3 Skills that Cover a Multitude of Survival Sins

by Todd Walker

From the biblical perspective, sin is “missing the mark.” In wilderness survival, not hitting your target in one skill doesn’t have to mean certain death. However, fall short in these three critical survival skills, and, dude, you’re screwed!

3 Skills that Cover a Multitude of Survival Sins -

You won’t get a second chance to see your family again if you can’t stay warm and hydrated. Core Temperature Control (CTC) is the redeeming factor.

Cold and Wet: The Perfect Storm

Your body does a remarkable job regulating core temperature. However, add moisture to the equation, drop the temperature slightly, and you’ve got a perfect storm for hypothermia.

Water saps body heat 25 times faster than air. And 70 to 80% of your body heat is lost through your head and neck. The remaining heat loss goes through your fingers, hands, and feet. The simple act of breathing in cold air and expelling warm air will chill your body.

A slight change in core temp, even by a degree or two, will affect your bodily functions. Shivering, lack of coordination, slurred speech, and numbness in the extremities are signs of hypothermia. Decrease to 91.4ºF (33ºC) and you lose consciousness. Complete muscle failure occurs at 82.4ºF (28ºC).

Core Temperature Equipment

This article is not addressing wilderness living skills or long-term self-reliance. We’re talking about surviving. You can’t very well pursue long-term stuff if you’re not equipped to survive the a short-term storm. And, by storm, I mean – when you need immediate help and none is available – in the wilderness or urban setting.

The first step to being equipped is to always carry equipment. No matter how many debris huts you’ve built, you’d be a stupid survivalist, and possibly a dead one, to not pack some sort of emergency shelter option, fire kit, metal container, cordage, and a knife.

Below is my emergency kit I carry no matter how long I plan to be in the woods.

  • Emergency Space Blanket ~ The best 12 ounce item in my kit for core temperature control. I also carry two contractor grade garbage bags – too many uses to mention here.
  • Fire Kit ~ Three different ignition sources – open flame (Bic lighter), spark ignition (ferro rod), solar ignition (magnifying lens), sure fire (diy and commercial), duct tape, and a bit of dry tinder material.
  • Knife ~ There is no such thing as “The Best Survival Knife”. However, your cutting tool should have multipurpose attributes and be hair-popping sharp.
  • Metal Container ~ A metal water bottle can be used to boil water, make char cloth, cook meals, and perform self-aid duties.
  • Cordage ~ I carry both 550 paracord and tarred mariners line.

These items are my bare bones kit and go with me camping, hiking, backpacking, and hunting. Don’t think you’ll ever need these kit items? Think again. Read this real-life survival story of an injured hunter in the Idaho wilderness.

Core Temperature Control Skills

Conserving body heat is the key to survival. Your body produces heat from biochemical reactions in cells, exercise, and eating. Without a furry coating like lower animals, insulation to maintain a body temperature at 98.6 degrees F is critical.

It all starts with…

Skill #1 ~ Shelter

Sins of Sheltering: Not carrying an emergency space blanket and wearing improper clothing.

While having an emergency space blanket is important, your shelter is built before you ever step over the door sill of your warm and cozy home. Your clothes are your first layer of shelter.

Ever see men with Sasquatch hair at the beach. No matter how thick it appears, that rug won’t insulate when wet and cold.

To trap body heat, layer your clothing. Layers create dead air space much like the insulation in house walls and attics. Layering is activity-dependent. But the basic concept applies to any outdoor cold weather activity.

Here’s my layer system…

A.) Base Layer ~Your base layer should fit snuggly to your body. Long sleeve shirt and underwear made of polyester blend for wicking perspiration away from my body. Sock liners go on first before wool socks. Thin wool glove liners are worn inside my larger leather mittens.

B.) Insulation ~ Yes, I wear cotton, and sometimes fleece, on top of the base layer. This is dependent upon my activity. If I’m really active in really cold weather, I wear a wool sweater. Wool is my favorite insulation layer. Here’s why…

  • Wool fiber absorbs up to 36% of its weight and gradually releases moisture through evaporation.
  • Wool has natural antibacterial properties that allow you wear it multiply days without stinking up camp. Not so with synthetics.
  • Wool wicks moisture, not as well as synthetics, but better than cotton.
  • Wool releases small amounts of heat as it absorbs moisture.
  • Wool contains thousands of natural air-trapping pockets for breathable insulation.

Remembering the importance of dead air space, your insulation layer should fit loosely and be breathable. Apply the acronym C.O.L.D. to your insulating layer…

  1. C – Keep CLEAN
  2. O – Avoid OVERHEATING
  3. L – Wear loose LAYERS to create dead air space
  4. D – Keep DRY

C.) Outer Layer ~ Waterproof is not your friend. Yes, it will keep rain and wetness out, but it will also seal perspiration in eventually soaking your insulation. Wear a weather-resistant shell that allows moisture to escape. The main concern for this layer is to block wind.

Your head, hands, and feet are included in this layer. I’m partial to wool hats to keep my bald head warm. In subzero temps, I wear my shapka, a Russian red fox winter hat, I bought in Siberia in the early 90’s.

Cold feet are deceptive. Frostbite can happen before you know the damage is done. Wear polyester sock liners with wool socks inside your footwear of choice.

Jamie Burleigh under an emergency space blanket shelter with garbage bag bed

Jamie Burleigh under an emergency space blanket shelter with garbage bag bed at The Pathfinder School.

D.) Waterproof Shelter ~ Again, for emergency essentials, you can’t beat a good space blanket to block wind, rain, and reflect heat back to your body. Combined with a plastic painter’s tarp, a Kochanski Super Shelter can keep you warm in subzero condition in street clothes.

Use two large contractor garbage bags filled with leaves, wet or dry, for an insulating ground pad. They don’t add much weight or take up much space in your kit.

There are many more options for waterproof covering. The above list is for your emergency kit.

Skill #2 ~ Fire Craft

Sins of Fire Craft: Not carrying multiple ignition sources and all-weather fire starters.

Fire covers a multitude of ‘sins’ in your survival skills. Even if you deliberately commit the offense of not packing emergency shelter, fire forgives your lapse in judgement. Scantily clad in the wilderness? Fire covers your wrongdoing. No matter how you “miss the mark” in skills or equipment, fire can redeem you.

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the woods I’m sure you’ve heard Mother Nature humming these classic lyrics…

“… Like it always seems to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Are you a fair-weather fire crafter?

That’s a good place to start. Nothing wrong with learning in the most fire-friendly conditions. You’ve got dry tinder, kindling, and fuel to burn. This may not be the case when your life depends on making fire in the wind, rain, and snow.

Cheating is NOT a Sin

There is absolutely no such thing as cheating when it comes to building a life-sustaining fire. Who cares what Bushcraft purists think! Your loved ones aren’t worried about style points in fire craft. They want you home alive. So cheat!

For the weekend camper or woodsman, carry these foul weather fire cheats…

Fire Cheat #1 ~ One of the most overlooked fire starters that should already be in your pack is duct tape. Loosely wad up about 2 foot of tape and ignite it with an open flame. A ferrocerium rod will ignite duct tape. However, you have to shred the tape to create lots of surface area. This isn’t your best option if your fingers are losing dexterity in freezing temperatures.

Fire Cheat #2 ~ DiY fire starters made of wax-soaked jute twine or cotton makeup remover pads. I also carry commercially made sure fire that will burn on water.

Fire Cheat #3 ~ Always carry enough dry tinder material to start a fire in sucky weather.

Fire Cheat #4 ~ Know where to find the best possible tinder material and how to process it to create surface area. Dead hanging branches, pencil lead size to pencil size, provide kindling even in the rain.

Fire Cheat #5 ~ Fat lighter’d (aka – fatwood, resin-rich pine wood) is my lifesaver in the south. Discover your best natural fire starter wherever you’re located or plan to travel. I keep this stuff in all my kits. It’s abundant where I live.

Fire Cheat #6 ~ Dry wood is available in all weather conditions if you know where to look. Standing dead Tulip Poplar (Magnolia) is one of my go-to fire resources. The trick to getting to the dry wood is splitting the wood down to tinder, kindling, and fuel size material. The inner bark makes excellent tinder bundles!

Post #500: The One Stick Fire Challenge

One 2 inch diameter stick of tulip poplar made all this: L to R: Thumb, pencil, pencil lead, and bark tinder

And that brings us to the next skill that forgives survival sins…

Skill #3: Knife Skills

A knifeless man is a lifeless man.

The “survival” knife market is full of gadgetry. Gadgets are for gawkers. You don’t need a Rambo knife to survive. You just need a solid knife and some skill. 

Carry a good knife and practice with what you carry. Your knife may become your one-tool-option. Here are a few characteristics I look for when selecting my main knife…

  • High carbon steel blade that is non-coated. Coated knives can’t be used to create sparks off the spine with a rock to ignite charred material. Carbon steel is easier to sharpen in the field than stainless steel.
  • Blade length between 4-5 inches.
  • Full tang (solid metal under the entire handle) lessens the chance of breakage when an ax is not available to split wood and you have to resort to the baton method.
  • A 90 degree spine is useful to strike ferro rods, process tinder, scrape wood shavings for fire, and many other uses.
  • Most importantly, your knife should feel right in your hand as you use it. The best “survival” knife is the one you have on you and are proficient with.

Knife Sins: Carrying a knife but never becoming competent with your blade.

You’re not going to be carving spoons and bowls in a short-term survival situation. Your cutting tool will be used to make shelter and fire to control core temperature. Knife skills can be easily developed and honed in your backyard.

Since fire is the most forgiving if you “miss the mark” with proper shelter, we’ll cover the cutting tool’s use in fire craft first.

Have Knife, Will Burn

Even if you’ve committed the first two survival sins, your blade can save you. A knife in skilled hands can create fire from scratch. I don’t rely on friction fire as my first choice but do practice the skill in case I run into unknown unknowns.

With my buddy Bic in my pocket, I still need to process sticks to make fire quick. Both the cutting edge and spine of your knife are used to create surface area needed for ignition.

Remembering that you’re cold and wet, your fine motor skills are probably suffering. Pretty feather sticks are for style points. Style won’t save you. Fire will!

Split a dead wrist-size stick with a baton and knife into thumb size pieces to get to the dry stuff. Split a few of those pieces into smaller kindling. Grip your knife with a reverse grip (cutting edge facing up) and use the spine of your knife to scrape a pile of fine shavings off one of the larger split sticks. If you’ve got fat lighter’d, scrape off a pile of shavings the size of a golf ball. Ignite this pile with a lighter or ferro rod and feed your fire its meal plan.

Here’s a demo of a one stick fire in the rain…

Knife and Shelter

Debris shelters can be built without a knife. Sticks can be broken to length between two trees without a cutting tool. Keep in mind that this type of shelter will take a few hours and lots of calories to construct correctly.

The role of the knife in emergency shelter building is secondary compared to its importance in making fire. You won’t even need a knife to set up a space blanket shelter if you prepped your emergency kit ahead of time.

