Fatwood and birch bark in the old days

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Suffolkrafter

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Dec 25, 2019
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Suffolk
Most people here will be familiar with the use of fatwood or birch bark as great natural tinders for use with modern day ferro rods or matches.
But thinking back to the days of flint and steel, and further back to the days of friction fire, how much value would birch bark and fatwood have had in fire lighting? Historically, would these have been the valuable fire lighting resource that we consider them to be these days?
I ask because when I limit myself to flint and steel for example, I end up valuing clematis and honeysuckle, horses hoof etc., and birch bark loses its importance.
Would be nice to get insight from the you all.
 

Broch

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Jan 18, 2009
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Scraped/powdered birch bark will take a small spark - it depends on whether you're using a spark up or down technique I suppose - but my flint and steel lighting has never been brilliant :)
 
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Suffolkrafter

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Dec 25, 2019
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Didn't think it would take a spark. It would have to be a very fine powder I'd have thought. I'll have to try. My flint and steel technique involves safety specs, many fragments of flint, possible blood, and if I'm lucky, a spark. I get there in the end though. A work in progress as always.
 

TLM

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Nov 16, 2019
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I sometimes have collected the very thin exfoliating layers from birch bark and used them for tinder, they'll catch Misch metal sparks very well.
 

Robson Valley

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Nov 24, 2014
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I live in the circumpolar Taiga.
Interior Cedar Hemlock biogeoclimatic zone to be precise.

We have lots of "paper birch" which has great bark working characteristics.
However, it is not the first choice for starting spark fires. Maybe secondary.

First choice are the highly resinous little dead twigs of spruce and pine.
The ones in closest to the mainstem of the tree will certainly be the driest.
Bull your way into a very dense forest patch will be the driest you will find.

Beat a handful to fine fiber with a rock against another rock. That's tinder.
We have lots of rock. Work on a flat piece.
 

Kadushu

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Jul 29, 2014
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Depends who, when and where in history. Anyone with access to gunpowder, or ingredients thereof, may have preferred that for a quick fire. Straw, chaff and hay would've been pretty ubiquitous. I expect saving charred material from fires, or "firedogs", was common practice.
 
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Erbswurst

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Mar 5, 2018
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Fatwood always was the candle of most people, or the torch, it just recently came out of use. Charred punk wood and tinder fungus was the tinder. Ötzi used pyrite and flint, later they used iron strikers and flint.
In my experience also the thin dry twigs one can find at coniferes are a better kindling than European birch bark.
 
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Suffolkrafter

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Dec 25, 2019
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I love the idea of grinding spruce twigs between rocks. I'd never have thought of that. I will try it with fatwood shavings, see if I can get a fine enough powder to take a spark from flint and steel.
Gunpowder is an interesting one. It actually reminds me of a scene in the film the Revenant, in which a fire is lit with flint and steel and gun powder, as I recall.
 

bobnewboy

Native
Jul 2, 2014
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North West Somerset
Don’t overlook charcloth when used with flint and steel. It takes a very mediocre spark and transforms it into a very hot ember to start your fire bundle off. Charcloth is easy enough to make and compact and easy to transport - just keep it dry.
 

Robson Valley

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Nov 24, 2014
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Suffolkrafter: The issue is the surface area to volume ratio. You're trying to raise a piece of flammable material to the ignition point so the more finely divided the better (char cloth carbon fiber). Plus, those conifer twigs are loaded with flammable hydrocarbon resins.

I think that bashing up fatwood to a fibrous powder is a really good experiment.
 

Kav

Member
Mar 28, 2021
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California
Our Great Plains had plenty of wood for fire- and 'buffalo chips' from the great herds was collected for fuel. I've burned the rare brick of peat from Ireland sent over. With a little forethought it's hard NOT to find good materials.
 

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