As we mentioned here, you will want to know how to make a fire, even when matches or a lighter are not available to you. This skill can be a lifesaver, especially if you find yourself without matches or a lighter in a survival situation.
What do you need?
You will need a Survival Knife with a carbon steel blade. This is important because a survival knife with a stainless steel blade might not produce the spark you’re looking for. The spark comes from little pieces of metal coming off of the striker or Survival Knife in our case. That’s why we use the backside of the blade and not the cutting surface. Using the cutting surface will make your blade dull. That is also why a stainless steel blade might not work. The harder the steel, the smaller and hotter the pieces that come off will be, making it easier to burn the tinder and get our flame going.
You will also need a strike rod. No, not the kind they used to beat a red-headed stepchild in years past. A strike rod is usually made of magnesium or a combination of steel and magnesium. I suggest you use a string to attach it to your survival knife if the handle of your knife has a hole that you can use, or attach it to your survival knife’s sheath. At the very least a strike rod should be easily accessible in your survival kit.
You will also need carefully prepared tinder. Use your Survival Knife to shave dry bark off of trees, preferably dead tree limbs. Dried grass or the cotton like material behind some tree barks like a cottonwood make excellent tinder. Shape the tinder in to a bird’s nest, this provides the glowing embers some protection from the wind. Try to keep the material as loose as possible. Don’t pack it together like a snowball. Loose material has more gaps where oxygen can feed the flames.
How do you actually make a fire with your Survival Knife?
Clear the ground of debris where you are going to build the fire. Clear an area wider than you need to. Safety is always important. You want to use the fire for warmth and to cook food for survival. You don’t want to see how the U.S. Forest Service trains their firefighters.
Pre Build your pile of kindling, making a tee-pee configuration. Leave yourself a space to place the burning tinder in to the middle of the tee-pee configuration of kindle wood. Try to use the cover of your surroundings to prevent strong winds or rain from directly hitting the site where you plan to build your fire. This will make your job easier when conditions are less than perfect.
Gather your tinder. You want loosely spaced, very fine thread-like shavings combined with slightly thicker shavings. A birds nest type of preparation should work well because it has built-in protection from the wind. If you need to, you can smash thicker bark against a rock to spread out the fibers of the wood. You can use your survival knife to make small thin shavings from bark. Some barks like Juniper or Cottonwood are especially great for tinder but any dry bark should do well. Dried grass can also be used. It isn’t a bad idea to store this kind of tinder in a dry Ziploc bag for future use. The tinder will need to be dry. While you can probably get away with wood or even kindling that isn’t completely dry, you will be out of luck if your tinder is wet.
Place your tinder close to the site you prepared. Place the strike rod slightly above the tinder or lightly touching the tinder and strike the rod with the backside of the blade of your survival knife in a downward motion. This will cause the spark to shoot off the blade and on to the tinder. You can also keep the knife stationary and pull the strike rod down the length of the backside of the blade of your survival knife if you choose. I prefer to leave the strike rod stationary and as close to the tinder as possible, but this is based on preference. As soon as an actual spark catches on the tinder you will need to apply air to your budding fire by blowing gently on the glowing tinder. As the red glow grows bigger, apply more air. Remember you aren’t the big bad wolf blowing down the three little pig’s house.
Once the tinder is hot enough (glowing) or actually has a flame of some sort, carefully move it underneath your pre-built kindling pile. Continue to provide a source of air by blowing directly on to the glowing tinder. Once the tinder is lit to a flame, you may need to continue adding tinder to get the flames high enough to burn the kindling. Once the kindling has caught fire you can continue adding kindling to get the fire strong enough to add small pieces of wood and bigger ones thereafter.
Remember starting a fire with just a Survival Knife and a strike rod can be tricky, even when conditions are optimal. The best thing you can do, is be prepared by practicing. Once you have the skill of creating fire with your survival knife down pat, practice as often as possible. You want to have this skill already mastered when you find yourself in a survival situation. That is NOT the time to learn or practice fire making skills. Practice not only in favorable conditions but try to practice in unfavorable conditions as well. Some windy or damp condition practice will make you a pro in no time, or just cold, wet and frustrated.