Let’s Talk Fire and Fire Making Techniques

As you may already know, there are Lots of ways to start a fire.  I have tried many of them over the years, and still practice a variety of methods as much as possible even today.  It’s never a bad idea to know a few of the different ways to accomplish this potentially “life-saving” skill.  If you are not into the whole “Survival” thing, than it’s still not a bad idea so that you are not the person at the campground using an entire bottle of lighter/charcoal fluid to accomplish this task, and still failing most times.  I can’t be the only one who has seen this before?  Ten foot flame for thirty seconds or so, and then nothing?

20150127_170049 A “one match” fire in a blizzard.

So there are probably as many opinions (probably more) about what is the best fire starting implement, as there are fire starting implements.  Here are just a few examples:


There are the ones that you can simply buy at a store (shown above), and of course…there’s always the primitive ways where you make them yourself (ie.. Hand drill, bow drill, fire plow, fire saw, fire piston, flint and steel etc etc..).  The store bought items usually offer results consistent with some sort of instant gratification, whereas the latter requires much more labor and skill.  Another thing to consider and talk about is the preparation in starting any fire, but let’s discuss that later and stick with the implements here first.  ( Video on a bow drill start to finish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFBjzqLlAa8&index=18&list=PLLSCwNPpoRJfRMRd7Wp1q-hWAoYyEawgC )

One of the common debates I often see is that the infamous, ultimate, survival fire starter is the ferro rod.  The reasons people give, typically go something like this…”it throws 3000 degree sparks”….”you can throw it in the water, take it out…and it still works”……”it will out last any lighter, matches or the likes”.  Am I right so far?  I see/hear it all the time.  I am not discrediting the ferro rod, as it is a useful tool without a doubt…..but the best option?  I think that depends on personal opinion, but I also think some common sense would go a long way here in that regard.  Another thing to keep in mind, and consider, is what are we talking about in terms of use.  Are we talking “Survival Skill”, or are we talking ” Long-Term” use?  There is surely a difference.  Let’s think in terms of Survival (ie.. short term), as that is the case I mostly see this brought up, and this is where I tend to disagree with most folks as to what is the best option.  It is hard to beat an open flame and time saving techniques when they are most appropriate.  So if it is a “short term” situation….will the lighter really run out of fluid in that “72 hrs” (a common gripe about the lighter)?  I know I have used the same lighter for months on end most times, but that’s just me being honest again.  Here are a few example of the rods, as they come in many sizes.  Not all are created equally either.


So a bit on fire prep may be a good thing at this point.  Let’s skip past specific resources, as they vary with geographic location quite considerably.  The process remains much the same however.  To start a fire with anything less than instant flame….there is “a process”.  There are a couple of steps you need to concern yourself with to be successful.  The first is some sort of “bird’s nest”, or “tinder bundle”.  Some folks claim there is a difference in the terminology between the two….but I disagree.  A bird’s nest is nothing more than tinder (an easily, readily combustible material).  That will be what you use in order to get your coal (however you may accomplish that) to a flame.  The next thing you need is some sort of kindling, and the size will help tremendously in this step.  So this usually takes place with pinky-size twigs or smaller.  Once you have a good fire/coal bed going….it will be much easier to get your fuel (substantial size wood that will burn long and hot) to a sustainable point.  ( A couple of videos showing the collection/processing of materials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uC0r5EpwFFc&index=5&list=PLLSCwNPpoRJfRMRd7Wp1q-hWAoYyEawgC  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdAG2a2GEXg&list=PLLSCwNPpoRJfRMRd7Wp1q-hWAoYyEawgC&index=6 )

1514974_385076231638563_1261386981_n A simple bird’s nest with some char in it.