Blades are expedient in cutting cordage, notching sticks, harvesting green bows for bedding, making wedges to split larger wood without an ax, and a number of other self-reliance tasks.

Basic emergency knife skills every outdoors person should practice include…

  • Safely handling a knife ~ cut away from your body, avoid the triangle of death (the triangle between your knees and crotch), cut within the blood circle when others are nearby (an imaginary circle made with your outstretched arms as you turn 360 degrees), never attempt to catch a falling knife, keep it sheathed unless in use, and keep your blade sharp.
  • Creating surface area for fires ~ splitting sticks, feathering sticks, and shavings.
  • Grip and body mechanics ~ standard grip, reverse grip, chest lever, knee lever, and thumb assisted grip for push cuts in fine carving tasks.
  • With a piece of quarts, chert, or flint, use the spine of your high carbon steel knife for spark ignition on charred material.


All three of these survival skills are needed for emergency core temperature control, but I’d place fire on top of my forgiveness list. Fire can make water potable for hydration, warm poorly clothed pilgrims, cook food to create body heat, smoke signals, illuminate darkness, and comfort the lost.

What’s your top skill for controlling your core temperature? Share if you don’t mind.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, equipment, Gear, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Education, Survival Skills, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

How to Make a Pocket Tonteldoos (Tinderbox) for Flint and Steel Fires

by Todd Walker

Forgive me for butchering the pronunciation of tonteldoos in my video below. No matter how it’s spoken in Afrikaans, this portable tinderbox just became my favorite fire-starter for spark ignition fires. Simple, yet effective!

How to Make a Pocket Tonteldoos (Tinderbox) for Flint and Steel Fires -

Tonteldoos is a small town in South Africa who’s name actually means tinderbox. Information on the traditional tinderbox itself was a bit scarce as I researched. I was fortunate enough to find a description of a tonteldoos in a Facebook learning group shared by a gentleman (Eben) raised in South Africa. I built mine based on his helpful instructions.

Thank you, Eben, for sharing some history and the idea of making this pocket tinderbox!

Tonteldoos History

The tonteldoos was introduced in South Africa by European settlers in the 17th century. The tinderbox was an effective and portable method of creating fire up until the introduction of stick matches in the mid 1800’s. As wars tend to do, the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) created a scarcity of stick matches causing people to revert back to the traditional tonteldoos to start fires in homes and afield.

Even after the war ended and matches became widely available, the use of this traditional tinderbox continued through to the mid 20th century. Testing my pocket tonteldoos, I can certainly see why. It’s easy to make, easy to use, and employs one of man’s time-tested ignition sources – flint and steel.

Tonteldoos Testing

Consistent ignition with flint and steel requires a dry source of charred material. Once the material catches a spark, the glowing ember is placed in a tinder bundle and blown into flame. With marginal or damp tinder, I’ve gone through several pieces of char from my fire kit before reaching ignition temperature.

This pocket tinderbox offers a controlled solution to eating up all your charred material. Here’s how…

With the tonteldoos, the only material consumed is at the end of the tube. The remaining un-charred material is preserved within the cylinder. Saving this valuable next-fire resource is the smart move.

I tested two methods…

  1. Char all the cotton material before inserting in the tube
  2. Char only the cotton material protruding from the end of the tube

By far, the best results came from charring the end of the material (method #2).This is the traditional method used for tonteldoos.

Method #1 failed, as I suspected, due to the fragile nature of charred material. It’s difficult to push crumbly material through a tube without turning it to dust. The charred rope provided an awesome glow but was consumed too quickly.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Make Your Own

After reading Eben’s description, my possum mentality kicked in as I walked to my shop. I needed a metal tube and cotton material. I considered using a small, gutted Maglite but the diameter would not allow me to push the material up with my finger. The same goes for 1/2 inch copper pipe unless you’ve got really skinny fingers.

I dove into my scrap copper from previous plumbing jobs. If you don’t have copper lying around, home improvement stores sell all you need.

Here’s what I came up with for my tonteldoos…

Stuff you'll need

Stuff you’ll need

Material and Tools

  • 3/4 inch copper pipe about 4 inches in length
  • Two 3/4 inch copper caps – bought new for about $1.50 each
  • 100% cotton material – several strands from a mop head works well
  • Cordage is totally optional
  • Scissors or sharp knife
  • Copper wire if you make a loop through the end caps like mine
  • Drill and drill bit the diameter of the wire used to make the loop
  • Pipe cutter
  • Flint and steel

Step 1: Cut Pipe

Cut a 4 inch section of 3/4 inch pipe. Ream each end of the pipe with the attachment on the pipe cutter – or use a file. This removes burrs from snagging the cotton material as it passes through the pipe.

Pipe reamer attachment

Pipe reamer attachment

Step 2: Pack the Pipe

Any 100% cotton material would probably work. I had a new industrial mop head lying around I had intended to use as char rope. Perfect!

Cut several strands off a mop head and feed them through the pipe with a twisting motion until 1/4 inch of material is sticking out of the top end of your cylinder. Let the bottom end run wild. You can remove the excess later.


Char the 1/4 inch of material with an open flame. I used my new Mullein Slush Lamp… just because! Any open flame will do.

Charring the cotton mop head strands

Charring the cotton mop head strands

Once the end is charred, pull the wick down from the bottom end so the charred end is even with the top of the pipe. Place the cap on the smoldering end to extinguish the embers. Now cut the excess material from the bottom end of the tinderbox.


Step 3: Attach Wire Loops to Caps

This is completely optional. I added loops to my caps for three reasons…

  1. Tying cordage to connect the two loops may aid in keeping the caps found in the field.
  2. A steel striker can be attached to the cordage.
  3. Cordage can be tied to keep the end caps secured if you actually carry your tonteldoos in your pocket while tramping through the woods.

If the end caps fit loosely, tweak the pipe ends by lightly tapping them with a hammer to take them out of round. Not too much or your cap won’t fit (square peg in a round hole). Another way to tighten the cap connection is to solder the caps on and then remove them. The layer of solder would make the caps fit tightly once cooled.

How to Make a Pocket Tonteldoos (Tinderbox) for Flint and Steel Fires -

The blood knot before tightening

How to Make a Pocket Tonteldoos (Tinderbox) for Flint and Steel Fires -

Blood knot tightened to secure caps

Or just tie them securely with a blood knot (how to tie a blood knot video here) as mentioned in #3. For this part, you’ll need a loop on each end cap…

Drill two holes in each cap the diameter of a piece of copper wire. I stripped a section of scrap 12 gauge wire to form my loops. Needle-nose pliers are most helpful for this task. I opted not to solder the wire inside the cap since bending them down inside each cap held the loops in place securely.

How to Make a Pocket Tonteldoos (Tinderbox) for Flint and Steel Fires -

Copper wire bent in the bottom of the cap

How to Use Your Tonteldoos

As with any charred “next-fire” material, keep the tonteldoos in a dry place in your haversack or fire kit. I keep a couple of pieces of chert/flint inside my square tinderbox (pictured below) with other charred material and finely processed tinder material. The tonteldoos fits perfectly inside this large tinderbox.

Every thing fits in the tinderbox

Every thing fits in the tinderbox

To ignite the charred end of the tonteldoos, push the wick from the tube bottom with your finder so that 1/8th inch of the charred wick is exposed. Hold the cylinder in your non-dominant hand with your pinky and ring finger. Hold a sharp piece of chert/flint between your thumb and pointing finger. The tinderbox should be below the flint so the sparks have a better chance of landing on the wick – unlike the photo below.

How to Make a Portable Tonteldoos (Tinderbox) for Flint and Steel Ignition -

Dirty hands and dirt time!


Strike down lightly and repeatedly over the edge of the sharp stone so that sparks are produced and hopefully land on the charred end. The tiny shards of metal oxidize and spontaneous combust to produce 800 degree sparks hot enough to create a glowing ember on the charred wick.

Spontaneous combustion from flint and steel

Flint and steel showering sparks on the tonteldoos

Once a spark finds its mark, a glowing ember appears. Blow the ember to spread the glow over the end of the wick.

How to Make a Portable Tonteldoos (Tinderbox) for Flint and Steel Ignition -

Should look like a lit cigar when ready


Of course, you’ve prepared fine to course tinder material beforehand and shaped a stellar tinder bundle (a.k.a. – birds nest). I use two methods to ignite tinder bundles with my pocket tondeldoos.

First, place the glowing end of the wick directly into the finest part of your tinder material and blow to ignition. Be sure to push the wick out of the tube a bit so as to make good contact with the fine tinder.

The other method is to use the glowing end of the tonteldoos to ignite a fire extender like punk wood, black sooty mold, etc., etc. Then place the fire extender in your bird’s nest and blow it to flame.

Here’s our video demonstrating my DiY tonteldoos…

If you want a portable, long-lasting, reliable source of char for flint and steel ignition, give the tonteldoos a try. I think you’ll be pleased.

Be sure to let us know your results and any other creative ideas to build one.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.


Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Frugal Preps, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , | 26 Comments

Dragon Fire Tinderbox: The Secret of Pyro Super Heroes

by Todd Walker

Some people make fire craft look easy. Rain, sleet, and snow doesn’t seem to effect their fire super powers. It’s like they’re the Superman or Wonder Woman of campfires.

Dragon Fire Tinderbox: The Secret of Pyro Super Heroes -

There’s always a catch though…

Super heroes usually have a weakness (Superman ⇒ Kryptonite). Wet tinder is the kryptonite of every fire-crafter no matter their skill level. That’s why experienced outdoor guys and gals carry dry tinder material in their fire kit to give them an edge when Mother Nature pitches a hissy fit. I’ve been humbled by her more times than I’d like to admit.

The times when it’s cold and wet out there is the time you need fire the most. It’s also the hardest time to find dry stuff for your fire!

Here’s a solution that provides dry, reliable, natural tinder material that’ll turn you into a pyro super hero on your next outdoor adventure or emergency situation…

Dragon Fire Tinderbox

I first heard of this small family owned Wisconsin company about a year ago. Since then I’ve watched Daryl and Kristina innovate a simple concept to serve outdoor enthusiasts.

The products they design are all-natural (no petroleum-based accelerants) and packed in recycled pouches and boxes. Materials are harvested from dead trees, plants, leaves, fungi, and other natural sources. If you’ve ever collected these resources yourself, you know the amount of work it takes to find the best combustible material.

I ordered the Dragon Fire Tinderbox Extreme Pouch, Dragon Fire Cone, and one of their nifty t-shirts. Daryl also sent me a packet of Chaga Tea. I’m keeping the Dragon Fire Cone and Chaga Tea to use with my grandson for our next bushcraft outing as a fun teaching tool.

About half the contents displayed

About half the contents displayed


The Extreme Pouch is full of fine, medium, and coarse tinder material with several different fuel-size chucks of hardwood. A Dragon Fire Tinderbox match book, sealed in a separate resealable bag, is included as an ignition source. My pouch had a one inch section of birch limb covered with flammable resins and rolled in fine tinder to prevent it from sticking to other material in the pouch. This kind of hand-crafted item is a fire-ball in and of itself.

