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So much for firestarters - how do you actually use one to start a fire? Well today I had bought myself a new axe as you see in the photo's so it was time to go to the upper Kitimat River forestry campsite to try things out. The reason for going to this campsite is that I went there for coffee yesterday and know how wet the wood is there. All the firewood in that campsite is cottonwood (Black Poplar) which is terrible to start a fire with until seasoned. You need a good fire to dry the stuff out!
The yellow stuff is the gum. Notice the cedar to the left. You can see where I stripped some cedar bark yesterday. Today I looked for drier stuff.
Here is a closer shot. Besides admiring my new "Hults Bruks" axe you will want to notice the brown wood that isn't bark - its resin impregnated wood. The wood is required as the resin or gum itself is like oil in a lamp - a wick is required.
This is the bit we've been waiting for. This is exactly how much cedar bark and resin impregnated wood I used. Even I didn't think that It would be enough. It was though. The cedar bark was shredded a lot after I got the borrowed camera out of the rain - but I didn't break up the resin impregnated spruce wood more than is shown.
This is exactly how you DO NOT normally do things. I placed split cottonwood directly on the cedar bark tinder and spruce wood. I wanted to see if there would be enough heat to dry the cottonwood enough to start the fire. Normally you would go around the conifers ripping dead branches from the lower part of living trees. This wood is the driest available and will get things going - especially if split to match thickness. I wanted to see if the spruce would start the cottonwood - and I didn't even split the cottonwood finely as you can see. Notice the black smoke in the centre and bright flame from the resin. The white smoke is mostly steam from the cottonwood. This isn't a teepee fire, notice that the wood on top is mostly just stacked against a piece of charred wood in the front. I kept on piling wood on top to keep the rain off. You would think that this would smother the fire - but this doesn't happen as long as there is an opening for air in the bottom. The wind is blowing into this opening which is why the fire kept going. Some of the wood on top is placed in an inverted V perpendicular to the wood below - to make more of a slope for the rain to run off. This wood should be sticks not just slabs - to let the smoke out. This wood is removed to add more wood to the fire parallel to the stuff below - then replaced.
With the above, a lot of stress is placed on some heavy duty firestarting tinder that will help get everything else started. A question came up on the Outdoors-Magazine forum of whether I still use some sort of special tinder on a regular basis - and if not how I get things to work. In any sort of wet conditions, having something to help is a smart move and I'm careful to have something handy: usually though I work just with the wood at hand. Obviously I've had my trials and frustrations - but I've learned a few things too.
Here's the setup on a local beach with someone else's circle of stones and even some wood they left.
Even though everything looks dry enough, and we've had warm weather lately - the tide comes up to a few feet from circle of stones for fire - so there's a lot of dampness just below the surface. What is really needed is to raise fire so that it gets lots of air and any slight breeze can get at it to fan it. I'm also going to use a pretty strange way of setting things up - a sort of upside down firelay.
Here's a more wide angled picture before starting:
The first step is to put in the supports for a platform:
A nice grating of split wood is added - thick enough to hold up everything and not burn through too quickly.
I've placed some split up kindling on top of the platform, with this kindling being placed in line with wind so that lots of air can blow through it. Normally I'd use more than this, but this fire is for photographic purposes, and we want to see what's happening.
Now a block of wood is needed to lean some tinder against, and a few fine sticks to support that tinder so that it doesn't fall.
Here I've laid a very few fine fuzzies and started them. I've used cedar so you'll see they're darker. This wouldn't be enough for wet conditions - but again here we just need to see what's going on. I'll be adding finely split wood on top.
Luckily we've reached the point where it's easily seen that I've built a firelay on top of another one - and that burning embers are falling and starting stuff below. Normally, the wetter the conditions the more fine stuff has to be added on top.
Here we get a side view of fire on top going well because it's getting LOTS of air and draft, and embers falling. The key here is that the wood is damp - but split finely enough, and with enough draft it'll still go well. If we'd have built on the ground in a circle of stones - it wouldn't have got fanned by wind.
Here we see fire with piles of stones at sides to help funnel the available wind. The wind is blowing from right to left and a guest is making flames bend and reducing smoke.
Looking at fire from upwind, we can see that things are going well due to draft and wind.
Here's a view from waterline which shows that there isn't much wind because smoke is rising vertically. Given what we've seen of flames, that amount of smoke shows how damp the wood was. As a matter of interest - the dead standing tree of a bit over 30cm diameter is how much wood it would take to get through a night in winter.
Here stones at sides are pushed over to form a fire circle. There's lots of hot embers and ash, and now things can be slowed down by decreasing effect of wind.
The dark brown area in the middle of the wrist sized log is dampness coming out of log - despite how long it's been in the fire. With really wet wood, water would be oozing out. It's a sign that wood hasn't been split fine enough and is slowing everything down. In this case it's part of the bottom platform and we didn't want it to burn through quickly.
Here's another piece of platform grid showing same - but to a lesser degree because it's split finer.
All in all it seems to be a really strange way of setting up a firelay - first building a platform, then an upside down firelay with thicker material at base and finer stuff moving up. Then building a regular firelay on top of that. But it's a guaranteed way of getting maximum benefit from upward drafts and wind, and falling embers fall onto material that's been heated and dried from above. With really wet wood, it will still catch if split up fine enough and started with enough fine enough fuzzies. A person might have to keep adding a whole bunch more fine stuff on tp until things get hot enough for everything to catch.
Don't be shy. Email me with suggestions for improvement, comments..Jimbo