Now that we have discussed the process briefly, let’s get back to implements.  So with the ever popular ferro rod, you need to know that “the process” is required.  You may skip the bird’s nest or tinder bundle if you wish….but you will surely need to process whatever material you will use, in most cases.  So this will take at least some time….which will vary based on knowledge and skills, not to mention the resource(s) itself.  So the way I view this is, ok the ferro rod works well when wet….but what about the tinder?  That is usually the overlooked portion when I see folks talk about this.  Something to keep in mind I guess.  Open flames will help tremendously in this way.  You can also skip the processing portion a great deal with open flame, thus saving time and energy spent. Here is another video where I show/discuss this: ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EjUZeOK7i4&list=PLLSCwNPpoRJfRMRd7Wp1q-hWAoYyEawgC&index=23 )

I have learned a lot over time, and a lot more about myself.  With that said, I always try and be humble and honest, because why not?  Who am I fooling otherwise?  So having tried many of the fire starting implements, I have gone back to the simple match.  I do use a lighter sometimes as well, but I prefer a match….maybe it’s the traditions of the Maine Guide in me, I’m not really sure.   At any rate, these methods have been introduced and evolved over time for a reason…..so it’s not ALWAYS a smart decision to go back in time and try and reinvent the wheel, or quickly jump on the band wagon of the next best Survival fire starter.  Though I practice many skills, and I think it is wise to do so, I don’t try and sell an idea to conform to popular opinion….that helps nobody.  I guess at the end of the day it would be hard to market matches or a lighter.  I think either of the two would be nice to have when needed, but the matches are what I enjoy using….and that’s just personal preference.

20150821_100329I like to use the strike anywhere matches and I keep them in a “match case”.

Without going on and on here, and rambling, it is all up to the user and what they like, or prefer……too each their own I guess.  But let’s not help spread bad decision making processes, just to conform to a popular belief, agree with the latest “Expert”, or because we can make some money from it.  Let’s pass on the good, practical information that may actually help someone one day!



7 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Fire and Fire Making Techniques

  1. As I know you and have learned a lot of these fire starting techniques from you, I can attest to the fact you have tried them all, in every conceivable climate. The post is solid on the fact without the sales pitch we usually see with an item. Like you said, hard to sell matches or lighters at a survival store.
    That being said, I agree on the open flame concept and use it often. However for the people who claim a ferro rod will outlast flint and steel? Doubt it. And it’s still one of my favorite ways to start fire primitively. Great blog Sergeant!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Over the years I have been watching Sarges videos the information & techniques tought have proven to be extremely useful & after much practice ( & more regular practice ) are now all part of my “Tool Box” that I can rely on when required. I agree with Mark that these skills have been expertly demonstrated without all the blatant ( however it’s tried to be covered up & played down ) sales pitch to sell products that has unfortunately become prevalent from another “expert”.
    All these fire starting methods require you to put in the time to get right but once you have it & hone that skill it’s another step towards being truly self reliant & for me that’s the ultimate aim. I have my preferred method, flint & steel & my least, bow drill but I still practice them all!
    I admire the way in which Sarge delivers these demonstrations going as far as to say ” if I’ve got a bic lighter & it works I’m gonna use it! “. Its this up front honesty that keeps me an avid supporter of the man & all that he stands for & long may he continue!
    Another great blog Sarge, thanks for taking the time brother.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like to use matches and agree the open flame is easy and time saving. With that said, I am always practicing when ever I can and to be honest, matches are easy so that skill is honed. So I tend to use a bow drill and ferro rod when ever possible to keep that skill honed. I do carry matches and a lighter as well.


  4. Great Blog Sarge, I agree an open flame is easy and quick. Ferro rod as a backup is good to have at your side. But nothing beats instant flame. Keep up the great blogging, you are a natural at it.


  5. Hey Sarge, just saw your blog, this is good info. I have been practicing fire making skills, bow drill, hand drill, bamboo saw as well as cane also, flint and steel, made fire pistons, fire plow, ferro rods, lens, water in a bottle, any thing I could learn for many years now. But about 2 years ago I started taking classes with Steve Watts on Classic Camping, and I have a new respect for the plain simple match. Kephart and those boys really new how to make fire with a match. I to use a match safe and have made them with Steve as well. As I sit here and type this I have a small silver safe in my pocket with 6 matches in it. The safe is a antique from bygone days and is a constant companion. Keep the good info coming, and thanks a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

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