Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Basic Survival: Fire - Implements And Field Expedient Methods Of Fire Starting




Song:  Time / Breathe Reprise

Group:  Pink Floyd

I had chosen this particular track of Pink Floyd's
Dark Side Of The Moon Album because from the beginning to the end...
the music (not necessarily the words) describe what it is to feel 
the ominous presence of an imminent life altering event...
the gut gnawing...stomach churning knowledge that something 
is about to go horribly wrong
(the ticking of the clocks)...
 and then the horror as you see the event unfold before you 
(the alarms going off).

The floating, almost surreal effects of the music that immediately follows...
closely mimics the feeling as you start adjusting to your new situation.

As the vocals start...
you are assessing the situation...
getting to know your surroundings...
taking stock of what you have and what you will need...
and need to do.

The guitar solo signifies the coalescence of a solid plan of action...
the steady encouragement and confidence that only comes with
 having preplanned materials at hand...
and the knowledge of how to use them to resolve the situation.

The re-initiation of the vocals afterward...
 describe the implementation of your plan of action...
your steady forward motion toward civilization...
and the successful resolution of your survival situation.

The blending of the next song (Breathe Reprise)...
is of you back at home...
cozy and warm and thinking back at your averted disaster...
which could then be thought of as an adventure...
because of...
knowledge and applied forethought.


Dramatic you say?

I assure you...
any situation where great injury or death could be the result
should you not act or react appropriately... is quite dramatic.

Just think of this musical track as your survival symphony.


Shiroi, are you saying that the key to survival 
lies in the music of Pink Floyd?

No...
I am saying that the key to the universe 
lies in the music of Pink Floyd  :)

Sorry...
Pink Floyd is my all time favorite group  :)
(they have been for almost 40 years)


No, while music is a great tie in to your emotions...
and emotions can alter your behavior...
both, positively and negatively...
the key to survival lies in your...
 pre-planning...
accurate assessment of your situation...
and the rational responses in your ability to adapt, to improvise...
and to formulate, and carry through, a correct plan of action.



In case you have you not already read the initial article explaining important concepts...
read the following article first:




This, of course, leads me into the next segment of Basic Survival.

Fire - Implements And Field Expedient Methods Of Fire Starting


The nature of this article shall be the description of commonly used 
implements of fire starting for the Bug Out Bag...
and some field expedient methods of achieving the result of fire...
using items, either not originally designed for fire starting...
or from items in the environment.

I will be explaining some methods of constructing a safe way
to efficiently burn fuel and concentrate heat, reflect otherwise wasted heat...
 and a way to transport heat from its source to slow release it...
using elements from the environment...
all for either cooking or heating an improvised structure...
in later articles.


I must stress this once again...
it is precisely because improvised methods are far more
difficult to produce the effects that can be gotten from 
dedicated items that had been stored for that purpose in the first place...
that a properly outfitted Bug Out Bag is so important.



With this in mind...
some common camping fire ignition sources to consider
for your bug out bag...
and some items that have other uses that should also be packed
for their use as a back up.

As with the water purification methods...
have multiple sources in case of loss or failure of
any one source.

A key to survival is redundancy in equipment and planning.


Ok...
the obvious first pick for an ignition source in many peoples minds...
and then I will tell you some reasons to not have it as anything but
a convenience for non-extreme environments or basic camping.

Do not rely on butane lighters as your primary source of fire starting.

Some major problems - 

1)  Butane does not volatilize well (change from liquid to a gas) below freezing.
They now have Butane mixtures...however, they don't operate well
in freezing temperatures and run out when the other gas providing the pressure
runs low - with half of the butane left in the container.

Now, that is the temperature of the fuel itself.
It may get below freezing and so long as the lighter is kept above freezing...
or the lighter could be pre-warmed before lighting, then....

2)  Butane doesn't ignite well at altitude.  Altitude alters the 
fuel air mixture ratio needed to sustain combustion... unless there
is an air fuel mixture ratio adjuster on the lighter (some have them).
Butane lighters also tend to leak out...especially with an increase of altitude.

These reasons also apply to not having a Butane camp stove...
besides having to stock up on the containers.



3)  Most butane lighters are shoddily constructed.  
The housing is relatively easy to crush or shatter.
The tops are easy to knock loose.
The gas valve can easily be activated accidentally.
They often leak out over time - not a choice to have in a bag for long storage.
Cannot be refilled with alternate fuels in the field.



A Zippo type (non-butane) refillable lighter would be ok if...
you don't fill it until you need it in the field.
You can keep the fuel in a dedicated fuel bottle
(although I cannot vouch for the long term storage capability of the fuel).
It is field serviceable and alternate fuels may be used as one can find them.
It is simply a liquid fuel and wick system.


There are some lighters that use the resistance of a metal wire
and the power of a battery to supply the current.

Not the best of choices since the battery is the obvious weak point
in the system.  You want something that will not degrade with time
spent in the bag.  The contents of the Bug Out Bag should be thought 
as something in which each piece is so reliable that you could store it
and hand it down from generation to generation and 100 years from now...
everything would still work.


