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Thread: Making Curls and Feather Sticks The Easy Way

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    Default Making Curls and Feather Sticks The Easy Way



    This is a post that I've wanted to make for quite some time but finally got around to starting it yesterday.

    First, why do we make feather sticks, curls and shavings? Aside from looking cool in front of our bushcraft buddies, the real goal is to create dry flammable material that we can use to get a fire going. In a lot of areas, this may not even be necessary. You'll see a lot of posts from guys that are throwing up their hands and asking why don't you just gather twigs like they do. The fact is that in some areas, twigs are not a feasible kindling material when the weather is bad. In the middle of summer, most of us can just look for pencil lead sized sticks, throw them in a haphazard pile, and light them up with our Bic lighters.

    However, when it's been raining for days or even weeks, lighting these little pieces can be like trying to ignite a plate of cooked spaghetti. On the other hand, no matter how much rain, snow, or moisture is in the air, there are always larger pieces of wood that are dry inside. If processed properly, small shavings from this material will light up readily with a flame, hot spark, or even an ember.

    Why do we want them to curl? When wood shavings curl over, it packs more of the dry material into a smaller area, concentrating it and allowing ignition in multiple places along the same sliver of wood. Curls are not necessary, but they make things a lot easier. Picture a wad of steel wool vs a single strand of wire and you're on the right track.

    What about feather sticks? Why would I want the curls to stay on the stick? There are several benefits to this. Just like a curl packs more flammable material into a smaller area, a feather stick holds those curls together into a tighter group. This can make them easier to light, and more importantly easier to manage. Rather than picking up a pile of shavings off the wet ground or trying to direct them into a hat, bag or container, they stay on the stick in a nice little package, ready to be lit as is or pulled off and used as shavings when you're ready. Anyone that has ever had their firesteel in position only to have gust of wind come and scatter their tinder knows the value of this.

    The problem is, making effective curls and feather sticks takes a fair amount of skill, practice and focus. There was recently a popular thread where someone asked Why Do My Feather Sticks Suck?. There were a ton of replies and a lot of great advice was given. There were a lot of points about knife thickness, grind styles, being familiar with a particular blade, holding the knife just so, and a lot more. This is all good advice and valid if you're making them in the classic style epitomized by Mors Kochanski in this video.



    I put this video here in case someone hasn't seen it, but most of us are already aware of this classic technique and watching this is not necessary to understand the rest of the post.

    My problem with this is that while this is a technique that can be mastered with lots of practice, it still takes quite a bit of finesse. When your cold, it's raining, or the sun is going down, you need a fire now. You may not have the dexterity or mindset that it takes to do the patient, focused strokes that are required to get usable curls or feathers that will take a spark in less than ideal conditions.

    What we need is a method for producing a lot of kindling, in a short amount of time, while minimizing the need for fine motor skills.

    Some of you may have already seen the method I am about to present, or even use it on a regular basis. I am not the first person to use the technique that I am about to show you, but I did discover it independently through experimentation and have been using it successfully for quite some time to make usable kindling with knives and machetes from 3 inches to 12 inches. Your blade can be 3mm thick or 1/4 inch slab of steel and as long as it is reasonably sharp, this will work for you. For me, it actually seems to work better with larger blades, where they can be a hindrance using the classic method.

    Alright, now that the why is out of the way, let's get to the how.

    First, you are going to need a work station. This can be any piece of wood with a reasonably flat surface that is at a level that you are comfortable working at. I personally prefer it to be just a little bit lower than my waist, but this is not at all critical. Proper work stations can be found in almost any environment, whether you are using a downed tree, stump, or a large chunk of wood that you set up on a rock.

    This downed hemlock trunk is going to be my work station for this demonstration.



    Nice flat area free from obstructions.



    Using the classic technique, we would need to hold the knife in one hand and the piece of wood in the other. We need to stabilize both of them and make sure that we are keeping our blade angle consistent in our hands. For this method, we are going to be letting the wood hold our knife.

    Stick your knife point into your work station. A few raps on the end will drive it deep enough to keep it stable.



    The edge should be facing away from you and the knife should be tilted toward your body. This tilt is important and the biggest factor that will determine the amount of curl you will get. A more vertical knife will give you flatter shavings, where a more extreme tilt will produce tighter spirals. Both are useful materials for different stages of fire, but I'm going with a happy medium for this demonstration.

    I am left handed so the photos will be backwards for most of you, but you will take the wood in your dominant hand and hold the handle of the knife with your non-dominant hand. This will stabilize the knife and keep it from pulling out of the wood. It will also allow you to adjust the angle of the blade forward or back so that you can make different levels of curliness on the same piece which has advantages.

    One important point is that you want to make sure that you are using long pieces of wood as this will make it easier, give you longer curls, and keep your hand well away from the blade.

