Category Archives: Bushcraft Fire

Methods of Ignition Bushcraft for kids and Fire

Cramp Balls, King Alfred's Cakes

Methods of Ignition – Bushcraft for Kids and Young at Heart

There are various methods of ignition for a fire all of varying degrees of complexity. Being able to light a fire is an essential skill when learning Bushcraft.

When learning a skill for yourself or teaching a skill to a bushcraft kids it is important that you put safety first followed by having fun. As you will have read in previous posts, I believe that young children can learn to light a fire and use various methods of ignition. The important thing to remember is to keep it within their ability. For example friction fire can be challenging for an adult. Trying to get a bushcraft kids to use friction to start a fire will make them frustrated due to failure and that will lead to boredom. It is often good to show them other methods as a demonstration, but remember only ask a child to do something they are capable of being successful at when teaching methods of Ignition for a fire.


Methods of Ignition.

  1. Friction Fire
  2. Sparks
  3. Electrical
  4. Compression
  5. Solar
  6. Chemical


Before going into this list let’s look at the most popular of all methods of ignition when lighting a fire, matches. (With matches I also mean lighters.)

Some people will argue that if you are practicing bushcraft you should be using methods of ignition other than matches. Firstly I would say learn the basics of lighting a fire and practice, practice and practice. There is no point in learning various methods of ignition if you can’t build a fire using a match. Once you are competent at that and teaching a bushcraft kids to do the same you can move on to other methods of ignition.

Even when you have become competent at collecting tinder and kindling you don’t need to learn other methods of ignition. If when you go out you have matches with you it is okay to use them. There are no rules saying you must know six different ways of starting a fire. On some occasions you may be short of time and using matches will be the logical way to go. However I am sure once you have got to grips with the basics you will want to learn more. If you have bushcraft kids to teach they will want to learn other methods and be shown them.


Friction is one of the earliest methods of ignition that has been used to light fire. This is usually pieces of wood or bamboo being rubbed together. This is a method that needs an article of its own. There are various methods that all take practice to master the technique needed to light a fire.


In recent years there seems to have been an increase in this method. There are two methods of ignition usually recognised with this section.

  • Ferro-rods
  • Flint and Steel.


These are the most common method and often seem on survival programs. The sparks from this method of ignition are more intense and hotter than the traditional flint and steel. This is relatively easy to use and from my experience bushcraft kids love using them. A word of warning when children get hold of one of these they naturally start striking it making sparks. Depending where you are this could be dangerous and a fire risk. I usually set a rule. No making sparks until you are instructed to.

The tinder that can be used with the Ferro-rods is wade and varied. Most fine fluffy or fibrous materials will ignite with this method. Remember to have enough tinder to nurture the small flame to a flame that will burn the kindling you have collected.

Flint and Steel.

This technique is a very traditional method of ignition that most people have heard of. Ferro-rods and flint and steel are often confused as one method. They are two separate methods and the flint and steel takes much more practice. The sparks are much smaller and the heat produced is much less. The tinder available in the field is much less than there is to use with a Ferro-rod. You are limited to things like Cramp balls, King Alfred’s Cakes. These also need to be very dry.

Cramp Balls, King Alfred's Cakes methods of ignition

Fire tinder Cramp Balls also known as King Alfred’s Cakes


You will usually find Cramp Balls on dead Birch trees.

To check if these are dry they should feel light as if they are polystyrene.

Other than that you are best carrying some charcloth. You can find how to make this on ànother post. Charcloth is basically what it says. It is dry partly burned natural fibres.


This is one of the methods of ignition that bushcraft kids love to see and learn. Here are two methods I teach.

You need a 9volt battery and a thin conducted.  There are two readily available things first fine wire wool and the other is the paper chewing gum used to be wrapped in. I say used to because a lot isn’t wrapped in this now. It is usually the traditional flat pieces of gum. The paper is foil on one side and paper on the other. First let’s look at the paper.

Flatten the paper out then you want to tear it so it is wide at the ends and as this as possible in the middle. A similar shape to a hour glass. Then you just hold the wide ends on the battery terminals. Be prepared the paper will ignite very quickly.

The wire wool works in the same principal. Take a small amount, experiment to find the amount that works best for you. Thin the wire wool out a bit and hold the ends over the terminals of the battery. You will see this start to glow and burn very quickly. So you need to have your tinder and everything else ready to light your fire.


The wire wool can get hot and there is a risk of burns. The wire can also burn very quickly. As with any situation when fire and children are involve take care and take all the necessary precautions.


This is one of the methods of ignition that can be difficult. It uses a compression pistol. I have seen these made but usually you would purchase a purpose built one. It is basically a tube which is in two parts. You put a piece of charcloth inside then you push the tubes together as quickly as possible causing as much pressure as possible. This action causes a small spark, this will then ignite the charcloth.


Solar methods can have the obvious limitations, those being you need sun. There is the obvious method most schoolboys have tried using a magnifying glass or similar lens. The other item is a special piece of kit which is inexpensive. It is a shiny concave plate which has a piece of wire set in the middle to hold some tinder. The tinder is held at the focal point off the concave plate. The plate is the held or placed so the sun shines directly onto it. The sun’s rays are then focused onto the tinder setting it a fire or creating an ember. This is then nurtured to ignite a tinder nest and then kindling.


This is one of the interesting methods of ignition. It fascinates children. The method I explain here is also mention in the article about Potassium Permanganate. By mixing this with various other chemicals you get oxidisation. This causes fire. It is probably one of the most commonly mistaught method. It is often said that mixing glycerine with potassium permanganate with cause the reaction. Then you try and wonder why it doesn’t work.

The reason is the reaction only takes place over 70 degrees Celsius. So in some countries you don’t stand a chance. The easiest way to correct this is to use brake fluid instead. Just a small amount on the purple powder will do the trick. Ensure the Bushcraft Kids are stood well back. Initially it looks like all you have done is make a dark coloured mess. Give it a little time and it will start to smoke the burst into flames. There are other tricks you can use to ensure you get enough heat and flame. Mix some magnesium with the potassium permanganate.

Practice making the reaction, then start putting the powder on a tinder nest. To do this you are best putting a small piece of cloth, paper or similar piece of flamable material so the powder doesn’t just fall through the bundle and be wasted.

All methods of ignition should be practiced until you understand them and can perform them. Then start teaching your Bushcraft kids. Remember fire can be dangerous, but if done safetly can be taught to bushcraft kids. It is a good way to teach responsibility, respect, patience and confidence in a way often shied away from

Tinder and Kindling – Bushcraft for Kids

Tinder And Kindling Essential For Fire


You will find building a fire and fire lighting techniques in other posts. This post is just about the materials needed to start a fire. You are going to need two types of material. These are Tinder and Kindling

Having the right tinder and kindling can make, or should I say will make the difference between fire or no fire. Choosing the right material is the difference between success and failure.


You can make a game for bushcraft kids of collecting tinder and kindling. It can simply be who can collect the most tinder or Kindling, or the One Who collects the most different types of Kindling. Whatever way you decide to play it with the kids, never forget to ask questions. Try asking what is that? What makes it tinder, good tinder, kindling or good kindling? You will be surprised at their knowledge and how they absorb new information. But you will also be surprised at what adults can learn from children. Not being limited by our restricted views they can often be innovative and find solutions we don’t think of. I am getting off track, back to tinder and kindling.



What are Tinder and Kindling?


Before we start looking for tinder and kindling it is important to understand what it is and why we need it. That allows you to improvise and find tinder and kindling in the environment you are in. Some Tinder and kindling come from specific plants, others are from improvisation. Knowing the job they are needed to perform means you can look for them and be able to light fire.

First thing contrary to the belief of many people tinder and kindling are nit the same thing. They both have their own role in lighting a fire. So let’s look at them individually.


Tinder is easily described as “any substance that will easily ignite when starting a fire.” It is a material that is extremely combustable.  I would say tinder will ignite with a spark or a glowing ember. So it can be ignited by a single match, a spark from a flint and steel or an ember from using a friction method of fire lighting. Once lit tinder needs to burn hot enough and long enough to ignite the kindling. It is the most important material when it comes to lighting a fire.