Well...
how about some things that will light easily and will last nearly forever.

Ok...
but before you even think about starting a fire...
you must know how to safely sustain one.

It does you no good to have a fire that dies because you hadn't pre-stocked
your fuel pile...or worse...one that you had depended on to keep you warm
in the middle of the night...and sputters out when it is too dark to effectively
find more firewood.

Gather more than you will need for the night at the fire site before hand.
You will need to stock up on larger logs or branches if you can...
many smaller branches and twigs which will ignite the larger pieces of fuel...
a lot of smaller twigs, leaves, dried grasses...etc to ignite the larger twigs and branches...
your tinder source...finely shaven wood, dried moss...etc...to ignite the smaller fuel.

You will then want to pre-stack everything.

I will discuss the gathering and stacking of the firewood for efficient burning
for special tasks in more detail in another article soon.

You must also consider placement of your soon to be fire.
You don't want to be directly under a tree...
especially in snowy conditions...
for obvious reasons...
heat rises...
melts snow...
whole globs of snow will either drip in the fire...
or will come down in a whole mass...
poof...no fire.

Another reason to not light a fire underneath a tree...
again...heat rises.

Should the fire be of any appreciable size...
it could catch the tree on fire...
especially if it is one that has oils in the needles
(think christmas tree)
or has the dry leaves of Autumn.

Now you may be thinking that it would make a great signal fire to rescuers...
that they would find you
(only to be used in extremely dire emergencies and then only with a lone tree 
away from other flammables)...
the problem then arises if the tree fire becomes a forest fire.

They will find you alright...
more than likely...
extra crispy  :)

Ok...
Plentiful amounts of fuel...check.
In the right location...check.
Firewood is stacked and ready to go...check.

Then, and only then, should you even consider lighting a fire.

Now...
 an easily ignitable, relatively long burning (3-4 minutes) and utterly reliable
initial fire starter...one in which you may ignite the tinder with... is not
only very inexpensive, effective, can be stored a very long time without degradation 
and is easily gotten and made...
vaseline (petroleum jelly) impregnated cotton balls
(in a tightly sealed container - under warm conditions it liquifies).

An example of the petro-cotton balls in action:


It is readily ignited with a ferrocerium and steel fire starter.

Both are water proof and reliable...
and very inexpensive.

You don't need the petroleum fire starter...
it just makes it easier.

The ferrocerium rod and steel fire starter throws off incredibly hot sparks...
however it won't ignite larger pieces of wood.

You will have to have...or make your own tinder from the environment.
Obviously dry material...you could make light wood shavings from larger pieces.

Now, as good as the ferro rod is...
another great piece of equipment uses the ferro rod in conjunction
with a magnesium block.

The shavings from the magnesium block would burn very hot for a good 
3-4 seconds (depending on the size of the shavings pile).

The advantage to this is when your tinder is wet and the ferro sparker alone
won't ignite it.  You still need the tinder with the magnesium shavings...
it is just easier to get the wooden tinder started under wet conditions
(however, the petroleum cotton balls would be better)

The ferro rods and ferro/magnesium combos are so inexpensive ($3.00 on up)...
last for thousands of strikes each...
extremely reliable in dry tinder ignition...
or even wet petroleum cotton balls...
it only makes sense to have multiples for each person.


A general rule of thumb...
when you have the capability to use a resource other than your own...
and your situation is uncertain...
save yours for later in case of need.

Take the time to gather or make your own tinder...
use the petro balls for when dry tinder is not to be found.

Just as a basic principle...
tinder burns easily because of its increased surface area.
This allows the material to heat up quickly to its ignition point.

You can make your tinder from a wet tree...
you just have to shave the wood into extremely fine shavings...
a 3-4 minute petro ball flame would have the effect of quickly 
drying and heating the wood shavings to ignition.

This same principle applies to starting a fire with wet wood.

You merely have to start small (lots of surface area)...
lots of the material to dry and ignite the next step up in the wood pile...
and eventually you could burn wet logs.

To do this would take a tree-mendous :) amount of effort...
it would involve a lot of gathering and preparation...
but it can be done.

Me...
were I in wet conditions...
unless I absolutely needed the fire to purify water...
or to cook questionable food...
I would lie comfortably in my sleeping bag...
and think about how I wouldn't have to worry about getting water...
to hell with the fire  :)

Actually, not so much of a joke...
were you to use it to cook a relatively small amount of food...
and the energy expended trying to light a fire in wet conditions
were more than that to be gained by the food...
you shouldn't do it.


Another unusual piece of equipment...
one that operates on the principle of air compression
(this effect ignites the fuel in a diesel engine)...
is the Fire Piston.

It is a simple cylinder with a close fitting rod which holds a piece of 
cloth or other easily combustable material
(dry moss, grass, fine tinder...etc)
in its tip (the tip that gets plunged into the cylinder)...
and a push handle at the other end.

