Sparks & Ember

Some fire makers create just a spark or ember, and not a flame. Examples are:

Cigarette Lighter (when empty) only produces a spark.

Magnifying Glass (Fresnel)  produces an ember.

Flint Striker (Firesteel, Ferrocerium Rod,  Metal Match)  produces sparks.

Flint and Steel produces sparks. 

Friction by Wood (bow and shaft, hand shaft, etc.) produces an ember.

You need to catch the spark with easily ignitable tinder that will hold the ember alive long enough to coax it into a flame.


In olden times, natural materials were used as tinder, certain fungi, finely powdered or divided wood, slivered bits of birch bark, etc.

Nowadays, we have a choice of charred cloth (called “char”), cotton balls, dryer lint, and a plethora of commercial products such as Tinder Quik, WetFire, Maya Dust, BCB Tinder Card and others.

Once a spark is caught and nurtured into an ember, then the ember is introduced to more robust tinder such as shredded jute twine, tissue paper, dried grass, shredded newspaper, etc. and blown into a living flame. Char cloth is nothing more than cotton or linen cloth that has been charred in a fire until black. Keep it dry!

The smaller the spark, the more sensitive the tinder must be to capture and nurture it. The best known and easiest is char cloth. It will capture a spark and glow for minutes allowing time to blow it ito a flame.

For a more robust spark, such as from a Metal Match, a dry cotton ball teased into a fluffy nest will easily catch a spark and burst into flame. Cotton balls are often coated with petroleum jelly (PJ, a.k.a.Vaseline) to enhance the flame, often burning for several minutes.


Blowing a flame

The procedure is simple.

  • Create a spark
  • Capture it on char cloth as an ember
  • Quickly enclose the ember in a nest of fine tinder
  • Blow forcefully and steadily on the ember, encouraging it to expand and ignite the rest of the tinder
  • Once ignited, quickly transfer the flaming tinder to the prepared fire structure
  • Enjoy the fire.

A Big Fat BUT

But all this is useless unless you are capable of and have practical experience in building fires. Practice and test yourself …repeatedly…until you can start a fire in various conditions. Try a sunny day, windy day, rainy day, cold day until you are confident in your skill. Otherwise you’ll use up all your matches and still have no fire. There are many resources on the web on how to build fires. Use them.

Jim Yuen May, 2008