It even contains shavings and chunks of Osage Orange from a bow Jamie Burleigh built at this year’s Pathfinder Gathering.

Here’s a video review Dirt Road Girl filmed recently at the Dam Cabin:

Benefits of the Extreme Pouch

It’s called Extreme for a reason. This resource contains everything you’d need to start several sustainable fires in all weather conditions – ignition source, tinder, kindling, and fuel. The bag alone is a valuable resource in wilderness self-reliance. Made of thick, resealable food-grade aluminum, one could press this container into service for disinfecting water by stone-boiling (see Larry Roberts video), cooking dehydrated camp meals, or keeping small items dry.

Teaching Tool

You can’t take shortcuts when building a fire with natural materials. One of the challenges of teaching my 8-year-old grandson fire craft is the importance of processing his tinder into fine, medium, and coarse layers. The Extreme Pouch contains each of these, and, as an added bonus, there are tinder materials not found growing on our Georgia landscape… Chaga, flax tow, and white birch to name a few. I plan on using these to teach Max our local alternatives to our northern neighbor’s fire tinders.

Daryl and Kristina also make a product that’s sure to get young children interested in the art of making fire…

The Dragon Fire Cone! Kid’s love ice cream. What kid wouldn’t want to set an “ice cream” cone on fire? Max and I will let y’all know how it burns after our next outing.

Photo courtesy of Dragon Fire Tinderbox

Photo courtesy of Dragon Fire Tinderbox

Emergency Fire Kits

Winter is coming and we’re sure to read stories of stranded motorists on backcountry roads trying to survive ’til help arrives. A bag of Dragon Fire Tinderbox would be a great asset for all emergency vehicle kits. No worries about chemical accelerant leaching and spreading vapors in your car trunk. This stuff is all-natural material!

White Birch bark is loaded with combustible oils

White Birch bark is loaded with combustible oils

Oh, you don’t have to be a master woodsman to start a life-saving fire with this bag of natural tinder. Daryl hand-picks and processes the best material so it’ll ignite with one match (matchbook included in pouch), ferrocerium rod, Bic lighter, magnifying lens or other ignition source.



The convenience of opening a pouch of ready-made tinder is pure gold when I’m groggy and needing my coffee fix on the trail. I’m a much better camping buddy after I’ve had my cup of Joe. Weighing in at just over 9 ounces after this review, the Extreme Pouch won’t take up much room in your pack and stays dry in the heavy-duty resealable bag.

9.02 ounces

9.02 ounces 

Some state parks prohibit the collection of firewood and tinder material from camping areas. You have to bring your own or buy marginal tinder and fuel from the park ranger station. I can tell you they won’t have anything near as effective for lighting their bundles of firewood as you’ll find in a pouch of Dragon Fire. It’ll save you the time (and embarrassment) you’d spend rummaging through your neighbor’s trash looking for paper products to get your fire started.

What’s the secret of Dragon Fire Tinderbox’s pyro super powers?

It’s the people behind the product. What you don’t see when you open a pouch of Dragon Fire is all the prep this family owned company puts into the most important layer of your next fire… tinder.

Both Daryl and Kristina are experienced in the art fire-making. Years of camping in the style of early American fur traders, without modern camping conveniences, taught this couple pioneer skills… and the need to harvest the best tinder material.

By ordering from Dragon Fire Tinderbox, you’ll not only receive some of the best tinder on earth, you’ll be supporting an American owned family business. Click on this link for Dragon Fire Tinderbox products and ordering info.

They’ll make great preparedness gifts for Christmas!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Gear, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

39 Manly Uses for Coconut Oil in Your Bushcraft Kit

by Todd Walker

39 Manly Uses for Coconut Oil in Your Bushcraft -

When it comes to packing for an outdoor adventure, leave the single-purpose items at home unless you have a pack mule to carry it all. Each item in your camping/bushcraft/survival kit should be able to perform at least three different tasks beyond its intended purpose.

Manly woodsmen, listen up. The women folk are more aware of the benefits and well ahead of us in using this stuff. Time to catch up!

It may not be as sexy as an ax or knife, but smart woodsmen should pack this non-sexy stuff in all their kits – bushcraft, EDC, Get Home Bag, camping, etc. I rarely go to the woods without it. As a utilitarian resource, I also keep a small container in my shop, bathroom, kitchen, school desk, and truck.

Here’s your multi-tasking resource…

Coconut Oil (CO)

There’s more to this tropical oil than its many health benefits. The saturated fat (medium-chain triglycerides) in CO burns quicker in your body than other fats boosting your metabolic rate and energy level. Don’t fall for the Big Fat Lie and fears of high cholesterol. The healthy fats in CO have been found to raise HDL (good) cholesterol and lower the ratio of LDL to HLD.

The eastern woodlands is not a tropical paradise. You won’t find coconut trees growing along the banks of the Chattahoochee. Still, CO is inexpensive and readily available. For the best health benefits, stock up on expeller pressed, organic, unrefined virgin coconut oil (industry experts label extra-virgin as a marketing ploy). This type of CO has a stable shelf life of 2 to 5 years.


An eclectic mix of containers for my Lucky Sherpa Salve… main ingredient is CO.

Repack the CO in smaller containers and add them to your survival kits. The anti-bad-stuff properties alone make CO an essential resource to carry on your next wilderness adventure.

  • Anti-bacterial – treats skin infections and kills bacteria
  • Anti-viral – kills many common viruses
  • Anti-fungal – effective on Candida; yeast infections, diaper rash, and lady-parts infections
  • Anti-inflammatory – suppresses inflammation and helps repair tissue
  • Anti-parasitic – helps rid your body of pesky parasites like tapeworm and lice
  • Anti-microbial – fights infection from bacteria, viruses, yeast, and fungi without harming beneficial gut bacteria
  • Anti-protozoa – kills giardia, a common protozoan infection from drinking untreated water
  • Anti-pyretic – reduces fever

Coconut Oil Uses in Bushcraft

There are 4 categories below where coconut oil is your pursuit of bushcraft skills.


If natural plant-based remedies are not available, CO is an excellent option for the most common injuries you’ll experience in the woods – cuts, scrapes, bruises, burns, sprains, bites and stings.

  1. Cuts and scrapes: a thin layer applied forms a protective barrier against bacteria and foreign matter.
  2. Bruises: speeds up healing by repairing tissue.
  3. Burns: apply immediately to affected area and repeat as necessary
  4. Bites and stings: relieves itching and stinging. Better yet, make your own Plantain Salve with 3/4 cups of CO using this recipe.
  5. Chapped lips and skin: softens and moisturizes cracked, dry lips and relieves psoriasis and other skin conditions.
  6. Sunburn: relieves the burn and heals the affected skin.
  7. Sunscreen: not a high SPF but adds a little protection for your skin.
  8. Nose bleeds: coat the nasal passage with a layer if you’re prone to nose bleeds in certain weather conditions.
  9. Allergies: CO is a solid around 76º F. Melt CO and snort/sniff it up your nose to coat sinuses and protect from pollen. Also helps kill airborne germs associated with flu and colds.
  10. Salves: add healing herbs to make a salve.

Personal Hygiene

  1. Shaving: use it as a shave cream and after shave if you need to shave on your adventure. Or grow a beard…
  2. Beard: yep, it’ll condition, tame, and sanitize any mountain man beard. Stops the itching too!
  3. Soap: use CO as a soap substitute.
  4. Foot care: nothing like a good foot massage after a day of trekking. Rubbing CO on your feet also kills harmful fungi and bacteria on the skin and toenails. Effective on athlete’s foot. Feet are likely your only means of conveyance. Take care of them.
  5. Maceration: wet feet that look like prunes are asking for blisters and can cause painful cracks after drying. Rub CO on your soles before putting on clean socks and footwear. Apply a coat to dry feet and wear socks in your bedroll for overnight moisturizing and protection for the following days trek.
  6. Teeth and bones: brush your teeth with a mix of CO and baking soda. I use CO for Oil Pulling too. Aids in absorption of calcium and magnesium for strong bones and teeth.
  7. Deodorant: CO alone is somewhat effective as a deodorant. Or you can make an aluminum-free all-natural deodorant stick ahead of time so you don’t smell like Sasquatch. Your camp mates will thank you!
  8. Bushcraft Dog: works on pets too. Apply to your dog’s skin and coat for any itchy issues.

Field Gear Maintenance

  1. Leather: cleans, conditions, and preserves leather in the field.
  2. Wood: apply a coat to ax handles, wooden spoons, and buck saws as a preservative.
  3. Metal: wipe down your cutting tools with a thin layer of CO to prevent rust.
  4. Lubricant: use to lube your crosscut/bucksaw for smooth sawing. A dab in the socket of your bearing block on a bow drill set reduces friction.
  5. Cleaner: add an abrasive like baking soda to CO to scrub sticky stuff of knives and other gear. Even works on pine sap.
  6. Fixin’ Wax: CO can be substituted for the tallow in my Fixin’ Wax recipe.
  7. Oil lamp: not a maintenance item per se, but CO can be pressed into service as fuel for slush/oil lamps.
  8. Rust remover: coat area and let it sit for an hour. Rinse with warm water.
  9. Waterproofing: seals seams in leather and canvas.
  10. Non-toxic: clean your eating knife and utensils with CO. Safe for animals and humans.

Camp Cooking

6 Life and Survival Lessons Learned from Backpacking -

  1. Cooking oil: CO is an excellent butter substitute.
  2. Oxidation: less heat sensitive than vegetable oils so there’s less oxidation from heat. CO is more stable for stir-frying squirrel and sauteing wild edibles.
  3. Coffee: add a heaping spoonful to your campfire coffee to start your day in the woods.
  4. Hot Cocoa: I’ve dubbed cocoa/cacao the 11th C of Survivability. Adding CO to this rich beverage only cements the meal-in-a-cup on top of the list of stuff to never leave out of your kit.
  5. Flavor: my nephew, Jake, cooked a snake on our backpacking trip with unrefined CO.
  6. Energy: eat a tablespoon, with or without other food, to boost energy and endurance.
  7. Vitamin absorption: CO helps your body absorb fat soluble vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
  8. Colon detox: shown to reduce waste and toxins from your digestive tract.
  9. Constipation: squatting in the woods, the perfect human potty position, when your system is backed up is a physical challenge. CO contains fiber and helps get stuff moving after that campfire chili encounter. No more “grrrrrrrrr” sounds coming from the latrine bushes.
  10. Diabetics: CO is associated with insulin and blood sugar control.
  11. Spread: use it as a spread on your bannock, dutch oven biscuits, or anything you’d slather butter on at home.

If you got this far, I need to add a CYA statement. I’m not giving medical advice nor am I a health care provider. This stuff is for informational purposes only and comes from my experience with coconut oil. Do your own research.

