Amadou has been used for many things over the centuries, it has been used for such things as hats, clothing, fly-fishing and of course what we want it for…Fire Lighting.
As a natural material, Amadou, when used for fire lighting, makes one of the best forms of tinder available. It makes tinder that readily catches a spark from even the dullest and coolest spark based method around, namely Flint & Pyrites and readily ignites when used in the Fire Piston or with a magnifying glass on sunny days. In view of the fact that Amadou is such excellent, reliable and renewable natural tinder, it would most probably have been found in many an ancient tinderbox.
Once your Amadou has caught a spark, it will gently and slowly begin to smoulder and smoke. The ember that is produced from smouldering Amadou is VERY HOT making it an outstanding tinder that can be used in most spark and solar based fire making techniques such as Flint & Pyrites, Flint & Steel like the Hudson Bay Tinderbox, Modern Sparking Flints, Fire Pistons, and Solar Ignition (e.g. Parabolic Reflectors and Magnifying lenses). Once the ember becomes established, it is almost impossible to extinguish it with your bare fingers without burning them. To extinguish the ember, you will need to use your steel striker or the tip of a knife to wick away the heat, or a stick to crush and smother the ember, and whatever you do don’t blow on it to put it out as this only makes it grow bigger and stronger.
If you use Amadou with any form of modern pyrophoric/Ferrocerium sparking rods, you will see that it is virtually impossible for it NOT to catch a spark. Sparks from Ferrocerium seem to fly directly towards the Amadou almost instantly creating an immediate and amazingly hot ember. Whilst the Amadou burns at a very high temperature it does not burn quickly, but instead smoulder at a steady, slow and leisurely pace; a small piece, about the size of your little fingernail will burn for a good minute or so.
Compared to modern Ferrocerium flint, using Amadou with Flint & Pyrite is another kettle of fish. The sparks obtained from striking a Flint against iron pyrite are very cool, small and infrequent when compared to Ferrocerium, which are very hot, large and common. Flint & pyrite sparks have a very short lifespan and are almost impossible to see during the day. Under normal daylight conditions, the only way you really know that you are getting any sparks at all, is either because you can faintly smell a pleasant burning flinty odour when the pyrite and flint produce sparks, or you unexpectedly see a faint column of smoke rising from your tinder pile.
The best pyrite to use for fire making is relatively hard to come by, it should have very, very small crystal unlike the pyrite you would normally see in a shop that sells that sort of thing. Large crystalline Pyrite may look good on a shelf or in a rock collection, but for spark based fire lighting it is next to useless. The large crystals of this kind of pyrite usually just shatter if struck by a piece of natural flint, so I would strongly suggest that you do not buy any pyrite that you are sure will not generate sparks and hold up to the pounding that it will be subjected to, unless you just like the look of it.
The best way to create an ember with this method is to scrape at the surface of a big piece of Amadou using a sharp piece of flint, or a knife, to produce a small wad of fluffy fibres about 15 to 25mm (1/2 to 1 inch) across and at least 5 to 10mm (¼ to ½ inch) thick. However, if you can make it bigger, because the bigger the wad of fluffed up Amadou fibres, the better the chances of it catching a spark.
Taking the pyrite in your left hand, if you are right-handed, and hold it about 25mm (1 inch), or so, above the wad of Amadou. Take a good sized piece of flint in your right-hand, making sure that you have a good sharp cutting edge on the flint, and then repeatedly strike the flint against the pyrite in fast controlled short stabbing strikes. The strikes should be at an acute angle of between 25 and 45° to the pyrite, so that you are slicing off small particles of pyrite towards the Amadou. The strikes will also need to have a degree of pressure behind them so that the particles of pyrite that are knocked off will become red hot. The strike rate should be around one or two strikes per second, even so the chances of creating any sparks are fairly slim when compared to Flint & Steel. Keep striking away for as long as it takes, eventually you will create a spark that lasts long enough to traverse the gap between pyrite and Amadou that is sufficiently hot enough to ignite the fluffed up tinder. The whole process, if your flint is sharp and the pyrite is sparking adequately, should take no more than of a couple of minutes from start to flame.
If after a minute or two of rapid striking, you do not see any sparks, and you do not have a small smouldering smoking ember, you should take the opportunity to have a little rest and analyse what may be going wrong. Take a good sniff of the pyrite and note if a pleasant sweetish flinty odour is being produced, if it does smell pleasantly flinty then sparks are undoubtedly being created, but may be just too small, infrequent and short lived to be seen in the ambient light levels that you are currently working in. If the ambient light levels low, i.e. at dusk, dawn or at night, eventually you would most likely see the odd spark being produced.
