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Bonfire Masterclass

 

Wood is not just wood. Different types burn differently and for this reason they are used for different purposes. Usually, not all types are available in the surrounding area, which makes it good to know different wood types. 

 

  • Beech and oak catch fire slowly, but provide warmth and embers for a long time
  • Juniper and fruit trees burn well and provide great embers
  • Pine and spruce work well for kindling, but do not give a lot of embers
  • Birch catches fire easily and burn with great flames, but don’t provide a lot of embers
  • Basswood and alder ignite quickly, but they also burn out fast
  • Willow is not suitable for campfires

 

Two of the most common campfire types are a pyramid fire and a campfire pagoda. They are good campfires for beginners, as they are relatively easy to build and can be used for various purposes. The pyramid fire is known as a flaming fire, where light wood such as birch, spruce or pine are used. It is important to note that coniferous trees often release small embers and sparks, when burning. This is due to the heated pockets of resin, which burst and can make small holes in fleece sweaters, synthetic jackets or sleeping bags. The pyramid fire works great as a warm campfire, as it burns with great flames and in the evening the flames also light up the camp. It can therefore be used to create heat, cook water and other things. If you only have to use the heat from the flames, and not necessarily the embers, the importance of the wood isn’t that great. If you, on the other hand, have to use the embers, in a pagoda fire, it certainly matters which type of wood you use. The pagoda type bonfire is designed specifically for embers. It burns for a long time and hard wood such as beech, ash and oak are best used for this type of fire. The pagoda fire is great for baking or grilling, as the embers do not burn and soot the food, as a pyramid fire would have done.   

 

Types of wood

 

If there is not already an established campfire spots, dig up some turf with a spade and put it upside down. By putting it upside down you can water the turf if it is dry. It is important to gather a lot of firewood, before kindling. Starting a fire requires both a great amount of patience and time. In the construction of both a pyramid fire and a pagoda fire, the tinder plays a vital role. Birch rind, dry grass, juniper bushes or spruce cones work well as tinder. The pyramid fire is built in a pyramid shape with easy flammable tinder as the inner layer followed by thin sticks or wood shavings. The third layer is fuel wood pieces standing upright, leaning on each other. Once the kindling is set up over the tinder, ignite the tinder with a match or a long lighter. Toss more tinder into the fire as it produces heat and gets larger. Once the tinder and kindling catches and is burning well, you can add more kindling and larger pieces of fuel wood to keep the fire burning. A small pyramid fire is also used as kindling in the middle of a pagoda fire. When building a pagoda fire, you build a small pyramid of tinder. The construction is the same as the pyramid fire. Start with thin sticks and kindling and then some larger wood pieces. Around the small pyramid fire put firewood in pairs on top of each other, in the shape of a pagoda. It is important that the fire in the kindling process has the right oxygen supply. Don’t build the fire too dense. When blowing it is a good idea to blow from below and from the sides to add oxygen. 

 

 

Safety - Fire regulations

Fire safety precautions are important to articulate and familiarize yourself with, when experimenting with campfires and open fire. General precautions when making a fire:

  • Show respect
  • Keep a distance to people and tents or tarps
  • Remember plenty of water 
  • Always extinguish a fire before leaving it

Show consideration for nature and others and keep a safe distance to the fire. Plants and flammable materials must not be near open flames. Pay special attention to wind strength and wind direction when establishing a fire. It is important to bring water with you, so that a small fire can be extinguished quickly. ALWAYS put out a fire when leaving it. Pour water on the fire and make sure all embers are extinguished. If you do not have more water on the campsite, you can alternatively spread the fire with a stick. When the fire is spread, wait until the fire no longer smokes, because then are no more embers left. If an accident occurs and somebody gets a burn, the burned skin should be cooled with lukewarm water (10-20 degrees. Always remember to bring a telephone with you in case of an emergency. If there is a person on fire, stop drop and roll. Stop running, drop to the ground and roll around. Smother the fire with water, a blanket or a jacket. 

 

Use of knife, saw and axe

An axe, a saw and a knife are important tools when making a fire. A knife can be used to carve wooden figures or tools, but also to cut small wood shavings for kindling. The safety rules for using a knife are elaborated below:

 

Always cut away from yourself
Sit down when you cut, because in that position you have the best control over the knife. If the knife slips you would not cut in yourself.

 

Be aware of others when cutting
It is important to keep a safe distance between yourself and other people when you are cutting. Then you are making sure no one else gets hurt.

 

Always sit with legs spread and cut in front of your knees 
By sitting with your legs spread, you do not cut yourself in your knees if the knife slips. Rest your elbows on your knees and think about how you sit best and most safely.

 

Never run with a knife in your hand
The knife must always be closed or in the sheath when not in use. The sheath is the safest place to store the knife when not in use. Never place the knife on the ground or in other places where it may be overlooked.

 

Pass the knife the right way
Always pass a knife by holding the blade with your thumb and forefinger, then turn the blade away from the person receiving the knife. In this way you ensure that the receiver does not cut him or herself.

 

The knife must be kept clean, dry and sharp
The knife must always be kept clean and dry, as this will prevent it from rusting and becoming dull. A knife must never be dull, because then it slips more easily between your hands when you use all your strength to cut.

The saw is an easy tool to use when cutting firewood for the campfire. The safety rules for using a saw are elaborated below:

 

Cut the right way
The first thing that is important to do when you start sawing is to pull the saw gently towards yourself 6-8 times. This creates a print that will help you control the saw. Do not push too hard with the saw but move it back and forth lightly. In this way, the risk of the saw jumping off the print and cutting you in the hand is reduced. By not pressing too hard, you do not use as much force, and instead you let the saw do the hard work.

 

 

Cut the right way

 

Only saw in a piece of wood thicker than your wrist
It is difficult to make a proper print with the saw in a thin piece of wood. The saw will instead jump up and be difficult to control.

 

The piece of wood should lie still
The wood must not be able to move back and forth but must instead be kept still. Keep the piece of wood steady with your free hand away from the blade. If you have a sawhorse available, it can make sure that the working height is right and that the wood does not move back and forth.

 

Never cut in soil or stones
Soil and stones dull the saw and are therefore not suitable for cutting.

 

Hold the saw firmly
By holding the saw firmly, you make sure that it does not slip out of your hand. Hold on tight, but not too hard so your hand starts cramping.

 

How to use an axe
The axe is a heavy and very sharp tool and can be introduced as one of the last things in a campfire course. The axe can be used to split large pieces of wood for the fire. The safety rules for using an axe are elaborated below:

 

Stand with your legs apart
The best position is to stand with your legs apart at a good distance from the chopping block. If the axe should slip, there is little risk of hitting your legs when they are apart. You find the right distance by calculating the length of the axe plus the length of your forearm. Try it for yourself by chopping, without a piece of wood at the chopping block.  It is important that you hit in the middle of the chopping block.

 

Check the head of the axe
Always check the head of the axe to see if it is loose. You check it by grasping the head of the axe with one hand and the shaft with the other. If it is loose, do not use the axe as it can be dangerous.

 

Keep distance
Everyone must keep a minimum of 2-3 meters distance to the person using the axe. This minimizes accidents that can occur if you accidentally drop the axe or if pieces of wood are flying off.

 

Proper footwear
Never use the axe if you are not wearing closed shoes. Open shoes like sandals or flip flops are not suitable, if the axe slips.

 

A good chopping block
A good chopping block is important. It has to be large and be able to stand on its own without moving from side to side. If you can, it is a good idea to dig the chopping block a little into the ground so that it is more stable. Always make a fence around the chopping block, e.g. with a piece of string so you can clearly see the area, and at the same time ensure a 2-3 meters distance to others.

 

Hold the handle
Always hold the handle. If you can’t hold the handle, it may be too large, and it will be better to try with a smaller axe that is easier to control.

 

Look at the wood
Always look at the piece of wood in front of you, and not at the axe. Practice where you are going to hit the wood. Once you have become really good, you will know exactly where the axe hits.