The basics of wood combustion

Items to keep you alive in the event you must evacuate: discussions of basic Survival Kits commonly called "Bug Out Bags" or "Go Bags"

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Woods Walker
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The basics of wood combustion

Post by Woods Walker » Thu Jun 22, 2006 12:43 am

This info may be known by most but it couldn’t hurt to review the basic of fire. Here are good firecraft links.

http://www.wildwoodsurvival.com/surviva ... index.html

http://www.aircav.com/survival/asch07/asch07p01.html

Here is link that has wood burning characteristics.

http://zenstoves.net/Wood.htm

Often people think that starting a fire is the only thing that needs to be understood for good firecraft. But learning more about combustion principals and characteristic of wood can go along way to making your fires more efficient. Survival is about efficiency and taking only necessary risks. I won’t go into every fire starting method as this has been hashed over more than the AK-47 vs. AR-15 debate.

1. The fuel.

In general wood can be separated into hard and soft wood. Softwoods tend to be Pine, Cedar and Spruce. Softwoods are conifers and are characterized by having needles year round and cones. Hardwoods are trees with deciduas leaves. They turn all funny colors and drop in late fall. Despite the names hard and soft wood do not always imply the density. Yew being an example of very dense softwood. But in general hardwood is often more dense. There is a near direct ratio between the density of wood and BTU out put aka British Thermal Units. For example Hickory, some types of Maple and Oak are very heavy (dense) and have much greater BTUs than Softwood like Eastern Pine. Softwood does have another component that can’t be ignored. Softwood sap. With conifers the sap is very flammable. It burns like plastic. This is no surprise being a resin. So softwoods will ignite easy and burn hot for a short time until the resin is burned off. The saying that Softwood is used to start fires and hardwood is best to hold fire is very true. Hardwood will burn much longer and coal better. Sometimes if you can find an old stump from a softwood tree that died naturally and was standing for years before it fell the core of the stump may contain FATWOOD. After the tree dies the resin will slowly settle to bottom. If you find a stump take your hatchet and hack away to the core. This wood will burn like OIL. The BTU’s are off the chart. It can ignite anything. I take this fuel and carry it around until needed. A little goes a long way. Softwood tend to spark more than Hardwood. This is an issue for the heated shelter.

Know your trees

http://www.oplin.org/tree/

Here are some leafs from my 3 favorite fuels. The all have good BTUs, Coaling properties and are fantastic for cooking.

Black Birch.

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Maple.

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Hickory.

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2. Location of fire.

Generally your fire should be protected from the wind or with the prevailing wind direction away from you. Setting up your fire so that the heat is directed towards you is a big help. A cliff wall etc acts as a good heat reflector. You can build a fire ring. This takes energy and is often impossible in winter but the reflected heat acts a bit like a wood stove to increase the overall temperature of the fire. This can be a big help with wet fuel.

3. Wet and frozen wood.

Sucks but it happens. Wet wood has the same potential BTUs of dry fuel. The only problem is the water must be boiled out of the wood before it will burn. This takes a great deal of energy. Often wood is wet only on the outside. Take your hatchet (you have one right?) and split the sticks. It can make the difference between a failure or a hot blaze. Once you get the wood burning lay your fuel next to the fire to help dry it out. If you are using a wood stove place the fuel under the stove. Look for standing dead wood. If you can help it avoid picking your fuel off the ground. Break the wood and look for a good grain. Rotten wood has already been burned by bacteria and offers very little heat. It can even make the fire harder to start. Frozen wood is a terror. This happens when you get a radical temperature change. Rainy days followed by a cold snap. Bad news. You must split the wood or it will not burn. This is the time to crack out the fat wood or a healthy amount of Pine resin.

Some split sticks of black birch. After 4 inches of rain the inside of this standing dead wood was mostly dry. If possible carry a hatchet or tomahawk. This tool will earn it's keep.

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Here I am using the heat from the fire to dry the fuel. Some may ask why not toss all the fuel into the fire? There is a saying: The Indian (Native American) sits by a smaller fire to get warm, however the Whiteman makes a blaze so hot that he is driven back into the cold. The classic jumbo blaze is wasteful. There is no purpose to a larger fire than is needed. You become a slave to it always on the hunt for more wood. The Whiteman’s fire has a place at Jellystone Park when you are drinking with friends. Survival on the other hand is about staying alive. The smaller "scout fire" is often enough and burns very little fuel. However if you NEED a bigger fire to raise your core temp than by all means do it

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Here I am using a small Kifaru stove to dry fuel by placing the wood under the stove. The Kifaru small stove weights about 3 lbs and packs down stove and foil pipe to no larger than a medium sized lap top computer. The sticks are black birch. I often save a small amount of dry fuel for the next day if the weather looks unsettled.

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4. Smoke

Smoke is part unburned fuel, dust carried by the updraft and water vapor. If your smoke is pure white then it consists of more water vapor (boiled out of the wood). This is ok. If it has a hint of blue then it means poor combustion. Lots of fuel wasted and less heat.

5. Cooking

You can cook food directly on hardwood coals. Yup just place the meat on the coals after the fire dies down. Nothing is cleaner than a coal. Plus it tends not to stick to the food. Do not do this with softwood fires. Do not cook over the flames of a soft wood fire. I always cook over coals never flames. Softwood resin can make you sick. It is ok to keep food suspended above softwood coals. Side note. A few trees like Laburnum anagyroides are toxic and should be avoided at all costs. Do not use this deciduas tree or any tree/plaint listed as poisonous for cooking. If you get sick just eat some charcoal left over from a fire. Yup not very tasty but can remove toxins and clean your system out. A real lifesaver because you will get sick from diet change and stress in a Bug out.

