Humans have been using fire to change landscapes, cook food and keep the dark away for years, but for a portion of time, natural sources like lightning and volcanoes were the only source. When stone tool-making taught us about friction, and twine-making gave a way to harness this effect, humans began to make fire, as well as manage it. There are at least a half-dozen variations on rubbing sticks together to make a fire, and our upcoming workshops at The Planting will provide an opportunity for participants to have a go at any, or all of them. Be prepared for a test of patience, a feat of physical endurance and a growing understanding that before a triumphant howl of delight, when smoke turns to flame, that all wood is not the same!
Physics declares that all forms of energy are interchangeable, and kinetic energy is not the only form available – sunlight can be coaxed into conflagration with a lens made from glass, water or even ice, and curved mirrors work too. You can channel your inner McGyver and try polishing the bottom of an aluminium beverage can to make a focussing mirror, but be warned that a steady hand is required (which may determine the sort of beverage container you choose to empty!).
Chemical energy can start fires, as well as fuel them, and a few favourite combinations will be on hand to try too. And, for the determined survivalists, the opportunity to try capturing sparks struck from steel (we will even supply the rocks to make your own flints). But, be warned, 30 minutes of hard striking is not unusual for this method to produce a result! A few of Bear Grylls’ better kept secrets may be revealed, along with the truth about modern ‘flint’ lighters.
Of course, to keep the fire growing once it has started, you will need a welcoming nest of nice dry tinder, and probably the most crucial part of the workshop will be to learn how to make charcloth. This stuff is easily made from rags, and has a low ignition point as well as a slow rate of burn, which makes it the perfect beginning for your own bespoke bonfire.
You may be frustrated, skin a knuckle or two, and work up a sweat, but you are in for a smoking good time.