This is only a fraction of the manly uses of CO in the great outdoors. I’m sure you’ve got unique, unorthodox ways to use this magical oil. Share in the comments if you don’t mind.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Herbal Remedies, Natural Health, Preparedness, Real Food, Self-reliance, Survival, Wildcrafting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Best Practices for Your Third Most Critical Survival Priority

by Todd Walker

Using the “B” word will automatically rain hell and brimstone on any online discussion. What’s the Best knife, sidearm, rifle, or water filter? Try it for kicks and giggles. Type that four-letter word in front of any piece of gear and watch the internet explode.

Best Practices for Your Third Most Critical Survival Priority -

Photo courtesy of Iris Canterbury

When it comes to survival priorities, the same spirited debate rages.

In the Pathfinder System, Dave Canterbury ranks water as the third wilderness survival priority. Self-Aid and Shelter take the top two spots respectively.

Here’s Dave’s full list…

  1. Self-aid
  2. Shelter
  3. Water
  4. Fire/heat
  5. Signaling
  6. Food
  7. Navigation

The subject of this article is the third priority – the substance which every system in the human body is dependent. A dehydrated body can not help you do all the stuff needed to keep you alive if you’re day hike turns into a week-long survival scenario.

Water is easy to find in the eastern woodlands. But it may not be fit for consumption.

That crystal clear stream you’re about to sip from may hold a rotting carcass 100 yards upstream. Also keep in mind that, yes, bears (and other critters) do crap in the woods along rivers and streams… which eventually washes into the pristine creek and into your cupped hands.

Introducing waterborne pathogens to your gut is a sure way to decrease your survivability in the wilderness. You need to assume that every water source in the backwoods contains the following invisible nasties (and more)…

  1. Giardia – A single-celled, microscopic parasite which causes a diarrheal illness called giardiasis. The parasite is passed through the feces of infected animals and humans. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, bloating, gas (not your normal campfire baked-bean induced gas), weakness, and stomach cramps. Symptoms show up within 1 to 2 weeks.
  2. Cryptosporidium – Crypto, as it is commonly known, is a parasite responsible for causing the most waterborne illnesses in the U.S. according to the CDC. Symptoms of watery diarrhea, dehydration, stomach pain and cramps, fever, and vomiting begin in 2 to 10 days of infection and may last up to 30 days.
  3. Escherichia coli (E. coli) – Some E. colia bacteria are beneficial to your intestinal tract. Then there’s the pathogenic, diarrhea kind transferred through water and food contaminated from human or animal feces. Remember that bear fact? Unfortunately, s**t happens. And ignorant humans have the bears beat!
  4. Salmonella – Most folks infected by this bacteria develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps within 12 to 72 hours. Not good for a 72 hour survival scenario. Oh, and it can spread to other body systems causing more long-term damage.

Bottom line… Don’t drink untreated water! Consider all backwoods water sources contaminated. Period. Even when brushing your teeth at camp, use disinfected water.

We’ve established the fact that the human body needs water to function properly. So what are the best (yeah, I used the B-word) practices to make water safe to drink?

Boiling Water

We took our youth group to a Catholic church in the early 80’s as a cross-cultural field trip. The priest met us at the door and invited us in. One of our really, really country boys asked the priest how holy water was made.

In all seriousness, the priest told us that they pour water in a pot, place it on a hot stove, and…

“boil the hell out of it.”

My Basic Class partner, Dave Williams, boiling 32 ounces of water

My Basic Class partner, Dave Williams, boiling 32 ounces of water in under 5 minutes

Boiling Times

There are lots of confusing, un-scientific info floating in the preparedness pool. So how long should you boil water to make it safe to drink?

a.) 10 minutes, b.) 5 minutes, c.) 1 minute, d.) depends on altitude

Answer: None of the above.

I’m not certain how long priests boil water before it becomes holy, but all you need to do is bring water to a boil to render the parasites, viruses, and bacteria harmless. In fact, 185º F for a few minutes will deliver the damage needed to kill the nasties. We boil in the backwoods because thermometers aren’t convenient to carry. Bubbles tell us when it’s done.

Research from the Wilderness Medical Society states that keeping water temps above 160º F for 30 minutes kills all pathogens through pasteurization. Bet you don’t carry a cooking thermometer in your pack. Even at high altitudes, once your water reaches the boiling point of 212º F,  you’re done. Boiling past zero minutes is a waste of fuel and life-giving water via evaporation.

In a perfect world, you whip out your metal container. Fill it with water and bring it to a boil. Take it off the heat immediately and allow the water to cool. Now you have potable water.

Water boiling challenge

Water boiling

What I carry is the Pathfinder Stainless Steel Cook set. The 32 ounce bottle nests inside the 25 oz. cup for easy storage in my haversack or backpack.

If you’re ever in a situation without a metal container, ask yourself this question…

What would MacGyver do?

Creative Containers

There may be resources in your pack which you’ve never considered could hold water for boiling. These items will help channel your inner MacGyver.

Dave Williams' duct tape water bottle at the Pathfinder School

Dave Williams’ duct tape water bottle at the Pathfinder School

  • Duct tape
  • Emergency space blanket
  • Trash bag
  • Backpack cover
  • Tarp
  • Rain suit or poncho
  • Dry bag
  • Hat

These pieces of kit will melt over a fire quicker than the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. But the important thing is that they hold water and you can make fire… and rocks litter the ground. Now you’re ready to boil water.

Stone Boil Method

Hot rocks from your campfire will boil water. Be sure to not use river rocks in the fire. The trapped moisture inside these stones are prone to explode when heated sending hot, sharp shrapnel flying. Use dry rocks.

Below are a few fellow YouTubers I respect demonstrating the stone boil method with improvised containers.

Hats off to IHatchetJack for this one…

Master Woodsman using a trash bag to boil water with stones…

Larry Roberts using a burn and scrape wooden container…

No-Boil Methods for Clean Water

You can’t boil water without a heat source. This fact places urgency on the need to carry at least 3 different methods to start a fire. We covered my favorite methods here.

However, even without fire, potable water is available in nature.

Water from Trees

Here are 4 trees found in the eastern woodlands that can be tapped in the same manner as our northern neighbors harvest sap for maple syrup. This hydration source is available when the sap is running in early spring.


A young Sycamore (Right) and River Birch (Left) growing near the roadside

Sap from the trees contains sugars and clean water that can be consumed without filtering or boiling. Collect the sap by boring a hole or notch about a 1/2 inch into the tree. Insert a 4 inch spigot made from a hollow stick or river cane as a conduit for the sap. Use a container underneath the spigot/spile to catch the runoff.

Use your Possum Mentality and collect any plastic water/soda bottles you come across. They can be used to collect sap without ever tapping the tree with a spigot. Darin from East Woodland Survival has an interesting technique I really like…

Water from Plants

Another great seasonal (spring, summer, and fall) source of clean water is found in wild grape vines. Sever the end of a large diameter vine near the ground over a container. It’ll start slowly dripping water into the container. Speed up the process by reaching as high as possible up the vine and cut a notch in the vine. The notch breaks the vacuum in the vine to increase the water output.

Don’t forget that your mouth is a container. Lay under the vine and drink directly from the plant. Be sure you can accurately identify grape vine from poison ivy and oak!

Rain Water

Rainy weather is a two-edged sword. It makes fire craft difficult but can provide needed emergency hydration.

With access to a tarp or rain gear, configure a “V” shape to collect rain and funnel it to a container.

John McCann of Survival Resources shows you how to do this in a homesteading situation easy enough. The same can be done in a survival scenario with sticks and ingenuity. His contraption collects and amazing amount of rain water!

A more primitive rain catchment technique is to harvest tree bark in half-pipe sections set up like a bicycle rim configuration with a collection device positioned at the axle. Tulip poplar, willow, and other non-resinous tree bark can be used.

Water Filters

Modern water filters are convenient and effective for removing parasites and bacteria but not viruses or chemical contaminants. I personally carried the Sawyer Mini on our recent backpacking trip on Eagle Rock Loop. It’s lightweight, easy to use, and effectively removes 99.9% of pathogens and is rated to clean 100,000 gallons of water.

sawyer squeeze water filter

DRG’s new squeeze! This is the larger Sawyer filter pictured.

Filters can be constructed from natural materials in the backcountry. My friend, Joshua Shuttlesworth, has a tutorial on building a Tripod Water Filter you should check out.

Remember to always assume wilderness water sources are contaminated. Drink without disinfecting water in the woods and you could pay a hefty price. Don’t trust what you read here or watch on YouTube videos. Get out and develop the skills needed to quench your thirst!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.


Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Potable Water, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills, Water | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

The Beginner’s Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft

by Todd Walker

[Part IV of our Bombproof Fire Craft series]

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft |

A primal scream erupts from deep inside your body the first time you successfully coax fire from two pieces of dead wood.

Welcome to the Primal (first) Fire Club!

Experienced first fire practitioners make it look easy. It’s like they have secret pyro powers.

Not really. The secret to success with friction fire depends upon detailed attention to three things:

  • Materials for the bow drill set
  • Crafting details on the bow drill set
  • Technique and practice

There are no magic formulas for friction fire. The key is to find wood in your area that swallowed fire and practice the fundamentals persistently. I’ll offer suggestions on wood characteristics that work in our Georgia woodlands.

Gathering Materials

Not every tree will give up fire. Of course, as soon as I make that statement, some determined soul will demonstrate a bow drill fire with Osage Orange. For those new to friction fire, look for fast growing trees with dead but not rotten limbs. If your thumb nail leaves a slight depression in the wood, you’ve found a good candidate.

However, the easiest “cheat” is to stop by a lumber store and buy a kiln dried 1 x 4 cedar board. Also pick up a 5/8 inch poplar dowel rod while you’re there… or carve a spindle from the cedar board. Take them home, craft your set, and practice on your back porch or yard.


Our son’s first friction fire on the back patio with store-bought wood

Soft wood is more porous and is often found in lowland areas near water. Seems like a contradiction that water-loving trees have swallowed fire. Porous soft wood actually acts as an insulator to retain heat to help the charred dust reach ignition temperature during the friction process. Ignition temperature is 800ºF, give or take, depending on the fineness of the dust particles.

Here are a dozen trees and plants you can coax fire from:

  1. Tulip Poplar
  2. Cottonwood (roots work as well)
  3. Cedar
  4. Sassafras
  5. Basswood
  6. Pine – you may have been told that resins in pine prevent friction and cause a polish to form instead of dust. I’ve made friction fire with pine wood. It can be done. White pine may be the best pine wood for friction fire.
  7. Sycamore
  8. Yucca
  9. Mullein
  10. Mimosa
  11. Buckeye
  12. Willow (roots too)

In my woodlands, my favorite bow drill wood comes from the Tulip PoplarThis species drops lower limbs as it reaches for the top of the forest canopy. Fallen limbs often are hanging off the ground dry on undergrowth. You can also toss a line over dead, bark-less limbs and yank them down. If at all possible, I avoid limbs in contact with our humid Georgia ground.

