Attempting to make fire was fascinating.  As a child, when first watching cartoon cavemen whip up flames from thin sticks on lazy Saturday mornings, I recall thinking, “That’s impossible!”  The Southern survivalists on Youtube made it look easy, but I was suspicious because their videos involved cut scenes between embers and actual fire.  Trying it myself proved to me how truly difficult it is.

Our class was supplied with cedar planks, some simple cutting tools, sticks, dried brush, and faux leather.  My group carved holes for the stick in two planks: one plank was the base with a groove to channel hot sawdust toward a pile of kindling, the other plank fit onto the stick from above to help create friction and stability.  We were elated by our quick ability to create smoke, but apparently where there’s smoke, there’s not always fire.  We took turns rubbing our dowel until we blistered our hands without producing a single ember.  We briefly tried to make a bow with the faux leather, but it kept falling apart and didn’t work well.

Now, I like camping and bonfires, so I have made a few fires before, but modern technology definitely makes the process much easier.  Usually my friends and I can get a fire going in about 15 minutes, depending on how windy it is and whether we have lighter fluid.  The hardest fire I’ve actually succeeded in making was a campfire using only kindling collected from the rocky hills of Catalina and a fire starter that shot magnesium sparks.  This took half an hour or so.  An hour and a half was insufficient time to succeed using the ancient method.

The great, single-minded determination and persistence it must have required from ancient humans to invent and succeed with this method is amazing.  I think we might have more success using a bow, which would reduce hand trauma and increase the rotation speed and consistency of applied friction.  For now though, I’m going to continue keeping waterproof matches and a lighter in my first aid kit.


~Sam Cadwell


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