If you cannot see any sparks being produced, and the pyrite does not faintly smell of burning, it could be because the flint is not as sharp as would be ideal, or the nodule of pyrite has a layer of oxide on it, or both, either of these issues will prevent sparks from being produced. If the flint is less than sharp, you might want to knap it a new cutting edge. If your pyrite has a thin layer of rust on it, you can usually just scrape it away with your flint and try again. If, however, if there is a thick layer of oxide you may need to remove it with a file, or even a grinding wheel if it is too thick, before you even begin to create sparks. Once you have removed the rust layer, revealing a suitable striking surface, your pyrite should be clean and have a slight sparkle as the light catches on the small crystals of pyrite.
Eventually, actually it happens a lot faster than you might imagine, you will find that one of the elusive little spark sprites will have landed on the fluffy bed of Amadou and will then begin to smoulder, once this has happened you will need to fan the smouldering ember with your had until you can see the it has caught. I would not recommend that you even gently blow on the seedling ember, at this stage, as this will most likely take away more heat than is being created, which will cause this delicate little ember to die.
Once you can see a nice little column of smoke rising from the coal gently surround and cover the embryonic ember with a little more of the fluffed up Amadou, surrounding it like a little blanket. Gently fan the blanket with your hand, being careful that you do not cause the fluff to be blown away by the draft that you are causing. As the ember grows it will burn through the surface of its new blanket, when it has done this the ember is probably strong enough to be gently blown on, encouraging it to grow bigger. Fan or blow on the ember until it is large enough to be transferred to a previously prepared tinder bundle.
You will, undoubtedly notice two main and unforgettable characteristics relating to this method of creating sparks:
Traditional Flint & Steel with Amadou make ideal bedfellows. The sparks produced from this combination are more than hot enough to create an ember, provided that your Amadou is dry and has been processed properly.
There are a number of ways to use Flint & Steel with Amadou; however, in this article, I will only reveal the one that I personally prefer to use. For the other techniques that can be used with Flint & Steel fire making, see Article - ‘Making a fire from sparks’ by Mark Hordon.
My favourite way to use Amadou with a Flint & Steel is to pull off a small piece of Amadou, say about the size of your little fingernail, and then place the newly exposed fluffy edge of the Amadou about 1 to 2 mm from the sharp edge of a piece of flint, chert, quarts or other hard glassy type rock.
Natural flint is quite common in the UK, especially in the southern parts of England where there are the chalk downs, it is also commonly found on beaches all along the south coast. Another place to find all be it small pieces of flint, is to take a look in your local garden centre where it is used and sold for garden paths and driveway.
When flint is struck on an edge, with another stone, it should fracture revealing a nice clean sharp edge that will cause many sparks to fly when it is used with a steel striker. The shard of flint should be large enough to comfortably hold between your thumb and index finger without being knocked out when it struck by the steel. Do not be too worried about the size of the flint, because it is surprising just how small a piece of flint can actually be use to create a spark with this method.
Having place the Amadou on top of the flint, you should hold it in place by squeezing the Amadou against the flint with your thumb and the edge of your forefinger.
Holding the steel in your other hand, smartly strike the Steel against the sharp edge of the Flint at an acute angle of about 25° to 45°, as if you are trying to shave off the tiniest piece of flint with the steel (actually it is a tiny slither of steel that is being shaved off by the harder flint). Also, it is important to follow through with strike so that it goes right past the steel. If the strike is done correctly, in a fast but controlled manner, you should see a number of steel shavings being cast off the edge of the flint in the form of tiny red-hot sparks. It only takes one of these red-hot sparks to land in the right place and your Amadou will instantly begin to smoulder and then smoke. You can gently fan the seedling ember with your hand, or very gently blow on it, making sure that you do not accidently blow out of your mouth any spittle as you do so.
Make sure that the ember is well protected from the elements at all times, or you might lose your ember to it. When the newly forming coal has grown a little, and you are sure that it will not go out, you can place it in a previously prepared tinder bundle where it can be blown into a flame.
This ingenious fire lighting technique works on the same principle as the Diesel engine. When air is rapidly compressed, it increases in temperature to such an extent that any flammable materials within the compression zone will spontaneously combust. If the piston is then rapidly removed from the cylinder, the residual heat from the combustion is still sufficient to create an ember upon contact with the air.
The best way to use Amadou in a fire piston is to tear off a tiny piece that can be pushed fairly tightly inside the small cavity at the end of the piston rod. If you use a small prodder stick, with a finely tapered/pointed end, or even the point of your knife, you will have much more control over the amount of Amadou that is pressed into the small cavity than when using podgy fingers. The Amadou must be securely held in place within this cavity or it will have a tendency to fall out when the piston is rammed down the barrel. Also, make sure that you leave a small fluffy bit of Amadou protruding from the end of the rod about the size of a small pencil lead tip, this will hopefully be the point of combustion, but it is not always the case.