    The basic idea here is that the knife is going to remain stationary and we are going to pull the wood back along the edge to create our shavings.
    I like to make the first couple of cuts deep and relatively straight, giving me a durable shaving to act as back stop for the other curls to collect against. If you lay the edge along a flat spot of the wood, you will get a wide shaving, if you attack a corner, you will get a thin one. For this demonstration I'm using both Western Red Cedar (soft wood) and Big Leaf Maple (hard wood).

    Deep first stroke to get started.



    Leaving the wood in contact with the edge the entire time, draw it back to create the shaving and then move it forward to reset. Make a few strokes in the same position and then rotate your wood holding wrist slightly to give the edge a new face to work on as you pull back. Alternate between flats and corners and as long as your knife is at a decent angle with the handle leaning in your direction, you should start to see something like this happening.



    Start out slow to get a feel for the technique, but once you have the hang of it you can pick up speed and create a usable collection of curls very quickly.

    Tilting the blade further back and attacking the corners will give you tiny tight curls that are just begging to take spark.



    Even with this Ontario machete and relatively hard wood, you can make a very fine little bundle of curls in just a few seconds.



    Last edited by NWPrimate; 04-17-2016 at 02:12 PM. Reason: typo


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    Default ...continued

    What about needing a thin blade profile or specific type of edge?

    I haven't found this to be nearly as important as the sharpness of the edge. It doesn't need to be shaving sharp, but as long as it will cut paper, it will make beautiful curls. Flat grinds, convexed edges, fat saber grinds, it doesn't matter with this method as long as your knife is field sharp. I could have used a Mora for this demonstration and it would work beautifully but I went with thicker blades to illustrate this.

    Tiny curls on hard wood with a 10 inch long, 1/4 inch thick blade.



    Blade thickness for reference.



    You may want to make different types of curls for different applications.

    Thin ones are perfect for taking a spark from a fire steel.









    Thicker ones can be made to throw on top once you have a decent flame.



    You can also take bigger bites for shaping a piece of wood, or creating larger pieces of kindling for the next step of your fire.





    In my experience I have found this to be a superior method. It allows me to make a large volume of great curls in a very short amount of time.

    This quick video demonstrates the basic technique, showing different knives, woods, speeds, and styles of curls.



    What about waste? I see curls flying off the stick!

    Who cares! This is quick and dirty method for creating a lot of tinder/kindling in a short amount of time. With the conventional method, each feather can take several seconds and it sucks when they get cut off the stick. With this method, you can replace any losses 5 fold in a second or two of vigorous stroking. If it's dry or you have set up a surface like a garbage bag to catch the fallen shavings, they are still viable and can be used to get your fire going. If the ground is wet and they get soaked, you can toss them on once you have an established fire to make sure that you're not leaving a mess on the ground.

    I also believe this to be a safer technique than the classic way of doing it. The knife is stationary and as long as you have it sufficiently into the log and stabilized with your off-hand, it will not slip. This is also great for the less than ideal scenario where you need to process kindling after dark. It is not without risk though, as a blade in a fixed position can give you a serious cut if you are careless and run into it. Pay attention to what you are doing, do not leave the knife unattended in the wood, and let any other campers know that it is there if they are nearby.

    Another benefit of this technique is that you can use it outside of fire making. If you are shaping a piece of wood for a long time, your hand can get pretty fatigued making the same strokes over and over in the conventional fashion. I have found that letting the wood hold my knife for a while gives those hand muscles a rest but still allows me to make progress. You won't have as much control, but if you're removing a lot of material it can be a welcome break. I used this technique extensively in my Fatwood Walking Stick project and it allowed me to work on it longer than I would have otherwise.

    If you've never tried this, I would like to encourage you to experiment with this technique. Others may have used this only with bigger knives, but stick with the conventional method for smaller ones. If that's the case, try it with your favorite small blade and see what you think.

    I think I remember someone saying something about filling up my hat with shavings? Does this count?



    Go out and give it a try and let me know how it works for you.


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    Default

    hello,
    Awesome demo NMPrimate. I've use my crook knife to make my fire sticks wood curls, just as effective.
    Regards
    David

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    Great detail and photos, thanks for sharing!

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    Default

    Great video, using long sticks, looks very safe with really big knives.

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    Very thorough, and informative! Thanks for putting this together!
    Bushclass Intermediate - Lessons 4/11 - Electives 7/7 - Outings - 4/10

    "...they began to understand the lives of the Forest, apart from themselves, indeed to feel themselves as the strangers where all other things were at home." - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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    I had seen this technique before, but never actually tried it. Thanks for taking the time to make the tutorial. I'll give it a shot next time I'm out!

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    Thank you for making the time to put this great visual and descriptive resource together.

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    Thanks for taking the time for all to tips and techniques you've shared it's appreciated. You do nice videos.

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    Great post, pics & video... Thanks for taking the time to do this !!

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