Crafting Your Bow Drill Set

To begin, here’s the terminology I use for my bow drill set…

  • Hearth Board – a slab of wood placed on the ground which is notched to receive the friction from the spindle. This junction is where the magic happens. (AKA – “fire board”)
  • Spindle – a straight, cylindrical piece of wood of even thickness, carved or naturally straight, fashioned into a pencil-shape with an eraser end and a pointy end. (AKA – “drill”)
  • Bearing Block – a piece of bone, antler, rock, fat lighter’d (self-lubricating), hard wood, glass bottle bottom, knife handle divot, or any number of item used to hold the pointy end of the spindle in place while bowing. (AKA – “socket”, “hand hold”)
  • Bow – a slightly curved, inflexible dead branch (hardwood) which reaches from arm pit to fingers.
  • Bow String – non-stretchy cordage which secures at both ends of the bow with enough slack to receive the spindle. I’ve found real  tarred bank line (not the Wally World stuff) grips the drill very well.
  • Welcome Mat – a small piece of bark, leather, thin shaving of wood, or any other material available which is placed under the hearth board notch to catch/welcome the charred dust and protect the baby ember.

I’ll be explaining the process of building the set in the order listed above. However, you’ll need to make the spindle before you can finish the hearth board. So skip around the sections as needed.

Let’s build a bow drill set…

Hearth Board

With a round piece of wood, split it down with a cutting tool so that it measures about two fingers across, index finger to thumb deep, and long enough to place your foot to hold the board securely on the ground.

Tulip Poplar split to make a hearth board

Tulip Poplar split to make a hearth board

Now you’re ready to carve a pilot hole on one end of the board. Since I’m right-handed, my instructions can be flipped for any lefties reading this.

Place the eraser end of the spindle near the right end of the hearth board with about 1/4 inch of the hearth board showing to the outside edge of the spindle. Use the tip of your knife to start a pilot hole where the center of the spindle was placed on the board. In a drilling motion with the point of your knife, cut in a dimple that will accept the eraser end. The dimple should be about the same size as the spindle diameter and about an 1/8 inch deep.

Down-N-Dirty Tip: To help seat the spindle in the divot, leave a small 1/8 inch point in the center of the eraser end. This way you’ll only have to drill a matching 1/8 inch hole in the hearth board with the tip of your knife. I picked this tip up from Joe Mobley, a friend and friction fire savant. His channel is linked below under Additional Resources.


I like my spindle to be 10 to 12 inches in length. I’ve found this length saves my posture and back when bowing.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

This spindle is about as long as my Mora Companion

The spindle diameter can range from index finger size to thumb size.

Carve one end to a pencil point. This pointy end has less surface area resulting in less friction in the bearing block socket.

Carve the friction end into the shape of an eraser. I chamfer/bevel the edges of the eraser edges. This will be the business end where the friction heats the board and creates an ember. Try to use wood from the same tree for both the board and spindle. Rubbing wood together from the same tree gives good traction and grinds dust evenly from the spindle and hearth board.

Both the spindle and hearth board can be made from one limb. Carving the spindle this way will require more whittle work though. If available, use a straight stick to save time and energy.

Bearing Block

My favorite hand hold is on my Red Barn Forge knife. It offers a ready-made socket for the spindle to sit while bowing. However, I don’t always carry that particular knife in the woods.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft |

Notice the socket in the middle of the handle

Many bearing block options are available to you in the woods. A split piece of hardwood can serve as a bearing block by cutting a dimple into the flat side. The dimple needs to be large enough so that the pointy end of the spindle will not wallow out and hit the sides of the dimple causing friction. You want little to no friction on this end of the spindle. Lubricate the bearing block dimple with crushed, green plant material, ear wax, facial oil, chapstick, or Fixin’ Wax if you have some.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

Antler, cupped dime, and epoxy makes a great bearing block. Put a dime over a 9/16″ socket and squeeze the round end of a ball peen hammer into the dime with a vise.

I’ve used my char tin lid, broken beer bottle, rock, and my canteen cup as a socket. Pad the top of thin metal with a bandana to prevent heat transfer to your hand.


Find a dead but strong curved limb about the length of your outstretched arm. Carve a notch in both ends of the bow where your cordage will be attached.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

The butt end of this bow is notched so the cordage can be leveraged with the tag end wrapped around the handle notch

Attach a length of cordage to the top of the bow in the freshly carved notch. Run the other end to the bottom and secure in the other notch. Feed the pointy end of your spindle between the cordage and bow and twist the drill into the rope. If the spindle flies out of the cord, try using both hands. Brace one end of the bow on the ground and the butt end against your waist/pelvis. This will allow you to use both hands to load the spindle into the bow.

The spindle should snap snuggly into the cordage with the spindle to the outside of the cordage with the pointy end facing up when the bow is horizontal.

Burn In the Hearth Board

Again, these are instructions for right-handers.

Place the hearth board flat on dry ground. Kneel down with your right knee on the ground and place your left foot on the board about an inch from the pilot hole on the board. Your right thigh should be near perpendicular to the ground and in line with your left foot.

Load the spindle into the bow. Place the eraser end in the pilot hole divot with your left hand and hold it steady. Sit the bow on the ground and hold the spindle with your right hand. Place the bearing block on top of the spindle and grab the bow with your right hand. This may seem like overkill, but I’ve seen many beginners who needed three hands to get their bow drill ready to go.

Before you begin bowing, brace your left wrist against your left shin when the spindle is in the pilot hole. The drill should be perpendicular to the board. Catch your breath and reflect for a moment on what you are about to create from nothing.

With the spindle braced against your left shin which is vertical over the hearth board, start moving the bow back and forth in a slow, controlled sawing motion. Use the entire length of cordage and not short strokes. Be sure to keep the bow moving horizontal over the ground. The bow string should be at a height just above your left boot, shoe, or bare foot as it spins the spindle on the hearth board.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

A blurry Jamie Burleigh, Lead Instructor at The Pathfinder School, burning in his hearth board at the 2014 Blade Show

Continue this controlled bowing until you’ve burned in a ball and socket joint where your spindle and hearth board meet. In plumbing terms, the male end (ball) has successfully mated with the female end (socket). The resulting hole should look like a dark, circular pie.

Slice the Pie

Now that you have a round pie hole burned into the board, you need to cut a slice out of the pie. Score the outside edge of the board as if you were cutting the pie in half. This score mark will be the center of your slice of pie. Move to the right and left the center mark about a 1/4 inch and begin cutting into the center point of your pie hole. Rocking motions with your knife help cut across the wood grain.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

The socket on the right burned through the hearth board during bowing. On the right, a new hole burned in and notched.

The notch or slice of pie should be a 45 + degree wedge cut almost to the center point of your pie. Take your time and make the notch walls as smooth as possible. This notch is where the charred dust will collect while bowing.

One additional tip. Chamfer the bottom of the board’s outside edge an inch or so on both sides of your notch. This allows extra air to flow to the dust pile. Fire needs air, fuel (dust), and heat (friction) for ignition.

Bowing Technique

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of prepping your tinder material before you start bowing. A double handful of your finest, driest tinder should be prepared before bowing begins. Nothing kills your primal fire enthusiasm like working to create your first ember and then have it fail due to marginal tinder prep.

The Beginner's Step by Step Guide to Bow Drill Fire Craft ~

Jamie’s left arm is straight relieving the work load from his forearm and upper body

Place the hearth board flat on the earth with the notch facing towards you or away. Either position is fine. Place your Welcome Mat under the notch. Load your spindle into the bow and assume the same stance used to burn in the hearth board.

Crouching over the set with your chest resting on your left thigh will cause your left arm to bend and require more forearm exertion to place pressure on the socket and drill. Keeping your back straight allows the left arm to be extended while anchored to your left shin. Increased pressure can be applied by leaning your bodyweight forward saving your forearm.

Grip the bow with your right hand and begin smooth, long strokes. Your heating the “ball and socket” joint only at this point. Smoke will begin to appear and thicken. Speed up the bowing and apply more downward pressure on the drill.

Charred dust will accumulate in the notch and spill onto the Welcome Mat. When the collected dust begins to smoke, stop bowing. Congrats! You’re male and female connections have created a baby ember!

Don’t celebrate yet. Keep your foot on the board and gently remove the spindle and set it and the bow aside. Hold the board in place with your hand as your remove your foot so as to not disturb the baby ember.

Tap the top of the board lightly to loosen the dust from the notch and lift the board away from the Welcome Mat. No need to rush. The baby ember will smolder and eat the charred dust as its first meal. A few fanning motions with your hand will make it glow and weld the dust together.

Carefully transfer the smoking pile of dust and ember from your Welcome Mat to the center of your tinder bundle. Swaddle the ember with the sides of the tinder material with cupped hands so that your precious baby ember doesn’t fall out. Hold the bundle face-high, pucker your lips, and blow through your gently cupped hands as if your were whistling quietly.

Continue to blow until the baby ember ignites the tinder material and you’re holding a handful of burning stuff. Place the flaming bundle under your prepared fire lay, step back, and let it eat.

Now you can give us your best primal scream!

Common Bow Drill Problems and Fixes

  1. The drill flies out of the bow string ~ Fixes: a) the bearing block socket may not be deep enough; b) the pie hole in the board may be too close to the edge or not deep enough; c) your notch is too big – carve a new notch with less angle; d) the spindle is not kept vertical – brace it against your shin vertically; e) the pointy end of the spindle has dulled and should be re-sharpened.
  2. Wobbly drill ~ Fixes: a) brace your wrist against your vertical shin over the board; b) the pie hole in the board is too wide – burn in a new ball and socket joint.
  3. Smoke but no ember ~ Fixes: a) the notch may be too narrow or not deep enough into the socket of your hearth board – widen and deepen the notch; b) moisture may be present in the hearth board – dry it in the sun, or – do slow bowing until you see smoke then rest… repeat this process several times and test the board – or find a dry board.
  4. Smoke coming from the hand-held socket ~ Fixes: a) lube the socket; b) sharpen the pointy end and make sure it is not rubbing on the edge of the bearing block socket.
  5. Can’t blow the ember to flame ~ Fixes: a) you may have marginal or damp tinder – place a fire extender such as char cloth, sooty mold, or 0000 steel wool in your tinder bundle with the ember on top; b) make sure the baby ember hasn’t fallen out of the bundle – it happens.

Persistence will pay off. If you fail, walk away and try another time or day. Keep learning and follow these fundamentals and you’ll join the Primal Fire Club!

If you have questions or need assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Additional Bow Drill Resources:

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there… 

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 13 Comments

9 Ways (Some Illegal) to Catch Fish for Self-Reliance and Survival

by Todd Walker

Outdoor adventures can turn into survival scenarios without warning. If we knew of the crisis ahead of time, we’d simply take steps to avoid it.

But that’s not always possible. 9 Ways (Some Illegal) to Catch Fish for Self-Reliance and Survival - The title of this article mentions two terms, self-reliance and survival, which need to be defined. I want to make the distinction because some of the fishing methods listed are illegal and should only be employed in a true survival situation not to stock your freezer for the winter.

