Firesteel + Birchbark Tutorial

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Hi Guys,

I was out photographing this process for the Scouts, and thought that I may as well post it here too, hopefully it will be of use/interest.

Rarely have I been anywhere in the UK where there isn't a silver birch close to hand. Couple this with carrying a few grams of firesteel, and you have got your self a fire. You don't even need to carry a striker, as a smashed stone or flint works equally well (although not quite as elegantly as a sharp :rolleyes: ). Other than convenience though, birchbark will often work even once rained upon, as the lower bark scrapings are normally dry, which cottonwool probably wouldn't do (unless impregenated with something).

Anyway on with the actual fire making. For the bark, dimensions are down to you because even one tiny curl of bark will ignite, but will not stay alight for half as long as a substantial pile. Collect the bark from dead logs of silver birch rather than living trees, as not only does it come off a lot easier, but it does not damge the tree (because its dead...).

So, with the bark collected, take your nice sharp knife and grip the blade itself, rather than the handle. Hold it perpendicular to the bark and use it in the form of a scraper. Its a safe and effective method, that will rapidly allow you to gather loads of good shavings, providing you have sharp tools.



Working out the amount of shavings that are required is a guesstimation process, but its easy enough to work out after a few tries.

So, bark shaved, its time to firesteel. Place the steel behind the pile of shavings, ie on the side of the pile closest to you, meaning that the sparks that come off fall forwards onto the shavings. Press down hard on the steel, putting weight onto it to stop it from moving. There are methods which involve moving the steel against the spine in mid air, but I think this one is a bit easier.


Place the SPINE of your knife onto the firesteel at the top. Make sure it really is the spine!, one time we did this with the Scouts, one of the Leaders who was new to bushcrafting but enthusiastic came after the demo had taken place, and decide to use the blade edge instead of the back. Although this method works, it severely damages the edge of the knife and is a waste of your time and effort making it sharp again. Watch out if you use SAKs though, make sure the blade is folded otherwise you could end up without some fingers... :eek:


Now as you push down , force the spine into the steel hard and controlled, whilst twisting with your wrist - note the difference between the postions of the blade between these two pics. Also make sure you stop pushing before you hit the pile, otherwise you'll probably end up squashing out any flames you make, and scatter all your shavings everywhere too.


Providing everything has been done well, the scrapings should ignite on the first try, as there is a lot for the sparks to get hold of. Using a firesteel is quite tricky and takes practice, but is no way as hard as bowdrilling or handdrilling (somethinf which is currently defeating me, but hopefully not for long :) )

After getting the flame, hold thin ripped of strips of bark in the flame (don't just chuck them on the pile) until they ignite, then add bigger bits followed by sticks and your normal firemaking routine. The whole process should take about 30 secs or less.


I hope that was handy, please ask if you have any questions :)



Jul 29, 2006
Really nice tutorial, can't wait to give it a try, thanks.

One question though, do you not scrape any of the firesteel shavings onto the birch bark shavings before striking it proper?


Full Member
Aug 27, 2004
That's really helpful to those folks who were posting a couple of days ago and struggling with birchbark... :You_Rock_
A slight variation shown to me by a very good friend is to actually apply the pressure of the knife to the firesteel with the thumb of the hand holding the firesteel. The hand holding the knife applies pressure back towards you....and you push the knife on the firesteel with the thumb of your other hand which is holding the steel. Sorry if that sounds complicated.....but it's dead easy and you have very good control.. :)


Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jun 14, 2004
Great pic's, only thing i would consider if teaching to scouts is that they use the tin opener on a SAK as a striker rather than a blade.
Not as flash looking but much safer.
rapidboy said:
Great pic's, only thing i would consider if teaching to scouts is that they use the tin opener on a SAK as a striker rather than a blade.
Not as flash looking but much safer.

Cheers, we normally use Moras with the Scouts anyway, but with SAKs its saw I've always used. The can-opener sounds like a good plan though, I'll try that one out ....(another excuse to get back in the woods !)

Falcon, I think I understand your method and I have no doubt that it would work equally well. However, many of our scouts are quite small, so applying all the necessary pressure with the thumb is harder to do for them than the whole hand.

Zammo, Its not necessary to scrape in bits of firesteel first,as the bark lights fine on its own. However, it does look more exciting when they ignite though! Not having to do that saves on your firesteel too.

cheers guys,



Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Jun 14, 2004
The can opener is harder on the steel but produces great sparks and can't close on the fingers.
Good to hear they use Mora's, i thought most Scout groups had stopped using anything other than SAK's :rolleyes:


Mar 13, 2007
this is a great and reliable method and my preffered way of lighting a fire. Make sure you have lots of tinder ready to keep it going!. great pics :)

British Red

M.A.B (Mad About Bushcraft)
Dec 30, 2005
Missed this earlier - excellent post woodwalker - I'd rep you if I could - this is the sort of stuff that really raises the site!


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