View Full Version : Low Flashpoint Tinders for Bow Drill Firestarting
What are the easiest tinders to ignite with the ember from a Bow Drill ?
This question arose as a result of me trying to get from an ember to a flame using 'Cotton Wool'. Cotton wool ignites very easily with a firesteel and is probably the method I use more than most for firestarting. This lead me to believe it would work easily with a bow drill ember. However I can only get the cotton wool to glow red and smoulder when I drop the ember into it - I cannot get it to burst into flame.
Is this a problem with my post-ember technique or is it that cotton wool has a higher flashpoint than other tinders ? I imagine the high temperature sparks from the firesteel would tend to hide this if it was the case.
Interesting I have never considered Cotton Wool for my tinder bundle. I always use natural tinder such as the inner bark of Western Red Cedar or hay. Dried moss works well too.
I shall give it a go later with cotton wool as see what happens. Although is i had enough cotton wool for a decent tinder bundle the i would choose another fire lighting method. ie sparks.
Cotton wool, thistle down, cattail and such are all good ember extenders, but pretty lousy for getting a flame by themselves. As an ember extender their job, and what they are good for, is to char, then smolder.
I believe that the problem is that they char too easily, they go black from a pretty low heat, once black they are easy to get to glow, but no longer have enough fuel in them to burn with a flame. Blowing on an ember gives more oxygen to react with the chared material and the ember. That gives off heat which drives volatile gasses off neighboring material, that is what you are trying to get hot enough to burst into flame.
Sparks from a firesteel (ferro rod) are so hot and localised that they raise the temperature of the wool fibres above their flash point, they lack the mass to dissipate the heat.
Things like clematis, honey suckle and grape bark work well, as does dry purple moor grass blades and dead bracken, straw isn't great, but works, dry hay seems to be a little better. For information, birch bark is lousy for this kind of thing ;)
It seems that whatever material you use for ember tinder fire lighting produces really thick, grey/green smoke just before it ignites. I have always taken that thicker smoke to be loaded with unburned hydrocarbons.
Sorry if that is really jumbled, will shut up now :tapedshut
Chris - thanks for the explanation. This seems to confirm my experience. I have also failed to get Thistle and Reed Mace down to ignite - even with a firesteel. If the down is teased very thinly then it ignites momentarily but is consumed very quicky before it does the job of extending the flame.
I am surprised that shaved Birch bark is not very good in this situation. It always appears to be touted as a very good tinder without many caveats.
As you can see I am still experimenting. I gathered some dry grass/bracken etc on the way to work this morning. (This is now drying in a mesh bag on my desk !) and will be hoping to try this as a 'biffed' tinder ball in the coming days.
Sorry - slip of the fingers ! - should be 'buffed' !!!!
I've generally found that fluffs (thistle, reedmace, etc) aren't much good as a main tinder for spark lighting, but they're good to mix in with other materials. For example, there's a fair few Paper Birch trees near my work, which shed lots of bark, but it doesn't light as easily as Silver Birch. Mix some thistledown through it and the down flashes easily, igniting the bark.
Common Reed (Phragmites australis) for me every time. Half a dozen puffs and you will have flame ;)
The easiest tinder I have found is a roll of one of - newspaper, dry leaf, birch bark, paper bark maple or something similar - about half inch diameter and stuff a piece of char cloth in the end - so it fits fairly snugly. Just transfer the coal to the char cloth and blow 2-3 times. Works about every time.
I had no succes as well with a fluffed up tampax.
Also not with birch-bark sliced finely. It seems to cruble up oround the ember and 'suffocate' it.
I've had success with a rolled up dry leafes, without charcloth (be carefull not to blow out the ember!!)
It is really easy to make bamboo into fine scrapings, that also work nicely as tinder. First remove the laque and then just scrape your knife perpendicular on the bamboo back and forth.
Apparently, old birds nests make excellent tinder bundles, although I've never tried them. But, on the same principles, if you make a bundle with something like dried grass or dead bracken, then stuff some downy fluffy stuff in the middle, similar to a bird's nest, then that seems to work pretty well.
I always try to use natural tinders. As Wayne mentioned Red cedar inner bark (buffed) placed on top of a clematis bark bundle (buffed) is a good tinder(s) to use with an ember. If you have some you can use a small piece of cramp ball and light this from your ember. Then place the glowing piece of cramp ball into your bundle. This increases your chances of getting you bundle to flame. It's happened to me and I'm sure others a few times that if you're using inferior tinder such as meadow hay the ember can dissipate before you get your flame. The cramp ball (you could also use a lump of char cloth) ensures you get a lasting ember to get your bundle going when using tinders that are not so good. Using the cedar inner bark and clematis in combination this isn't usually necessary
One thing you might want to try....
I clean the fluff filter in my tumble dryer pretty much every time I use it. After a month or two, I have a bag of very dry tinder. It's free, easier to collect than thistledown and follows the 3R's (reduce, reuse, recycle).
Some people actually CHARGE for this stuff?!?!?!
KevB - It's up to you of course, but try getting used to using natural tinders that grow in your area, or if you're away try what's growing locally. It's all very well using fluff from between you toes and gratings from your belly button etc..... :D but very satisfying to be able recognise, harvest, prepare and use the tinders you can find in the natural world...........and much more in tune with Bushcraft. Collect them (tinders) when you see them, and not just when you need a fire, and you'll always have some good tinder ready to go. There have already been some excellent suggestions for natural tinders on this thread.
Falling Rain - thanks for the reply. You're right of course, I should be able to make use of the natural tinders around me and indeed when out I do often gather tinder in a small net bag and keep it inside my shirt to dry out for use later in the day.
However I've always carried cotten wool as a 'backup' and also equally often use it as a first call ! I guess in reality this means I am not always 'forced' to look for natural tinders. Maybe I should start leaving the cotton wool at home to accelerate my learning curve - Yes I think I might do that !
One good tip Kev is to carry one of the two hole metal pencil sharpeners this allows you to turn thin twigs into fine shavings rather than trying with a knife, a quick simple way to build up a extender nest.
Nemesis, what a brilliant idea, I am definately going to add one to my wilderness goody bag.
Buffed up Juniper, Clematis or Honeysuckle bark works well. You will need to tease it into smaller pieces first. Dry grasses work well too. I carry a small breathable stuffsack to collect bark etc into so that it can be drying out in a pocket if needed.
Juniper smoke smells nice but I often end up with a 'kippered' hand. :)
I tried something a little different last night to use with a fire steel... and found it quite ammusing that it worked!!
I was trying to light the Fire in home (wood burning open fire)... I didn't have any matches left after SWMBO was trying to light kindling with matches (without tinder!! :confused: )... so I thought that I would make up some feather sticks, spark a bit of cotton wool and I would be toasty in no time...
NO COTTON WOOL!! It had fallen out of the bag in the bathroom so SWMBO threw it away !! :eek:
So,... I got out my trusty outdoor knife.. DROPPED MY PANTS :eek: (wait for it...) and scraped a load of loose pile from the outside leg of my boxer shorts until I had a nice ball of cotton fluff!!
One spark later and the fire lasted the night :red:
Great balls of fire huh!! :lmao:
For Firelighting using any of the friction methods I prefer to use coarse tinders such as dry grass, Bracken etc.. rather than fine tinder such as cattail down.
The coal created by the bow drill is hot enough to ignite these tinders, and they resist blowing more than fine tinders which burn away far too quickly.