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The Science of Fire

When's the last time you built a fire? (Your charcoal grill doesn't really count.)

If you don't have a fireplace or fire pit, some people actually go their whole lives without ever playing with fire. This is kind of mind-blowing to me (I've been making fire since i was old enough to steal matches.)(*blush*... sorry Mom.) In figuring out how to approach this subject, I've had to realize that not everyone grows up in a rural community, hunting and camping their whole lives.

So, the basics, how does fire work? Fire is a chemical reaction that takes place when heat is added to oxygen and fuel (carbon). The process doesn't work without all three. If you light a fire, and it isn't going well, you have to look to these three things to figure out the problem. Once that is determined, it's usually pretty easy to fix the issue.

In chemistry, it's best to make sure you have all of your supplies prepped and ready to go before you start. You'll want your tinder, "kindling", fuel of medium and large varieties, your ignition source, and your extinguishing method.

Tinder is probably the most crucial part of fire building. If you don't get your tinder right, your fire isn't going to light and it's dead before you ever started. Great tinders can be wood shavings, usnea (old man's beard), cattail fluff, birch bark, abandoned birds nests, dried leaves/grasses, etc. You want something that is dry and has the highest surface to mass ratio which allows for more airflow. If you want added success, pine resin is highly flammable and easy to access (if you've got pine trees, duh)(Once you are somewhat efficient at fire building, I'd seriously try to save pine resin for wet weather conditions.)  Also, pinecones can be a good addition to your infant fire.

I live in Western Oregon and if ya didn't know, it's a rainforest. Finding dry tinder is not always easy. We don't risk it. We make two kinds of homemade fire starters, one for dry weather and one for wet.
Both are simple.
For the dry weather fire starters, take the cotton facial wipes and soak them melted paraffin (or any wax) and let them dry. TAH DAH!! Throw them in a ziplock baggy. These will burn for approx 5 minutes with no other fuel.
We have way more wet weather than we do dry, for these days I used my mom's old handy dandy Girl Scout method. Take an egg carton and fill the cups about halfway with sawdust. Fill the rest of the way with dryer lint. Pour melted wax until saturated. (You'll see the bottom of the carton cups become wet. Let them dry. Flip over and take a knife and partially cut/perforate the connectors between the cups. To use break off one cup, place kindling around. The cups, without any additional fuel will burn for roughly 15 minutes. (My mom actually made some of these last week with old stale Fritos instead of sawdust. Waste not, want not!!)

I've never failed to start a fire with one of these.

If you look at Pinterest, maybe youtube, there are a million different varieties of homemade fire starters if you do a quick search. I like these cuz they're easy and small. Do what works for you.
**TIP... wax type really doesn't matter. I use old Scentsy wax, old candles, soy wax, paraffin... or a mixture of any of those... Just beware, our BOBs smell like citrus now. HA!

Some people don't want to bother with all that nonsense. Fine. There are a million pre-fab fire starters that you can purchase. However, I've never used one, so I can't advise you on them.

From your tinder, you move up to kindling (finger-sized-ish) to larger and larger pieces of wood.

There are many ways to construct your fire. Here are 5 of the most common, plus one specifically for wet weather.

I'm sure a lot of people might question my statement that "tinder is the most crucial" part of fire making. Some might think ignition... but there are a million and one ways to start a fire. There is absolutely no way I can cover them all, so let's go with the basics.

I live in a fricking rainforest! I will never count on solar to start my fire. Most survival kits have a magnifying glass... NOT MINE!! But not everyone lives in my world, so to name a few... you can use a magnifying glass, reading glasses, the reflector from your flashlight, water, even URINE!!

People focus a lot on fire rods and magnesium strikers, and they're great... if you know how to use them. Don't watch survival videos and think it looks so simple, order one, and toss it in your bag to never think about again until SHTF. These things are a bitch and can be hard work til you get it figured out. (Hint, most of the rods have a protective layer you'll have to scrape off first.) Get one and practice, practice, practice. One can potentially provide hundreds or more fires, but not if you can't get the damn thing to work.

There are chemicals that can create fire. Mixing potassium permanganate and glycerine can start a fire, but this process requires temperatures to be at least 70ish degrees. Chlorine and brake fluid, but the smoke this causes looks atrocious and I sure don't want to breathe it.

Friction is the primitive method of fire making. Tried and true, it started humanity on the path to success... but it takes practice and patience. There are several different methods; the bow drill, hand drill, pump drill, and ...  fire plow, to name a few. You should learn one, for sure. And PRACTICE PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

You an also use a battery to start a fire in several different ways; a 1.5v and steel wool, AA and a foil gum wrapper. Plus the 101 ways I left out.

All of these are great to know but nothing beats a good ol lighter or matches. You can go on Amazon, order a shitton of lighters, and strategically place them, now. Open up your closet and put one in every jacket pocket, put a few in your BOB, car kit, the glovebox, your purse, your desk at work, etc, etc. One of the videos that I screened for this article said that if your lighter gets wet, it's useless. Uhhh for now. Do you know how many lighters I've accidentally put through the wash? They dry out.

So what do we do with all this info? 2 is one, 1 is none. Three is the magic number. When you make your choices, keep in mind your supposed situation. Do you think you'll be at home, or bug out? Short term or long term? Weather situations? I'd pick one quick and easy (lighter or matches), one long term (a striker or solar), and a primitive method (drill or plow).
**TIP: keep in mind calories count. The more primitive methods burn a lot of calories.

Another thing I want to point out..
Do you get what's wrong with this picture?
There's some great items in there. All weather matches, A magnesium striker. A fire stick. All good. And 2 is one, 1 is none.... but when it's stored in the same container, it effectively one. You lose this kit or drop it in the fire, then what?
Bottom line, a nifty little kit looks super "professional" but don't put your eggs all in one basket.

Figure out your plan. Select your tools. Practice with your tools. Master them. Expand.

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