Twig Fires

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So we’ve decided to expand the blog to amateur bushcraft as well! We will be sharing as we learn new survival skills. The first skill we worked on today is building successful fires using twigs instead of split wood. It’s a quicker and easier method to get a fire going, and if done right, can be a sustained source of warmth, purification of water sources, and cooking. The smoke, as most know, also can keep away skeeters and chiggers and other annoyances. Here are the tools we used:

On the left, we have my gear. Sheffield Rogue survival knife, and “Light My Fire” Swedish fire steel. On the right are Dan’s tools– magnesium fire stick with compass, and bushcraft knife. Pink shoes optional. We decided to have a little competition as to who could get the quicker or better fire going.

There’s a couple things you need to accomplish this aside from those pictured above: materials for fuel, kindling, a foundation, and a brace.

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The key here is to gather a large amount of twigs in the beginning that could sustain the fire for hours or even days. So I set ahead to collect my resources, while Dan decided to go ahead and shave feathers off twigs to create kindling.

As far as the material for fuel go, you want three different sizes (as I learned on Bushcraft USA): thumb width, pencil widith, and pencil lead width. We organized our twigs in generous handful sized piles.

Another important note is do NOT gather twigs from the ground. Often dew, and rainwater can collect in the ground, saturating materials and making them difficult to light. Instead, we opted for dead hanging branches from the surrounding trees. You can tell its dead when the inside has no green, and it easily snaps off. I was slapped in the face, poked in the eye, wrapped in webs and chased by a couple spiders, but eventually gained some good sized piles.

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As you can see above, Dan eventually got his little piles together. For the foundation, as pictured above, Dan chose a small bed of stones which he will put his kindling on top of. This helps keep any coals that form inside your twig fire instead of falling to the ground which if wet or snowy will put them out.

For a brace, Dan put two larger paralleled logs against his foundation. This helps keep the materials together and will help build that conical shape that allows oxygen to flow freely through the fire and prevents your twigs from smothering the coals.  Dan’s setup was very cute and tiny. If it was in Korea, it would have had little googly eyes on it.

Here is my setup:

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I mean, we know who’s the true grisled woodsman here (or so I thought…). I chose two logs for a foundation, and two logs (one not pictured) for a brace. So for kindling, we shaved down twigs to create thin, curly shavings also known as feather sticks. Once we got about a fist full of that, it was time to begin attempting to light with our fire starters. We aimed the fire steel end down into the kindling, and flicked to create sparks which eventually will catch. Once it catches, we shield with our hands and blow until a small flame blooms. Then we grabbed a bunch of the pencil lead sized twigs and leaned them across the braces, following by pencil sized in a perpendicular pattern, then thumb sized, then repeat as needed.

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Dan was able to get his going really quick and definitely won out in terms of speed. His fire made it to waste high! The only issue was he definitely skimped on materials for fuel, and in a survival situation, more is better.

I on the other hand had some major issues getting my kindling to light. I assume the issue was my feather pile just wasn’t big enough, or the stick I used was slightly saturated. I must have knocked over my pile thirty times. Note to self, make sure the ground below your foundation is stable and not wobbly. What I ended up doing, after a lot of frustration, getting butthurt and proclaiming how annoying fire starting is, was grabbing a handful of dry grass from a nearby clearing and using that instead. The grass caught a lot easier, and I piled my fuels in the same pattern as mentioned before. Finally… the red flower came to me.

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I had gathered quite a bit of materials thought so was able to get it raging while i relished in success before putting it out. Word of advice, have some water to douse when you try this. Also make sure to move your equipment out of the way of the fire after its lit. Definitely melted the plastic handle of my fire steel…

This was overall a really easy and gratifying method for creating fire with only a few survival tools, and the natural materials around you. Definitely pocketing this one for future camping trips. Brook seemed to have fun with it, as well!

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I look forward to documenting more of our exploration of bushcraft in the future and honing these useful survival skills. Hopefully these posts can help others learn as well. One more piece on equipment– it doesn’t take the most expensive or brand names to be successful. The trick is to get a knife whose weight and size you can get comfortable with whether you be bushwhacking, shaving or cutting. As for the fire steel, longer ones are easier to use but its still about mastery of what you have.

I’m a big knife, little stick type of person. Dan’s a little knife, big stick type of person. Do what works for you. Or what you can withstand frustrating yourself over until you finally learn to use it right. I wonder if this says something about our personalities…

4 thoughts on “Twig Fires

  1. Pingback: Twig Fires — Gone Fishing… – Dixie Bushcraft

  2. Robert Gauer

    Tinder- the most easily ignited fuel with which to start a campfire is usually fine like pencil lead-size twigs, wood shavings, or fine dry grass. The dry part- that can be problematic- in the winter, or coastal damp regions. Dry. that’s the key for easy spark-ignition. Dry, and fine-textured to be receptive to sparks.
    If you have cedar trees available, the bark, even when it’s raining, can give you dry tinder. Find a drier portion of the tree’s bark, break below the surface portion and try crushing the inner, dry material until you get the finer fibrous remains, (and maybe some dry powdery stuff) to gather together like a little bird’s nest that will capture and make a nice shelter for those precious and delicate little sparks.
    When you get a glow, blow.
    From experience I try to blow gently downward, but from the side, to escape from breathing the resulting choking smoke. I liked cedar bark tinder. I used to hike in the western mountains- the Sierras and the coastal range of northern Calif. Survival skills are comforting and good to know, even if you don’t expect to use ’em.

    1. Great info, thank you for sharing, Robert! I look forward to putting your advice into action the next time we are out practicing.

      Side note, a few years ago I went ice climbing in the Sierras. Absolutely one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen — especially from 100ft up an ice fall.

  3. Pingback: Building a Fire in Wet Conditions – GONE FISHING…

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