Thursday, July 3, 2014

Fire Straws

CampfireWhen it's time to build a fire, the most important component is the tinder. Without it, the attempt to build a fire will fail.

The job of tinder is to catch a spark and turn it into a flame that is vigorous and long-lasting enough to ignite the kindling. Along that same line, the job of kindling is to catch fire and burn hot and long enough to ignite the fuel wood. The process works up from very fine flammable material, to wood that is a little heavier (maybe the thickness of a pencil), and from there to wood that is the size of your wrist or even larger.

But it's the tinder that gets the whole process started, assuming you have a method of igniting the kindling. That can be accomplished by many techniques such as with a spark from a "flint and steel" kit, or from an electrical source such as a battery, or a hot coal created by friction, or the heat of the sun focussed through a "burning glass," or a small flame from matches or a lighter.

But getting back to the importance of tinder — no matter what ignition method you have at hand, unless the tinder is good, the attempt to make fire will fail.

So let's take a look at a homemade tinder packet that is cheap and easy to make, and is utterly reliable even if it gets wet. It's called a Fire Straw, and here's how you make it.

You need the following items:
  • plastic drinking straws
  • cotton balls or dryer lint
  • petroleum jelly
  • scissors
  • a candle
  • pliers
  • toothpick

To make the fire straws, use the scissors to cut the plastic drinking straw(s) into short pieces, preferably about half or one-third their normal length.

Light the candle and hold one end of the straw a few inches above the flame to soften the plastic. But be careful not to ignite or fully melt the plastic. You want it to be soft, but not dripping and not on fire.

Use pliers to crimp the softened end of the plastic straw together to seal it. You might even bend the soft plastic over on itself before crimping to ensure the seal.

Place the cotton balls or dryer lint in a baggie, along with a smear of petroleum jelly, and mash it all together until the cotton or lint is fully impregnated with the jelly.

Pull out a pinch of the cotton (or lint) and roll it into a thin "worm" that will fit down into the open end of the plastic straw.

Use the toothpick to poke the cotton (lint) tightly into the straw. Keep adding more until the straw is full to within about a half-inch of the open end.

Now, hold the unsealed end of the straw above the candle flame to repeat the softening/crimping/sealing process.

The fire straws are now waterproof and prepared for action. When it comes time to build a fire, slit the straw open and pull a bit of the jelly-soaked material out through the slit, leaving the rest of it inside. You might be surprised by how willing this material is to catch a spark and leap into vigorous flame that will then ignite the plastic straw and become a long-lasting ignition source for the kindling.

Put a bunch of these fire straws in your pocket and pack, so you're never without a reliable tinder that can help you build a fire when you need one.