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Too much emphasis on ignition

Discussion in 'Wilderness & Survival Skills' started by kgd, Jun 12, 2011.

  1. kgd


    Feb 28, 2007
    I'm as guilty as the next guy on this one but I've been thinking lately (partly spurned by the: Is the ferrorod a trinket thread?) that most of us practice igniting fires way more than we do actually making fires. Obviously the two are logically connected and there is a sound reason why we tend to practice ignition more often - it takes less time and commitment than actually building a full fire.

    However, what do we miss out by neglecting completion of firecraft practice? One is fuel selection and processing. Just like ignition, there are multiple ways to skin a cat. With ignition, we often carry multiple methods and being familiar with their pros and cons lets you match the method for the conditions.

    But fuel is by necessity (unless you buy your camp wood) a foraging exercise. Sometimes wood isn't easy to find as we think it might be and are you looking for this when you come to a new environment even if you aren't necessarily going to start a fire? How often do you come to unfamiliar woods and suddenly it isn't quite so obvious to identify that dead standing tree to assess if it will be good firewood or not? Do you know the burning characteristics of several different trees and how to gage this?

    Or do you have the right tools and know how to actually process the wood you need? That PSK-blade may get you through to ignition, but does your kit contents, or wobbly knee, allow you take apart larger diameter fuel logs for a sustained fire? Are your tools right for the environment you find yourself in and the type of wood available?

    There is the experimentation with different fire lays, e.g. longfire or self feeding fires, star-fire etc. Many of us have read about them, but how many actually tried them out and learned from that trial and error process? What do you do when you are accustomed to using a fire ring and find none where you are at?

    Lastly, are you good at controlling the fire duration through selection of wood and fuel size? Can you make fast coals to minimize cooking time or a slow, long burn for better heat output?

    Just a few questions and comments I thought I'd throw out there. I'm one of those guys who is better on ignition than fire craft although I've experimented with many aspects above, just not enough and/or in trying conditions. How about you?
  2. sicily02


    Nov 23, 2005
    Ken, this is where dirt time comes in. But just like carving a wooden spoon, I do not have to carve one every time I go to the woods to know and remember how to do it.

    Same with fire or building a shelter, once you have done it several times it really is a owned skill. Are there improvments you might think about and do later on, yes wood craft is a on going..... learning. Plant ID is on going and will be fore ever in my life I spend more time doing that then I do building debreas shelters. build of few and spend a night or two in them and you got it down. Same with a snow cave or al wiki up. Fire is the same. I do not have to build a fire every time I go out in my area to know that I can do it with what is in my area.
    Once you get the basics down the rest will follow.

    I do believe some people need more practice than say others in some of the wood craft skills.

    For example 2 weeks ago a TV crew came to my shop and did a interview on me and the knives I make. One of the subjects that came up was lighting a fire. One fellow it took a dozen tries at least before he got the firsteel to spark in the tinder I provided, but the other fellow it to only 2 tries and he got the tinder struck. I showed them both at the same time how to do it with a firesteel. but one got it quicker than the other both are educated men. We all learn at different rates and differently.

    That is my thoughts on it:).

  3. kgd


    Feb 28, 2007
    Thanks for your response Bryan. Obviously one doesn't have to or would want to start a full fire every time they get out. It takes too much time to do so and you aren't always in a situation where making a full fire is appropriate. I guess what I was thinking about in this thread is how often do people actually experiment or mix things up with their fire making methods. While people do all kinds of training for example in wet weather to get a tiny little flame going, do they ever carry through that training to a full on fire. Just trying to break the pre-conceived notion that just because you have a little flame means you are out of the clear.

    Also, there is much one can do with the fire lay to optimize fire for an intended purpose. So I'm interested in finding out how often people just experiment with different fire lay set-ups or intentionally try to manipulate the fire they build for an intended purpose. Its training just like working a fire steel on different natural tinders, but it is much more rarely documented in this place.
  4. foxx


    Sep 5, 2010
    In the Daniel Boone NF, Red River Gorge area there is a species of tree that makes the worst smoke. If you use this wood, you will be coughing that night, and the next day. I don't know the name of the species, but finding wood to burn is difficult at night, and some of it's wet, and you just need a fire.

