Jute workss best as tinder, and the twine can also be used for cordage (and wrapped around the flint stick for storage). Find it at any gardening store, but don’t confuse it with other types of fiber twine or, above all, plastic twine. In an emergency, some kinds of Chapstick, other lip balms or Purell hand cleaner can replace petroleum jelly.
Building your fire
This involves more than piling firewood. How the wood is stacked will determine if the fire grows large enough and fast enough to warm you.
Gather a large quantity of wood, starting with big pieces, working your way down to smaller ones. The wood should be as dry as possible. Saw or break off dead sticks from trees, if possible, and avoid wood on the ground that may have absorbed moisture. Stack it all in a big pile.
Gather tinder. Locate the driest side of a tree, which is usually away from the wind. Gather the dead twigs attached to the trunk and, if possible, strip off dry bark, which you’ll use for tinder. Juniper and cedar trees are ideal — the inner bark is highly flammable, even when the outer bark is wet. In the desert, find sagebrush, strip off the bark, wring it like a wet towel; it works great. How much tinder do you need? As a minimum, fill your hat with shredded bark and tiny twigs. Then, when you think you have enough, double the amount.
Clear the fire site of all debris if time permits (a 10-foot diameter area is a good size) and put the materials close at hand. Sort the wood according to size.
Get the initial flame started — learn how below — then build your fire, using the guide illustrated at right. Place the wood on it, starting with small twigs and tinder and adding larger pieces. In Central Oregon, where the ground may be wet or covered in snow, the illustrated method works well. Some books recommend making a tepee or a box-like stack of smaller sticks with room to shove the blazing tinder under. Whatever method you use, gathering enough wood before starting the fire is critical.
Making your own fire starter
Yes, you can make yourself a long-lasting supply, and in three simple steps. Fire starter helps ignite kindling and firewood. This material is light, compact, waterproof, durable and ignites readily under the most adverse conditions.
Starter ingredients are cheap and simple:
• Equal parts of beeswax and parafin
• Cloth, 100 percent cotton
• Crayon (optional)
Be careful if you try to substitute old candles or candle wax for beeswax. That mixture might work, but some candles have additives that inhibit burning. Test the final product thoroughly before including it in a survival kit. Virtually any 100 percent cotton cloth can be used, but using a worn sheet makes the finished product easy to tear. The crayon color-codes the batch — orange for survival kit starter. An old sheet, a pound of parafin and a pound of beeswax will make enough fire starter to last a long time.
You’re ready to make your starter. Wear flame-resistant gloves (or oven mitts) and use tongs to handle the hot material. Also, because the melted mixture is highly flammable, keep a fire extinguisher handy. Then follow these three steps:
Combine equal parts of parafin and beeswax and a crayon and melt them together in a deep pan until all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Shut off the heat. Dip the dry cloth into the mixture, making sure the material is thoroughly soaked. The melted wax mixture should infuse all the fibers.
Let the cloth dry. Then, test it. Before you pack it — with your gloves — you should practice a fire-making method until you become proficient. You may be staking your life on it.