Backpacker Magazine – October 2010
Survival: In The Wild with...Only a Knife
Learn these basic knife skills and survive almost anything.
Start a fire by using this simple technique.
Create two shelters with basic knife skills.
The Swedish Mora Knife (Courtesy)
Light a Fire
For thousands of years, humans made fire by rubbing two sticks together (aka the hand drill). Here’s how to make one:
1. For the spindle and fireboard, find some dry, soft, and non-resinous (no sap) wood—like yucca, cottonwood, poplar, cedar, cypress, or elm—which are easier to create friction with. The spindle stick should be about 16 inches long, ¾-inch thick, and fairly straight. Sharpen the bottom end like a pencil tip, and whittle away any jagged or rough spots on the shaft so you can easily run your hands along it.
2. The fireboard should be about six inches by one inch wide, and ¾-inch thick. Carve this rectangular piece so it lies flat on the ground. Cut a V-shaped notch, half as deep as the board, into the edge. Next, carve out a pencil-eraser-size depression at the base of the V, where you will place the spindle tip.
3. Position a leaf, piece of thin bark, or your knife blade (anything as thick as an index card) under the board to catch the coal that will fall out of the board’s notch.
4. For the tinder bundle, gather dry and pithy materials (cattails, mullein, grass, bark, moss), and shape them into a bird’s nest. Place it within arm’s reach.
5. Get in a stable kneeling or sitting position, with one foot on the edge of the fireboard to steady it. Put the tip of the spindle in the board’s depression, and place your hands at the top. Using significant downward pressure, roll your hands back and forth, up and down the spindle. Go slowly at first to deepen the board’s notch. Then go faster (a lot faster), bearing down on the spindle with your body weight as you roll it in your hands. Hot dust will be generated first, then smoke, and as the spindle glows red from the friction, a tiny ember will appear in the notch. If the ember doesn’t automatically fall into your catching device, gingerly tap the board.
6. Transfer the ember to the center of the tinder, blow gently until you have flames, then erect small sticks around it, tepee-style.
Always carry a reliable firestarter. Nester favors a magnesium spark rod and Vaseline-coated cotton balls, which burn even in rain. Rub one teaspoon of Vaseline into a cotton ball; pack a few loosely in a film canister. Also good: butane lighters.
Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter