegged out my future firelighters on the washing line to dry in the last of the summer sunshine. I left the fibres on the garden table, although I did have to retrieve them a few times as they were very light and there was a bit of a wind that day. Another way to have dried them would have been to use the residual heat of the kitchen oven after cooking, a frugal use of an available resource. It didn’t take long for my experiment to become bone dry, so I unpegged my husk hoard, boxed them up and waited for the cold.

My tangle of sweetcorn fibres

So, here we are a few weeks later and we’re settling into a different season in the UK. Storm Babet is making its presence felt outside and the wind is howling around the house where I live. Time to get a good fire going in the grate and the perfect opportunity to try out my sweetcorn tinder!

Sweetcorn Fibres and husks
Sweetcorn husks

Firstly, I tested whether the fibres from the end of the corn husks would take a spark from a fire steel, success! It didn’t burn for long, but I did get a flame out of it.

Testing sweetcorn fibres with fire steel

Next up, I thought I’d try scraping up some material from the husks themselves, like birch bark. I did manage to get a bit of a flash from the dust created, so had another go with a bigger pile which I made by scraping the surface of several pieces of husk (top tip, it’s much easier to get dust from the thicker end of the husk, where it joins on to the bottom of the cob). I also prepared a small nest of shredded husk so that the flash of flame would have somewhere to go. To give the dust the best chance of igniting, I carefully scraped some material from my fire steel into the husk dust, dropped the spark and voila! The dust caught nicely, and the flame was robust enough to light the shredded husk.

Scraping up some material from the husks themselves
With shredded husk

Next to get the fire going in the grate, the temperature was dropping, and toes were getting cold! I got some kindling from the shed and batoned it down so that it was nice and thin. Next, I made another pile of dust and put it into a particularly robust piece of husk, put a little nest of fibres on top, shredded some more husk and put that on top. I then laid the fire with the small pieces of wood over some more husk. With my bushcraft ducks in a row, I sparked it all up and carefully moved my burning bundle to the grate! And… it went out!

Brining the sweetcorn tinder to the fire grate

Time to try a different fire lay. I usually put a big log at the back of the grate, but this didn’t leave enough space for sufficient husks, so I tried again using a much smaller piece of wood at the back to lean kindling against. I dispensed with the dust this time since I’d managed to get the fibres going with the fire steel, but again shredded up some husks to build on the initial flame from the fibres. I put everything on a bed of husks, then the fibres and shredded material, then more husks, then kindling. After some furious scraping of the fire steel, the fibres caught and passed the flame easily to the shredded material. There was a tricky transition from the husks to the kindling and, if I were to use these materials again, I would have made the kindling thinner or gone out to collect some twigs from the garden, but, with some active fettling the kindling took. The next layer went on and then the logs and the fire was away!

Transition from the husks to the kindling

There’s something very satisfying about bringing what’s usually considered an outdoor skill into the home and into the everyday. There are many ways that we can blur the artificial boundary between our home lives and our outdoor lives, whether that’s by ditching the matches from the mantlepiece and experimenting with tinders, adding nettles to a batch of soup or using the embers of the fires in our front rooms to bake a chocolate cake in a camp mug. We can allow our passion for bushcraft skills to infuse our lives in ways that provide great, day to day enjoyment… and warm toes!

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