Happy February! Do we need chemical firelighters?

A good question perhaps?

Gradually moving out of conventional education and founding Wild Classroom, has meant that I have the opportunity to make ethical choices in what I do. Using seasonal produce from local suppliers, making use of kitchen gardens, occasional foraging and even growing my own has always been at the core (no pun intended!) of what I have work towards from the very beginning.

I source my wood from local well-managed woodland on the nearby Belmont estate, avoiding the plastic bagged alternatives that have often originated in some far flung forest in Europe. For years I have banged the drum to my friends about buying good quality sustainable English charcoal, in the hope of one day producing my own!

However, there is one perhaps less obvious item that I have strived to remove from my inventory when teaching people to cook outside over fire... the chemical firelighter.

Not only does the production and ignition of these things damage the environment, they absolutely stink and can taint the food you are are aiming to cook, coming in various forms, cubes, bottles, sachets, some even have a match head to aid ignition.

For years many people, including myself have used a chimney fire-starter to get the charcoal up to heat, using just a few scrunched up bits of newspaper, these ingenuous devices still never fail to impress every time I use one. Cooking with wood however sometimes offers a different challenge, the water content may vary and it is not as combustible as charcoal, add unpredictable weather elements in and starting a fire becomes an altogether greater challenge, one that may often result in a squirt of fluid or a few more firelighters being thrown in!

It is of course perfectly possible to start a fire with scrunched up newspaper and a pile of dry kindling, but this will not work all the time, so I need something more reliable in all conditions. The first being something that I marvelled at over 20 years ago first watching the bushcraft legend Ray Mears on TV, and then being lucky enough to attend a workshop with him in the Ashdown forest, where we used feather sticks to light our fire. These are made by using a sharp bushcraft knife to literally shave away at piece of wood (think kindling size), producing a mass of fine curls that will ignite well with a match, normally five or six suffice to start a fire. Here in Kent, green chestnut or birch work particularly well for this purpose, and it only takes a few minutes effort to produce each stick, after a bit of practise.

The other method of naturally lighting a fire came about as part of a Christmas gift for me one year, from my wife, who knew that I wanted a more ethical and effective means of lighting a fire. These are simply sticks of newspaper rolled and filled with sawdust and beeswax, they were made by a fantastic chap here in Kent who trades by the name of Re-Lite Firelighters (Instagram @relitefirelighters). They burn for ages, and have a pleasant aroma, and to this day I've only ever needed one each time to light my fire, even in the worst conditions. I was so impressed by these that Easter Sunday during the 2020 lockdown was spent in the garden, melting wax and making our own. It was a labour of love, but the results were well worth it, as we produced about 30 sticks, which was enough to last most of the summer.

I know from feedback on previous courses, some people would like to get more involved in the fire-lighting process, and I often have the fire lit early to save time, but I am considering running a more bushcraft focused course that would include the basics of fire lighting techniques for cooking, including the feather stick and using natural tinder.

If you would be interested in this sort of activity or would like to know how to make beeswax firelighters, please comment or give me a like below.

Thanks for reading and take care!


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