Bushcraft Torches and Lanterns Part1

As the nights draw in it becomes increasingly relevant to think about suitable light sources and their effectiveness in different situations in and around camp and out on the trail. Ideally we want camp set up before it gets dark as it is obviously easier to locate a safe and comfortable area to stay in the daylight over and against night fall.

lit-lampsselection of clay lamps

There may be times though when this is not possible, or you wish to investigate an area that is devoid of light during the day, like a cave.

In these series of blogs we will be covering various woodsman candles and lanterns. We will look at a variety of different alternatives open to us at this time of year using natural resources to provide a light source. This is not a scientific comparison by any means, for the purpose of these series of blogs we will make a comparison between them through general observation. We will however time how long they provide light for to give further value. It would seem pointless to spend a day harvesting material that resulted in less than a minute of light.

Here is a little rundown of what we have in store for you over the coming weeks;-

  • We shall be looking at some natural materials to make different styles of pinch pot lanterns and experimenting with different fuels and plant fibres for wicks;-
  • Greater Reedmace torches fresh from the ground and ones that picked well in advance with different fuels and holding methods.
  • Spruce resin lanterns,
  • Soft Rush candles,
  • Elder candles,
  • Different styles of birch bark lanterns
  • Rag torches fed with a comparison of manmade against plant based fuels.

Certainly enough to have our own primitive light show. Let us now take a look at our first light, the spruce resin torch.

We need three key items on our shopping list for this one and I am sure it will not stretch your imagination to work out what they may be, namely; spruce resin, dead spruce twigs and a green pole to arrange them in.

img_2122Spruce resin

Spruce resin occurs when the tree has been damaged, either by the removal of bark or branch through harvesting or some form of impact by man, machine or animal. The resin is incredibly sticky and it is not something you want to be collecting with your knife. You are far better fashioning a chisel point from a small round that you can dispose of, than spending a frustrating amount of time trying to clean your knife from nature’s antiseptic superglue. It is also worth going prepared with a container that you can scrape it into, failing this you can scrape it onto a suitable leaf.

img_2123Collecting the resin

Collect your dead spruce twigs to while you are there, any resin in the twigs will only aid the objective. The main pole you use to support the lantern needs to be green the ensure the lantern does not simply burn through it before the fuel has emitted all the light it has to offer.

img_2120Collecting with a chiselled stick

Once you have all the materials to hand you can start construction of the torch. Firstly we need to spilt the main supporting pole twice at 90 degrees to each other. We continued the splits to 180 mm. essentially the size of your split will govern how deeply to can load your dead spruce twigs and in turn how much of the resin you can load and as a result how long your lantern will burn for.


img_2165Stick split with spruce twigs inserted with resin in between

Once you have made your two splits we can start to load up the lantern. Place some of the resin at the base of both of the splits and then wedge in your first dead spruce stick. These only need to be 100mm to 120 mm long. Once the first stick is in place add the second at 90 degrees to the first, then place some more resin on top of the second stick. We now simply repeat the process until we near the top of the lantern. Try not to be too reserved with the resin; it is what helps to produce the main body of light after all.


img_2167Torch alight

With the lantern complete you now have a couple of options. You can light the torch from the bottom to give a brilliant bright light for a shorter amount of time of light from the top to give a softer light with a longer burn time. In this instance we opted for the later and achieved a bright light to illuminate a small circle of friends easily, with a strong light to read by. Our lantern lasted 14 minutes using a quarter of the resin we had collected.


img_2192In the light of day

The light was strong and consistent, resisting small fluctuations in breeze. Altogether a good torch although you may want to produce several to extend your useful lit time.  That brings us to the end of this blog, but we will look forward to brining you more woodsman candles and torches in the next of this series.

Jay Jenner

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