Using a birch bark fire starter is a simple and effective way to start any fire.
Whether you're looking for an easy way to light your next campfire, you need to relight your wood stove in the morning, or you're in a survival situation and you need to start a fire in wet conditions, birch bark is amazing.
Although yellow birch bark will work as a fire starter, white birch bark is by far the most popular. It's kind of like natures most overlooked natural fire starter.
When we consider natural fire starters, we often think about fatwood which is a very resinous wood found in old pine stumps and dead pine branches. Although the best fatwood is found in the southern United States and Mexico, you can find it just about anywhere else but the resin content won't be as high.
Finding fatwood isn't hard, but it does take some trial and error. You can usually find it in old, dead trees that have been injured or hit by lightening.
As a safety precaution, pine trees will send sap to an injured portion of the tree in hopes to seal off the injury and protect the tree from further trauma or disease. This concentrated sappy wood is fatwood.
I've been able to find fatwood pretty easy on some occasions and on other occasions it can take a while to find the perfect pine stump or pine branch.
Birch bark however is simple to find if you're lucky enough to have access to a wood lot with white birch trees.
To learn more, lets take a closer look at the white birch tree and why its bark works so well as a fire starter.
Found predominantly in the northern United States and Canada, the white birch (often referred to as paper birch) is a middle of the road firewood choice.
Yellow or black birch would both be a better firewood choice than white birch if you had to compare the common species of birch, but they're often not as common. The white birch is a tree that has stood the test of time.
Native Americans and early fur trappers used the waterproof bark for canoes creating lightweight and portable ways to travel by water. It also works well as roofing to repel water, and long ago people would peal away thin layers of the bark to write letters.
Producing 20.2 million BTUs per cord, paper birch works well when mixed in with other quality firewood choices like beech, ash, elm, oak or maple. By mixing the wood you'll achieve longer burn times.
Since the outer bark of the white birch burns so well, the wood lights really easy if it's properly seasoned. To season birch firewood it needs to be split in small sections, stacked and elevated off the ground and allowed to season for about 1-2 years.
If you don't split the wood and elevate it off the ground, the bark is so dense and waterproof it wont allow the wood to dry and it will rot from the inside out.
Does white birch cause more creosote than other firewood types? As long as the wood is dry, it's safe to burn inside your fireplace or wood stove. However, the oils inside the bark cause the wood to give off a black sooty smoke until the bark is burned up.
This black smoke will leave a residue on the inside of your wood stove, especially on your wood stove glass, but it won't necessarily build up in the form of flammable creosote if the wood is properly seasoned.
As stated earlier, white birch is commonly found in the northern United States and Canada. Although you can remove very small portions of birch bark from a living tree to use as a birch bark fire starter, I don't recommend it unless you're in an emergency.
Look for a dead fallen tree that's laying on the ground. Once you find a white birch on the ground, pick up a section of the tree and you'll find the inside of the wood is completely rotten while the outer bark is fully in tact.
You can usually just shake out the rotten interior wood, leaving behind a perfect ring of birch bark. Betulin is the compound found inside the tree which gives it its unique white bark and waterproof characteristics.
I'll usually just search the forest floor looking for these dead trees and just shake out the rotten wood and put the bark inside a tote for storage until I'm ready to use it.
Will a white birch fire starter burn when wet? Yes, the bark from a white birch will burn when wet, but it burns better when it's dry. To start a fire using birch bark in a survival situation, simply take a portion of the bark and use a knife to scrape away small sections of the bark leaving behind fine shavings.
If you make a pile about the size of a quarter, that's usually plenty of birch bark to light a fire with a spark. Next, use fire steel or "ferro rod" to create a spark and light the fire.
If you're just using the birch bark to light a fire in your wood stove or to create a campfire, the bark is simple to light with a match or lighter and will burn long enough to light your kindling and create a fire in just a few minutes.
Whether you're using a birch bark fire starter to light a survival fire or you're simply using it to light an evening fire in your fireplace, it works great and it's free!
I always like to have a tote of white birch bark on hand to light a fire in my wood stove throughout the winter. Just remember to gather the bark from a dead and decaying tree on the ground and don't peel it off a live standing tree.
Overall, a birch bark fire starter is one of the best natural fire starters you can find!