Fire Starting Tips: How to Process Tinder

fire tinder
Tinder is usually easy to find in the field, but it's not always ready to be used.Tim MacWelch

You'll need tinder to get your fire started, and while we should hedge our bets by bringing some from home – it doesn't last forever. In the field, this vital material can come from dead, but usually not rotten, plant-based materials. Your tinder should be as dry as possible, very fluffy and possess lots of surface area to burn. You can often find excellent tinder in the form of grasses, leaves, pine needles, fibrous tree bark, weed tops, seed down, wood shavings, and more unusual stuff like palm fiber and certain mosses. But it's not always "ready to use." Here are four ways you can get your materials into tip top shape for fire starting.

1) Shred It
That's right, tear it apart by hand! Start by tearing at large sections, and then tear the remainders into shreds. This technique works well for tree bark fiber (like tulip poplar, basswood, cedar, paw paw and many others). You can also shred weed tops and seed down into a fluffier form.

2) Pound Away
Pounding tinder with a rock can separate the fibers nicely (and give you a constructive place to vent your rage). Most of the fibrous dead inner tree barks and plant stalk fibers work really well with this trick. Wad up the fibers into a ball or linear bundle, and pound them with a rock or similar hard object. Turn them often, and you'll cover all of your surface area with no trouble. Pound your tinder on a hard log or a stone for best results. Keep working until your tinder has the desired fluffiness. If you don't have a dry place to work, shred the tinder instead of pounding. By pounding on damp or wet surfaces, you're driving moisture into the tinder.

3) Scrape And Scratch When dealing with trees that have a fibrous outer bark (like cedar and juniper), you can use your trusty knife or even a sharp stone to scrape off fibrous tinder. This can even be done on live trees, without harming them. Just scrape off some of the fibrous outer bark, and collect the fuzz you remove. You can also scrape wood to make wood shavings, if no other tinder is available (or dry).

4) Crumple And Crumble If it doesn't like getting pounded, shredded or scraped, then crumple it! Dead leaves, mosses and ferns, and many other prime tinder materials are improved with just a little crumbling. And if the resulting confetti won't stick together, use a coarser tinder on the outside of the bundle to make a "bowl" or "shell" to hold your material.

A Word Of Warning
Some material that looks like good tinder can be dangerous. Poison ivy fiber from the larger vines can cause a rash, and the smoke can be very dangerous if you get it in your lungs. Black locust inner bark can be toxic and deliver a nasty headache. So be aware of the toxic or poisonous trees, shrubs, and plants in your area, and any areas that you travel through.

What’s your favorite tinder from the wild? Please share your top pick by leaving a comment.