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Thread: Fire Fail

  1. #1
    Alone in the Wilderness
    Join Date
    Oct 2014

    Fire Fail

    I'm new to bushcraft. I had my first overnight in the woods last weekend and loved it. All went well... knots remembered, hammock & tarp secure and comfy... but I couldn't get a fire lit.

    I cleared the ground and laid some inch-thick pieces of wood as a base. I collected and graded wood as dry as I could find (dead branches,, twigs off the ground as much as possible). I graded the wood roughly as 1-2mm , 5mm, 10mm (half inch) and then "big". I used vaseline and cotton balls with a firesteel. I had a larger piece of branch to use as a lean to.

    The really thin stuff burned fine and I got a little fire going, but none of the 5mm pieces would take. They smouldered and blackened but would not burn. I had to find more thin stuff to try again but still no joy. By that time it was getting dark so no fire for me.

    The wood didn't seem that wet to me, but maybe I can't recognise wet wood properly! Other than that, I don't know what I did wrong. I must have done something wrong, but I don't know what.

    Can anyone shed any light?

  2. #2
    Trapper Paul De Fitter's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Kent UK
    Think big.
    Get a BIG pile of thin stuff, then double it.
    For the next size wood try using split wood and use larger & larger split wood till you have a good thick bed of coals.
    After that just about any wood will burn.
    After a few dozen fires you'll know what works & what doesn't in your local woods.

  3. #3
    Samuel Hearne Bernie's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Exmouth, Devon, England, UK
    Good on you for admitting failure. I suspect many just stay quiet about it.

    You might know some or all of this but since you asked, and hopefully it'll help someone else...

    There are three things you need to make/sustain fire:
    - Oxygen
    - Heat
    - Fuel

    The first is seldom a challenge for bushcrafting (though sometimes too much wind can ruin fire starting).

    I find (personally, and because I didn't see what you did I'll offer this) that I sometimes try step up the size of fuel too quickly, or I assume a small fire burning little twigs can dry out and ignite pencil-size sticks that still have protective bark on them. This is an imbalance in the heat and fuel components. (Not enough heat for the size of fuel.)

    I'd suggest using lots and lots of feather sticks. I'd reckon at least 10 or 20 to be sure. Splitting larger sticks and making feather sticks will also access the drier wood inside these sticks even when the outside is wet.

    Hope that helps!

  4. #4
    Natural Born Bushcrafter saxonaxe's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Sussex coast
    I guarantee it's happened to all of us at some time... Apart from all the good advice already given, I'd say it really helps if you can recognise the wood you choose. For instance Ash twigs burn relatively easily if you compare it with say, Chestnut twigs. Ash will even burn damp, Chestnut needs a fair heat before it decides it's going to play, so if your tinder catches and the kindling just happens to be Chestnut twigs you'll find the fire going backwards as my mate used to say.
    " You've let the fire out!"..." No I 'aint it just went backwards" was his usual excuse...

  5. #5
    Trapper Whistle's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    SW Scotland Ayrshire
    Hi Geoffers ... There is another option to BIG ... and that is to think small ...

    If you go the Hobo stove or folding fire stove route you can cook and brew

    using just a few sticks ...

    You can even bring your own fuel from home if there's any doubt of finding

    suitable dry sticks and twigs ...

    There are many different types of homemade Hobo stoves on this site

    or search for some of the commercially available stoves like Honey Stove

    Bushbuddy , Wild woodgas stove , Folding firespout and many more !!!

    A handful of compressed wood cat litter pellets can fuel a woodgas burning stove

    for upto half an hour ... plenty long enough for a brew an'stew !!!

    Using a small stove makes " leave no trace " a doddle too !!!

    Cheers Whistle
    Life's a beach .... and then the tide comes in ....

  6. #6
    Ranger OakAshandThorn's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Connecticut ~ New England
    Great point about wood burning stoves, Whistle -much less wood needed to sustain a backpacking stove compared to an open fire .
    Paul brings up another point, which is preparation - the key to any successful fire is preparation. In this case, I would recommend gathering a large 12 cm bundle of fine kindling. And something I picked up from Mike (MCQBushcraft youtube) is to lay this kindling horizontally on two bits of larger kindling arranged pointing upwards (like this: ^). This way, if the twigs smoulder, you've likely cut off the oxygen the fire by lifting up these two sticks, you can increase airflow and the bundle should ignite.
    Hope this helps .
    My blog, New England Bushcraft

    "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."
    ~ Abraham Lincoln

    "Be prepared, not scared."
    ~ Cody Lundin

  7. #7
    Alone in the Wilderness
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Thanks for the replies.
    I didn't know about feather sticks. Now I do, so that's something to work on. Progress, of a sort.

    I'll also make a hobo stove (isn't Youtube brilliant?) because it looks really useful.
    I want to take my daughter with me once I've got some confidence in my skills, and in that case not having cooking heat will be unacceptable so I've ordered a trangia for reliability. Maybe I'll get sufficient skill that I don't need it but for now... call it a comfort blanket.

  8. #8
    Woodsman rik_uk3's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    South Wales UK
    Cotton wool balls with a dab of Vaseline in the middle work great, a pack of fire-lighters for 99p at Wilkinson work well, never leave your options limited.
    South Wales UK

  9. #9
    Tramp Jimmy- JGW's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2014
    Hi Geoffers, glad to hear your getting out and into bushcraft.


  10. #10
    Ent FishyFolk's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Harstad, Norway
    Welcome to my world.
    I often struggle with fires. I have no problem lightning them, it's keeping them allive that has me miffed.

    I saw you use branches off the ground. I do not know the conditions where you are, but here that is often very wet wood, as
    the wood is not drying properly on the ground. Try finding dead branches that has been cought in the branches of trees, or fallen on rocks etc that has been air dried properly.
    Avoid using birch. The bark is excellent for fire lightning, but the bark is water proof, and will retain all the moisture that was in the wood when it died.
    Birch can however be excellent fire wood, if split and dried.

    Another thing. If you light your fire from the top, as in an upside down fire. You will have a lot of heat on top of your wood, with some nice coals, that will help you
    keep it allive. We call it a winter fire here in Norway. And I find it much easier than the traditional way that most people use. Just google upside-down fire...
    Victory awaits the one, that has everything in order - luck we call it
    Defeat is an absolute consequense for the one that have neglected to do the necessary preparations - bad luck we call it
    (Roald Amundsen)

    Bumbling Bushcraft on Youtube
    Nordisk Bushcraft - The Nordic bushcraft blog and forum

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