Here is an example of using hardwood coals to cook some trout. I started with some green black birch. Green is a term for live wood. Using my hatchet I removed the bark and sharpened the sticks. The process can be done with a knife or sharp rock.

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The next step I burned down some Maple to coals and weaved the trout thought the sticks. Then I used a fire ring to support the fish 3 inches above the hot coals.

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Cooked and very good!

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This may all seem silly. When you are drinking beer and tossing wood pallets over a blaze with your friends why care? But survival is not camping at Jelly Stone Park. A good hot clean burning fire can last the whole night and not smoke you out. Poor fuel will kick your ass when you are down. Stumbling in the dark for more wood is ok at Jelly stone but is a big risk in a survival setting. Better to get some good clean long burning fuel a few hours before sun set. Don’t wait until dark. Get the most out of your Fire. Find the best location. You can even use rocks to store the heat. Just don’t take them from a stream etc. Wet rocks can explode. Wrapping these rocks in a towel makes them portable heat. Just don’t burn your hands. Place them up against your kidneys etc. Most of all your fire makes good company. Keeps the night terrors real or imagined at bay.
Last edited by Woods Walker on Fri Jun 30, 2006 11:20 pm, edited 8 times in total.
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Post by Gunny » Thu Jun 22, 2006 10:44 am

Hrm, I'll leave it be.

Hudson, take a look at the Knowledge Base section and submit this article.

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Post by 2now » Thu Jun 22, 2006 12:03 pm

Good review.

My daddy always taught me putting wood in a fire was like good sex. The bodies had to close enough together to use each other’s heat, but just far enough apart so they could still breath. :wink:


It works and is easy to remember and judge when placing wood on a fire.
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Post by Vindex » Thu Jun 22, 2006 12:06 pm

Good post about wood selection, I learned a bit.

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Post by CLEAR CUT » Thu Jun 22, 2006 1:25 pm

I agree about the Feed Article. Flesh it out some more and add a few pictures of those various trees and it's a Winner. Good Job.

That Wildwoods(formerly Tracker Trail) Site is a good wealth of information and it helped me with that Bow & Drill Friction thing.
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Post by DaWookie » Thu Jun 22, 2006 1:28 pm

I especially like the bit about not cooking over soft wood flames. I was something I used to think everyone knew about till I caught a friend doing it at a camping trip one time. This was one of the last people I would have thought that didn't know about this. Which kinda lead me to belive that a whole lot more people don't know about it.

As usual. REALLY good, well structured and thought out post, Woods Walker.

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Post by Woods Walker » Thu Jun 22, 2006 2:06 pm

Clear cut.

Just click on the link:

http://www.oplin.org/tree/name/commonname.html

for a pic of every tree leaf.

Going on a 3 day hike this weekend. I will take some pics of fire cooking maybe some of the best fuel trees. Just have to bring the camera. Was going to use the small packable wood stove for all my cooking but like the flavor of trout cooked over maple coals. Just hope to catch the trout.

If I get the pic I will toss them in the original post.

edit

DaWookie

I know what you are talking about. That is one reason why I put things that seems simple. Not because I think the readers are stupid but maybe some just have never been informed. So much stuff I have no clue about until someone tells me.
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Post by thorian » Thu Jun 22, 2006 3:12 pm

so everytree that drops its leaves is good to cook over?

I did not know that sir. Thanks!
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Post by Woods Walker » Thu Jun 22, 2006 4:22 pm

thorian.

There are a few exceptions. Nothing in nature is 100%. Laburnum anagyroides is toxic and should be avoided at all costs.

http://www-saps.plantsci.cam.ac.uk/trees/laburnum.htm

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/cons ... aburan.htm

Not native to the USA but the problem with people is that they like to move things around so not all the old rules work all the time. It is listed as deciduous. I wish people would stop bringing in exotic plaints etc. I could list the Nile monitor lizard as a dangerous animal of southern Florida. People sometimes do stupid things.

Look over that zen stove link. It has some info on Laburum. I will update the main topic when I get those pics. But you never know what someone will run into. Every plaint and animal on Earth is just a jet ride away to a new home.

Edit.

I just added that to the main feed. Only took me 5 times to add the info :oops:
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Post by theclockwork » Fri Jun 23, 2006 10:10 pm

Thanks for the info, I have heated my home with wood for 26 years, right up untill a 3 years ago and it even taught me a few things.
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Post by Woods Walker » Mon Jun 26, 2006 11:07 am

Back from the camping trip. I rained like crazy. I use all the Firecraft tricks. Will up date the main feed with those pics in a few days.
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Post by Woods Walker » Fri Jun 30, 2006 11:01 pm

The thread feed has been updated.
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Re: The basics of wood combustion

Post by Red Cell » Wed Nov 25, 2009 6:32 am

Good info here.
Fatwood works killer, just wish it were UL like other tinders.
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Re: The basics of wood combustion

Post by Woods Walker » Wed Nov 25, 2009 12:40 pm

Looks like all the links are dead. Gotta re do the whole thing. Maybe hold off for spring as want to add a bunch more trees but can't take the photos yet.
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Re: The basics of wood combustion

Post by Squirrley » Wed Nov 25, 2009 2:21 pm

Wow, I feel sad I haven't seen this yet. Thanks for the bump!
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