Kinds of Fire and Their Uses

One of the important things about camping is a campfire. There are two kinds of campfires, the “warming up” fire, and the “cooking” fire. Of course there are others, such as the “smudge” to drive away mosquitoes, and the “friendship”—the kind you just like to sit around and talk or silently watch the flames shape themselves into fantastic forms. The most useful since man discovered fire is the cooking fire—flames for the pot and coal for the pan.

Select a sheltered and safe place to build your cooking fire, where no wind can blow it out or into the surrounding dry brush, ascertain the direction of the wind, and then build your fire so that the smoke will not blow into your face when you are doing the cooking. Next in importance is the wood. Certain kinds of wood, such as hickory, oak, beech, birch, hard maple, ash, elm, locust, longleaf pine, and cherry, have fairly high heat values, and laboratory tests show that one cord of seasoned wood of these species is equal to one ton of good coal. Short leaf maple, hemlock, sycamore, cedar, poplar, Norway pine, cypress, basswood, spruce, and white pine, have a comparatively low heat value. These woods ignite readily and give out a quick hot flame, but one that soon dies down. The principal disadvantage of the resinous, pines is their oily black smoke.

The woodsmen of British Columbia have a wood-chopping trick that keeps nicks out of the axe blade. When chopping the wood, instead of laying it on a block or on the ground where you have a chance to miss and put a nice nick in your axe, just stand it on end, holding it with the left hand at a convenient angle and strike a glancing blow into it, turning the branch till you have gone all the way round. It will then break with a blow from the head of the axe and you have a nice feathery end to catch fire easily.

You can make make what are called “fuzz-sticks” or “firelighters,” by taking a dry, resinous stick about an inch thick and shaving it with a good sharp knife into thin slivers, which remain on the stick. Three or four of the “fuzz-sticks” will insure the starting of a fire.

Gather dry twigs and dead branches and plenty of birch tinder. When the wood has been gathered and prepared, you are ready to begin building the fire. Time is saved by having everything on hand and within reach. Haste always wastes time in making a cooking fire.

The simplest and handiest all-round cooking fire is that made of two green logs laid parallel on the ground. Level off the top with an axe. Place them a few inches apart, so that a frying pan or coffee pot can rest upon both. Between the logs scrape a trench about six inches deep. In placing the wood in the trench, pile it in such a way that allows plenty of air space. Place several “fuzz-sticks” first, then dry twigs, and keep adding heavier wood as the fire progresses. When it is blazing well, start your water boiling. For broiling, or frying, or baking, scrape the hot ashes and live coals evenly, and you will have a wonderful fire for such purposes. Never add more fuel just before putting on your stuff to cook. Avoid too big a fire. Remember that you do not cook with flames, but with hot coals, which give a greater heat and one that is steady. Never use soft wood if you can get hard wood. Soft wood is smoky, covers the food with flaky soot, and produces a ruffled temper. A windbreak or fender will add to the convenience during chilly or windy weather.

A simple camp-fire crane that may be used in connection with any kind of an open fire can be made by cutting a sapling of hard wood about three inches in thickness. Drive sapling firmly into ground.

A common method of building a cooking fire is to take flat stones and put them together in a sort of fireplace. Grates may also be purchased for outdoor cooking. Toasted bread just reaches the right spot. A useful toaster can be made from flexible withes bent and tied in the shape similar to that of a miniature Wikiup. Bread will toast better when placed before glowing embers. Turn the bread frequently.

Making Fire Without Matches

There are three distinct ways of building a fire without matches. The simplest, but most difficult, is by the rubbing of two sticks or hand drills together; the second, by use of a bow drill, which is an improvement over the first, in that it gives a more rapid movement and increases the friction; and, third, by the use of flint and steel. Every good camper should be able to accomplish all three, and by all odds the last two.

Fig. 8 is a good illustration of the simplest sort of fire drill, one used by the Indians of Washington and the Northwest. Following is a description of the set, quoted by special permission from the Smithsonian Report, “Firemaking Apparatus in the United States National Museum,” by Dr. Walter Hough:

“It consists of a hearth, two drills, and a slow match. The hearth is a rounded piece of cedar wood; opposite the fire-holes, it is dressed flat, so as to rest firmly on the ground. There are three fire-holes with wide notches. The drills taper to each end, that is, are larger in the middle (Fig. 8). The powder, a fine brown dust, collects at the junction of the slot and fire-hole, where they form a lip, and there readily ignites. This side of the hearth is semi-decayed. No doubt the slots were cut in that side for the purpose of utilizing this quality. The drills are bulged toward the middle, thereby rendering it possible to give great pressure and at the same time rapid rotation without allowing the hands to slip down too rapidly, a fault in many fire drills. The slow-match is of frayed cedar bark, about a yard long, folded squarely together, and used section by section. Mr. Willoughby says:

“The stick with three cavities was placed upon the ground, the Indian kneeling and placing a knee upon each end. He placed one end of the smaller stick in one of the cavities, and, holding the other end between the palms of his hands, kept up a rapid, half-rotary motion, causing an amount of friction sufficient to produce fire. With this he lighted the end of the braided slowmatch of cedar bark. This was often carried for weeks thus ignited and held carefully beneath the blanket to protect it from wind and rain.’

“Fire is easily produced with this set. It takes but a slight effort to cause a wreath of aromatic smoke to curl up, and the friction easily grinds off a dark powder, which collects between the edges of the slot. When this ignites it drops down the slot in a little pellet, and falls upon the tinder placed below to receive it. Both drill and hearth are eighteen inches long.”

Fig. 9 shows a second set, reproduced from the same book, and shows the method the Indians used to keep the precious hearth dry. The entire length is carefully wrapped with a strip of taut buckskin.

Fig. 10, also from “Firemaking Apparatus in the United States National Museum,” and shows an interesting feature. The handle by which the hearth is fastened to the Indian’s belt also shows the spliced drill, the hardwood point spliced into a favorite or especially desirable handle.

Probably when the simple hand drill was used, the grinding of the powder was facilitated by adding a small pinch of fine sand to the bowl of the hearth.

The next method is that of intensifying the friction by means of using the bow drill. This is the more common method, and is found in general use, from the Indians of Alaska—who use bone instruments, except the hearth, which is usually white pine—to the Indians of South America. The principal law, however, is the same in all; only the material used changes with the locality. See Fig. 11.

Ernest Thompson Seton, the master of woodcraft, declares that the best results are obtainable by having the hearth and the drill of the same material. But others are not so agreed. There is one thing certain, however: the wood used must not be too hard nor too soft, but hard enough to make very fine brown grindings, and soft enough to make a sufficient quantity to hold the spark. The tinder and carefully prepared pile of slivers should be ready before the drill is set going.

No matter how carefully the process is described, you will never be able to make a fire without practice and personal experimentation. Study the cuts here reproduced, then adapt what you have to the principle. You are sure to succeed if persistent.

Third method, building fire with a flint and steel. Note carefully the implements in Fig. 12. To be successful you will need a select piece of absolutely dry punk wood, the longer the fibers the better, a piece of hard steel fashioned so as to get a good striking surface without injury to the hand (a large, stout jackknife can be made to work well), a selected piece of flint—it will take much experimenting to find just the right piece, but when found you have a prize. A small tin can may be used for a tinder horn, but the tip end of a cow’s horn is better and safer. Prepare the tinder, place it in the horn, then dash the sparks into it. When a tiny bit of smoke rises, blow carefully into a flame and apply the burning tinder to the twigs previously arranged for the fire. Anyone can become expert in this little trick with persistent effort. If not successful, ask some neighboring old-timer to come in and aid you until you see how it is done.


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