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Tinder Sticks and Feather Sticks: What Are They and How to Use Them

When it comes to surviving in the wilderness, few things are more important than knowing how to start a fire. Traditionally, people start fires with kindling, matches, and additional firewood.

However, when dry kindling isn’t readily available, you must know how to use tinder sticks to start your fire. If you have no idea what this type of stick is or how to use it, you’re about to find out.

Tinder Sticks

Are Tinder Sticks and Feather Sticks the Same Thing?

While you may never have heard of tinder sticks, you may have heard of feather sticks. These two terms mean the same thing and are often used interchangeably.

Both types of sticks refer to when you take an ordinary stick and shave it to form long “feathers” or curls of wood. The curls bunch up at the end of the stick and are much more flammable than the stick as a whole would be.

So, “tinder” refers to the actual stick that you shave, whereas “feather” refers to how the end of the stick looks when you’ve finished shaving it. Either way, the terms mean the same thing and refer to the same practice.

Circumstances When You Might Need to Use Tinder Sticks

While tinder sticks are a great alternative to kindling and other fire-starting materials, they take time to make. As such, they aren’t always perfect for all fire-starting situations.

However, here are some of the best times to use these types of sticks to start a fire.

  1. When you don’t have access to kindling
  2. If your wood and kindling are wet on the outside but dry on the inside
  3. If you don’t have fuel or paper to aid in the fire-starting process

How to Make a Tinder Stick

Now that you know what a feather stick is and when to use it, let’s look at how to make one.

1. Find a Dry Stick

While a dry stick works better, you can also use a damp stick to create your feather stick. Ideally, you will use a small section of log rather than a stick or twig.

The goal is to get to the inner portion of the log that isn’t wet. Therefore, you may have to split the log with an ax or hatchet to get to the dry wood beneath the bark.

Dead and softwoods make the best options for tinder sticks. Pines, aspens, and willows are softer than oak and maple, making them more flammable and easier to shave.

It’s also important to note that you can’t use green wood from a growing tree because it isn’t flammable enough. The whole point of making this type of stick is so you have a substitute for shavings, paper, and other highly flammable materials.

2. Use a Sharp Knife for Finer Feathers

Once you have the correct wood and split it open to access the dry, inner lumber, it’s time to start shaving it. The thinner and finer the feathers you create, the better and more flammable they will be.

Feather Stick

It’s essential to use a razor-sharp knife without a serrated edge to shave the wood. Blades with a convex or scandi grind make the best options.

3. Hold Your Knife With Your Dominant Hand and the Stick With the Other

The traditional way to make a feather stick is to shave it as if you’re carving or whittling, so you want to shave with your dominant hand. So, if you’re right-handed, hold the knife in your right hand, but if you’re left-handed, hold the knife in your left hand.

Hold the stick or log with your non-dominant hand. Make sure to choose a small and light log to hold comfortably with one hand.

4. Scrape the Stick With the Knife as if Gently Carving

  1. Hold the stick in front of you at stomach level and perpendicular to your body.
  2. Your sticks should be between 12 and 16 inches long and around one to two inches in diameter.
  3. Put your knife blade in the middle of the stick. Gently dig the knife into the wood and carve away from your body.
  4. Unlike traditional wood carving, you don’t want to cut the shaving off of the wood completely.
  5. Instead, stop cutting while the shaving or “feather” of wood is still attached to the end of the stick. Typically, you should stop cutting roughly two inches from the stick’s end, giving you about a six or eight-inch feather of wood.

5. Stop When You Have a Bush of Feathers

Repeat the above process until you have a nice bush of feathers at the end of your kindling stick. Remember, the finer your feathers are, the more flammable your stick will be.

It’s also important to stop all of your cuts near the same point so that your “feather” are the same length.

Tinder Wood Shavings

6. Alternative Methods

If you’re having trouble holding the stick in front of you and carving feathers, you can try several other methods.

  • Put the end of the stick face down on top of a log or the ground and carve downward with your knife. This will make it easier to control your cuts and provide stability for the stick.
  • Using a rope or makeshift table clamp, secure your knife or saw to a log. Take the stick in both hands and rub it against the knife blade to create your curls.

No matter which method you use, the main thing is that you’re carving dry portions of wood. You’ll have to use an axe, hatchet, or knife to split logs into small, manageable sections to create the perfect feather sticks.

Advantages of Using Feather Sticks to Start Fires

  • The main advantage of using this method to start and build fires is that you can use them whether they’re wet or dry. As long as you have something to split the wood to gain access to the dry inner sections, you can create feather sticks.
  • These sticks are also a great option if you don’t have access to fuel, paper, and other highly flammable materials.
  • Once you master the art of the feather stick, you’ll have unlimited kindling.
Fire Pit

Wrapping Up Tinder Sticks and Feather Sticks

Regardless of what you prefer to call them, knowing how to make feather and tinder sticks is an invaluable tool to have in your survival arsenal. They will help you start fires in any situation, regardless of your supplies.

If you like the concept of using tinder sticks to start fires but want to use a tinder bundle instead, check out this article to learn more!