Self-reliance is dependence on one’s own capabilities, judgment, or resources. The opposite of dependence upon others.

Let’s put survival into context…

Survival involves any situation where death is imminent if conditions do not change.

Running out of trail mix on a day hike is NOT a survival event.

Which begs the question… how long can you live without food? Conventional wisdom, which I seldom agree with, tells us about 3 weeks. You’ll eventually have to eat to stay alive in a long-term situation.

In a 72 hour survival scenario, you may be better served to fast and drink water.

But let’s face it, the majority of us will never be in a long-term wilderness survival scenario. But it never hurts to have a few survival fishing tricks in your tackle box.

If you’re not in a life or death situation in the backwoods, you’re simply backpacking, hiking, or camping. Looking at your short-term survival priorities, food is way down the list. However, eating becomes more important the longer you’re not found. And you don’t know if 72 hours will stretch into weeks.

There are also possible events where major disruptions happen or the rule of law goes bye-bye. Practically speaking, learning to legally catch fish now before an event can reduce your grocery bill and build food independence. Eating is part of being self-reliant. If you’re preparing for a disruptive event, hopefully you’ll have a portable water craft, nets, and heavy-duty fishing gear available and ready to go.

Canoes and kayaks are portable.

Canoes and kayaks are portable and maneuverable

In a wilderness survival scenario, you’ve got your shelter, fire, and water squared away. Now you can give attention to that calorie depleted body of yours.

The water’s edge is your first survival fast food stop. All lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams are home to a rich resource of edible aquatic life. Don’t overlook the small stuff. Survivors are opportunists without a picky palate. Fish, large and small, are in the water. You have to convince them to join you for dinner.

Here’s how…

Pack Emergency Fishing Tackle

The ideal situation is to have a fishing kit with you in the backwoods. Fishing line, hooks, and sinkers aren’t going to add much weight to your pack.

I’ve seen many kits in Altoids tins that weigh very little and would serve to procure fat fish. I went a different route. My Cigar Fishing Kit allows me to use the aluminum sleeve as a hand fishing rig. The line is wrapped on the outside of the tube to allow me to cast into the water. However, in a 72-hour survival event, your time and energy would be better spent meeting other priorities than sitting on a bank hoping a fish hits a single hook.

Trapping animals is a numbers game. So is fishing. The more hooks you wet, the better your odds are of eating. That’s why I carry a more substantial fishing kit on longer backwoods trips. My minimalist Cigar Fishing Kit rides along in my haversack… always.

Screw cap taped

My Emergency Cigar Fishing Kit

For a larger fishing kit, include these items…

  • Pack plenty of hooks (30 to 40) in different sizes. Use small hooks to catch smaller fish which can be used to bait larger hooks for the big meal fish.
  • A spool (200+ yards minimum) of fishing line. Spiderwire offers braided (super strong) and monofilament fishing line in many strengths. 10 to 12 lb. line is multitask line.
  • Lead sinkers/weights. Yes, they add weight but are too convenient not to pack.
  • Snap Swivels. Saves time re-tying hooks.
  • Artificial lures and a jar of salmon eggs… when digging/finding live bait is not an option.
  • Tarred bank line (#12 and #36). This cordage is in all my kits. It works especially well when setting up multiple hooks.
  • Multi-tool. Useful for removing hooks from fish and too many other uses to mention here.

Fishing Techniques

Warning: Should you decide to use any illegal fishing techniques mentioned, do so for survival purposes only. While I don’t advocate breaking laws, the State’s rules go out the window when your life is on the line. Research your federal and state fishing laws.

Limb Hooks

Locate trees with low branches overhanging the water’s edge near cover. Most fish hang out in cover like weed beds, lily pads, and fallen debris. Casting into cover usually results in snags or lost tackle.

A boat or canoe makes tying limb hooks easier but isn’t necessary. Simply grab a green limb with your hand or a hooked stick and pull it to you on the bank. Tie a line with a baited hook on the limb and easy it back into the water.

For a larger fish, use bank line with a circle hook – my preferred hook for catfish. Setting 15 to 20 of these limb hooks dramatically increases your odds of eating and frees you to attend to other survival priorities.


The idea is to tie a baited line on a floating device. It’s a sad fact that plastic bottles litter our woodlands. Other people’s trash is a survival resource if you develop a Possum Mentality.

One effective technique our neighbor used when he’d fish in our lake was to make a cane pole “jug” fishing rig. He ran a bamboo cane pole through a chunk of styrofoam and tied a line to the pole just to the side of the foam. Bob would bait the hook with a small pan fish and toss the rig into the middle of the lake and continue fishing with his spinning reel. When the pole stood on end, he’d haul in a lunker Large Mouth Bass!


Bamboo “Jug” fishing rig

It’s not likely you’ll find styrofoam and cane poles in the wilderness. However, you may happen upon a patch of bamboo or river cane. If so, cut a 8 foot section of bamboo 1 to 1/2 inches in diameter. Find a larger diameter (2-3 inches) and cut a piece with two compartments in tact. You could also bundle several smaller diameter sections together for the float if larger diameter bamboo is not available.

Lash these sections to the middle of the longer pole and tie on a baited line to one side of the rig. Toss the rig into a lake or pond and forget about it. When a fish takes the hook you’ll know it. The rig will stand on end.

Note: You probably won’t have a water craft to fetch the rig from the water in a wilderness survival situation. Tie a length of cordage or fishing line to the pole to retrieve the rig once a fish is on. Always carry a roll of bank line in your pack.

Trot Line

This method works in rivers and still water. A trot line consist of several baited lines dangling off one long line suspended between two anchor points (trees or limbs usually). Bank line is excellent for this application.

Secure the dangler lines (#12 bank line) along the long line with enough space between each dangler to not tangle under water with live bait swimming on the hooks. Of course, you’ll need live minnows, crayfish, or small pan fish to bait the trot line. You could also use rotting, stinking stuff as bait.

Spear Fishing

Metal fish and frog gigs are available and can be kept in your pack. Just cut a sapling for the handle. However, a down and dirt gig can be crafted from a green sapling alone.


Used about 6 feet of cordage here

Find shallow water and wait for fish to pass by – even snakes and frogs – then spear the critter. Take into account the angle of light refraction when spearing a target under water. It’s not as straight as it seems.

Herbal Stunning Agents

Native Americans and indigenous people around the world have used fish toxins to harvest meals. Common plants used in my area by the Cherokee are Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) and Polkweed (Phytolacca americana). The plant material was crushed and introduced to slow-moving streams or pools which stunned fish and cause them to float to the surface. They were easily harvested by hand, nets, or spears.

How to Build a Cigar Survival Fishing Kit - TheSurvivalSherpa.comHow to Build a Cigar Survival Fishing Kit -

Harvesting Black Walnut leaves

The bark and green husks on black walnut trees contain saponins which fish intake through their gills and stunning the fish. The same goes for Polkweed berries and leaves. Research your local plants to find which plants were used to stun fish.


You don’t pack gill nets or seine nets in your backpack probably. However, for long-term self-reliance, nets are a proven method of catching fish for large numbers of people. Store away a few for emergency food procurement.

Circular cast nets have weights on the outside edge that is thrown and used to catch bait fish in coastal areas. In the hands of a skilled net caster, a cast net can harvest a bucket of fish in no time.

Blast Fishing

Using an explosive device to stun or kill fish for easy collection is illegal for sure. It also destroys and disrupts other life in the ecosystem. A small M80 (small stick of dynamite) will stun and kill fish in a pool of water. Survival use ONLY.


This method is used to attract fish to easy food sources. You’ve likely seen it used as an attractant on Shark Week. It’s like feeding ducks at the park. Word spreads because fish love an easy meal.

Rotting animal flesh, insects, worms/grubs, or fish guts can be cut into small pieces and scattered into the water. This technique works best when done on a regular routine. You may not have this luxury in a short-term situation. Drop a baited hook into the chum area to increase your chance of snagging a fish. Or you might even catch a turtle.

Again, before using these proven fish catching techniques for long-term self-reliance, do your due diligence. For survival, do what you have to do to stay alive.

You got any survival fishing tales? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network. P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Economic Collapse, Gear, Preparedness, Self-reliance, SHTF, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Bombproof Fire Craft: 8 Unorthodox Fire Resources Hidden in Your 10 Piece Kit

by Todd Walker

If you haven’t had a chance to read Part I of our Fire Craft series, I recommend that you start here.

8 Unorthodox Fire Resources Hidden in Your 10 Piece Kit |

You depend on your “Next Fire” kit in all weather conditions. It’s your go-to resource for building sustainable, repeatable fires.

But here’s the thing…

You can never have too many fire resources!

Get creative with your 10 Piece Kit and you’ll discover many items are hidden fire resources. As a refresher, here are the 10 Piece Kit items:

  1. Cutting tool
  2. Combustion device
  3. Container
  4. Cover
  5. Cordage
  6. Cotton bandana
  7. Cargo tape
  8. Cloth sail needle
  9. Candling device
  10. Compass

The second C above has “captain obvious” written all over it. Combustion equals fire, right?. But the beauty of the 10 C’s of Survivability is that each piece should have a minimum of three uses to help meet the following survival priorities.

Having the knowledge and skill to use these resources creatively in fire craft might end up saving your life.

8 Unorthodox Fire Resources

Know the capabilities of the resources within your kit. This takes Doing the Stuff  to build Self-Reliance with your gear. No need to tell you this but UPS will not deliver skills to your door step.

Here’s how to use items in your 10 piece kit as a fire resource, excluding your orthodox combustion devices of course.

#1) Cutting Tool

A high carbon steel knife doubles as a flint and steel set. Simply find a rock harder than the knife steel and strike down the spine to scrape tiny metal shavings off which oxidize quickly and spontaneously combust.

Plus, your cutting tool can craft primitive friction fire sets to create an ember which ignites a tinder bundle. There’s too much a good knife can do to list here.

#2) Container

Metal containers can be used to char material to make next fire easier. Place 100% natural cloth or plant tinder in the empty container and place it in the fire. Be sure to seal the lid with a metal nesting cup or flat rock that will starve the process of oxygen. When the smoke stops coming from the container, remove the container and let it cool before opening the lid.

Test the charred material to see if it will take a spark from a ferro rod or flint and steel set. If not, your char material is not cooked enough. Repeat the process.

8 Unorthodox Fire Resources Hidden in Your 10 Piece Kit |

Also makes a mean cup of hot cocoa!

A sturdy stainless steel container can also be used to carry burning coals for a couple of hours if the need ever arose. I personally carried a cup of coals in my SS nesting cup for two hours while constantly blowing the coals to keep them alive… and then built a fire with what was left to boil 64 ounces of water. Not bragging, just letting you know the capabilities of a good metal container. Try that in a Nalgene bottle.

#3) Cordage

This item can be made from material off the landscape. However, it’ll take some skill, considerable time and energy. Carrying commercial cordage in your kit allows you to have sting for a bow drill set to make fire.