The compression part of this process can be made in several ways:
With each of the three methods stated above, it is vitally important that you instantaneously withdraw the piston from the cylinder as soon as they have been rammed together. Any delay will result in the ember becoming starved of vital oxygen, as it remains in the cylinder. This is because the oxygen that was initially in the cylinder would have been instantly consumed with the initial flash burn, as the piston and cylinder were rapidly forced together. If you have separated the piston from the cylinder with the speed necessary to keep the ember alive, you should hear it make a nice ‘Popping’ sound as air rushes into the cylinder.
Immediately the piston and cylinder have separated, take a good look at the Amadou to see if it has started to smoulder. If an ember has formed, you should see it glowing and begin to smoke. If you cannot see signs that you have an ember, you should see definite signs that the fluffy protruding Amadou will have blackened somewhat, this blackening is evidence that the fire piston is working.
Assuming that you have created a glowing ember, and you can see a small column of smoke rising from the Amadou, you can very gently fan it with your hand, or blow on it a couple of times to fully develop it. It is important to remembering, at this stage, that the piece of Amadou in the piston cavity is very small, so any ember that has or will form will quickly burn itself out, unless you do something with it. The best thing to do with such a small piece of smouldering Amadou is transfer it to another larger piece of tinder before it goes out. This can be done, in three ways:
If an ember has not been created, you will need to gently blow fresh air into the cylinder, being careful not to blow too much moisture into the barrel from your breath and definitely no spittle. Excess moisture, from your breath, will have dampening effect, reducing the build-up of any heat that being generated by the diesel compression, thus reducing the chances of an ember being formed. A much better alternative to blowing new air into the cylinder, would be to use a small stick that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the cylinder bore, this small stick then becomes an air displacer. The stick should be carefully placed into the cylinder, and then removed; this action will cause the old, spent, air to be displaced from the cylinder as the stick is placed into it, and then be replaced with fresh air as it is removed from the cylinder. Once the air has been replaced, a new attempt can be made to create an ember. This procedure should be done each time an attempt to create an ember has failed and a new attempt is going to be made.
As a point of interest, the stick that has been mentioned above should be made to resemble a small pencil. This multifunction tool should be pointed at one end and gently rounded but flat at the other. The flat end it should also have a small slit going from one side to the other passing through the middle and running about 5 to 10mm down the tools length, so that a piece of tissue can be inserted into the slit and used to clean the cylinder barrel when necessary. The other function of the flat end is to replace spent air in your fire piston as described above. The pointed end is used as an Amadou/ember manipulator, enabling you to pack Amadou into the piston cavity and winkle it out when you have created an ember.
If the fire piston refuses to create an ember after three or four attempts it should be examined for faults. Failure to produce an ember is usually for one of the following reasons:
Solar ignition should be the first choice method of creating a fire when at all possible, since it does not use up any of your precious resources to do so; sunlight, whenever you see it in the UK, is free, and as long as you look after a lens or parabolic mirror, it should last forever.
Creating an ember with any kind of solar ignition is exceptionally easy, so long as it is a nice sunny day, and you have a means of concentrating the sun’s rays into a focused point of light. Usually, when thinking of focusing the sun’s rays, the first method that springs to mind, for most of us that is, is through some sort of magnifying glass or lens. A magnifying glass lens is usually thought of as being biconvex (convex on both sides), however, they are not limited to this traditional shape. Lenses are manufactured in a myriad of shapes, from concave to convex, from almost round to completely flat (as in the Fresnel lens), they come is an infinite number of sizes and strengths, and they come in a number of materials that include glass, plastic and clear quartz. Some of these shapes, sizes, strength and materials much are better than others and some lenses, such as a biconcave lens, will just not work at all.
When dealing with biconvex lenses, as a general rule of thumb, the bigger lens and more dense the lens material, the more powerful the lens and therefore the more suitable it is for fire making. A bigger lens will collect more sunlight, which means that there is more potential heat at the focal point, also the denser the lens material, the easier it is able to bend the light into a smaller, more condensed focal point. Effectively, bigger and denser lenses works better over a larger variety of light conditions and cause more sunlight to be collected and then positioned on a smaller area of your Amadou tinder, which increases the overall potential heat to that area. At the other end of the scale, a cheap plastic lens of less than about 10 to 15mm in diameter, will most probably be too small to be used in anything but the hottest parts of the world, since the amount of sunlight that it could collect and focus would not be hot enough to ignite a piece of Amadou.
There are, however, many exceptions to this basic rule, for example, small, cheap Fresnel lenses are often manufactured from low-density plastic and are as flat as a piece of thick paper, but these lenses have an almost unbelievably high magnification and are ideal for fire making.