    I've had a fire going there, but lost it, several times over. This was many years ago, I was young, less experienced, and had no knife. If I had had a large knife, maybe I could have gotten to some dry wood, or found a dead tree. Even with success, it probably would have made me cough all night anyway.

    I know I could stand to learn more about different woods, their burn rates, smoke, and heat output. Then again, this is if there is even enough wood on the ground to keep a fire going.
  5. abo4ster


    Aug 24, 2003
    I think you are spot on Ken. I have been preaching for a decade to much focus on what is only 1/3 of the fire equation, heat (ignition). So many don't practice fuel and oxygen, which in combination is what you are preparing when using tinder and/or construction your pyre and fire lay.

    Here are three videos I made on the subject so to speak...

    How to make a tinder bundle followed by lighting it with a fresnel lens in this case


    And here is one on a couple different pyres. What I call a pyre, most call a fire lay. I refer to a fire lay as the primary configuration used after the fire is established. As an example, you are not going to start your long log fire lay that way. You may start it with a teepee fire and that would be your pyre in my mind.
  6. kgd


    Feb 28, 2007
    Good lessons Foxx and thanks for the videos Abo4ster, I'll view them later this afternoon.
  7. sicily02


    Nov 23, 2005
    Ken, I hear ya. Over the years I personaly have tried just about every one of the firelays that you can read in every survival and bush craft book.
    I use just the round fire lay for 9 out of 10 fires. If I am doing some cooking I just move some coals over to where I want to do my cooking at.
    I have used a long fire only twice. just not my need where I am at most of the time. the dakota fire pit and the key hole are ok. the fire bed
    works. Here is again it comes down to practicing and seeing what works for everyone since we are all different. Getting out and learning about
    the wood in your area is going to help out too, burning wood to see what the heat out put is and does it throw a lot of sparks. Practice is the key.
    some us really get to and some us do not get to like we would like too.

    Good thread Ken,

    Last edited: Jun 12, 2011
  8. RescueRiley


    Mar 22, 2006
    Ken I;ve said the same thing many times myself... Good stuff Thanks for posting.
  9. skab8541


    Dec 6, 2006
    I'm right there with ya Ken. One of the reasons I have such a large wood pile at home, and I don't have a fireplace. Almost every night we have a fire, sometimes for cooking, sometimes for heat, but mostly because I was messing around with a fire starting method!

    As far as fire lays go, I don't experiment to much. Usually for ease of cooking I play around with reflector walls and coal placement and such.

    But your point is a stout one and more people should listen to what you're saying and follow thru.
  10. Pritch


    May 3, 2006
    Right on, Ken. I'm always preaching this to my scouts. Preparation is frequently overlooked because ignition is so much sexier. Taking that baby flame to a sustainable fire can be more challenging than people often anticipate. All elements need to be practiced until competency is attained.
  11. Skimo


    Mar 28, 2009
    Yes, teach 'em young, you only get the reward (a nice fire) by doing the work (preparing).
  12. neeman


    Apr 5, 2007
    Fire starting and fire building are two seperate skills

    Need to ask what the fire is for?
    Cooking - what food for how many people?
    Heat - how cold, if for sleeping?
    Light -
    Signalling -smoke

    quick coals for a small pot
    A longer fire for a hung dutch oven etc...
    A lot of less skilled fire makers do not realize how small a fire will do a lot of cooking
  13. fishiker


    Nov 5, 2006
    For the last several years all of our campfires have been started with a firesteel. It is a practical means of maintaining a skill for me and my family. When camping with friends or other family members we get some strange looks from those who do not understand why it takes so long to get a fire started. They have no idea of the effort needed to achieve a good campfire. My cousin commented on a recent outing "you sure do spend a lot of time getting a fire started" I agreed but told him that like most things in life it is better to spend the effort to do it right the first time.
  14. KYNabob


    Dec 11, 2010
    So using a firesteel is the "right way" and using a lighter less acceptable? Why?

    Is there an order of excellence decending from flame thrower to starting a blaze with a deadly stare?

    Practicing laying a fire?

    You guys are kidding, right? This discussion only occurrs among folks not spending enough time in the woods to properly aquaint themselves with a continuious use of the fire. Do you suppose the cave men debated this issue? I wonder if homo-erectus women refused to cook if the fire was too smoky?