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

Bow and bow string

#4) Cotton Bandana

This kit item has so many uses. In fire craft, a 100% cotton bandana or even pajamas makes excellent char cloth to help ensure your next fire.

Here’s a thought though…

There are too many other valuable uses for a bandana than char cloth if suitable plant tinder are available for charring. Charred plant tinder will be part of this Fire Craft series… stay tuned.

#5) Cargo Tape

Duct tape, like bandanas, have crazy amounts of survival uses. One being it burns like napalm.

Loosely roll a two foot section into a ball. Now light the tape with an open flame, if you have one, and it will burn for several minutes to ignite tinder and kindling. Very useful as a fire extender to dry damp tinder material.

Caught without a Bic lighter or other open flame ignition source, rip 1/8 inch strips from a one or two foot strip of tape (I assume you remembered to pack your best ferro rod). I’ve found Gorilla Brand tape to be the bomb. It’s more expensive but you get what you pay for.

With every strip, you’ll notice hair-like threads hanging off to create surface area. We’ve already discussed the importance of surface area in tinder bundles – see Part I of the series. When these narrow strips are piled loosely into a bundle, you can achieve ignition with a good ferro rod.

Here’s one of our video demonstration of this technique:

#6) Candling Device

When choosing a flashlight or headlamp, it’s wise to choose a torch powered by standard AA batteries. Even AAA batteries will work as an ignition source. I also have a cool little LED camp light that snaps on top of a 9 volt battery that I keep in my pack.

To achieve ignition with batteries, we need to move past the 10 piece kit. Steel wool is not a part of the 10 C’s of Survivability. However, as a cleaning and tool maintenance item, make it a habit to pack a bit of AAAA steel wool. You can find it at most any paint or hardware store.

Each AA or AAA battery has 1.5 volts. That voltage alone will not achieve ignition with steel wool in my experience. Daisy chain two batteries, head lamps and flashlights usually have at least two, by taping the junction of a positive and negative end together with Gorilla tape.

Now tear off a small strip of steel wool (1/16th inches or smaller) just longer than the two batteries. Fray the ends of the steel wool strip to create surface area. Hold one end of the steel wool to the negative pole. With the other end, touch the opposite pole while simultaneously touching a small batch of steel wool which will ignite and can be added to a tinder bundle. Steel wool is an excellent way to ignite marginal or damp tinder material.

For those that know me, I love to enjoy a fine, organic dark chocolate. The bars I buy are wrapped in foil. The foil can be used as a conductor if steel wool is not available. See, another redundant use for chocolate bars.

#7) Compass

Your compass is a source of solar ignition if you have a quality base plate compass with a 5x magnifying lens. I invested in the Alpine Compass before I attend the Basic Class at the Pathfinder Learning School last year. The magnifying lens on this compass will create embers on char cloth via solar ignition all day, every sunny day.

8 Unorthodox Fire Resources Hidden in Your 10 Piece Kit |

My instructor, Brian Manning, explaining details on my Alpine Compass

Now we’re officially out of the 10 piece kit. But here’s a bonus… my 11th C of Survivability which I’m never without in the woods.

#8) Cocoa Powder

Hot cocoa! The key word being hot. To make a hot cup of this luxurious, energy drink, you need fire.

And cocoa powder can give you the assist in your next fire!

Here’s how make Fire by Cocoa

[Note: I carry 100% raw cocoa powder not the Swiss Miss packets. I’ve not tried the pre-packaged hot chocolate mix full of sweeteners with solar ignition.]

Place a small dime to quarter size amount of dry cocoa powder on a “welcome mat” (leaf, leather or wood chip) as you would when creating an ember with a bow drill set. Whip out your magnifying lens or quality compass on a full-sun day. Align your lens perpendicular to the sun’s rays so that it focuses the solar energy in a tiny, burning spot on the pile of cocoa. You’ll begin seeing smoke rise from the cocoa in a few seconds. Hold the magnified sun spot steady for 30 to 60 seconds.

Remove the lens and watch the smoke rise from your smoldering ember as it grows in your cocoa pile. Transfer the ember onto a finely processed natural tinder bundle and blow the ember into flame.

Our quick video tutorial shows you how to start a fire with cocoa powder:

By the way, you can achieve solar ignition with dry coffee grounds and tea in the same manner.

After placing the burning tinder bundle under your kindling, boil some water in your stainless steel container, add the desired amount of cocoa powder (sweeteners optional), and enjoy.

Fire from cocoa for hot cocoa! One of the many unorthodox methods of fire craft.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Bombproof Fire Craft: Build a “Next Fire” Kit that Cheats Death

by Todd Walker

Of all the outdoor self-reliance skills, fire is king. Many will argue over my statement.

Bombproof Fire Craft- Build a -Next Fire- Kit that Cheats Death -

You know fire is life out there! No one can deny its usefulness as a survival tool.

Here are my reasons it tops the list of wilderness survival skills…

  • Potable water via boiling for hydration – essential for Core Temperature Control (CTC)
  • Cooking  (especially hot cocoa)
  • Create charred material for your Next Fire
  • Fire hardening wooden weapons/tools
  • Burn and scrape wooden containers
  • Wilderness clothes dryer
  • Making pine pitch glue, straighten arrow shafts, bending wood, etc., etc.
  • Smoke for preserving meat
  • Hygiene – take a smoke bath to kill bacteria on skin and clothing and repel insects
  • Making medicinal concoctions
  • Emotional camp comfort and defense against uninvited wild visitors
  • Illumination
  • Hypothermia’s antidote (CTC)
  • As a southern Chigger magnet, the fact that smoke drives these tiny biting mites out of debris shelters is reason enough to make fire my #1 wilderness survival resource in the South. If you’re not personally familiar, they can cover your body with red, itchy welts that can drive you to the brink of insanity!

Fire is even a survival tool in modern homes. The crackling oak logs in your fireplace, the blue pilot light in the furnace, even your electric hot water heater and night-light in the baby’s nursery makes fire indispensable to every home.

To the modern mind, access to fire’s life-sustaining value is automatic. Press a remote for endless hours of TV entertainment flowing from coal-burning power plants.

Unfortunately, fire is not automatic in wilderness survival.

For this reason, and the chigger thing, your Next Fire kit should contain at least three different ignition sources to help you build a sustainable fire.

Ignition Sources

Bombproof Fire Craft- Build a -Next Fire- Kit that Cheats Death -

Plant tinder and ignition devices going clockwise from 12:00: Cottonwood inner bark, Tulip Poplar bark, Horseshoe Fungus, Flint and Steel w/ Char tin, Magnifying Lens, curls from feather sticks, and in the middle is Fat Lighter’d shavings, Gorilla Taped Bic Lighter, and Ferro Rod.

Depending purely on primitive combustion methods like a bow or hand drill is reserved for primitive living experts or backyard bushcraft practice sessions. Failure is always an option with friction fires. Heck, even modern ignition sources doesn’t guarantee fire in all conditions.

I’ve listed the advantages and disadvantages for the items in my Next Fire kit. Each device is easy to use with practice.

A) Bic Lighter (Open Flame)


  • A new Bic will give you thousands times more open flames than a box of kitchen matches. A wet match is useless… well, except for picking your teeth.
  • Submerge a Bic and it can be back in service within a minute or so by blowing the moisture off the tiny ferro rod striker.
  • Easy to use. Even a young child can use a lighter (Tip: always remove the child safety device from Bic lighters in fire kits to make them easy for you and a child to use in an emergency).
  • Even an empty Bic is a useful combustion device. More on that later in our School of Fire Craft series.

Tip: Wrap Gorilla tape around the lighter and you have a built-in tinder and fire extender – a walnut-size ball of duct tape will burn over 10 minutes.


Use a carabiner to attach the duct taped lighter to your pack

Note: I only use matches for specific fire challenges. They are not a part of my Next Fire Kit.


  • It’s difficult to monitor the fuel level unless the housing is clear like the cheaper, rectangular lighters. I only carry Bic lighters.
  • Extreme cold will kill a Bic. Warm it in your arm pit or crotch to get the butane flowing again.

B) Ferrocerium Rod (Spark Ignition)


  • Scraped with a sharp flint shard, broken glass, or a 90º knife spine, 1,500º F to 3,000º F sparks spontaneously combust to ignite tinder material.
  • Sparks even in wet conditions.
  • The average outdoors person will never wear a ferro rod out.
  • Can ignite many tinder sources, even non-charred material.
  • Beginner skill level needed to learn to use one.
  • For more info on ferro rods, click here.


  • They are consumable.

C) Magnifying Len (Solar Ignition)


  • Beginner skill level. Ever drive ants crazy with one as a kid?
  • Ignites different tinder materials.
  • Saves other ignition devices on sunny days.
  • Self-contained – no assembly required.
  • Never wears out. Always protect your lens from scratches and breakage.


  • Depends on sunshine.

D) Sure Fire – Not an ignition device but…

I consider this item essential to every Next Fire kit!

InstaFire: Lights in Wind, Rain, Snow, and on Water!

InstaFire burning in the creek! No toxic chemicals in this sure fire.

I carry commercially made chemical-based sure fire starters as well as DiY sure fire. There is no such thing as cheating when it comes to making fire in an emergency scenario. Practice primitive but prepare modern!


  • Works with spark ignition or open flame.
  • Burns several minutes.
  • Burns when wet.
  • Easy to ignite.


  • Sure fire is never a disadvantage.

D) Flint and Steel (Spark Ignition)

This primitive method may seem outdated or useless by some but I include it in my Next Fire kit because options in fire craft make us anti-fragile.


  • Lasts virtually forever.
  • Any rock harder than the steel can drive sparks from the steel.
  • That same rock can be used on the spine of a high carbon steel knife to ignite charred material.
  • Intermediate skill level. Easy to use with prior practice.
  • For more info on flint and steel, click here.


  • Sparks in the 800º F range – significantly less than ferro rods.
  • Charred material or specific un-charred plant tinder are needed to catch sparks.

E) Charred Material

Partners with flint and steel but is works with solar ignition and ferro rods.


  • It only takes a spark to create an ember. Works with solar ignition too.
  • Easy to make and use – even without a metal container.
  • Any natural material (cloth or plant tinder) can be charred.


  • Must be dry to use

With the exception of the magnifying lens and flint and steel, the other devices mentioned are modern. I’m bypassing friction as an ignition source but will cover the basics of ancient fire craft later in this series.

None of the ignition devices, modern or primitive, will build a sustainable fire without a proper pyre (pronounced the same as fire) – a.k.a. fire lay.

No matter how you construct your pyre, these common denominators must be present for a fire to grow.

Like all living things, fire must eat to live.

The Meal Plan for Fires

Mistakes I’ve made and seen others make when practicing fire craft, even with open flame ignition sources, were more times than not due to poor preparation and taking short cuts. This is especially true with primitive methods. With only a small ember to ignite a tinder bundle, choose the most finely processed combustible natural material available.

The following three-meals-a-day analogy may help you feed your next fire.

