Bushcraft, Fire-Building and Business?

By Lee Collins •  Updated: 03/20/18 •  8 min read
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People ask me why I love “doing outdoor stuff” so much.

Why do you like water? Or air? LOL

I’m really not trying to be disrespectful with my answer.

I know they are behind their computers 12 to 20 hours every day and I’ve been there, too. Enough to know I’d much rather be in a hammock reading a real book. Or hiking. Or thinking. We all need more uninterrupted thinking time.

Or practicing all the different ways to create a fire.

After we laugh together at my answer, I will always explain further… but this picture says it more simply than 1,000 words.

To me, being outside in nature feels like a religious experience.

It’s very intentional. It is a practice.

The more time I enjoy outside the better I perform, for me, for my wife Natalie, for my clients, and for my own business.

As I was prepping for my first time creating a fire by magnesium and candle, it felt to me much like the Japanese tea ceremony.

The ceremony is the “way of tea” similar to my preparation is the way of fire.

I have created fire by many means…

– hand drill
– bow drill
– bamboo
– lighter
– fatwood
– Instafire
– flint and steel
– magnifying lens
– and many more

It’s a system.
It’s a process.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

That is the way of fire.

It is very meditative.

Notice the picture.

Creating the fire itself took about 15 seconds. That’s it.

But prepping to create the fire took much longer.

Before I even started I had to have the knowledge of how to create fire. I had to understand fire needs 3 things to live: 1) oxygen, 2) fuel, and 3) heat. I had to understand the 3 stages of fire and how to encourage the fire to move through all three of these stages. It’s all a process.

(There is a parallel to business here that I will share later.)

With my objective in mind, first I prepared my prep area.

That’s the square piece of leather the candle is resting on. Using this thick piece of leather prevents the wicking of moisture into our materials. It’s a vital step that is often skipped by the inexperienced.

Unless you have no choice, it’s best to not work directly on the ground. I use it on wet or dry ground, if only to be intentional about the process.

Then I scraped off a quarter-size pile of magnesium. This will be the material that takes the spark from the ferro rod and ignites the wick of the candle.

Next, I charred the wick of the candle. This helps it come to flame from a spark faster.

I used birch bark to create my “bird nest”, prepared by scraping the inner bark with my knife and processing it down to the finest fibers by rolling it between my hands. The more fine fibers and surface area that are exposed, the faster and easier it will come to flame, so careful preparation is massively important.

The next stage is tinder.

Those are the little match-size twigs you see in the picture. These need to be dry and if you hear a solid “snap” when you break it off the tree you know it’s going to be good, dry wood for the fire to eat. (Never collect fuel from the ground – it will likely be much too wet.)

After tinder, the next stage of the fire will be the kindling. Those are the smaller thumb-size sticks beside my left hand. I processed those down using my BK2 from the larger split wood using a process called “batoning” (since my axe wasn’t handy).

Where I will build the fire, you can see I used two pieces of the split wood on either side of my fire lay that you see to the right of my right hand (about 4 pieces of kindling laid flat between these to keep the fire off the ground, and to provide the first layer of the coal bed which will be important later.)

In the picture you see the “bird nest” I made.

It’s resting between the two larger pieces of wood.

Now, normally I wouldn’t prep the fire lay in this configuration but in this case the objective was to create char cloth, so this is basically creating a stove for me to “cook” the small strips of cotton loosely placed inside the Altoids can that I will eventually insert between the larger pieces to be engulfed in flames.

Yes, this is lots of preparation for a 15-second process that will create about a solid 15-minute fire – more than enough time to create about 10 tiny pieces of char cloth.

With everything in place…

– I place the candle wick above the little pile of magnesium shavings
– I use the back of my knife blade to strike the ferro rod
– The magnesium sparks up to the wick
– The wick begins to flame
– I move the candle carefully to the bird nest
– The bird nest ignites

Hours and hours of prior experience.
30 minutes of prep.
15 seconds to flame.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. – Abraham Lincoln

If you’ve ever built a fire you know you start with smaller pieces of wood and get larger as the fire grows, so now we feed the fire.

I place the pile of match-size twigs (tinder) onto the flame. As the tinder catches the fire, I place the thumb-size kindling on top in a “Lincoln log” fashion to create a funnel of flames to cook my cotton into char in preparation for future fires.

Why do all this?
Why so intentional?
Why practice firecraft so often?

Because, when you don’t practice, you fail.

An example is when I was up for a week with my friend Bob in Pennsylvania and we both rested on our laurels, without properly preparing to create fire, and we froze our tails off in the snowy cold winter for much longer than we should have or would have if we had take time to prepare.

Or when Natalie and I went camping, arrived after dark, in the rain, and just couldn’t get a fire going at all so we both went to bed gripey and cold that night as a result.

In fact, every “bad time” I ever had camping was because we couldn’t get a good fire going.

Lesson learned.
So I trained.
And I practiced.
Over and over.

To enhance my future probability of success.

When Natalie and I went camping in the misty rain in the North Georgia mountains and woke up freezing because the temperature had plummeted overnight it was SNOWING, getting a fire started in these wet and cold conditions was pretty simple because I had already done all the prep work the night before and placed the wood under my tarp so it would be ready for the morning.

Now it’s like a ceremony for fire every time.

Because fire truly is a gift.

I honor the process and can now create fire under most any condition whether it’s snow, wind, rain or even a bright, beautiful sunny day.

I also carry several different ways to create fire anytime I am outdoors.

I practice because creating fire is a perishable skill. When you rest on your laurels, presuming that because you’ve done it hundreds of times you will be able to do it this time…

… well, that isn’t always true.

Sounds a lot like business, huh?

The research.
The preparation.
The process.

It’s all a system that, when you don’t follow it, often ends in abrupt failure.

Can you skip steps? Sure, in ideal conditions you may be able to skip or short-cut some steps. But why not prepare yourself for the worst, and hope for the best?

“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.” – Confucius

I’ve seen so many business owners lose their minds over the simplest of things when a little bit of preparation could have easily overcome the challenge.

That’s why I do what I do.

Indoors and outdoors. Under the best and worst conditions.

Whether it’s building a fire or building a business, I’m a systems guy.

I follow the plan.

If no plan exists I create the plan, test the plan, and THEN I follow the plan, constantly looking to improve the plan where possible as long as my results remain the same or better.

That’s how you create the life-giving gift of  FIRE…

… in your campsite,
… in your business,
… and in your life.

Lee Collins

Lee Collins is a former Air Force Network Systems Engineer and Fortune 500 Corporate VP - who is best known as an early pioneer of Direct Response Marketing on the Internet. He has over 24+ years experience running operations for multiple multi-million dollar marketing, software, SEO, financial, and business coaching companies. When Lee isn't helping his private clients solve big (and small) marketing and operations problems, Lee is most likely heading up into the mountains in his fully-equipped Jeep Gladiator. Or just gone fishing.