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Tinder and Tinderballs

Joined
Jul 27, 2006
Messages
1,730
Tinder is vastly under-rated. It is taken for granted, but is the key ingredient for a succesful fire.

Yesterday, using a fero-rod, I tried dryer lint. Takes a spark pretty well.
Also tried dried plain cottonball material, again took a spark and burned for a short period.

I had wittled a few peices of hardwood curls, shaved some barks into small curls, and stripped small fibers of wood, the size of thread, as "improvised" tinder. This was to simulate 'wet" conditions, where no dry grass, or other natural tinder was readily available.

I continued to get the tinder (lint and cotton) lit, and was able to get a peice or two of the wittled hardwood to catch, but only for a moment.
I can't tell you how many times my basic fire dwindled and died in those first minutes of life.

I would like to offer the Rule of "3"s for Tinder:

1. Your tinder must be Dry.
2. Your tinder must readily take a Spark.
3. Your tinder must be Plentiful.

I believe I was violating #3 , with my self-imposed handicap, limiting to myself to one single hardwood stick, to make my own tinder. Also, was using a piece of sheet metal, to protect the picnic table top. I have a feeling the cold metal was "sucking" the heat away from the newly born flames.

I was using only the wilderness knife sent by Aaronjayl, after a while, decided it was going to need a steeper profile, so, off to the workshop, to grind, file and sharpen it, but that's a different story.

Today , will go back at it. Going to use a piece of wood, rather than the metal to eliminate that variable.
"never give up"
 
Funny we were practicing the same thing yesterday, lighting various forms of tinder. I do believe you should practice and learn these things, instead of waiting for an actual survival need, when time is so very important to stay alive. I like looking around for all different kinds of "natural" tinder, we have a big field behind us so we get to find many forms of tinder. One of the best is the fuzzy little balls or fuzzy seeds on dead weed stalks, dogwood or whatever. I put it on the ground, on a stone or piece of wood, block the wind with my body and spark it with my firesteel and "Puff" it goes up. I do it in a "cave" of dried leaves and they all catch. Like you skunkwerx I need to practice with wet material and learn that too, a very good idea. We have like 7 different ways of fire making in our bob and the more I practice, the better I feel for a survival situation.
 
Here is another method to help out. This method is not "natural" like you guys are talkling about but its really helpful, especially in wet conditions. I cut off pieces of a bike inner tube and wrap it around my sheath. When starting fires in difficult conditions just build a log cabin frame for your fire and put a piece of cotton ion the center and strike a spark into the cotton. When the cotton ignites just lay a piece of rubber on the cotton. When it catches you can start adding the roof to the cabin. The rubber burns hot and long, giving you the extra time needed to ignite damp wood.
 
Forgot to add that the bike tube has multi-purpose uses. I use it as rubber bands to secure 550 chord and secure gear to packs...
Here are a couple pics for ya. The first one has the rubber tube around the sheath:

1edc.jpg


Here is the sparking tool going into the cottonball tender:

spark-1.jpg



And here is the tube being added to the tender:

tube.jpg


Normally I would not use a chunk that big. I usually use much smaller pieces to conserve for future use. In a real survival situation you would want to use the least amount of material to get the job done.
 
In the last picture the ground looks wet and cold. Putting a base of dry combustible material down and building the fire on that will prevent the ground from extinguishing the fire before it catches.
 
Well, I already have a few bars of trioxane, couple cans of Sterno, two magnesium/flint thingies, about a zillion Bics, waterproof matches, waxed matches, bag of cotton balls, jar of vaseline, an Esbit type stove, and a few tin can candle lanterns... I'm definintely grabbing a couple inner tubes the next time I'm at the hardware store!

You guys are more than right about practicing with natural materials and just your knife. And someday soon I promise I will wear the flesh off my hands attempting to learn how to use a bow drill :D But personally, I'm not too proud to keep and carry a small stockpile of "synthetic" firestarters, too. Yet another reason to keep beer on hand... the cardboard 12-pack boxes are good tinder.

Note: I don't think I'll replace the trioxane tabs when I use them up, I don't care for the chemical odor at all :( Do hexamine tabs burn "cleaner"?
 
Dont have any personal experience with hexamine but according to wikpedia it burns smokeless:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexamine_fuel_tablet

Trioxane bars are the best, I used to crush them up and keep them in a film canister and only use a tiny bit to start a fire. They require very little to get a blaze started and they will burn in water. definatly worth keeping in a survival kit if you have a good source for getting them.
 
I was camping on tuesday and had a similar experience. I initially tried to light my fire "naturally" using only tinder i found on site in very damp woods. although i was able to start it it kept going out. even with lint the results were similar. it was only when i made wood shavings from some of the dry firewood i had purchased at a grocery store on my way to camp that i was able to keep a good fire going.

The lint lit well enough but was easily extinguished.

I forgot my mangesium bar so i lit the fire with the flint striker on the bottom of my match safe.


I had other things, (candles Trioxane, etc) that i could have used but i was determined to light it with as few "Cheats" as possible.
 
