Fires: Woodcraft

 

 

 

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Site Contents

by Ernest Thompson Seton 

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Making Council Fires

The Council Fire is a very different thing from the cooking-fire or the so-called bonfire. And there are just as many ways of making it wrong.

These are the essentials:

bullet It must be easily started.
bullet  It must give a steady, bright light.
bullet  It must have as little heat as possible, for it is mostly used he summer. Therefore, it must be small.
bullet It is best built as in (c), about two and one-half feet high; the bottom stick about three feet long; the rest shorter and smaller.
bullet The small wood and chips to light it can be put either under or on top of the second layer.
bullet  It should be drawn in toward the top, so as to burn without falling apart.
bullet  It must contain a large proportion of dry, winter-seasoned wood, if it is to blaze brightly. The readiest seasoned wood is usually old lumber.
bullet  For an all-evening Council Fire, at least three times as much should be in stock as on the fire when started.

Here are some wrong methods:

bulletThe high pyramid or bonfire (a) goes off like a flash, roasts every one, then goes dead. 
bullet The shapeless pile (b) is hard to light and never bright. 
bullet The bonfire is always bad. It wastes good wood; is dangerous to the forest and the camp; is absolutely unsociable. A bonfire will spoil the best camp-circle ever got together. It should be forbidden everywhere.

Lighting a Fire

The day Columbus landed (probably) the natives remarked : "White man fool, make big fire, can't go near Indian make little fire and sit happy."

We all know that a camp without a campfire would be no camp at all; its chief charm would be absent.

Your first care, then, is to provide for a small fire and prevent its spreading. In the autumn this may mean very elaborate clearing, or burning, or wetting of a space around the fire. In the winter it means nothing.

Cracked Jimmy, in "Two Little Savages," gives very practical directions for lighting a fire anywhere in the timbered northern part of America, thus

First a curl of birch bark as dry as it can be,
Then some twigs of soft wood, dead, but on the tree,
Last of all some pine-knots to make the kittle foam,
And there's a fire to make you think you're settin' right at home.

If you have no birch bark, it is a good plan to shave a dry soft -wood stick, leaving all the shavings sticking on the end in a fuzz, like a Hopi prayer stick. Several of these make a sure fire kindler. Fine splinters may be made quickly by hammering a small stick with the back of the axe.

In the case of a small party and hasty camp, you need nothing but a pot hanger of green wood for a complete kitchen, and many hundreds of times, on prairie and in forest, I found this sufficient.

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A more complete camp grate is made of four green logs (aspen preferred) placed as in the illustration. Set the top logs 3 inches apart at one end, 10 inches at the other. The top logs should be flattened in the middle of their top sides--to hold the pot which sits on the opening between the top logs. The fire of course is built on the ground, under the logs. Sometimes stones of right size and shape are used instead of the logs, but the stones do not contribute anything to the heat and are less manageable.

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In addition to this log grate, more elaborate camps have a kitchen equipped with a hanger as on next page, on which pot hooks of green wood.

In wet weather an axeman can always get dry wood by cutting into a standing dead tree, or on the under side of down timber that is not entirely on the ground.

On the prairies and plains, since buffalo chips are no more, we use horse and cow chips, kindled with dry grass and roots of sage-brush, etc.

To keep a fire alive all night, bank the coals: i.e., bury them in ashes.

bulletAlways put out the fire on leaving camp.
bulletIt is a crime to leave a burning fire.
bulletUse buckets of water if need be.
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Camp Kitchen

See Also:

Camp Cookery

The Birch Bark Roll 

 

 

   

 

 


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Last modified: October 15, 2016.