Fire Starters

The following messaages had been compiled by Danny Schwendener when he maintained the rec.scouting FAQs.  

From: pnsf01dw@UMASSD.EDU (Dennis J. Wilkinson)

Any tips on starting a fire with damp wood? This is for a survival class, so "keep your wood covered" is not the answer I'm looking for. The scout handbood suggests cutting into a log to get to the dry wood inside. Any other tips would be appreciated. 

Always a fun challenge... 

* Larger logs, when split open, will probably have some dry wood towards the center. This can be shaved off to help create tinder (and possibly kindling, depending upon the thickness of the log and how long it's been wet for). 

* Certain types of pine and sappy softwoods occasionally develop centers of sapwood that some people call "fatwood" - it usually looks waxy or oily, and will burn quickly even when wet. 

* The most important thing is making sure that you have enough _DRY_ tinder to both dry out and light your kindling (cut your kindling thinner than usual to facilitate drying it out). If you have dry tinder with you, great. If not, look for fatwood (see above), birch bark (from a fallen tree if possible, but if it's really a survival situation, I'm not gonna fault you...), and any dry stuff around. Twigs lower on a tree and closer to the trunk will probably be driest. Evergreens (particularly firs) are good to find dry wood on, even after a few days of rain. 

* If something is already dry, by all means, KEEP IT THAT WAY! 

Once your fire gets to rolling, you shouldn't have any problem. Dry wood out by laying it next to the fire, and use smaller pieces of fuel wood to keep it going. They'll dry out better and hopefully prevent smouldering. 

Oh... since this is for a survival course, recommend that they keep a fire starter in their survival kits. It's amazing how much help a wax candle stub can be in damp weather ;-). 

From: (Danny Schwendener)

Having some newspaper or solid lighter (meta tablets, cardboard impregnated with parrafine, etc) helps a lot. 

Someone on rec.backcountry suggested to use rests of acrylic plastic. I don't recommend it (I needn't comment on the resulting pollution), but it sure develops a long-lasting hot flame. 

We teach our kids to use the small one-year branches at the bottom of the pine (christmas) trees. They catch fire easily even if it has rained or snowed for a week, and they should be removed anyway to give some room and light to the smaller plants in the same area. 

My last suggestion is to look for the cut-down remainings of older pines (or equivalent needle trees). They often have a very resinous wood which gives a long-lasting fire, even under the worst conditions. The color of the wood is usually much darker than normal, something between orange and dark red. 

It might be interesting to note that making a fire with damp wood is one of the first things a cub scout learns over here (quite naturally: it rains fairly often, and we make a fire at every meeting). 

From: hayesj@rintintin.Colorado.EDU (HAYES JAMES MICHAEL JR)

Check the Wilderness Survival Merit Badge pamphlet and the Field Book. Our troop frequently has wet wood fire building contests. Soak acouple of logs for a day or two, give 'em a knife, an ax, and two matches. Burn trough a string three feet above base of fire pit. Usually only takes about 4 to 8 minutes from go to burn. 

Remember the basics, tinder is what starts a fire, kindling starts the fuel. With wet wood you need lots of tinder and kindling, Split the wood, or break it or dig into it. Get at least Two LARGE handfuls of tiny splinters and shavings, four is better. Make sure you have LOTS of kindling about pencil thickness and some that gets gradually larger to about 3/4 inch diameter. Build your lay carefully, the younger scouts today, doing most of their camping with stoves, have the hardest time with this part. ...well maybe the rest of the preparation too. 

From: (

Two ways that I thought of both stem from "being prepared". 

FIRST: What about those magnesium blocks/flint combos? Easy to carry. 

SECOND:Easy firestarter to carry: Soak charcoal in lighter fluid, then coat in parrafin. Wax will melt with one match, and ensuing fire should start damp wood. Any other ideas? 

From: juan@hal.COM (John Thompson Reynolds)

Just to add one more thought. The temperature of your wood is important. Surely you've noticed that it's much easier to light your campfire on a warm afternoon than on a cold morning? The same applies to damp wood, if you can warm some tinder inside your parka, you'll have a much better chance of getting it to blaze. 

From: (Brandon France)

I've found that the best way to start a fire with wet or damp wood is to be prepared and carry a road flare with you. If you put your wet kindling around the road flare it is sure to build a nice warm fire. You don't even need matches to get it started. I always carry a flare just in case. 

From: (Mark Wilson)

Try starting with "squaw wood." This is dead wood and twigs still on the tree (off the ground) and in arms reach (don't have to bend over to pick it up). Generally this wood will be fairly dry shortly after a rain. 

You could locate some "lighter" or "fat" pine. That is pine that is full of sap. Remember that pine sap is the basis for turpentine. "Fat" wood smells like turpentine and looks sort of wet. It lights real easy. It is hard to clean up after so use it only for starting the fire not for cooking. 

It is critical to start small and build slowly when using damp wood. 

From: lynnef@tekig1.PEN.TEK.COM (Lynne Axel Fitzsimmons)

A previous poster suggested soaking cardboard in lighter fluid and then covering with wax as a firestarter. We have reasonable success using cardboard egg cartons, wood chips/sawdust, and paraffin. In the USA, Girl Scouts can't use fuel or fire starter that has to be poured (safety rules). We melt the paraffin (in a double boiler), put the wood chips or sawdust into the egg carton cups, and then pour the paraffin over the wood, filling up the cup. Then we just rip off firestarter cubes as we need them, usually 3 or so for a biggish charcoal fire. 

From: (Herbert Leong)

This is another variation on the egg carton idea... My scoutmaster always had what looked like miniature egg carton shells that were about 1/2 the size of regular egg-type cartons. He said he used a mixture of paraffin, sawdust, and charcoal. The paraffin was melted in a double boiler, mixed with the sawdust and the ground up charcoal 1 to 1 to 1. The egg carton halves were then filled with this mixture and allowed to partially solidify. Two halves were then pressed together so that they would break into "eggs" when needed. The whole thing was then coated with a film of paraffin. 

From: John Cornwell ( 

Depending on the locality, that one can look for a Sassafras tree.  We demonstrate survival fire building by placing a few small green twigs of this tree in a bucket of water overnite (weighted so they are IN the water).  One needs a small flame to begin, but the twigs contain so much sap that they easily ignite and last several minutes.

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