Yesterday my son started his fire with a firesteel and a plain cotton ball. He didn't set his tinder pile close enough and when he turned he knocked some dirt onto the tinder nest and almost put out the tiny fire. I've done the same and probably will again someday. Vaseline cotton ball nuggets make wet weather fire starting easier too. I will add some inner tube for the next fire.

BTW coyote you have pretty hands. :D
 
Hey Guys...

It's funny how many of us are actually doing the same thing about the same time...

I was just in the woods two days ago with my oldest son working onfire making skills...

Him and I have had it out a couple of times this past summer when he wanted to make the camp fire,, wouldn't listen and it ended up in him leaving in a huff..So,, out to the woods we go on a completely different note and him eager to learn.

It had been fairly dry,, so pretty much everything in the woods was usable.. The first thing we did was go for a long 2-3 km hike, and collected things that he thought would make good tinder, but only found a few...

Some of the things I was telling him could be used for tinder were :
Dryed grass, some fuzzies off some weeds, milkweed pod fluff, grape vine bark and birds nests all make fine tinder... He's seen me use many of these things in the past so it wasn't new to him.

The Scout troop I've been associated with and just recently have gotten back invloved with them had their scouts make fire using matches and popcicle sticks. They earned their firemaking basge this way...

Ohhh no... I don't like playing those types of games..
If your going to teach kids how to make fire and have them earn a badge,, they are going to have to actually work for it...

Just like getting their stove and latern badge...

I make them take them apart, clean, inspect, service and reassemble the stove and latern,, and I don't teach on propane....

The Firemaking badge or permit doesn't come in one camp, but is stretched out over the course of a couple of camps, or if weather conditions are right (right by my standards) then it may be taught over one weekend,,but not likely..
Weather has to be dry first,, then raining. The kids build fire using my methods when it's dry, when they feel comfortable with that, we do it all again in the rain... A little different approach and a hell of alot harder to do...

I first show them what to look for in natural tinder, show them how it ignites,,show them the proper sticks to use,, how to build a fire properly,,how to organize their tinder and fuel wood, how to find and get dry wood and then let them go at it...

Then when we do it on a rainy day they have some background..
They find it to be pretty frustrating, especially if theres been a good rain and everything is completely soaked..Heck I've had a problem a few times getting a decent fire going...

I remember a couple of boys had a wicked little fire going,, but didn't think about the fuel wood.. Well they soon ran out of kindling and in the process of finding wood their nice little fire went out and the entire process had to be started again...

Teach and learn to make fire under the worst of conditions, rainy wet and or snowing and cold, you learn quickly what to do and what not to do,, and on days when it's sunny and warm and a fire is a snap.

ttyle

Eric
O/ST
 
Well, it rained about a half-inch of rain last night.

Despite the lackluster performance before, I am considering going out on the wet, soggy woods, and seeing if there is any way I can get a fire started using ONLY a fero-rod as a spark source. I am going to restrict myself to only small amounts of dry tinder, like dryer lint.

No vaseline-balls, no magnesium. (I will bring them, but not use them until I have given up hope). Even if I fail to get a steady fire going, it will be useful to know just how difficult it may be, in a totally soggy situation.
(I think it will be VERY difficult, it was a steady rain all night, so, finding anything dry will be tough).

The plan:
Wittle several sticks down to dry wood. Lay them side by side so there is a "dry place" to start with. Then, will wittle down the smallest, driest, wood shavings. I knwo there are Tulip poplar branches out there, and I know that tulip poplar burns fast and hot once ignited, so, that's what will be used.
I have the round file attached to the fero-rod, so, will also "file" some poplar "dust" onto the tinder, for added flammability.
I will take an arsenal of tinders, and work my way up the foodchain of tinders until I get decent fire. This may tell the tale of just what it will take in these types of conditions.


The overall idea here, is, With a a basic knife&multitool set-up, and a ferorod, being able to bring a fire to life. Even in dry conditions it can be a bit of task, in wet conditions this is gonna be a challenge.

Here is the scenario: Your matches and Bic are soaked or even lost in the river. You are wet and cold. You need the comfort of a warm fire and some warm liquid, but, moreover, if you don't warm up, hypothermia will creep in.

Right now it's cool, misty, a bit foggy. I will wait until later in the day, and give it a try.

Wish me luck, I think I'm gonna need it.
 
this scenario this atutally happen to me about 7 years ago. I was on a 8 day backpacking trip and its raining for four days .By the third day everything I had with me was soaked. it was cold and miserable . I only way i could start a fire was to use some down in my jacket, placed it on dry flat rock that found under large boulder and got a spark using some flint. I was lucky on the fifth day I found a emeracany shelter on AT and able to warm up
 
It is funny that I too was practicing fire making Sat. My first attempt at using a magnesium bar was a poor attempt at best. How big of a pile do you actualy need? It burned so quike that I could not get anything to catch. I was using fuss sticks and when I could not get those to light, I used wet tinder brand thingies. I definately need more practice.:rolleyes:
 
whats the deal with soaking cotton balls petroleum jelly I tired sat and they to not light has fast as regular cotton balls. I forgot add in my last post that since that backpacking everything is waterproofed.
 
