Fire Feather sticks – By Wild Walk trainee instructor David Veck


The following content was written as a learning record in a student capacity and intended to accompany the practical learning element. Consideration has been given to how this skill might be taught, this written element has a focus on explaining the techniques to a person/people entirely new to the subject. This is not a comprehensive guide nor an instructional document.


Aside from practice, which is essential if you hope to become proficient, the purpose of a feather stick is solely a means of transferring a spark or small flame into combustion flames strong enough to ignite first stage kindling (twigs), it should be thought of as a reliable alternative tinder. As we will explore, feather sticks are neither simple nor easy to prepare, they rely heavily on the quality of wood, local conditions and practised skill.Understanding why and when to use feather sticks is important. So, what do feather sticks replace? In very wet conditions or in the absence of common tinder materials, feather sticks are an excellent option and almost essential. Other tinder sources may include; Birch bark, dry bracken, inner barks such as cedar, poplar or even young oak, goose grass, fire weed, willow catkins and fatwood scrapings. It is worth noting that one or two feather sticks can always add a little security to your fire lighting (especially in damp conditions), as they provide great heat in a vertical column.

Sourcing & Selecting

The local environment will determine the wood available and the climate/season will determine the quality of that wood. There will always be dry standing wood and it pays to be selective. The most upright dead standing wood will always yield the driest core, it is often easier to spot knots where trunks hold their branches. Knots are your enemy and you should aim to find the most knot free section of wood possible. Trunks are better than branches, firstly they stand vertical and also they offer the diameter needed to assure a dry centre. Thick branches can be used if large enough to split down and they provide a dry centre, however, most often if you find thick branches, you will have a trunk.

If soft woods are available, you should use them. They light more readily and burn well, but are also a little easier to prepare. Ultimately, knot free, straight grained wood that is dry in the centre and has no rot is what is needed. Your section needs to be no less than 1 foot long, I prefer working with 2-3 foot sections for comfort and control


Once you have chosen one or two sections you will need to process them down to workable sizes of 8ths or 16th’s. Set aside the worst pieces as kindling as it pays to be selective at this stage, use only the driest, straightest and knot free pieces.

How wet your kindling is will dictate how many feather sticks you need, this comes with experience, but always make 3 or 4 as a minimum. You can’t make too many! My preference is to make a ‘starter stick’, I make this last to ensure it stays dry and the difference with this stick is the curls are as fine as possible, giving the best possible chance of taking a spark. I also direct the curls inwards at the lighting point, this gives a dense pad of curls and therefore a better surface area to catch spark or flame.

Notes on prep:-

  • –  Work under a shelter to keep your materials dry
  • –  Keep feather sticks off the ground and covered where possible
  • –  Store unused pieces as kindling, don’t waste dry wood
  • –  Practice good fire craft habits. Use a fire base, prep good kindling and use any breeze to feedyour fire. Keep materials close to the fire and maintain the balanced triangle of heat, oxygen & fuel.





The acronym “TOP KURLS” can be used to remember the technique tips for success – N.B This acronym was developed by Paul Moore of Wild Walk Bushcraft

Tools – Must be kept sharp. Dull blades will not produce fine shavings. Orientate – Keep your curls on one side of your section of wood. Position – Important to keep the correct Body, Arm & Knife positioning.

Knots – Knots are your enemy. Select sections that are knot-free where possible. Upright – Use upright, dead standing wood, as upright as you can find.

Ridges – Follow the ridges created by each previous cut for finer curls.

Long – Long sections with straight grain.

Start – Start and stop your cuts at the same points.


Seated comfortable, feet planted flat and legs in a relaxed but sturdy position. I like to brace the back of the wood on my outer thigh, the top in my left palm and the bottom on the ground. For shorter lengths, brace against your leg and hold securely or rest against a stump or similar. The cutting strokes should start and stop at the same point, rotating the stick to cut each ridge. (Your first few passes will often create a clean ledge to work from, don’t worry if you drop curls to begin with).

The length of the cut for optimal curls should be around elbow to wrist length. Try to lock the arm straight and use your shoulder movement for controlled and consistent cuts. You should be aiming to achieve a plaining action and not allowing the blade to turn deep into the wood. Blade control is important, find your edge and try to maintain the depth of cut along the length and with each cut consistently. You should make curls until you have reduced the wood down to a thin neck. A good feather stick will provide enough flame to ignite this ‘neck’.

If you are cutting and the wood will not produce curls either it is damp, your blade is dull or you are cutting too deep. Some wood will produce a skittering effect, this is in areas where there are dense growth or pin knots, however it can also happen when your wood is not securely braced at each end.

If the wood is the problem and you simply can’t get the consistent cuts due to skittering, first shave a few layers off and try again, if this doesn’t fix it use another section you prepared. With some woods the grain orientation may affect your cuts, it might help to cut in the opposite direction. Otherwise and if you are satisfied the wood is suitable, focus on the pressure and angle against the wood, rather than forcing down the cut.

You should experience a smooth slicing cut rather than a firm deep cut. If all these factors come together you should have produced a feather stick with long loosely bunched curls on one side of the stick (see Fig.1).

A side note on starter sticks. My personal preference is to make a smaller dedicated starter stick. This will have the finest possible curls with the best possible chance of catching a spark. It is possible to make curls so fine you can blow them into flame from an ember. The other option is to make your

last dozen curls on your last stick extra fine, angle your blade to face right side curls leftward and left side curls rightward so they create a dense bunch in the centre. With experience and the available materials, you will be able to dictate which option is best.

Fig 1. – N.b how thick the necks are in the 2 closest sticks. Plenty of wood left to feather more.




It should go without saying that good fire craft must be practised, assuming you already have those skills, this section focuses on lighting the feather sticks at the fire lay.

If lighting from a flame source such as matches, lighter or candle, you should have a high success rate. Light your feather stick in front of your fire lay, wind over your shoulder. Take the flame source to the base of your feathers (Fig. 2). Hold at a 45-degree angle ready for the flame to climb upward. You should already have your other feathers stacked ready to light from this first stick.


Fig. 2




from the previous cut. Start and stop your cuts at the same point to provide a smooth cut with a bunch of curls concentrated in a clump.

Finally, remember to pay attention to the environment and conditions. If it is raining prepare and even light your feathers under shelter. Don’t place feathers on damp ground, treat them as the tinder source they are!


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