As the world continues to descend further into chaos due to one disaster after another, it’s important to be prepared. You’ll need food, water, and heat above all else. Not only do you need a backup plan for short-term emergencies, but you also need a bit of knowledge so that you can survive if you find yourself and your family in a long-term survival situation.
Having a fire is going to be a necessity. This will be used for heat and cooking. However, you may find yourself in a situation where you don’t have your tinder bundles. Perhaps you’ve run out or you simply weren’t home when the emergency happened.
That’s why you need to know how to work with what you have. Even if you have a thousand tinder bundles carefully stored away, you’ll run out of them eventually. Knowing where to find branches is a great idea, but you still need to be able to start the fire with some tinder. That is where punk wood comes in.
What is Punk Wood?
Punk wood is a piece of wood that is found in the center of a tree. You can find types of wood like this in the middle of dead branches as well. Punky wood is typically soft and squishy. You’ll notice that it feels like styrofoam.
This soft wood is found in the center of dead or dying trees. The piece of wood will not crumble in your hands. This is important to watch for. After so much decay, it will crumble. Wood that crumbles easily is not one of the best combustible materials.
How to Identify Punk Wood
You can identify punk wood by looking at both the tree and the wood. It is dead wood that is found in the center of the tree. You’ll need to get to the center of the tree or log to find it.
Determine whether the tree or log is dead inside by feeling the wood. This type of wood is softer than healthy wood because of a fungus. (Don’t worry. The fungus won’t hurt you if you touch it.) That gives it a distinctly different feel from other dry wood. You can easily feel how soft the wood is by touching it. Wood with more fungus will have a spongey feel.
Rotten wood is typically white in color, or at least whitish. The more rotten it is, the more the color will vary from the wood of the same tree. For example, it may appear a lighter brown if it has not turned white yet.
Looking for Punk Wood
This type of wood is found in the middle of trees or logs. There are quite a few cases in which you cannot see the dead wood from the outside of the tree. It can make it harder to find dry pieces of punk wood.
If you see a tree that has fallen over or a log laying on the ground, there might be punk wood inside. It’s also commonly found inside old tree stumps. Typically, you won’t find this wood in healthy, growing trees. That can make finding it a bit easier. When you see a tree on the ground, give it a good kick. Be careful not to hurt your foot! If the tree feels soft, there’s more than likely some dead wood inside.
Using This Wood for a Fire
Once you find punk wood, you’ve found the perfect tinder. It’s easy to light, and the perfect choice for getting a good fire going. Although ideal conditions are preferred, this is also a great choice for building a fire in difficult conditions.
However, it’s not a wise idea to make your entire fire out of rotten wood. It does not put off the same amount of heat that dry, healthy wood does. It also tends to burn faster. In a pinch, you can make an entire fire out of it, but it’s best used as tinder to catch larger pieces of kindling on fire.
Build your fire with other types of wood first. Seasoned wood is great, but other types of wood will suffice if you do not have any. You can use random pieces of wood for a fire if you have to.
Then, light the punk wood on fire. Gently blow on the embers to help them grow. Then, place the wood under the other pieces of wood. Make sure that there is enough oxygen getting to them to produce larger flames. As the fire grows, it will catch the other types of wood on fire. You will have a perfect campfire for either warmth or cooking.
Charred Punk Wood
Regular punky wood will catch fire, but it can take some effort. Charred punk wood is known for catching fire from a mere spark. However, you won’t find charred punk wood in the middle of a tree. You have to make your own.
You make your own charred wood with the same process that is used to make char cloth.
How to Make Char Cloth and Charred Wood
To make char cloth and charred wood, you need the same materials and use the same process.
Use a Metal Can with a Lid
First, find a metal container. This can be a soup can, metal paint bucket, etc. Metal paint buckets are ideal because they already come with a metal lid that fits them perfectly. (You have to have a lid for this.)
Build a Small Fire
Then, start a fire with a few logs. Put the metal container in the fire. It won’t dissolve as its metal. This part of the process will burn off any type of paint, etc. that is still on your container.
