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Making fire for the first time. Part 1
Phil Rose   

Making a fire for the first time, without matches or a cigarette lighter, is intimidating for most people. It is just something that we are not used to doing. After all, man has been turning a spark or ember into a flame for thousands of years. The purpose of this article is to help those who have never made a fire with a mischmetal or flint rod before. The only part we are covering here is getting the flame; the rest is up to you. I am confident that if you read and follow these instructions, you too will have success. Just like the saying "There is more than one way to skin a cat", there are other ways do this as well. This is just how I do it. Please don't be discouraged if it doesn't work for you the first few times. This is a skill that takes practice. If you are not going to go out and practice, then I hope this at least entertains you for a few minutes. For those of you, who will practice, please read through the entire article before proceeding. I will be using one of my PSK-5's for this demonstration. We had other knives with us, but only used the one for the fire.

The first step is to locate and collect the tinder. This is the stuff that you are going to be striking the sparks directly into. It needs to be very dry, soft and fluffy. Personally, I prefer to collect my tinder as I am walking in, whether or not I plan to make a fire. I generally carry a small ditty bag just for tinder. If you are hiking in to your campsite, you will probably be covering a lot of ground. It just makes more since, to me, to collect it when you are already on the move. Yes, I know that I have to carry it for a long time, but it's not like a hand full of under bark is going to really weigh you down. Plus, it's just much easier at the end of the day to simply pull it out of your pocket and get started! This also helps keeps you from having to search around camp at dusk or work with as much damp material. It gives you a much wider selection! When searching for tinder, take your time; use only the driest material you can find. If it is wet or damp it is just going to smolder, it will not flame up. It has to be dry! Here in California, I generally use Cotton Wood under bark. This is what I am collecting in the pictures. You will need to find something similar, depending on where you are in the world. There are many natural materials that will work well, Juniper bark is another.

If you do not have an established fire ring to work with. Make sure that you are building a fire on dirt and not on duff. Duff is basically organic material in various states of decay. More often than not, it is flammable. It will smolder for a long time even if it is damp. If you encounter this at your fire site, dig down and around the site, until you reach dirt below. It should only be a few inches thick.

Now that you have hopefully found your tinder, you can now gather the rest of the materials. Look for material that is small and dry. In a "survival situation", there is no real need for a bon fire. Even a signal fire does not need to be real big. Right now we are just trying to get a flame. If you are just doing this for practice, then you only need tinder right now. If you are going to make a campfire then focus on collecting small branches. If you are not able to find anything dry on the ground, try looking at the lower branches on the trees. If the branches above them have leaves on them and the ones below do not, they might work. You will need to break up the branches and organize them into groups. The smallest group should be about the diameter of a match stick. Then going up from there gather pieces that are about the size of the misch metal rod on the BSM. Continue gathering material, in incremental sizes, until you have a group that is about the size of your wrist (2.5"-3"). If this fire is for cooking or to keep you warm, you probably will not need larger material. The main reason I like to keep the size of the material to about 3 inches is because, it is still pretty easy to break. I try not to use my knife to cut up fire wood. Breaking the wood is easier, it uses less energy and keeps the knife sharp. Just remember to collect about 5 times as much wood as you think you need. Trying to find fire wood in the dark is not fun!

To read part 2, click here.