To Preserve the Heritage of the Fur Trade Era

New Mexico Mountain Men

Camp Skills

Flame On!

A basic fire making kit consists of flint, steel striker, char, and tinder. The flint and steel provide the sparks. The char catches ‘em, starts burning, and ignites the tinder. So let’s start with the flint and steel. Both need to be hard and the flint sharp to produce plenty of sparks. More sparks per strike results in fewer strikes and less wasted time [Striking flint to steel produces sparks in the same direction as that of the flint. Steel to flint yields sparks traveling opposite the path of the striker]. Carry a flint when looking for a new striker in order to test before purchasing. File-hard steel makes a great striker.

Char – Quite a few materials will yield different grades of char. Cotton lace and cotton thread or strings produce char which start easily, but burn very rapidly. Monk’s cloth and cotton t-shirt scraps are next. Once charred, both materials start easily, but burn more slowly, thus transferring more heat to the surrounding material. Finally, canvas scraps make good char, but are hard to start; however, canvas char is very difficult to put out once lit and it won’t blow apart. The point here is to layer your char – try lace as the first layer to catch a spark, then monk’s cloth, and finally a little canvas.

Once you have the material, it has to be “cooked”. A simple tin can with a tight-fitting lid makes a great cooker. A single 8-penney size hole in the lid is all that is needed for ventilation. Place a number of loosely packed pieces of material in the cooker and set it in/on a fire or over an open flame. Before long a steady stream of smoke will pour from the hole. Occasionally shake the can or flip it over until no more smoke emerges from the hole. Remove the cooker from the heat, plug the hole, and allow everything to cool. After opening the cooker, the material should be completely black in color. Strike a spark onto the new char and see if it catches right away and burns hot. If not, place the material back into the cooker and reheat, cuz it’s not done yet. A little practice will spell out the right amount of time.

The selection of tinder for a bird’s nest comes next. The nest will be receiving the heat from the char and eventually burst into flames, so nest material has to be dry. Often nests are pre-made from materials such as unwound strands of hemp rope or macramé yarn. Around camp look for grasses and such that will break off in your hand (dry). Wind the strands into a nest keeping the bottom thick. This is where the char will be placed. To make sure your nest is dry, cook it. Warm your cast iron pot over the fire, set it aside on a few rocks, and place your nest inside. Leave the lid off and allow the pot’s heat to drive off any residual or newly acquired moisture. Watch the pot, however, cuz you don’t want to burn your nest. When ready, wrap the nest (tight is OK) in a bandana and store or carry in a dry bag. Carrying a nest inside a shirt is a sure way to get it wet.

Time to put it all together. Unwrap your nest and place your char (layers) in the bottom. Striking down onto your steel with a sharp flint will send a shower of sparks onto the char. Watch for one to catch (a glowing red spot). Pick up the whole nest. Hold it above your face, and blow upwards into the char. First good sign is plenty of smoke. Remember, that nest needs a good thick bottom so that your wind won’t just blow through. Sooner than later, the nest will catch and become one large flame. Watch out for brush fires in the beard or hair! Clock stops on a flame so move on!

Long Tongue



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