Making Fire

Many different techniques for making fire exist. Smouldering plants from natural fires is the oldest way to make a fire. Other ancient techniques involve a fire drill or fire stick that is rotated or rubbed on a base. For thousands of years humans would strike a stone containing iron to produce sparks and then tinder was used to make a fire from the sparks. A flint alone doesn't product incandescent sparks; it is the flint's ability to violently release small particles of iron, exposing them to oxygen that actually starts the burning. These methods are known since the Paleolithic ages, and still commonly in use with certain 'primitive' tribes but difficult to use in a damp atmosphere.

The oldest way to make fire would have been to carry a burning coal around from a natural fire, and to keep it smoldering in dry plant material (e.g. sage, tobacco) that can hold a burning coal for long periods of time. Dry tinder can be added to the coal, and then blown on to form flames. The problem with this method is that the coal can burn out, and the coal needs new plant material over long periods of time to keep smoldering. It may have been difficult to travel long distances in wet conditions with a burning coal wrapped in such plant materials. Many natives in North America still use certain smoldering plants to keep a fire alive for days. Birch bark, tobacco, sage, and other plants smolder very well and provide both smoke for insect repelling, and hot coals for fire making.

Fire occurs naturally as a result of volcanic activity and lightning strikes, and many animals and plants are aware of fire and adapt their behavior accordingly. Thus humans would have known about fire, and later its beneficial uses, long before the ability to make fire on demand was developed. In addition, the first and easiest way to make a fire would have been to use the hot ashes or burning wood from a forest or grass fire, and then to keep the fire or coals going for as long as possible. Natural sources of animal fats and petrochemicals that burn could have been used to keep and maintain fires.

Various plants have seeds that germinate only after fire when the ground has been cleared of competing plants, a behavior called serotiny.

Eucalyptus trees even contain flammable oils which help make fires more intense. This has the benefit of eliminating competing species.

An ancient method of making fire consists of rubbing a hard wooden stick (for example some poplar) sharpened to a point, sometimes using a fire bow, on a hollowed piece of soft wood (for example fig wood). The heat produced is used to ignite tinder. The hand drill method can be done with a harder wood rubbing against a softer wood.

* The hand drill grinding against the soft wooden base causes black dust to form near the hole of the soft wood, and that can turn into a red hot coal that can be added to some tinder. By blowing on the coal and tinder, a flame can be produced. This takes a great degree of effort and experience to get the right materials to work.
* Another method of making fire, the bow drill, requires some soft wood for the drill socket and a maple like wood for the drill. Willow and Yucca work very well, and with a good drill fire can be rapidly created even in wet conditions.

To produce sparks, one hits a hard stone, for example flint, on another containing iron such as pyrite or marcasite. Sparks with this method must be immediately in contact with tinder, or with black charcoal cloth or steel wool that will smolder from the spark.

Cigarette lighters combine ferrocerium with fuel, and can produce adjustable flames. They are also generally very simple to light.

This is done using an object with a high electric resistance on the wood. A current is run through the object until it is red hot, much like the burners on an electric stove, and it is then brought into contact with the wood, lighting it. A support makes it possible for the resistance not to be in direct contact with the ground.

This uses a concave mirror to focus the Sun's rays on some tinder. Alternately, a magnifying glass can focus the Sun's rays to ignite tinder. Magnifying lenses also can be shaped from pieces of ice or glass.

A gas flame may be ignited by a spark, typically generated by piezoelectricity.

An unusual method of making fire is by using a device called a fire piston. Commonly constructed from wood, horn and plastic, it is composed of a hollow tube with one sealed end and a piston which fits snugly within the tube. At the end of the piston is a depression where tinder is held during compression as well as a gasket which is located just a few millimeters away from the end. The tinder is inserted into the depression, and the piston is quickly pushed into the tube. This compresses the air, raising the temperature in the tube, similarly to the way a diesel engine fires, to the point where the tinder ignites and forms an ember. Tinder can come from a variety of sources such as "Tinder Fungus" and char-cloth.

This was observed in the jungle by Laurens van der Post.

Once the tinder is lit, it is necessary to transfer the flame slowly to ever increasing sizes of wood. After tinder, small pieces of dry kindling (less than the diameter of a thumb) are used. Once the kindling is alight, the flame can be transferred to pieces of fuel, which is wood about the diameter of a wrist. Most fires that fail are due to trying to shortstep the process; one can't light a log with a match.

It is important to increase the size of the wood slowly, as a small flame cannot heat a large mass enough to cause it to emit combustible gases. In addition, it is important to ensure a proper airflow to bring enough oxygen to the process without displacing the flame from the gases or cooling the fuel too much.

Once a fire is well underway, it is then possible to add fuels with more water or sap content as the heat may be enough to boil off the water. In wet weather, dry fuel can also be obtained by splitting dried out logs. Although the outside might be wet, the freshly split inner surfaces should be dry.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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