It is funny that I too was practicing fire making Sat. My first attempt at using a magnesium bar was a poor attempt at best. How big of a pile do you actualy need? It burned so quike that I could not get anything to catch. I was using fuss sticks and when I could not get those to light, I used wet tinder brand thingies. I definately need more practice.:rolleyes:

I've been using the magnesium starters for years and in my experience its best to use a pile about the size of a quarter with a depth of about 1/8". When shaving the magnesium, I first press really hard to get large coarse "curls" of magnesium these curls give you a bit longer burn time and less flash powder effect. I then shave the magnesium lightly to get a bit of magnesium dust over and into the coarse curls, these will catch a spark much more easily and ignite the coarser longer burning curls.

You will still need some sort of tinder to go on top of this. My view is that the magnesium serves to help start tinder that is damp or less than ideal for catching a spark from the a ferro rod alone.

My suggestion is to go around looking for tinders that you can get to ignite or smolder using just the ferro rod. Once you get these dialed and know what to look for, you will most likely find yourself only using the magnesium for damp conditions.
 
whats the deal with soaking cotton balls petroleum jelly I tired sat and they to not light has fast as regular cotton balls. I forgot add in my last post that since that backpacking everything is waterproofed.

Petroleum cotton balls work great. They burn a long time when compared to untreated cotton balls. The trick to using them is to tear open the cotton balls and expose the untreated fibers inside of them, then they start just as easily as a normal cotton ball but will burn for around 5 minutes because of the petroleum jelly.

I have a busted inner tube in my garage that I've been meaning to add to my PSK. This thread was a nice reminder to go do that.
 
I've been using the magnesium starters for years and in my experience its best to use a pile about the size of a quarter with a depth of about 1/8". When shaving the magnesium, I first press really hard to get large coarse "curls" of magnesium these curls give you a bit longer burn time and less flash powder effect. I then shave the magnesium lightly to get a bit of magnesium dust over and into the coarse curls, these will catch a spark much more easily and ignite the coarser longer burning curls.

You will still need some sort of tinder to go on top of this. My view is that the magnesium serves to help start tinder that is damp or less than ideal for catching a spark from the a ferro rod alone.

My suggestion is to go around looking for tinders that you can get to ignite or smolder using just the ferro rod. Once you get these dialed and know what to look for, you will most likely find yourself only using the magnesium for damp conditions.

Tiros,
Thanks for the advice. I think my mistake was not pressing down hard enough. The pile I made was mostly dust with only a few "curls". I'll have to give it another try. Thanks again.
 
It was miserable out there. A slow steady drizzle developed.
No way I was getting a fire started with only natural material.

I carved some fuzz sticks, found some dry bark that had been shelteredfrom the rain, but, still with the dampness, humidity and cool temps, it was very difficult.

The problem was not getting flame from flint. I was able to light dryer lint, dry cotton balls, etc. The problem was Coaxing the flame to catch other material. I shaved slivvers of wood, curls, shaved bark until a I had approximately a handful of tinder. Under normal cricumstances, a cup full of this stuff would ignite and burn rapidly. In this weather, the fire just could not build up enough to sustain itself. I would get 30 seconds, a minute and maybe more of burning, but it would die. Even blowing on it wouldn't keep any embers alive.
Our relative humidty was about 90%, and it was damp beyond belief.

I didn't stick with it for a long time, given the miserable conditions.
Toward the 3rd or 4th ignition, I was feeling like the small "almost fires" were drying things out. I could feel warmth on my hand cupping it over the small pile near the end.

I cannot emphasize this enough: In cold chilly rainy weather you will need a lot more tinder than you realize. It may end up taking all of your petroleum-cottonballs to finally get a fire going. Then what? Next day you have no tinder.

This has given me a deep appreciation for the value of dry tinder, and the value of having a LOT of it. WHat good are matches? Well, wooden matches are good because each wooden stick is that much more dry tinder!
Don't downplay the importance of wooden matches in these type of conditions.

I look at tinder as primary and secondary tinder.
The primary tinder is the one that catches spark, and gives birth to flame.
Secondary tinder is the tootpick sized pieces, or fuzz sticks, or curls, that catch easily and really bring the fire to a life of it's own.
It was the secondary part where I was having trouble. The dampness being the main culprit.

Again, the problem wasn't the initial ignition, it was getting a fire hot enough that it could sustain itself. So, even if you had a Bic lighter, that would be all well and good, but without the secondary tinder to push the flame into a sustainable fire, you would be repeatedly re-lighting and trying to coax the fire into life.

I will be "biggie sizing" my tinder container.
 
thanks for the info on the cotton balls also how do you guys store the balls ?in. for dry tinder i sometimes use homemade firestarter/tinder using sawdust, dryer lint and melted wax formed into small bars. Another way is to find a log about 4 or 5 inchs in dimaiter and split the log. the inside wood is usally dry just take your knife or axe and shave of the inside wood for kinding
 
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