Firelighting, also known as fire-making and fire-starting, skills and tools are valuable for anyone who wishes to be prepared for any eventuality. The ability to make and use fire sets humans apart from animals. Fire keeps us warm, cooks our food, sterilizes water, help us make tools, and wards off animals. The importance of firelighting cannot be overstated.
There are several methods and techniques used throughout the world today and from times past to attain a fire. Primitive cultures relied on friction fire methods, flint and steel, while today we have lighters, fire pistons, magnifying lens, and electrical or chemical accelerants to aid in attaining a fire. Each of these methods describe igniting a tinder bundle, which is a fine material with lots of surface area formed in the shape of a birds nest to capture, nurture, and grow an ember into a flame.
Friction Fire - is typically a method that defines attaining a fire through the use of rubbing sticks together. There are several different means that utilize different types of wood or bio material to create an ember through this process. There is the bow drill, hand drill, pump drill, fire plough, and the fire saw. There are variations of each of these from different cultures throughout time, but the basic principles are the same. Primitive fire is the method that describes turning a spindle, or rubbing the plough or saw through the hearth board to generate heat through friction. This process creates heat and fine dust that will turn into an ember. This ember is then transferred into a tinder bundle such as a birds nest, tinder fungus, char material, or fine wood shavings to grow the ember into a flame. The flame is then placed into the kindling to grow the flame into a sustainable fire. Though this process can be very labor intensive, it is sometimes the only means available to attain such fire. Wood selection is the key to success with these methods, different types of wood varying in hardness are used for the spindle or saw and hearthboards. A proven fire set is highly regarded in getting a fire in most situations.
Flint and Steel - This process uses a sharp piece of flint and a piece of medium to soft iron in conjunction with an accelerant or tinder bundle such as char cloth, tinder fungus or similar material. A spark is thrown onto the tinder which will then need to be blown into a flame. Locks from muzzleloaders were often carried by frontiersmen to be used as firestarters, as well as serve as a extra parts for their primary firearm.
Modern Flint and Steel - Ferrocium Rods use a similar technique to throw a spark by scraping the rod with a sharp steel edge. Sparks are then directed onto a tinder bundle causing ignition. Magnesium Sticks are used by scraping the magnesium into shavings that are placed into a tinder bundle then ignited with a spark. The magnesium and ferrocieum burn extremely hot making this a feasible fire method in wet/humid climates. Lighters are a modern version of flint and steel which when struck produce a small spark thrown onto a wick that is exposed to an accelerant or fuel to create a flame.
Fire Pistons - Consist of a piston and chamber that work by quickly compressing air within the chamber producing heat. Charred material is placed into a divot on the end of the piston. The piston is placed into the chamber, and then slammed on to a hard surface compressing the air in the champer and creating an ember in the charred material. This ember will then need to be placed into a tinder bundle and blown into a flame.
Magnifying lens - A round, curved or Fresnel lens is used to concentrate light from the sun, and focused on to a tinder bundle to ignite. Lenses vary in size and magnification, and a lens with a stronger magnification will have a higher success rate. Today lenses are made from plastic and glass and vary and size and effectiveness. Fresnel Lenses tend to be more common in fire making today as they are more portable and durable.
Electrical Ignition - This is the method of using a battery and some type of wire or steel wool to ignite a tinder bundle. The positive and negative leads are connected via a wire to a tinder bundle or accelerant. The idea is that the wire or steel wool being short circuited will glow red and ignite your tinder bundle. This method can also be used to throw sparks onto fine tinder as described in the flint and steel method. Additonally some modern lighters use an electrical spark similar to a spark plug that is used to control combustion in a gasoline engine or a propane grill.
Chemical Combustion - This method consists of mixing two or more chemicals in a reasonably safe manner to generate heat and create a flame into a tinder bundle. Glycerin and potassium permanganate are most commonly used as they produce a more manageable reaction in which the result will be extreme heat, then bubbling or sparks, and eventually a flame. Though it is a valid fire starting technique, be advised this is a chemical reaction and it is not advised to use this method for cooking directly over the flame.
Single Match Methods - This is a concept in where you prepare a tinder bundle, with kindling, and will use a single match for ignition. This method also extends to igniting accelerants such as SureFire, WetFire, and other accelerants with a single match. This method conserves resources and reminds the person constructing the fire to remain diligent in their methods, and often increases their success ratio, by adhering to the 3 Principles of Fire.
Char cloth - When starting a flint and steel or striker type of fire, char cloth makes all the difference in being able to actually get the fire started or just making a bunch of sparks that never catch anything on fire. Char cloth (sometimes also called charred cloth) is blackened cotton fabric that easily catches a spark and burn similar to the way steel wool burns, no big flame, but a nice ember burn that doesn’t blow out once it’s lit. The spark lights the char cloth which is then used to light other tinder.
- Friction Fire
- Firesteel or Ferrocerium Rod
- Flint and Steel
- Magnesium Block or Magnesium Stick
- Magnifying Lens or Fresnel Lens
- Fire Piston
- Chemical Ignition - Glycerin and Potassium Permanganate.
- Electrical Ignition - Battery and Steel Wool, or Battery and short circuit wire.
- Char cloth