Fire making is a skill that you need to learn and then practice. Although I've started plenty of camp fires, every so often I like to try something a little different to see if it's something I can use. For example, my Marlin 336 has an Eagle Industries Stock Pack on the butt, inside of which I carry a small cleaning kit, a 35mm film canister filled with cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly for use as tinder, and a Swedish Fire Steel. The latter is a ferrocerium rod and steel striker, which can be used to throw a shower of sparks. Someone recently suggested that the Ballistol in my cleaning kit might work as a fire starter, something I wanted to try out.
Here's what I gathered in my backyard to do a little experimenting:
On the left are some large sticks to use as fuel. Then my Becker Combat/Utility 7 knife, tomahawk, Ziploc containing the cleaning kit, tinder and fire steel, then some small sticks for use as kindling. I wound up not needing the tomahawk. The Becker worked well to shave down a bunch of fuzz from the large sticks, and to split them so the inner dry wood was exposed.
Here's the pile of wood shavings ready to go. The white thing in the middle is a cleaning patch wet with Ballistol.
My hope was to use sparks from the fire steel to ignite the Ballistol-soaked patch, which in turn would ignite the shavings. No dice. It simply would not light. This demonstrates that while something might seem like a good idea in theory, it won't necessarily work in practice, and one should have a backup plan.
My backup plan is the fire starting kit kept in the pouch on the Becker's sheath. It's a small Altoids tin with some strike anywhere matches, and some PJ-soaked cotton balls. The wood shavings were thin and dry enough so that I didn't need to use a cotton ball. One match was all it took to get the shavings burning nicely. I then added sticks about as big around as a pencil, and once they were burning I added thicker wood. Here's my fire after it was burning for a little while:
As you can see, I filled the Spaghettios can with water to see how long it would take to boil. Only a few minutes, as it turns out.
While I was experimenting out back, my four and a half year old daughter Alexandra came out, so I was able to teach her about camp fires. We even put the fire out with water, then rebuilt it using one of the PJ-soaked cotton balls as tinder.
It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours.