This was done as an entry to a Facebook competition on the Great British Bushcraft Group page. The challenge was to make a fire from 1 log or stick using only one cutting tool and with only 1 match to light it. It is a challenge that I have done a few times but often it is more convenient to get your campfire going in another way so I was quite happy to revisit it again.
The challenge does require some skill and practice but is an excellent way of developing and honing fire lighting skills, something which I’ll expand on during this blog.
I should add at this stage that it is important to be aware of the law regarding the lighting of fires and the use of knives in public places. This activity was performed on my own property. Take extreme care with the use of cutting tools, consider some experienced guidance on the safe use of knives. Cut away from the body and ensure no one is within range of the blade. Always have a first aid kit to hand when using cutting tools.
This was actually my practice run I had when this competition was first announced, I always planned to do another but I’m not sure if I will get the chance.
1. Select your log or stick. I chose a piece of leylandii felled from my own garden 12 months ago. My reasoning was that it is the kind of wood that is easy to get hold of as it is basically a weed tree and loads of people take them down these days. Selecting your wood is an exercise in understanding what makes a good firewood, something you may later rely on in the wild.
2. Select the tool. I chose to use my Fieldcrafter-UK knife. This is the larger version of the knife which lives by my stove and is my go to tool for wood prep. When out on camp I use the smaller version of the same knife. My reasoning for using this knife is simple, this knife is not a super blade or specialist tool, just a good, solid, affordable blade similar to what a number of people have or aspire to have. Really, I could have gone a step further and used my Mora. Using the right tool correctly and safely is an important skill to have for any outdoorsman.
3. Wood prep. 1st job was to remove the thick bark from the log. I have had some success in the past fluffing up the bark fibres to make a good tinder. For this challenge I considered this cheating as Birch bark was excluded. I discarded the bark. Next job was battening down the log to 8ths, something which was a bit of a struggle as I’d got a really knotty bit. The knife was tough however and dispatched the log in all but one section. The finger thick sections were divided. Some left as they were, others split down into pencil thick kindling and the final half dozen sections made into feather sticks. Once the wood was prepared, I collected up all the shavings from the process to add to the feather sticks. Prepping wood for the fire is an essential skill. Out and about you may find that all the thinner wood is wet and the only way you have to generate dry material is to split a larger piece to get into the middle.
4. Building the fire. Thousands if ways to do this. I used the same method I light my stove with. A lattice of smaller pieces of kindling build over a base of feather sticks. Gradually increase the size of your fuel on the way up so each layer helps dry and light the one above. I sprinkled all the spare chips and shavings throughout the structure. The 2 larger pieces that I could not split became my foundation. The fire took less than 2 minutes to assemble.
5. Lighting. The eagle eyed reader will notice that day turns tonight during my preparation. I chose to prep the log in daylight but it was a nice day so my garden was surrounded by open windows and washing hanging up to dry. I waited until nightfall before lighting. Standard household match, struck and placed in the base of the fire. Feather sticks took first time and the flames soon spread throughout the shavings, taking flame to the whole fire lay. Shortly after the kindling went up and the fire became established in the larger material. I’d not normally rely on matches, they are very prone to blowing out or absorbing moisture from the atmosphere. The 1 match challenge does force you to really prepare, knowing you only have one shot. You lay your fire well, prepare more than enough small kindling and of course, pick the exact moment to strike, praying for calm air and holding your breath. I am occasionally guilty of rushing my fires and have lost a few when I’ve not prepared enough small fuel or have set the jump from tinder to fuel at to large a size gap. This exercise (and yes, I’ve done it before) teaches preparation and focus, rush it and you may just get away with it but sooner or later you won’t and that may be the time you really need the fire the most.
Thanks for reading, go and try it yourselves!