Drill a Hole in the Lid
It should be approximately 1/8 in diameter. You don’t want it too big or the process won’t work. However, if the hole is too small, smoke won’t escape.
Find Something You Can Use to Plug the Hole in the Lid
You’ll need to make sure that you have a stick or piece of bendable metal that will fit nicely into that hole. (The hole will be used to both eliminate airflow inside the can and to remove the can from the fire.) If this isn’t possible, make sure that you have a stick or piece of metal to plug the hole. You’ll also need a way to remove the can from the fire, such as a pair of metal tongs. (The fire won’t be large enough to be a concern.)
Put Small Pieces of Wood Inside and Put Them Overtop of the Low Fire
After your metal can or tin is ready, put your decayed wood, or cotton cloths if you’re making charred cloth, inside. (Coth should be made from natural fiber.) Make sure that you have a low fire. There should be burning embers, not flames. Sit the can or tin on top of those.
Watch the Smoke Coming Out of the Hole
Smoke will slowly come out of the hole. It’s supposed to. Your punk wood or cloth is charred when smoke stops coming out of that hole. It’s important to remove the can from the fire as soon as you see this happen.
Plug the Hole Immediately After Removing the Can
Then, plug the hole. You don’t want air to get inside or it can lead to the charred wood, turning to ashes. It will be useless.
Let it Cool Before Removing the Lid
Give the can plenty of time to cool. Then, remove the lid. The wood should be black. If there is still color to the wood, it is not completely charred. It won’t catch fire from a spark like pine needles will unless you complete the process again until it is done.
When Charred Punkwood is Over or Undercooked
It can take some practice to get this process correct. Although this is a common method, it’s equally as common for people to mess it up the first time.
Don’t feel bad if your softer wood is not charred correctly. Instead, take the time to determine the reason why so that you can fix your mistakes.
If the wood is not charred thoroughly, put it back on the fire. Make sure that there is no smoke coming out of the top of the can or tin before you take it off of the embers.
Sometimes, you’re going to have the opposite problem. Your wood will turn to ashes. Instead of burnable materials, you will have a material that simply crumbles. This means that it was cooked too long or that air got into the hole.
Remember what happened when you were charring your wood. Did you step away for a brief moment and then notice that there was no smoke coming out of the hole? Was the hole plugged immediately after removing it from the flames? Accidentally messing up one of those steps is the most common reason for your charred wood turning into ashes.
Storing Charred Punk Wood
Charred punk wood should be stored in Ziploc bags. It needs to be kept dry in order to catch on fire.
Things To Remember
When using punk wood as your tinder source, there are a few things that you will need to keep in mind both during the charring process and when using it.
Practice Makes Perfect
It is common to mess up the process of charring wood perfectly at least once. Sometimes, it will take you a few times to get it right. Keep practicing, and learning from your mistakes.
Punk Wood Doesn’t Have To Be Charred
You can use this type of wood just like you can any other dry material. It won’t catch fire with a spark if it is not charred, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t burn it. It will burn as well as other natural materials. Simply use conventional methods, such as a lighter, to catch it on fire.
Dead Wood Does Not Provide As Much Heat As Harder Wood
If dead wood is all you have, it’s better than nothing. However, this shouldn’t be your go-to choice for building a fire. It will not keep you as warm as other kindling, and it won’t have the same level of heat to cook with.
It Is Best Used As Tinder
You use charred wood from a dead tree as you would other pieces of tinder, such as dryer lint or a piece of char cloth. Catch it on fire, and use those embers to build a larger fire.
Learning how to use punk wood to build a fire will guarantee that you, and your family, can survive whether you are bugging in or bugging out. Making small pieces of charred punk wood is a cost-effective way to make sure that you have plenty of tinder available as well. These are small enough to fit in your bug out bag and extremely effective.
If you’re looking for more information on survival fire building, check out our Survival World page on Fire.