Bushcraftage – Fire

Whenever bushcrafters get together sooner or later the talk always turns to the subjects of fire and food. I believe that there is something in all of us that loves to look into the flames of a fire, especially when we have a full tummy. When you have prepped a fire, lit it, managed it and cooked your food over it you always want to sit down and stare into the heart of this woodland TV.

This post will focus on the activities we undertake in the art of fire making.

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Woodland TV

I work with many children from London and this experience is so rarely these days given to them. Our cadets generally experience sitting around a campfire when they come camping with us for the first time. They have to learn to cook their food on stoves first and the only food that they may get to cook over the fire to begin with are marshmallows. It is at these times we talk about their highs, lows and learns of the day they have just had. Afterwards I like to steer the conversation onto the subject of bushcraft and what possibilities are available to them in the Sea Cadets.

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Flamer – a bit more tuition required

On a bushcraft course I will try and give the cadets a number of experiences of lighting a fire. I always ask them though at the beginning of their first lesson on lighting a fire the following question:

“What is the first thing you need before lighting your fire?”

After much humming and haaahing and answers such as water, first aid, wood and paper I give them a clue by asking “Who owns the land we are on?”

Very quickly they answer the first question with “Permission”.

Some may say I am being a bit over zealous on the health and safety angle but it is the first question I ask and the last point I recap on at the end of the lesson.

Usually we start with firesteels and different types of tinders (man-made and natural).

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Firesteel class

With the younger ones we talk about creating Fairy Lights. Once they realise that they can create a stream of sparks from the firesteel without hurting themselves there is no stopping them.

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Fairy Lights

Weather permitting I have always found the sun to be a popular tool, focusing its power with the use of parabolic mirrors and magnifying glasses.

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Parabolic mirrors

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Magnifying glasses

Whenever we are out and about foraging or doing navigation I will get the cadets to forage for tinder. Thankfully where we operate Birch bark is always plentiful.

Birch collection

Foraging for tinder

Cadets are taught to ‘build’ their fires. I like to use parts of the body to relate scale to the cadets when collecting tinder and kindling. Tinder needs to be as fine as their hair (scraped birch bark, honeysuckle bark, Usnea, Common Reed heads etc), kindling of various sizes which should be no bigger than their pinkie (as long as it snaps easily), wood no thicker than their thumb to help the fire sustain (again it should snap easily) and finally cooking wood, which should be no thicker than their wrist (it should be able to be sawn easily).

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Sawing ‘cooking wood’

Here the cadets are being tested in lighting their fire to a point where it is self sustaining and the flames can burn through a piece of cord (thanks to Charlie Brookes for this idea).

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Building your fire

Another skill that we teach is that of the group bowdrill. To teach a cadet to create a fire on their own using a bowdrill is quite a feat, although certainly possible if you have the time. As we never have enough time and also because I personally feel that the art of using a bowdrill is communal activity, I prefer to use the group bowdrill method. I like to have two cadets holding a large bearing block and two cadets using the bow. Not only does this create good team work, you are (with good supervision) guaranteed a higher success rate.

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Group bowdrill

Whatever way you create a fire it always leads to happy fire faces.

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Happy fire faces

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Happy fire faces

Depending on the time available, I like to get the cadets to construct a flaming candle. I have heard them referred to as both Swedish and Finnish candles. Swedish is the more common term but they are also known as Finnish candles because soldiers in the Finnish/Russian war in the winter of 1939/40 used this method for cooking. I like the fact you can boil a kettle on one of these candles and you only need an axe to make one.

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Swedish/Finnish fire experiments

With all these methods, teaching them in a safe and fun manner is paramount. Cadets are taught to respect their environment: to forage from a wide area and always to put out a fire thoroughly so as to leave no trace that the fire had ever been there.

The next instalment of the Bushcraftage series will be on some of the foodstuffs the cadets cook over their fires.

Cheers

George

Bushcraft Days

Jokkmokk’s Historic Marknad 2013

Yesterday I was at Jokkmokk’s Historic Marknad (this is a small market held each year from Sunday to Wednesday, prior to the main market starting on Thursday), where I spent quite a bit of time demonstrating making fire with the bow-drill.

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fire making jokkmokks marknad

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One Sámi man was really interested to see the bow-drill in use and I ended up giving him my bow-drill set so that he could practise making fire with it at home.

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Bushcraft the Sea Cadet way

I have been involved in teaching outdoor pursuits to Sea Cadets now for over 10 years, mainly focussed on land-based activities (though I’ve been known from time to time to get a toe or two wet in some sort of boating activities).

I am very keen to bring Bushcraft into the Adventurous Training part of the Sea Cadets. Camping is more than setting up your tent, getting your gas stove on for a brew and studying your map for the next day’s route. It is about these basics but to me it is also about having adventures and explorations where you have fun and learn at the same time.

So here is some evidence of fun and learning taken from recent Sea Cadet weekends.

Note the lovely path

Note the lovely path

Room for anymore

Room for anymore

Jungle prison

Jungle prison

Making up Sisal tinder bundles (its the Navy way)

Making up Sisal tinder bundles (it's the Navy way)

First the instructors need to learn

First the instructors need to learn

Then the cadets

Then the cadets

Eventually

Oops, there goes the drill piece

They always get there when they work together

They always get there when they work together

Happy city kids

Happy Bushcrafters

Even the young ones get in on the act

Even the young ones get in on the act

And don't give up when the flames go out

And don't give up when the flames go out

Kevin the master at work

Kevin the master at work teaching

Well done Chris

Well done Chris

One of kevins toys in action

One of Kevin's toys in action

After fires are lit it is time to cook

After fires are lit it is time to cook

Pudding anyone

Pudding anyone?

Yum

Yum

Back to the adults learning again

Back to the adults learning again

And taking it easy. Perrys first night out in a shelter (my boss)

And taking it easy. Perry's first night out in a shelter (my boss)

All the instructors are taught how to use the Atl atl

All the instructors are taught how to use the Atl atl

Then the kids have a bash

Then the cadets have a bash

Stalking games are always a hit

Stalking games are always a hit

Some serious knife safety lessons

Some serious knife safety lessons

Sometimes not so serious

Sometimes not so serious

Elbows on knees and the cadets have a go

Elbows on knees and the cadets have a go

Whimmy Diddle. One of Mors Kochanski's toys

Whimmy Diddle. One of Mors Kochanski's toys

Grass mat making

Grass mat making for bed time

Not forgetting Marsh Mallows before bed

Not forgetting toasted marshmallows before bed

I hope you enjoyed the Sea Cadet tour?

My next posts will be about making a bone knife, followed by a bark sheath for it.

George