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Tinder is easily combustible material used to ignite fires by rudimentary methods. A small fire consisting of tinder is then used to ignite kindling. Anything that can be ignited by a match can be considered tinder; or by more rigorous definition, anything that begins to glow under a shower of sparks. The more restrictive definition is important in the study of survival skills, which redefines kindling as material requiring a match to ignite it.
Whichever material is used, the thinner it is and the more surface there is, and especially edges, the more easily it will ignite. With wood, this can be achieved by shaving slivers off it. One method to keep these together is to make a feather stick. The best wood from a tree is dead branches that have not fallen to the ground yet.
If a fire is to be lit by sparks rather than matches, char cloth, punkwood, fungus or down are commonly used to catch the sparks. However, fungi should be selected with care as some release toxic fumes on combustion. Char cloth can be made by placing plant-based fabric (usually cotton) in a tin box into a campfire; like charcoal, it is the product of anhydrous pyrolysis. It is very fragile, and should usually be prepared only in small quantities.
Pitchwood can be found in the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Fir trees, especially the Douglas fir, wil leave stumps in the ground when they die. These stumps contain spires of resin-impregnated wood which can easily be lighted using only a single match or lighter. By shaving the pitchwood into small splinters, it will readily ignite. Pitchwood does not absorb water, and so will ignite in any weather when sheltered from rain and wind. In the southeastern United States it is formed from the heartwood of Longleaf pine trees and is called "fat lighter" or "lighter'd" (a shortening of lighter-wood). (Reference—Ratliff, Donald E., Sr., Map, Compass and Campfire, Binford & Mort, Publishers, 1964, page 45.)
Embers of burned paper, leaves and other sheetlike materials are easily carried off by air currents, where they can alight upon other objects and ignite them. In outdoor campfires, paper can be wadded up to reduce this hazard; wadded paper also burns more quickly.
Magnesium is sold in stores in shaved or bar form. Shavings burn white-hot, are impossible to smother with carbon dioxide or sand, and can ignite even wet kindling. Solid bars are impossible to ignite under normal conditions (and difficult even with a welding torch), and are thus very safe to carry. Magnesium powder and shavings are pyrophoric (they oxidise rapidly when exposed to the air). It is dangerous to carry pre-shaved magnesium — at best, it loses potency, at worst, it can spontaneously ignite and is then nearly unquenchable. Magnesium bars are sometimes sold with a length of ferrocerium cast into one edge.
The gathering of tinder, and perhaps more importantly, its dry storage is one of the most critical aspects of many survival situations.
- Dry pine needles, leaves or grass
- Birch bark
- Dead, standing (usually one season old) goldenrod
- Cloth, lint, or frayed rope (if made from plant fibers and not treated with fire retardant)
- Char cloth
- Cotton swabs, tampons
- Paper, paper towels, toilet paper, etc.
- Dry bread or knäckebröd and shoe polish
- Punk wood (in the process of rotting) or charred wood
- Some types of fungus (best known is the amadou or horse's hoof fungus)
- Bird down
- Small twigs (poor tinder but commonly available)
- Fatwood, also known as rich pine or pine knot.
- Fine-grade soap-coated steel wool
- Shaved magnesium or other alkaline earth metals
The dictionary definition of tinder at Wiktionary
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