Oct 24 2007
A key element in any survival is fire. A fire is needed to cook food on, brings a lot of “free” warmth to your body and light when it’s otherwise pitch black. Different materials burn in different ways and this will affect the usefulness to the different tasks. The process of getting a fire going I will demonstrate in a later article, when I have taken enough photos to accompany it. Please excuse the metal can below, this photo isn’t from the last trip.
There are six factors that I rate firewood by:
- Direct heat
- Burning time
- Ease of procuring
By softwoods I generally mean conifers. Direct heat in softwoods is usually great, excellent for getting warmth in the body quickly and for warming up a cold tent. On the downside, coals are practically non-existant and they tend to burn up rather quickly. It has a good lighting quality, especially the resinous species, like scotch pine. Particulary resinous pieces, like old stumps and the base of dead twigs not only burns bright, but also keep it going for a pretty long time. The dead twigs are easy to gather, even rather large branches are often so dry and brittle that they can be broken without too much trouble. Truly large, standing and dry trees are usually out of the question for the primitive though. It is possible to chop them down, but it’s so much work without a metal axe that I wouldn’t do it if there are easier options available. Photo is of a dead pine trunk of which you can very easily rip of resinous branches.
And yes, the smokeyness of resinous wood is horrible. Norway spruce isn’t so bad though.
Hardwoods generally means decidious trees. A long burning time, very tolerable smoke (if not wet) and excellent coals are the main advantages of the hardwoods. They don’t burn very bright and direct heat is often so poor that you can almost sit freezing next to the fire. As I told you yesterday, beaver sticks provides an excellent and easy firewood opportunity. Birch normally rots standing because the bark keeps the moisture inside of it. Other species can be found dry in a “natural” state, but I often prefer beaver sticks, since they are of handy length and of bigger diametre than you can usually expect to be able to cut with stone tools. The truely huge dimensions, up to half a metre in diametre, are usually not barked, but they are often sectioned. So if it has been laying elevated for some years, a few chops with the axe can free a log that is massive enough to last for almost the entire night. Perfect winterwood. And if it is too long, just let it stick out of the door.
Rotted wood is no good for burning, except for smoking skins. On regular firewood, sizes of the pieces dictates burning time and intensity. Smaller diametre burns quicker and hotter, but for cooking fires or to keep the lodge warm through many hours, use bigger diametres. If you want several qualities on your fire at once; like good coals, but also some light, use a mixture of hard and soft woods. Birch bark, fatwood (resinous wood) or resin lumps can give the flames a boost that can allow you to perform tasks that require good lighting. In the long winter of the north you will have very little time to do your chores if you don’t know how to adjust the lighting of the micro-environment in the tent. Photo is of pitch lumps on some dead spruces.
I have unfortunately not looked into fat/blubber lamps yet.Regards
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