You would rapidly plunge the rod down and back...
in that split second...
the air heats up enough to leave the combustable material aglow.

You would then transfer that glowing ember to your pre-set tinder
and gently blow on it until you have a flame.

I have one of these...
however it is more to demonstrate the effect to my son, Alex...
than as a dependable piece of equipment.

Its weakness lies in the rubber o-ring at the tip.

Rubber degrades over time...
and while a field expedient repair could be made with cordage
or other material that could seal the air from leakage under compression...
it is far easier to start a fire by a ferro rod.

Now the good thing about the Fire Piston
lies in the lesson to be learned in the underlying principle...
and in its construction.

Were you to be in the wilderness long term...
and you only had the environment to construct a fire making implement...
a Fire Piston could be constructed from wood, bone, horn...etc...
with an o-ring constructed from hide or cordage.

Although it would take a lot of front loaded effort to fashion one correctly...
it could be used almost effortlessly and quickly from that point forward.

Rather than to have to use friction...
wood on wood...
by the various methods...
each of which takes much longer and much more effort...
each and every time you would need to make a fire...
the accumulated time and effort saved...
 justifies constructing a Fire Piston.


An example of what I have been talking about:



At the end...this guy actually was clumsy in his attempt to turn the ember
into a flame.  You would have the ember in a much larger handful of tinder...
commonly referred to as a bird's nest (it looks like one).

With the appropriate tinder...
it should go to full flame in a few seconds of blowing.


Now as for making a fire piston or fire starting by friction...
I suggest looking it up in detail on YouTube.

Know the principles involved and the general construction of them.
It is a good thing to keep in the back of your head in case 
the next Zombie Apocalypse completely collapses society...
forcing you into exile in the deep forests...
and no other means of fire starting exists  :)

It takes practice, effort, patience...
and while fun...
beyond the scope of this article.

It is a good thing for parents to teach their children...
just for the applied science behind it.


Now...
other fire starting implements that your Bug Out Bag should have...
sunlight refractors and reflectors.

Your only limiter would be the absence of sunlight.

A typical light refractor (redirects light going through it)...
 a magnifying glass or a credit card size fresnel lens.



A good pocket size one of either can be had for a few dollars.
You may also use your Binoculars as a source of the magnifying lens.
Eyeglasses can also be used...although it depends on the amount and type of correction
as to how effective they would be.

A typical light reflector (redirects light as it bounces off it)...
a solar cooker or even a solar cigarette lighter
(a parabolic reflector).



They actually sell this solar cigarette lighter for under $10.00.

It is the principle behind the concentration of light to make a fire that makes
this a lesson that is so valuable.

Should you be without a solar means of fire starting...
you could improvise a refractor lens in freezing conditions by 
shaping CLEAR ice into a lens...
or under normal conditions...
a clear sandwich bag of clear water can be made into a lens...
in the absence of other means and being in dire straits
(I know... Zombie Apocalypse again).

Making a reflecting solar concentrator is far easier...
any highly reflective surface that can be manipulated into a parabolic shape would do.


Another means of fire starting with what you may have in your Bug Out Bag...
or more likely than not...what you would have on you naturally...
such as battery operated equipment.

A hand crank generator would be a good non-degenerating piece of equipment to have
(for running or recharging your electronic equipment such as...
cell phones, flashlights, radio...etc)...
a portable solar panel recharging unit is also good to have...
but generally doesn't have the power to heat an element.


By spanning the poles of the power source with a fine wire..
the wire gets red hot almost immediately.


Now...
for a field expedient method of generating electricity (static electricity)
to heat a fine wire with only dried pine needles and rubber soled shoes.

First you would spread a thin mat of dried pine needles on dry ground...
while holding each end of the wire in opposite hands...
you would then step on this mat of dried pine needles with rubber soled shoes...
and start rubbing the shoes back and forth REALLY FAST and...

I am, of course, joking  :)

Sorry...
I couldn't resist...
it is getting very late...
I am tired and off to bed.



4 comments:

  1. Nice trick of using vaseline with cotton balls. Lots of good info here.

    Hope you are having a great time at Pyramid Lake. Can't wait to hear all about it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. We had a good time. It was only a little over 1/2 an hour away. It was a quick day trip. I had quizzed Alex on the trip to stimulate his reasoning skills as to what the meaning behind what he had seen was. We visited a museum and visiter center there. The lake is part of an Indian reservation...I met some very friendly people from the reservation at the museum (Curators). They told me about the history and dynamics of the lake. It was very interesting. We were the only people there so we talked for an hour or so. Alex loves outings. My next article will be about our trip there.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Shiroi, I wanted to let you know that I remembered this vaseline and cotton ball technique of starting a fire and used it on our camping trip this past weekend. It worked very well. It was by far the easiest time I had starting a campfire! Thanks for this great tip which saved me tons of time and averted frustration!

    ReplyDelete
  4. That is great. I love helping others. I will be doing more articles on survival later on. I wanted to actually take Alex on hikes and camping and have him demonstrate. It may be a while.

    ReplyDelete

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