Kindling is usually less flammable than tinder. It will burn In contrast, kindling is slightly less flammable than tinder. However it will ignite easier but burn less intense and a shorter duration than larger pieces of wood, that would be the main fuel for a fire. You use kindling to get a fire going. Kindling Burns long enough for larger pieces of wood to start burning and your fire to become established.

Kindling is the intermediate material that takes the initial burning tinder to becoming an established fire

Getting the best Tinder.

When you go out and start collecting tinder you need to be aware of moisture. Due to the nature of tinder moisture can make it useless. Tinder is often fluffy or very fine fibre and very dry. It isn’t necessary fot tinde to be wet and saturated to be useless. High levels of moisture in the air can mean the tinder absorbs enough water, so it wont ignite or burn long enough to burn your kindling.

So planning can be important when lighting a fire especially if you are going to be collecting the tinder from outdoors. If you know you are going to be lighting a fire later in the day keep your eyes open for tinder. There is nothing worse than it getting later in the day and you cant find what you need to light a fire. If you collect tinder throughout the day you also need to be careful where you store it. You need to keep it dry but if you put it in some pockets the moisture from sweat can be absorbed by the material or stop it drying out further. Also don’t put it in plastic bags this too can effect drying and moisture levels. So collect the driest tinder possible throughout the day and put it in an outer pocket.

Manmade and Natural Tinder

When it comes to selecting the best material for tinder, I will discuss the topic from two different angles. The first is what you can bring from home or what is manmade and will work well as tinder. Secondly what you can find in the wild that will make good tinder.

So now you are ready to start collecting tinder. There are two categories of tinder Manmade Tinder and Natural Tinder.

Manmade Tinder

Manmade Tinder is what you can buy, sometime make, or improvise making outdoors. There are many things that are available around the house that can be used as tinder or made into tinder. The obvious one most people think of and use is paper. However it is not the best Tinder and not suitable for using a flint and steel. (It might work but there are better forms of tinder.)

• Dryer lint

• Cotton balls (coated in Vaseline if possible)

• Tampon fluff (from all-cotton tampons)

• Pieces of rubber, tyres etc. I don’t like using things like rubber. Poisonous gases et. If nothing else it can make you ill. Especially if you are up close blowing on it. (Last resort)

• Lint from cotton socks

• Feather sticks

• Char cloth

• Wetfire (a synthetic fire starter)

• Pieces of cotton, material shredded to make fine fibres.

Petroleum jelly is a great thing to carry with you. It has many uses. One is putting a bit on cotton wool or cloth fibre can help make good tinder into super tinder.


Natural Tinder

It is good to be able to source Tinder from the natural environment around you. The only real issue is damp. Even if it is wet around you there are some tricks that will assist you to have usable tinder.

I have included a list of some natural tinder that you can use. This is not the only tinder just an example, use you imagination and get the Bushcraft Kids to see what they can find. Some item

  •  Birch bark
  •  King Alfred’s Cake
  • Pinecones (smaller, lighter ones)
  • Old Mansfield Bear
  • Dry cattail leaves
  • Shaved wood
  • Dry grass
  • Very tiny twigs
  • Fluff from cattails
  • Dry pine needles
  • Dandelion fluff (seeds)
  • Milkweed fluff
  • Fatwood
  • Bird down
  • Husk from hornets’ nest or beehive
  • Straw


TIP. I was told if it is thinner than a match and dry and flammable it can be used as tinder.



Natural Kindling

Kindling is larger than tinder, and is used to get a fire going and making the transition from a small flame burning tinder to a full fire burning fully size fuel. The purpose of kindling is that it is small enough to catch fire from the burning tinder and large enough to burn for a suitable temperature and length of time for the fire to become established. Putting Fuel wood (large wood) on to kindling to soon will also smother the flame It is also less likely than larger fuel wood to smother the small flames of the tinder and kindling.

Kindling generally is wood. Preferably a soft wood as it Burns quicker. However following these simple rules.

Start with wood that of approximately the maximum width of a pencil. This can be sticks you find or if you have a knife or axe you can cut them.

