How to build the perfect campfire

Friday, Nov. 06
If the coals have built up deep enough over the years in your fire pit, or the mineral soil beneath is soft enough, pound in four, 2- foot tall, thumb-size vertical stakes.

These vertical supports help stabilize a "chimney" built of dry wood starting with twigs at the base, gradually increasing in size as it rises. We fill the center of the chimney with curls of birch bark (preferably white) from the endless supply of standing dead birch trees we see in our wanderings. On top of that goes a twisted bundle of the feathery dry twigs you find at the bases of spruce and hemlock trees. (Hint: Carry a plastic bag with you while you are wandering on dry days and snatch a supply of fire starting material when you see it. Save your firestarters for emergencies.) With this setup, one match touched to a birch bark curl is all it takes to light a fire. The "chimney" construction helps to direct airflow upward to create a draft, the vertical supports help stabilize the chimney as you add fresh wood. Eventually, of course, the supports burn through, but by then you have enough heat and coals to sustain the fire.

Most roadside campgrounds generate a thriving cottage industry with locals selling little bundles of firewood to campers. That's good for the local economy. You also have to be careful about transporting firewood these days, when invasive and highly damaging species like the Asian longhorn beetle can get a free ride. But our campsites are more than a mile from the road and hauling in firewood makes absolutely no sense when we are camped in a forest.

Turning dead trees into firewood takes some manual labor and tools. With the right saws and axes, we can cut, split and stack a fairly serious pile of wood in short order and have a ball doing it. Over the years, we've tested about every variety of wood cutting implement and have settled on what we think is the best.

To cut wood up to the diameter of your fist (which is plenty large enough for campfire use) we use a folding Sven Saw (www.sven, the original model with the 21-inch blade folds to 24' x 1 3/4' x 5/8' with the frame acting as a sheath for the blade, and weighs less than a pound. If you need to save a few ounces you can try the 15-inch model. A sharp Sven saw feels good in the hand and cuts wood amazingly well. Just make sure to get the blade resharpened professionally, or replace it every couple of years.

To split our campfire wood and pound in our support stakes, we've settled on the Sport Axe from Gerber (www. gerbergear .com). At 22 ounce with sheath, this little axe features a razor- sharp Fiskars steel head and a virtuallyunbreakable 14- inch nylon handle. It's simply perfect - infinitely stronger, lighter, sharper, better than any hardware- store hatchet.


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