Last week Little Boots and I spent a couple of days on a wooded campsite. It was nice to get away, as life has felt rather too hectic of late, and great to spend some time outdoors.
We cooked over an open fire, whittled sticks (me an atlatl/LB somekind of ninja weapon), climbed trees and even rigged up a hammock using a tarp, paracord and walking poles.

I’m always astounded by LB’s climbing skills, but was also impressed that my child can now single-handedly pitch a tent, light a proper fire to cook on and self-administer first aid following a slip whilst whittling.

These are useful skills and things that no amount of time playing computer games can give you.

I am a very proud parent

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Last year, for the first time, I started a fire using just a piece of steel and a piece of flint. The steel I used was a chunk of old file and I enjoyed this challenge so much that i bought a proper firesteel for future use.

Now I should clarify here that by firesteel I mean a piece of hard steel fashioned for the purpose, rather than a ferrocium rod which some people call a firesteel.

“Ferrocerium is a man-made metallic material that gives off hot sparks at temperatures of 1,650 °C when scraped against a rough surface, such as ridged steel”.

It’s the same material as the “flint” in cigarette lighters and using a rod of the stuff to start a fire with is only marginally more difficult than a box of matches.

Having spent a few quid on my firesteel I wanted to protect it from rusting and also given its hook-shaped ends stop it from getting snagged on stuff.

So I made a little pouch for it, using (as before) the leather from a pair of gardening gloves from the Poundshop .

The “button” is a double-six domino piece that I found when camping last year. We pitched our tent as it was getting dusk and noticed a bit of rubbish, but it wasn’t till the next day that we saw the full extent. There were fag ends, bits of paper, food and loads of scarps of wood all over the pitch. Much as I hate clearing up after other people – or rather littering pigs – I did, over the couple of days, tidy it all away via the campfire and whilst doing so found the domino. It seemed like a nice little thing and so rather than bin it, thought I’d keep it as a good luck piece. After all a double six has to be lucky right?

So when I was making the firesteel pouch and pondering what to use as a fastening, the idea popped into my head to re-purpose it. A bead was needed, as a securing device, to complete the lace fastening and so I used one I had made from a piece of spalted birch.

Another adventure book and another fire-lighting technique. This time from Ed Stafford’s Walking The Amazon (no need to explain what it’s about, although he was the first man to do so – an amazing feat).

So this is the technique used by one of his South American companions in the very wet Peruvian jungle. Splitting wet wood to get a a dry core, producing shavings and building a platform are all fairly common techniques, but this still seems quite remarkable given the sodden environment. My thoughts are that there are possibly two key factors at play here. Firstly using tree resin as an accelerant. Ed doesn’t say what size of piece was used, but a biggish lump would certainly burn well for some time. Secondly I wonder whether the type of wood was a factor. For instance in the UK I would use Ash if I wanted to be sure of a good fire, probably with softwood for kindling.

Whatever the case here is the described method:

“Jaun’s firelighting technique was different from most as he didn’t use ant sticks at all. He found dry wood that was two to three inches thick and he made a base to raise the fire off the wet ground by splitting the logs in half and laying the inside side face up. Next, he shaved one of the logs repeatedly to produce dry shavings that he piled up on the platform. Then he just arranged the large logs around the outside of the shavings like the spokes of a wheel and lit the fire using a lump of resin that he’d chipped off a tree with his macheteThe result was a roaring fire in about ten minutes even though it had been raining for days.”

Currently I’m reading a book that I heartily recommend and will review in full at some future point. Eric Hanson’s Stranger in the Forest (on foot across Borneo) is remarkably good for many reasons.

One small one that I enjoyed is that I learned something, actually two things. First, that you can create fire from bamboo. Now I have seen on TV people using bamboo to make a “fire plough” but I have never seen, or even heard of making a fire using bamboo and flint. Flint?!

You don’t believe me? This is the excerpt.

“Bo ‘Hok showed me how fire was made before the Penan discovered Bic lighters. He cut a two foot length of green bamboo with his parang and from his tin tobacco box produced a smallish flake of flint. He called it batu api, the fire rock. Holding the flint and a thin mat of tinder between his thumb and first two finger-tips, Bo ‘Hok vigorously struck the smooth surface of the bamboo at an oblique angle. To my astonishment sparks appeared. The tinder soon glowed red in patches and was then placed into a prepared handful of dried fibrous sago bark mixed with ash from burned leaves. This mixture, he explained, was tidak takoot angin, not afraid of the wind. Bo ‘Hok added wood shavings, blew two or three times, and within seconds we had fire,”

As someone who manged to light a fire using flint and steel for the first time last year (that’s flint and STEEL! STEEL, not bamboo. And another thing – it wasn’t exactly simple) I find this astounding. I just can’t see how this works.

Using burned (or part burned) leaves as part of a tinder bundle is also something I’ve never come across either. It makes sense though. Fire dogs (part burned logs) are quick to take when lighting a fire and something we put at the centre of a new fire at home. When we go to a campsite that has fire pits one of the first jobs, once we’ve set the tent up is to go scavenging around old fires for any fire dogs.

Using leaves like this is something I plan to try out soon.

We went to a local country show on Sunday. It wasn’t great and mainly seemed like an excuse to extract as much money for as little reward as possible.
However there was some fun to be had. Little Boots tried shooting with an air rifle for the first time, proving to be a pretty good shot. Using a catapult was not so successful, but I wasn’t too bad, which has prompted me to get one out I have at home. I bought it ages ago and have used it about twice, but now plan to see if I can get proficient at it.

The best bit of the day as far as Little Boots was concerned was a stand where you could have a good old ping at some military-style targets using airsoft guns.

This was part of a stand being run by ex-SAS man Bob Podesta and we both enjoyed a session he ran on Fire-lighting Without Matches. A neat little variation on the wire wool and battery method was whipping the face off of a torch and poking the wool in the hole.

I also attend another session Bob ran called Knots You Need To Know. Whilst I was familiar with a couple it did clarify them in my mind (being entirely self-taught) to see someone else tying them. And of course I leant some new ones – The Alpine Butterfly Knot and how to tie a Double Figure Eight Knot off against a post/bar to support climbing/hanging weight.

It was the best thing in the show and of course Little Boots is now claiming to have been trained to light fires by the SAS.

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With the open fire eventually decommissioned for the summer it was time to do something about the empty grate. Somehow it makes the room seem cold. Not in a cooling way that might be desirable in this heat wave, but rather in a slightly desolate, abandoned way.

Usually I just fill it with some logs, but this year not only was the log pile depleted because we had fires much later in the year, but also those left were large and rather irregularly shaped which meant that they were hopeless for stacking.

So, the Sunday before last, I thought I’d use some cut branches that I had in the garden. This should only take half an hour I said to myself. Using a mix of Ash, Sycamore, Beech and Apple it ended up taking me nearly two hours (in the hot sun). No wonder really as there are at least 150 pieces. What has surprised me is that, even though most of the branches were cut some time ago, there has been quite a bit of shrinkage. Initially it was a snug fit, but you’ll notice quite a gap in this photo taken a week later. I’m going to have to cut some more – this could be a theme for the summer

Next year I think I’ll stockpile some bigger round pieces towards the end of the log burning season.