Carry on Camping

Our most adventurous Year 5 children spent a night under canvas and learned some amazing bushcraft skills over two days in late June.

Lighting Fires

If you are out in the wild, it is important to keep warm and you will probably need a fire. There are many ways to start one but some are easier than others. We tried one way and watched Wolf show us some of the more difficult ones.

The basic idea is to get enough heat into some very dry, flammable material. This material is called kindling and there are lots of things that can be used. Birch bark and some kinds of fungus are examples of natural kindling. Another traditionally used kindling is char cloth, a sort of charcoal made from cloth. This has been used to light fires using a flint and steel for centuries.

Flint and Steel

First, strike the flint with the steel and try to make the sparks land on a piece of char cloth. Eventually, a spark will start to make the char cloth glow.

The char cloth is burning very slowing but there is enough heat to light some dry grass and willow herb. Wrap the smouldering char cloth in a nest of these materials. Soon there will be smoke.

Keep blowing on the smoking nest and wafting it about. If all your materials are very dry, it will not be long before you have a flaming bundle. This can be used to light small twigs and more dry grass.

The Bowdrill

The bowdrill is an ancient tool for making fire. Wolf had made his from 100% natural materials: a hazel bow, bark string and different types of wood for the drill, the hearth and the hand piece.

Here is the naturally made bowdrill and the other equipment you need.

You press down on the hand piece and saw the bow back and forth to make the drill spin. Friction between the drill and the hearth causes glowing wood dust to form in the notch.

When there is enough smouldering wood dust, you collect it into a coal on the fire pan. Then, you transfer it into a nest, just like the one used with the char cloth ember from the flint and steel.

The Fire Steel

This is the technique we all tried. The fire steel is a special rod that you scrape with a metal scraper. Sparks fly and you can use them to light tinder.

The fire steel is a modern version of the flint and steel. The special rod is made from a mixture of iron and other much rarer metals like cerium. It is called ferrorcerium.

You strike down on the fire steel with the striker into the tinder that you have prepared. Cotton wool makes excellent tinder and nearly always catches fire. Mr Myers was confident he could do it!

Once we'd all had a go a lighting a cotton wool ball, we split into teams and collected enough small sticks and bits of card for a small fire. We used the same technique to light our tinder and move it into a wigwam made from our kindling. As soon as the fire had caught, we added more twigs, bigger sticks and, eventually, logs.

a fire being started