Breakfast: Tinder

This meal is truly the most important meal in a fire’s life. To help the flames rise and shine, feed it what it loves… a hearty helping of fluffy, dry, dead plant material.

We eat grits for breakfast in the south. My Yankee friends eat other disgusting mush.

Like food, tinder varies by locale. Your job is to spend time Doing the Stuff to test different plant tinder and find the best local breakfast to feed your fire.

Plant tinder, when processed or broken down to create surface area, will accept a spark or small open flame from a match or lighter to produce fire. In the eastern woodlands, the Piedmont region of Georgia in my case, we have an abundance of plants and trees which can be processed (shredded) down to create tinder the size of hair stands.

It’s all about the surface area!

Some of my Georgia favorites I’ve had success with are…

  • Tulip Poplar inner bark
  • Red Cedar bark
  • Cottonwood inner bark
  • Fat Lighter’d, fat lighter, lighter wood, non-Georgia natives call it fatwood (resin-rich dead pine stumps, knots, and limbs) – more fat lighter’d info here. Make a quarter-size pile of lighter’d shavings with the spine of your knife to create the Breakfast of Champions for any fire!

Fat lighter’d shavings lit with a ferro rod

  • White fluffy stuff – cattail heads, dandelion clock, and Bull thistle gone to seed are a few flash tinder that flame up quickly and should be added to other substantial tinder material for longer burn times.
Bombproof Fire Craft- Build a -Next Fire- Kit that Cheats Death -

Flash tinder (Bull thistle)

  • American Beech leaves die and hang around on branches well into spring just before new growth appears offering months of easy-to-reach seasonal tinder material.
Live Wild Where the Pavement Ends

Beech tree leaves

  • Pine needles – dead pine needles crushed and rolled (processed) in your hands will create nice bundles of tinder material. Look for mounds of pre-processed pine needles on roadside curbs courtesy of vehicle tires. Collect them and practice your backyard fire craft.
  • Dry grasses (flash tinder) – I like to use broom sedge to form a tennis racquet shape with a handle to hold my finest tinder material. A word of caution on grasses in humid climates like Georgia… they tend to hold moisture. Harvest grasses that have died naturally and are as dry as possible.
  • Black Sooty Mold – I first discovered this fire extender on American Beech trees and found it will take a spark from ferro rods and produces an ember via solar ignition. Click here for how to find and harvest this fire resource.

Lunch: Kindling

Nothing is more discouraging than watching your fire consume all its tinder and not eat the next meal… kindling. Your fire was hungry but didn’t like what you offered for lunch.

The best bet is to feed your fire the smallest and driest twigs available. This material is called “smalls” for a reason. Collect pencil-lead size to pencil-size material. The smaller the surface area the faster it reaches combustion temperature. If you have fat lighter’d or other resinous wood available, by all means, process it to use for kindling.

Post #500: The One Stick Fire Challenge

One 2 inch stick of poplar made this: L to R: Thumb, pencil, pencil lead, and bark tinder

If “smalls” are not available or rain-soaked, create them by splitting a larger stick or limb with your cutting tool. You’ll find dry, combustible wood inside larger dead wood. Click here for a tutorial on creating a One Stick Fire.

Now practice it in the rain…

Dinner: Fuel

After eating lunch (kindling), feed your fire progressively larger fuel. Finger-size up to the size of your wrist tops off your fire’s diet. Your fire will let you know when it is ready to eat more fuel when flames being licking up and through the pile of kindling. Add too much too soon and you’re in danger of choking the fire. Heimlich maneuvers must be performed to free air passages to nurse the fire back to life.

Fire loves chaos and randomness. However, fuel should be laid, not thrown, on top of young fires. As it grows and matures, kick back and let it eat.

Bombproof Fire Craft- Build a -Next Fire- Kit that Cheats Death -

Remember… fire is life out there but never automatic!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Made by Hands: Make it or Buy it?

by Todd Walker

Made by Hands: Make it or Buy it? |

My blogging buddy, Patrick Blair (Survival at Home), is credited with the idea for this post. He recommended I share all my DiY stuff in one photo. Haha… that’s a challenge which would take a wide-angle camera lens.

Instead, I thought I’d share some of the stuff I’ve made over the years in hopes of inspiring others to make their own.

We promote skills over “shiny object survival” gear around here. But honestly, I’m a gear junkie as much as the next guy. We’re members of a tool-using species!

Man is a tool-using animal. Nowhere do you find him without tools; without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.

~ Thomas Carlysle


There’s more to self-reliance than just buying gear and tools though…

It’s about making your own and living this philosophy… Prepare modern but practice primitive.

Could the 10 C’s of Survivability be reproduced in a 72 hour survival scenario?

Yup. However, specific skills, resources, and time are needed, which may be hard to come by. So, Buy it… but learn to make most, if not all, of these essential kit items.

  1. Cutting tools – Unless you’re a very talented craftsman or artisan, I recommend buying the best knife, ax, and saw you can afford.
  2. Combustion device – Learn to make primitive fire via friction and flint and steel. Flint or quartz can be used on the spine of your high-carbon steel cutting tool to light charred material. You carry a next fire kit, right?
  3. Cordage – Finding natural resources suitable for cordage expends calories. Making indigenous cordage is a good skill to learn though. I practice making cordage because I enjoy primitive skills. If you don’t, buy cordage for your kits.
  4. Cover – A USGI poncho or emergency space blanket doesn’t weigh much and can be found for under $20. I hammock camp with my bed sheet tarp but carry an emergency space blanket I purchased.
  5. Container – You must stay hydrated. Yes, you can make containers from the landscape but a metal container gives you anti-fragile options!
  6. Cotton – Never made it… buy this item for sure.
  7. Cargo tape – Practice making natural glues but buy and keep Gorilla Brand duct tape in your kits. If it can’t be fixed with duct tape…!
  8. Cloth sail needle – My metal repair needle is mounted on the back of my primary knife sheath with Gorilla tape. Primitive needles or awls can be made from bone, but, again, time and resources area factors.
  9. Candling device – Buy a quality head lamp that takes “AA” batteries. I carry a candle and have made fat lighter’d torches and oil lamps but a flashlight is too easy to pack.
  10. Compass – Navigation is the primary use for a compass. If that’s all your compass can do, you should consider buying another one. My multi-functional Alpine compass can also be used for combustion, signaling, self-aid, and tick removal.

Even if money isn’t tight for your family, there’s no better satisfaction than using gear made by hands… your hands!

Today is a celebration of making the stuff of self-reliance. Click the title links in the photo essay for details on how to make your own stuff.

Made by Hand

Below you’ll find DiY projects in two broad categories: Outdoor Self-Reliance and Homesteading.

Awesome photo courtesy of Connor M. Lamoureux on Instagram (adventureconwards)

Awesome photo courtesy of Connor M. Lamoureux on Instagram ~ adventureconwards

By the way, if you’re on Instagram, give us a follow at… ToddatSurvivalSherpa.

Make tag
Buy tagor



How do you know when it’s best to Make it or Buy it? Skill level, tools and equipment, space, time, and resources are determining factors on which project to tackle. The ultimate goal of making stuff is… making us more self-reliant.

What kind of person are you making?

Outdoor Self-Reliance

Wool Blanket Hunting Shirt

100% Wool Blanket = Awesome Hunting Shirt

My hunting shirt made from an Italian wool Army blanket

Oilskin Bed Sheet Tarp


DiY Hands-Free Ax Sheath

How to Make a Hands-Free Ax Carrying System |


Outdoor Cooking Tripod

How to Build a Bushcraft Tripod for Your Outdoor Kitchen


Mountain Man MRE’s (Pemmican, Parched Corn, and Dried Fruit)


Smoke house teepee

Fixin’ Wax

A Simple Fixin' Wax Recipe for Fixin' Stuff

Tree Bark Archery Quiver


Base Camp Sawbuck

How to Build a Sturdy Sawbuck with Logs and Rope -

Primitive Process Pottery

Making Containers from Primitive Process Pottery -

Brian Floyd, our main instructor, made a tasty stew in one of his pots for lunch.

Wooden Spoons

Spoon Carving with an Ax |

Making Containers from Primitive Process Pottery -

Blowing through a section of river cane to burn the bowl of my spoon

Char Material for Your Next Fire


Embers on charred punk wood

Waterproof Fire Starter


A door hinge pin chucked in my drill

Pine Pitch Glue Sticks

How to Make Primitive Hot Glue Sticks |

Fat Lighter’d Torch


Natural Cordage

When Primitive Skills and Prepping Have Sex |

Indigenous cordage I made this weekend. Clockwise from 12:00 ~ Dogbane; Tulip Poplar; Okra, and Yucca.

Base Camp Stump Vise

Make a Stump Vise for “Smoothing It” Camp Projects |


Sling Shot Bow

A DiY Survival Sling Shot with Big Game Capabilities

A DiY Survival Sling Shot with Big Game Capabilities

Duct Tape Arrow Fletching

Ducttapevanes6 - Copy


Cigar Fishing Kit

Screw cap taped

Screw cap taped

Altoids Tin Oil Lamp

30 Ultimate DiY Gifts in Santa's Survival Sleigh

DiY olive oil lamp

Survival Gig


Used about 6 feet of cordage here


Compost Tumbler


30 Ultimate DiY Gifts in Santa's Survival Sleigh

DRG’s elevated compost tumbler

Rain Collection System



It’s not camo paint, but it blends in very well in the front yard.

Tomato Ladders

Todd's Tomato Ladders |

Four Tomato Ladders anchored and ready with an old wooden ladder on the far left.

Pallet Fencing

Up-cycled pallets, windows, and doors.

Up-cycled pallets, windows, and doors.

Rat Trap


Paper Fire Logs


The wet fire log ready for drying

Farmhouse Table

Pipe clamps putting the squeeze on the 2x6's

Pipe clamps putting the squeeze on the 2×6’s

Foldable Sawbuck

Sawbuck: Work Smarter in the Woodpile

Sawbuck in the woodpile!

Battery Storage Rack

Attention Men: Pinterest is a Prepping Goldmine

Power at your finger tips

Self-Watering Container Gardening 



Rendering Tallow

Almost ready.

Almost ready.

Homemade Sauerkraut

Get Your Gut In Shape: Down and Dirty Sauerkraut

Plumber’s Stove

How to Make a Plumber's Stove on Steroids for Cooking and Warmth |

Cedar Bench

Here she sits outside my shop

Here she sits outside my shop

Plantain Salve


This tin fits nicely in my haversack

Being a student of self-reliance, my expertise is limited in making a lot of the gear I own. However, it’s good enough to get the job done. For instance, the bed sheet tarp has been through extensive field testing and has performed like a boss!

Then there are DiY projects I’ve tried that failed miserably. The journey to self-reliance depends on failing forward.

Your turn. What’s your favorite gear or equipment you’ve Made by Hand? Let us know in the comments.

Keep Making the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Gear, Herbal Remedies, Homesteading, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival, Survival Skills, Water | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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