Problem: Cold and Wet
So what do you do when you’re out in a torrential rain with no man-made tinder on you and you need to get a fire going? Everything is soaking wet and finding dry tinder is really challenging.
Here’s how to make your own tinder using heartwood scrapings:
First, locate some dead wood. The dead limbs attached to the lower part of a tree underneath the live branches are known as squaw-wood. This is one of the easiest materials to use for creating dry tinder as these branches are somewhat protected from precipitation by the live branches above them. You’ll need to get to the inside of the squaw-wood where the wood is still bone-dry. Thumb-sized diameter is the smallest material you’ll be able to successfully use. If you can find bigger diameter branches and open them up, even better.
Note: Sometimes you can find protected dead wood in downed logs or old stumps, but make sure it’s not rotten.
Opening up the dead branches involves a specific technique that varies according to the diameter of the material. There’s the beater-stick method and the throttle-push method. Check out my video below to learn both methods.
Once you’ve got your heartwood exposed, you’ll need to pick a flat-faced piece that’s about 2 feet long. Wedge it between the ground and your belt line so it’s firmly braced. Now hold your knife at a 90-degree angle to the flat face, grabbing the handle with one hand and the spine of the blade with the other. Push down with your hands and into the wood so the knife pulls paper-thin scrapings off the face of the dry wood. Keep your runs long and smooth with even pressure on the knife.
Only scrape in a downward motion (let gravity work with you). It takes some practice to get a feel for it. Once you find that sweet spot keep drawing off scrapings until you have at least a softball size. More is better.
Note: If you use this technique with fatwood (wood that is heavily infused with pitch) your tinder will pack even more punch.
There are two key points here:
#1- Your tinder should be the last thing you prepare before lighting your fire. Have the rest of your prep (kindling, and larger wood) ready to go. Why? Because tinder is the easiest fuel stage to absorb moisture and is the key to getting a fire going.
#2-If you’re making tinder in any sort of precipitation you’ll need to protect your tinder as you go. Keep it off the ground (it’s moist too) and position your body over the scrapings as you make them. Even better if you have a bag or poncho to shelter the tinder as it’s produced.
Feather-sticks can also help your fire transition from the tinder stage to the kindling stage, but we’ll cover how to make those another time. This is enough for you to practice for now. Try it the next time you go camping or even bring some squaw-wood home to practice in your back yard. Then teach it to your kids. They’ll love it.
Leave a comment below to let me know how it went!