Thursday, 7 October 2010


It's utterly amazing how many small things that would be nice to have or get done can turn up during a market/camp weekend - things like a new bag for my flint and steel, making new tinder, a bag for small woodbits and even smaller kindling to make starting the fire easier, mending a dress and mending a basket, and so on and so on. And this time around, I have actually more or less kept track of a lot of those small things, and a few of them are already taken care of as well - like refilling the tinder box, and starting work on a bag for kindling. I've even made new kindling already, since I know that I'm not so keen on getting to work with the hatchet once I'm getting hungry and cold, so if there's not tinder, hay for getting the embers started, wood and kindling readily available, I opt for buying something to eat and either going to an already burning fire or retiring into bed. And while both of these are good, nice and valid options, I'd like to have the possibility to just start a fire when I feel like it, and maybe have a nice cup of hot, freshly brewed tea while I have it running. Plus, finally starting a fire properly and all the way through felt so good at Tannenberg, after I had not done it for ages, and I found I really missed it.

We started trying to make proper, medieval-style fire years and years ago, and our first tries were more than pathetic - it would take us more than half an hour, several tries and three to four people blowing on the nest of ember, coughing in the thick, dense smoke coming out of it, and doing all kinds of things with a slight touch of desperation. And it did take a long time until we figured out the differences between starting a fire the modern way (with a lighter or a match) and starting it the old-fashioned way (with embers).

First of all, there's a huge difference in how the heat travels. Flame heat travels upwards, so if you want to light something with a flame, you light it from below and put the kindling on top. But embers work differently - they glow their way downwards and outwards from their nest of kindling. So if you want to light something with embers, placing the something on top of the ember won't work as well as placing it below them.

After that piece of insight finally found its way into my brain, it only took a medium long time for me to start realising something else: When the nest of embers and the kindling below it sit directly on the cold earth, there's a good chance that the heat from the little nest will be far from enough to counter all that cold. And the ember will die before the kindling has caught. That was when I began to start building the fireplace by placing a large-ish piece of dry wood with a flattish surface on top under the kindling and stuff - preferably a slab of wood that is already charred partly. This helps tremendously.

So my current setup is something like this: Slab of wood underneath it all; then comes the kindling in the middle of the underlying slab, set up mostly like a log cabin (two bits parallel to each other, then the next two parallel bits at a 90° angle across the previous two, and so on), but growing gradually wider towards the top. Around this small inverted-pyramid-log-cabin, I make a slighty larger log cabin setup from fuel wood that reaches as far up as the inner kindling one. This is both serving as a kind of flue to direct air and as the fuel wood to catch the starting fire. Then I catch a spark on the tinder (charred cotton cloth, usually) and place it into a smallish nest of hay with some small wood shavings and maybe a bit of birch bark in it. I fold the nest and blow on the ember until the nest has flamed up briefly once, then I put it into the inverted pyramid, place a last bit of fuel wood on top of the nest so that it stays compact and doesn't pop out again - and ideally, then I can just lean back and wait for about ten minutes to see everything erupting into a nice flaming fire. (Non-ideally, there's still some need for blowing gently but firmly on the ember nest.)

Oh, and a nice added benefit to lighting a fire with flint and steel? If there's a strong wind blowing, that might blow out your flame from a match or lighter, but it will actually save you work when doing it this way. Nifty, eh?

No comments: