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Advice on wood drier / burner from can?
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b d
(bdavis) - F

Locale: Mt. Lassen - Shasta, N. Cal.
Advice on wood drier / burner from can? on 12/16/2006 17:23:17 MST Print View

Today, I have been working on a light weight can trying to use it as a wood drier/ fire starter. My first contact with BPL was when I was studying which kind of stove to buy: canister, alcohol, pump and burn or otherwise. So this is an example of continuity of something.

The overall goal is to be able to create a fire with damp, or even wet twigs / wood, leaves, grasses, pine needles, etc. in the fall, winter, spring wet conditions at about 4500 ft. elev. And, without firestarter other than a 5" x 4" piece of newspaper. I keep thinking of the charcoal briquette starters that put newspaper in the bottom and it smolders or ignites and then starts the briquettes.

Monster can fire starter

I took a Monster Energizer can and cut the bottom off. Then, with my camping knife I put some holes in the bottom and lower side.

First, I tried to put newspaper in the bottom and then some pine needles from the ground, pieces of twigs and bigger pieces over the newspaper. (Trying to use the newspaper to dry and start the pine needles, and then the wood pieces.) It almost worked but kept going out or smoking and then dieing down.

Next I put two holes in the side to slip in a pronged piece of grill that I had left over from another project. The idea was to create a platform to lift the pine needles and wood pieces up so there was more air able to get in. The pronged piece is in the pictures below. There were two sets of two small holes poked in the side of the can, opposite each other so I could slide in the pronged piece.

Monster can from top, with pronged insert

That worked better. But still it would not start damp wood, or not start it well enough to really get a fire going.

Then I dripped some candle wax onto a strip of newspaper, put it in the bottom of the burn area in the can, then some regular newspaper, then some pine needles and finally some damp twigs, etc. That partially worked and got going pretty good, but it still died down too soon to really get other damp wood started.

Finally, I used the wax on a strip on newspaper and newspaper placed under the pronged piece + I added some local sage (which always seems to burn really well in the dry part of the year), then some newspaper over it and pine needles, also damp and picked up off the ground. This time I put in two small pieces of dried wood from by the fireplace inside, since I was getting cold in the 24 F air, and was consternated by burning my fingers and my new top.

That actually started, burned, and I was able to put old pine cone "feathers" into which were damp, but drier than on the ground because I took them off the back porch. That burned and a fire kept going as long as I fed it.

Monster can with wood on top

In the process I managed to burn my fingers and a hole in my new wool top. But it was worth it. I got to play Edison for my camping technology, burn my fingers, and put a hole in my new top baselayer -- but my thumb fits through the hole so maybe that makes it worth it -- since now I have a thumb hole to keep the cuff over my hand (in the picture of the bottom of the can).

So what I am wondering is: does anybody have any ideas on how to make a small, lightweight can bottom work to start up a fire by drying pine needles and small bits of damp wood from out in the forest (like I will find when hiking) or some other natural material and be able to with some certainty start a fire? Here are some pictures to go with this:

Monster can burning in Bushbuddy

Monster can bottom, with hole in my sleeve

Edited by bdavis on 12/16/2006 18:28:37 MST.

Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
Drying "Wet" Wood... on 12/19/2006 10:33:30 MST Print View

b d,

Often, your best bet in wet conditions is to attempt to use slightly green rather than truly wet tinder. By "slightly green" I mean stuff that hasn't fallen off the tree yet but is still somewhat dead.

With a little knife work, though, even wet stuff on the ground can yield some ready tinder.

Regardless, you're going to want to use something other than dry newspaper as your firestarter under these condidtions, if you're trying to dry things out (note with good fire building / knife-based tinder harvesting skills, a square waxed paper could work). Dry newspaper simply does not have much BTU/weight and doesn't burn well (especially in wet or semi-wet conditions, if it's humid enough it can actually absord water from the air).

Someone (on these boards or another) recommended an 'upgrade' of the tried and true boyscout classic - cotton balls + petroleum jelly. Adding a 'wrapping' of single layer of aluminum foil helps them burn longer and allows you to use them without mess (and utilize a larger jelly to cotton ratio). I tried it last night with our boy scout troop and it really is a beneficial upgrade. A handful of these would be crazy light and plenty cheap. Add to that the technique of 'once you get your fire going, use it to dry out some tinder for the next day' and you'll be in business.

PS - Alternately, a similar set up designed to fit over a tea-light candle (tea-light candles burn for a crazy long time), might allow you to dry tinder readily.

Edited by jdmitch on 12/19/2006 10:35:37 MST.

b d
(bdavis) - F

Locale: Mt. Lassen - Shasta, N. Cal.
Re: Drying "Wet" Wood... on 12/19/2006 10:51:19 MST Print View

Joshua M,

Thanks for the tips. Your info re: BTUs in newspaper is entirely consistent with what I experienced, now that you bring it to my attention.

It was about 26 F outside and not snowing but the newspaper, which was kept under the porch roof the entire time, seemed to get colder and clammier as I spent time working on this (a couple or few hours). Also, the paper did not burn easily, like it would indoors when dry and starting up a fire in the woodstove. When it did ignite it would not burn hot or fast compared to when it is dry. So your explanation fills in the gap in my knowledge and experience: newspaper gets cold, sucks water out of cold air or attracts moisture, and it is not producing much heat so the experiments trying to dry and ignite damp wood picked up from the ground did not work.

As you mention, I did learn that even very wet dead and down wood 1/2" to 1" in diameter had a bit of dry wood at the center, or drier anyway on the side of the center that was not next to the ground. That drier center wood would burn if I got enough heat under it.

So if I get time in the next week I am going do the cotton ball, petroleum jelly, and aluminum foil thing and the wax paper thing using samples of wood from the ground, twigs and leaves from frozen sage, green cedar needles/leaves, and wood that is dead but still on the tree (working on cutting away the dampest outter parts firest).

The cotton ball + petroleum jelly makes sense, like a small oil lamp or alcohol lamp in effect with the cotton as a wick and the jelly as the fuel and the aluminum foil as the lamp body. Great idea the more I think about it.

PS - I was going to try a tea candle, but it just seemed to easy. I weighed one, it was .5 oz. Not bad for the length of time they burn. Thanks again for the tips.

Edited by bdavis on 12/19/2006 10:58:55 MST.

Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
More on "green" tinder on 12/19/2006 11:13:54 MST Print View

b d, I also added forgot to add one thing, if you're willing to stick your hand back inside any evergreen, you might be surprised at the surplus of untouched-by-rain, super-dry, dead-brown needles you can grab closer to the trunk (I'm no botanist, but I think the needles die because they don't get any sunlight) even during the middle of a rainstorm. The only down side is you almost always get a few pokes in the arm and hand from the live needles.

If you climb under the tree, there are often mounds of the stuff at the base (if the tree is large enough).

It's a source the boys in the troop I work with never remember to check for tinder.

Edited by jdmitch on 12/19/2006 11:15:20 MST.