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In the bushcraft world, fire is one of the main things people want to master. This is easier when its nice and dry and sunny but much more difficult when it is chucking it down with rain. There is a paradox with making fire. The greater the need, the harder it is to achieve.

This is where feather sticks come in. They require quite a lot of practice to perfect but a good quality feather stick will light from a simple spark and can be a life line if you are short on dry tinder and kindling.

So how do we go about producing a feather stick? First of all you will need a sharp knife. Here at Wildway Bushcraft we use the Bear Blade 4’’ Classic. These are a great all round bushcraft knife, made by a local guy in Dorset. We try where ever possible to support bushcraft in Dorset, working closely with local partners, Wildway Bushcraft believe our bushcraft courses are extra special because of this. But I digress!

Once you have a sharp knife, you need to find some dead wood. Wood from a dead standing tree is ideal. You will need to find a knot free piece approximately 30 to 40cm long and 5 cm in diameter. Once you have a suitable bit of wood you need to access the dry wood inside.

You do this by splitting the wood into quarters. Use your knife to batten though the wood. You should now have a triangular shaped piece of wood to create your feather stick.

Now comes the hard bit! I find it easier to sit down at this point and place the wood to my right side as I am right handed. Put one end on the ground or chopping block and place the other end close to the top of the outside of your thigh. I found this to be the best position for me but you will want to tweak it a bit to make yourself comfortable. Lock off your arm at the elbow and use your knife to shave down the wood by bending at the waist. This will give you steady smooth pressure and prevent the knife getting stuck in the wood.

You are aiming to create large curls of dry wood but be sure to leave them attached to the stick as you are going to be building the curls up over and over again until you have a large amount of large curls. When you are happy you have enough large curls, make some smaller ones further up the stick getting smaller and smaller as you move up the stick. At the end, you should have something that looks like this IMG_0081

You will want 2 or 3 of these to give yourself the best chance of getting your fire going. Remember maximise you chances when ever you can!

You should now have the makings of a good fire collect all the small sticks you can and prepare your fire as you would normally. The small curls will now take a spark and catch a flame. This will then light the larger curls and so on and so on, giving you a nice warm fire.

It is really rewarding to light a fire this way. The guys at Wildway Bushcraft are always carving feather sticks when they are not teaching lessons on our bushcraft courses as this is a skill that is often over looked. Once you have mastered this skill you will have a great tool in your bushcraft armoury and the confidence to create fire in the wettest of conditions.

All our bushcraft courses are held in Dorset so why not join us in the woods to learn much much more. After all, Wildway Bushcraft is about more than just survival!

Coming from the Gaelic bannach, bonnach or bhannag meaning ‘morsel’, Bannock Bread is a simple flatbread that originated in Scotland.

There are other opinions on where the word bannock came from, such as from the Latin word panicium which is thought by some to mean “baked dough”, however the actual translation means ‘to panic’. Now this could have some foundation in the fact that bannock is and was commonly used as a survival food. The other, and slightly better translation is from the Latin word panicus, which means ‘millet’ (a small seeded grass commonly used as a crop). However, the word

However, the word panicus was not thought to have been invented until the 1500’s, so you make up your own mind.

Bannock is not to be confused with Australian Damper. Bannock refers to any large round article baked or cooked from grain, whereas damper, is traditionally baked or cooked from wheat flour and water.

Bannock was taken to North America and Canada by the Scottish explorers and fur traders. Flour was a highly used commodity by the Hudson’s Bay Company and also the Northwest Company. This inevitably meant that the indigenous peoples of Canada and the Northern Great Plains eventually adopted bannock into their own cuisine.

Today there are an almost infinite amount of variations on this simple recipe of what is essentially flour and water. Bannock is a great source of carbohydrates, and often complimented high protein meals such as pemmican. More recently baking powder has been added to make the bread lighter and more suited to the changing palate of the modern world.

Bannock can be made entirely from foraged natural resources in the wilderness, if you are lucky enough to be in the right area and have the knowledge of which seeds or roots are safe to use in the correct way. Then seasonal fruits, nuts and maple, birch and also sycamore sap, can be used instead of, or with water for binding the ingredients.

The traditional way of cooking bannock is on a clach bhannag (Gaelic) which is a D-shaped flat-topped piece of sandstone that is put next to, and angled toward the fire. The stone was also sometimes heated directly on top of the hot coals.

Nowadays, bannock is more commonly associated with us bushcrafters, hikers and campers (sometimes used as a great survival food) also it’s a great food to get the kids onto campfire cooking, the next step on from marshmallows. The ease of preparation and the ability to use all manner of ingredients means that bannock is not only a simple, fun and communal food to make, but is a great source of nourishment. Bannock is as popular as ever in Canada too, even to the point where they have bannock restaurants over there, which is fantastic.

Here is the recipe that I have used as a base for many years. It is slightly elaborate, but I like it. I like to add seasonal fruit or nuts etc where possible, or just lavish it with luxurious ingredients such as chocolate chips, raisins and the like. As birch tapping season is practically upon us, I am going to try making bannock with the birch sap using different reductions I think.