    Perhaps I get more woods time than the average old coot and just take what I have learned works for granted.

    Then again, I just came home from a week long camp where most of the fire building was handled by the 8-10 year olds building two or three cookfires each day for mom to work over. I always thought it was an acquired skill and after the first couple of tries you just did it.
  15. stabman

    stabman Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 17, 2007
    I find I can get a good feel for how well the wood will burn when I start chopping it apart.:)
    I've never had any issues with it...the stuff that doesn't burn for as long still keeps burning long enough for me to find the wood which will sustain the fire better.
  16. kgd


    Feb 28, 2007
    KY, if you know all there is to know about fire then great stuff! The simple truth is most people know how to start fire in a certain way and then when they get challenged beyond that they may have difficulties. Like any topic area there are gradations of skills and yes many of the people who use this board are interested in some of the expert levels of fire starting. Can you start a fire in the pouring rain with nothing but a knife and no man-made ignition source? If you got dunked in icy cold water, how quickly could you get a fire going to save yourself from hypothermia using just the basic kit you have. There are a variety of scenarios that people like to train for. There are also a variety for formal fire lays that allow you to control the fire duration, heat output and how it spreads.

    I know a number of people who spend a lot of time in the bush and make many fires and yet they have become so compliant on one way of doing things that when you take key elements out of their materials or remove them from their comfort zone they really don't know what to do.

    Did cavemen discuss this? Well, its a matter of debate about what their verbal language capabilities were, but you can bet that fire was very important to their culture. They treated fire minding with a great deal of respect and there were likely rituals related to teaching the finer aspects of fire starting that we have essentially lost today. If you take the time to read some of the survival manuals out there, there is always a chapter or 2 devoted to fire craft.

    I don't know what your situation or experience is. You are clearly a new comer to this community and I think your post is rather abrasive and not-constructive. Please re-read your own post and try to view it from someone else's perspective.
  17. stabman

    stabman Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 17, 2007
    And yes, I do think there is too much emphasis on ignition and not enough on getting it going/sustained.
  18. B Griffin

    B Griffin Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 22, 2007
    I have been so busy that I missed the "is the ferro rod a trinket" thread, I'll have to look that up. I just got back from being gone for four days to Blade so I have even more catching up to do.

    Obviously sustaining is equally as important as ignition. I guess there are a few reasons ignition is concentrated on more so than sustaining the fire. For one most people have a place they can practice ignition than ones who have a place where they they can actually build sustained fires and they want the camaraderie of discussing what they can do most often. A lot of people who live in urban areas practice their ignition skills in grills and hibachis, and can usually get away with small ignitions in woods in a park, but not so much a full-on fire. For me personally sometimes I fall into the "it's old hat" train of thought because I spent so many years being responsible for fire in our fishing and trapping camps when I was young that it is all just second nature to me to match my fire to my conditions, I don't think about it any more...I just do it. Another reason is that this time of year a lot of us don't do a lot of fire during the day when pictures and video work best because it is so hot that it's just not a natural thought to do so. At least it isn't for me personally, I seldom start actual fires in the hot part of the day now. On my hikes down here I am always much more interested in a cool drink of water on a break that a warm cuppa or something hot to eat. In the fall and winter I try to do such posts, but was busier than usual this last cold season. I have done several over the years, and that in and of itself leads to another problem...one of wondering if after putting the time in to do the post for the benefit of the newer folks that people will bring up the "beating the dead horse" point. I have a habit now of waiting till a question is asked before I re-do something I have seen several times already, and lately I think I am so busy that I'm missing a lot of the questions....

    I hope what I've said makes some sense...I've hurried through my answer in an effort to get on to things i need to catch up on because I have been gone for days, while having my 5 yr old constantly asking questions because she hasn't seen me for days...I own my own woods so if any of you want to get together and do an in depth post on sustained fire lighting, or just have specific questions pm me. I'm more than willing to help with this any way I can if there is a want for the post, I just don't automatically think about it this time of year, and don't want to take to time out to post something of no interest...I'm just too busy to be left feeling like I wasted my time, that always annoys me :)

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