You should be able to break kindling with your hands. If you can’t it is too thick to be kindling and you risk you fire going out.

Before starting your fire I suggest grading the wood. Especially if you are new to bushcraft and or fire lighting. Put the wood into piles starting with your pencil thick sticks and have a few piles of sticks that get thicker. You don’t need lots of pile. Just a few so that your fire grows and you don’t risk making a big leap in the size of wood and your fire goes out.

When building a fire you need patience and it is good to teach your children the importance of patience. Whether it is bushcraft, survival, nature or everyday life this is important.


I often use this phrase when I work with Bushcraft Kids. “Slowly, Slowly Catchy Monkey” kids find it amusing, but it helps them remember.

Practice making fire, using different tinder, kindling, fire lighting techniques and different styles of fire. As you teach your Bushcraft kids and they become more confident you can give them more tasks and responsibility to get a fire started. Fire is amazing and everyone loves a camp fire. It is a great thing to spend time with your children or a group of children. You will see them learn skills, build confidence, have time to talk, laugh and enjoy time together.





Building a Fire – Bushcraft for kids

Building a fire with kids is fun and a great way to introduce kids to fire in a safe controlled environment. When you decide to start building a fire with kids there are many things that they can learn. The first thing though should be “The Rules.”

Building a Fire With Kids…The Rules

It is good to decide what you want to get out of building a fire with kids. But the rules need to ensure “Safety” that is the safety of the kids and you.

Here are some of the rules I set.

  • There is a circle that no one enters without my permission.
  • Nothing is put on the fire without you giving permission
  • Everyone does what you say immediately
  • No one touches any fire lighting equiptment unless they are doing something with me.
  • Everyone site at the edge of my fire circle when I am doing something with an individual.

This is just a selection of the rules I use. It is your kids or your group. Safety is the priority when building a fire with kids. When I work with a group of bushcraft kids I have strict rules. I explain to the group that the rules are there because the get to do activities other kids don’t.  To be able to do these activities I have to know that they will do what I say when I say it. Bear in mind they are children and will test boundaries and be children.

You Are Ready To Start Building

A Fire With Kids.

  1. To start off you will need a place to build your fire. Make sure you have permission to light a fire and it is a suitable place.
  2. First clear the area you want to build the fire plus at least 30cm to 60cm so there is no risk of anything around your fire accidentally starting to burn.
  3. Enclose the area. Stones are good for this, ensure they are not porus. These will explode when they get hot and can be very dangerous. Another alternative is to use thick logs to mark the edge and contain the fire. The final option is to dig a hole to put the fire in. You will find a post with different types of fires in our other post. These may effect what you do to enclose the fire. TIP.  Have sufficient Tinder, Kindling and Fuel to start the fire prepared before you start. This can be a great help being prepared incase you struggle finding dry materials on the night. When you are building a fire with kids try and guarantee  success.
  4. You will need to collect Tinder, Kindling and the main fuel for your fire. This can be a great activity for the Bushcraft Kids.  You can split them into groups and send them out to find suitable materials. When they come back they can explain why they chose the materials they did. Alternatively send them out as a group for each material on three excursions. When building a fire with kids break down each stage don’t send them out for each material all at once or you will end up with a pile of rubbish. TIP. TELL THEM YOU NEED LOTS AND LOTS SHOW THEM HOW MUCH YOU NEED OF EACH MATERIAL.
  5. Now you have collected the materials you can start preparing the fire. If the floor is damp you may want to put a flood of wood at the base to assist in lighting the fire keeping it away from the damp. I recommend getting into the habit of making a tinder nest to start the fire. This is a collection of tinder that looks a bit like a birds nest. Do not make this to small. This is a common mistake people make when building a fire in general. Not just when building a fire with kids.

Building a fire with kids Tinder nest for Fire lighting

Tinder nest for Fire lighting

  1. Place the nest in the center of the fire place. Light the nest. Once this is burning start putting Kindling on the burning nest. Gradually add more Kindling to the fire. You may need to blow lightly on the nest to provide extra oxygen. If the environment is damp blowing on the fire may put it out. An alternative is to waft your hand near to the flame to encourage it along.
  2. When the Kindling is burning well and you have added more you can start adding some more firewood. Some people add large pieces straight away and the fire quickly goes out although they are doing all they can to keep it alight. Remember…slowly, slowly catchy monkey.
  3. When the Kindling is burning put slightly thicker pieces of fire wood. Patience is the important skill when lighting fire. It is better taking a little longer to get the fire going in one go and learning what the fire needs to get started.

