Weak Hand Fearher Sticking and Fire Starting

curlsSome time ago, under one of my YouTube videos, a viewer asked me if I was up for a challenge. The challenge was to make a feather stick with your weak, non-dominant hand.  I sure was up for it as I had experienced the need to use my weak (left in my case) hand for about three weeks when I stabbed myself in the right hand, which effectively made me left-handed for a period of time.

I could still use my right hand to some degree. Hold or maybe even lift things without overloading the palm of the hand. But anything requiring grabbing, squeezing and manipulating using the fingers was out of the question. So if I had to start a fire at that time I’d have to do most of the fiddly work with my weaker hand which has no experience with this type of tasks whatsoever.

Should such injury create or worsen a survival situation, I’d have to be able to do most ‘right-handed’ tasks with my left hand. And believe me if I tell you it’s not easy! Of course, since I’m pretending my right hand is injured, I thought I should strike the ferro rod with my left hand too. But then I realized that holding the rod in my right hand isn’t exactly something I’d be able to do with my injured hand anyway. So I added a new skill to the challenge – lighting a fire with only one hand.

The trick is to use your foot to immobilize the handle on your knife resting on your feather stick with its blade sticking up, and use the exposed sharp spine to create sparks like in the pictures below. It takes time but it’s possible and quite reliable.
One handed fire  trick

Perfect Feather SticksDon’t expect things to go smoothly or be perfect. They most likely won’t be. Under normal circumstances, I can make feathers that look a bit like a piece of art and it’s really frustrating to see myself struggle to make a single curl with my left hand. It’s a bit like being a child again. Only you already know what it feels like to walk and run without falling down on your knees every other step. You just can’t do it for some messed up reason. Really annoying feeling.

Bear in mind, that in a real survival scenario things are going to be even more difficult, frustrating and the injured hand will most likely hurt like a bitch, which does not help focusing on the job. To make everything even more ‘fun’, add a possibility of strong wind and rain (which happened to me when shooting the video below), and the fact that you will not be ok with just one stick. You’ll need more like four to six nice and big feather sticks with the feathers attached to the main shaft.


Feather Sticks

Why attached? Well, if you’re lucky and it isn’t windy and rainy, you can afford to collect whatever’s fallen off to the ground. But if you’re not, the wind will blow away everything you incautiously cut off, and drench it in the wet grass or mud. And it’s not easy to make those curls stay attached when carving with your weak hand. Especially when the strong hand is hurting, you are cold and wet, and under a lot of stress and pressure to make that fire going as soon as possible.


Survival Fire in Wet Weather

fire thumbnailAfter taking part in some online discussions, I realised that a lot of people didn’t actually understand what feather sticks are all about. The problem became apparent under a picture showing someone batoning with their knife. As always, I took the stance defending batoning as a viable method of cutting small trees down and splitting wood.

axe in campAnd there it began. I was attacked for being a ‘Rambo’ cutting trees with a knife or waisting my time on ‘useless’ activities such as feather sticking which, as everyone knows, don’t come in handy everyday. Like most survival skills, I replied  quickly. The thing is, when they finally do come in handy, you either know what you’re doing or die.

I also received a bunch of good advices regarding lighting fires in a heavy rain or in damp conditions. These were very helpful in allowing me to compose a list of most common myths and misconceptions. It appears that most people would trust dead spruce/fir twigs, pine needles or birch bark (or that they’ve simply never seen a heavy rain in their lives). I would also add fat wood but, like the former fire starters, it also isn’t available everywhere to everyone. And that is the first big problem with those methods – they simply can’t be applied where there are no conifers and birch trees.

gransfors bruks axeThe second problem is, those methods simply aren’t fail safe. If it’s been raining heavily and we only have a few matches, chances are we will not have a fire if we decide to go for one of the above fire starters. Yes, I know. All these materials will burn when damp and some species of birch produce bark that can supposedly be lit when soaking wet. The problem is, neither I, nor millions of other people around the world have access to that birch species and I’m not so sure it works every time in all conditions anyway. Or if it’ll catch fire before I run out of matches or gas in my lighter.

camera tarp coverAs to the pine needles and twigs, they don’t work at all when properly wet. And no, you can’t dry them in your clothes if you’re dripping wet yourself. And if you aren’t soaking wet yet, it’s probably not the best idea to get purposely wet and cold in a survival situation in pouring rain when your chances of starting a fire are as low as the temperature.

If you din’t believe me, take a look at the video, in which I also show what really works every time in all weather and why it is so important that you know it.