Bannock:

  • 3 mugs of flour (any type)
  • 2 mugs of milk powder
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Enough water to make a nice thick dough
  • A little bit of fun.

The great thing is, you can add whatever else you like to the mix. I tend to add syrup, honey, raisins, nuts, or just about anything seasonal I can find around me.

Once you have a thick dough, make your patties up to roughly about the size of a scone, or you can fill the bottom of your pot if you prefer. Put them in your mess tin, fry pan, pot or whatever you have available (you can even make a board from some green wood if you wanted to and put it next to the fire, tilted up using a small log etc) put the ‘pot’ on some good embers and make sure you keep turning the bannock whilst cooking. Times will vary enormously, so just keep checking for a golden brown colour and that hollow sound when you tap them.

Let them cool for a while and then break them open being careful they’re not too hot still never cut them open with a knife, as this is said to bring bad luck.

A variation on this recipe, although some people would argue that it is actually damper, is to twist the dough around a nice thick green stick (about the thickness of a permanent marker) and cook above the embers or near the fire until golden brown with a nice hollow sound when tapped. When cooked and cooled, remove the stick and fill the void with some nice hedgerow jam, yummy!

One other way of using the ‘twists’ is as an amazing hotdog bap. Go on ….. you know you wanna try it!

Our favourite way at Wildway bushcraft is to bake it then pour loads of Maple Syrup on and leave it to soak in!

Anyways, hope you take away something from this article and practice your fire lighting so that you can have fun coming up with some impressive recipes of your own. 

 

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To poke a wood fire is more solid enjoyment than almost anything else in the world (Dudley Warner)

Making & maintaining a campfire

Fire is essential in the Bushcraft and Survival world, it keeps you warm, allows you to cook, provides you with a source of light and as the quote above alludes, keeps your morale up! Lighting a fire is one of my favourite parts of the day when out on my Bushcraft trips. Sitting down next to a warming bushcraft fire with a hot drink and relaxing after a day out in the forest can not be beaten. But it has not always been this way for me. It took me a while to realise that to get a good fire going it takes preparation, not a massive amount, but it must be good preparation. If you try to cheat, and I have in the past, it won’t work.

So first up we need a tinder.

Tinder is material that lights easily and gives off a small flame that is then used to light smaller bits of wood. There are loads of tinder’s out there some natural and some man-made. Some of the better known natural tinder’s are birch bark, dry dead grass, Clematis down or you can make yourself a feather stick and if done correctly that will take a spark. Likewise there is nothing stopping you from taking out man-made tinder’s like cotton wool balls, tumble dryer lint and even a shredded up egg box works well. I regularly take out tinder with me as its all part of the preparation. Ask yourself do you really want to be hunting for natural tinder when you are cold and hungry or do you want to pull out some you had prepared in advance? I know what I would rather have!

Next up is kindling.

So now we have the tinder sorted, it’s time to get kindling. Kindling is small twigs and branches that will catch quickly and easily from the flame your tinder gives off.

The best place to find this sort of wood is from dead standing trees or dead branches that have fallen off the tree and become hung up. I have found that pencil thickness twigs are ideal, but is important that they are dry, a good test of this is if the branch snaps and makes a cracking sound then you are good to go.

When you have collected a good amount of these, you can then collect some thumb thickness sticks to put on the fire when your smaller ones have caught a light. If you are unable to find any suitable kindling you can make some of your own by splitting larger bits of wood until you have the thickness you require, you can then feather these to make sure that they catch.

Now we need larger fire wood.

Just like the thicker kindling you collected its now time to get some larger firewood. I collect several different sizes of this type of wood so I have different thickness of fuel to build up the fire. You will need to build up the fire using the smaller bits of wood first and work up to the larger wood you have collected. Split wood will burn quicker the wood that has not been split so it is worth splitting some wood to make it easier to catch and when you have a good strong fire going you can add whole logs.

So how do we get a good fire going?

First, prepare the ground where you are going to have the fire. Clear all the leaf litter, dried grasses and small twigs well away from where you plan to have the fire, I do this because it’s good practice and greatly reduces the risk of things catching alight that you don’t want catching! If the ground is wet then it’s a good idea to place a wooden base on the ground so it keeps the fire off the wet ground. Once you have your base, place your tinder on it. I like to add a few small bits of kindling in a Tepee shape so when the tinder does light it is not a mad rush trying to get it onto the fire before the tinder goes out. Make sure all of your firewood is ready to go and organised and when you are happy, light your tinder!

When your tinder is lit start by adding your Kindling, slowly, allow it to catch alight and add more and more fuel as the fire gets stronger. Now you have a good strong flame going now is the time to add your larger fuel, do this until you have the size of fire you require and then sit back and enjoy!!

 The trick to lighting and maintaining a bushcraft fire is attention and patience, do not rush and do not try to cut corners, if you look after your bushcraft fire and fuel it correctly when it is small it will look after you when it is large.