You can get the kids involved in building a fire at all stages. The more you in get them involved in nurturing the initial flame. The more they will gain. Not just in learning new skill but lifeskills like patience.

You need different types of fire for different purposes. Building a fire with kids can give you an opportunity to teach your child or group of children other skills like cooking and keeping warm safetly.

After Building a Fire with Kids.

The final thing is teaching the Bushcraft kids is how to put a fire out safetly.

The best rule is to always leave the site as you found it. Firstly you need to put the fire out if it hasn’t gone out naturally.

first move any burning items away from each other. Spread the ashes out as much as you can in the fire area. Planning the fire is important so you should have let the fire start burning down slowly on its own accord. You can then start helping it along.

Next, idealy you need to soak the fire. Alternatively smother it with sand. Always be careful when smothering a fire if you use wrong materials it can smoulder and burn underground. In areas of peat you should be careful when dealing with fire.

When there is no smoke you know the fire is out.

Then put the area back to how it was , or as near as possible to what it was like when you arrived.

Building a fire with kids is great fun for everyone. The kids love it. When they have learned about building a fire they can learn so much more. Methods of lighting fire, types of tinder, cooking methods. Making pots, keeping warm in a shelter.

Building a fire with kids is an activity kids should learn early in life. Not just because of the skill but it teaches respect and patience. It is an opportunity to teach them why we tidy up after ourselves. The list goes on. 

Have fun with the Bushcraft Kids.

Kids and Fire -Bushcraft for Kids

There are two things I always get asked about when I talk about bushcraft / Survival skills for children. They are knives and fire. In this post I want to briefly talk about fire. Kids and fire is often avoided. It doesn’t need to be kids and fire can be fun and safe.

Kids and Fire.

Fire is obviously something that can be dangerous. Burns are horrible injuries which can be very painful. I found this out first hand many years ago when I offered to burn some conifers for a neighbour after they had cut them down. I set everything up and went to light it with a match and it exploded in my face. My neighbour had painted the fence with some sort of creosote. They had left the remaining creosote outside. I thought the smell was from the nearby fence. I wasn’t it was in the pile of conifers I was to put a match to. The injuries were to my face and hands. My son at the time was about 5 years old. He visited me in hospital, he looked at me and asked where his dad was. My face was so swollen he didn’t recognise me.

The lesson is take care and take all the precautions you can.

Plan and be Safe.

My thoughts on most areas of bushcraft is that you can do them with the correct planning, preperation and technique.

There are two questions to ask before you start.

  1. What is the child capable of achieving alone and with supervision?
  2. Is it safe and what can I do to reduce risk?

What is the child capable of achieving alone

and with supervision?


At different ages children are capable of different things. They are developing their fine motor skills.  They are developing their conversation.

So when looking at kids and fire you need to think about what are they able to do? Initially you will naturally shy away and think that young children can’t do anything other than collect fire wood. From my experience they can achieve much more. But young bushcraft kids and fire need somethings demonstrating at a safe difference.

Don’t rule out activities for young bushcraft kids just because they are young. Think of ways of letting them be hands on. This helps their confidence soar and they also begin to learn taking risk is good as long as the risk is minimised.

Is it safe and what can I do to reduce risk?

Obviously safety is a priority. No one wants anyone to take unnecessary risk. Especially when it involves bushcraft kids and fire. Once you have a list of activities think about what you need to do to minimise risk. For example I might not let a child use wire wool and a battery because the risk of being burned is to high. But with the correct gloves it suddenly becomes safer. There are ways of making things safe if you want to do something with kids and fire.

Take a look at some of our suggested activities for kids and fire.

Remember children are often capable of much more than we appreciate it is down to us as parents or group leaders to minimise risk and maximise the experience and Adventure for the Bushcraft Kids.