If you do not have, a purpose made magnifying lens with you when you need to make a fire, you can always obtain one by dismantling a pair of binoculars or a camera. A pair of spectacles will also work, providing the spectacles corrective lenses are made for people with Hyperopia, i.e. long-sighted or farsighted vision. Spectacles made for people with Hyperopia will have convergent lenses, which are convex in shape, and are able to focus light onto a piece of Amadou tinder. For people with Myopia, i.e. Short-sighted or Near sighted vision, the corrective lenses in the spectacle will tend to have divergent lenses, these negative optical power lenses do not focus light, but instead cause the light to spread outwards and will not therefore be able to focus the sunlight on to your Amadou tinder.
Suitable lenses, for fire making, are not limited to those that can be bought from a shop, salvaged from a camera or pair of binoculars etc. A serviceable lens that is suitable for fire-making does not have to be all that perfect. In fact, all a fire-making lens has to do is condense sufficient sunlight to some kind of focal point that is hot enough to ignite your Amadou tinder. The focal point does not need to be a unified shape, or a unified and consistent size, as long as it allows some kind of focusing to take place. To this end, a crude fire-making lens could be fashioned from almost any material that is clearly see through, has edges that are round or can be made round and be made from a substance that can hold water, or even shape water, or some other form of clear liquid.
A paradoxically good burning lens can be manufactured from clear ice; a crude but serviceable lens can be made from a bubble of water that is contained in clear plastic or rubber film of some kind, such as cling-film or a condom. A suitable lens can be fashioned from a small pool of water that is contained in a clear drinks bottle or even a broken light bulb etc.
Another common way of focusing light is by means of the parabolic mirror. Parabolic mirrors are basically dish shaped, or concave, mirrors/reflective surfaces that collect and then reflect light, causing the reflected light to converge on a single point. You often find parabolic mirrors being used as reflectors in torches and car headlight. Placing a piece of Amadou at the focal point of a parabolic mirror will cause an ember to form at the point of convergence.
Another way of obtaining sufficient sunlight to ignite Amadou tinder was developed and successfully used, by Archimedes, the Greek mathematician and inventor, to set fire, and then sink, a an invading armada of sailing ships in 212 B.C. The method employed by Archimedes was to reflect lots of sunlight from a large number of mirrors (i.e. the polished shields of the soldiers), onto a single point on the invading ship/s. This collective sunlight would have been sufficient to cause the ships sails and wooden hulls to spontaneously ignite even from a great distance. Whilst this method does not involve the focusing of sunlight through a single lens or from a single parabolic mirror, it does require that you have a lot of individual mirrors or the shards from a single, or several broken mirrors, which can be combined to form what is effectively a single parabolic mirror.
When sufficient sunlight, is focused onto a piece of Amadou, it will more or less instantly create a good smoulder ember. If the focused beam is held over the ember a little longer, after the ember has formed, it will allow it to become established and grow at a faster rate. As with the other methods of creating an ember, stated above, you should develop the ember before it is placed in a tinder bundle, although it is unlikely to be extinguished due adverse weather conditions since it had to be a sunny day to have ignited the Amadou in the first place.
When you have a gently smoking ember in your piece of Amadou, you will need to nurture and protect it from the element of water. Nature’s water in the form of rain, drizzle and snow, or your own bodily secretions in the form of spittle or sweat, will extinguish any ember, as soon as it touches it. By contrast, air in the form of even the slightest breeze, will cause it to become even hotter and burn out that much quicker.
When you have a good ember, you will need to transfer it to a tinder bundle and blow it into a flame. To do this properly, you will need to take your time, collect your thoughts together and relax. There is no need to rush this critical step, since you will have plenty of time to turn your ember into a flame, but it is also important not to dawdle.
Once a spark has caught and you have a seedling ember, you can gently blow on it, or fan it with your hand, until the ember forms a glowing coal you are satisfied will not go out when handled. When the ember becomes established, to your satisfaction, carefully put your flint and steel, magnifying lens or other ignition device down in a safe place such as back in your tinderbox, and then place coal into the centre of a previously prepared tinder bundle. Gently but firmly fold the tinder bundle around the ember, being careful not to crush it or smother it. Turning your back to the prevailing winds, raise the tinder bundle above your head and begin to blow on the ember, this will help keep the smoke away from your face and allow you to breath in clean non-smoky air. The wind, if there is any, will also aid you by blowing the smoke that is being produced away from you, it will also help fan the ember.
Upon each in-breath, you can help keep the ember hot by moving the tinder bundle down from your above your head to stomach height and then back up to head height again. It is a good idea, when you are doing this, to make sure that the tinder bundle is held at arm’s length, or you may well find, much to your discomfort, that you breath in a lung full of choking smoky air.
As the ember grows inside the tinder bundle you will eventually see that it begins to produce a thick greenish smoke, this greenish smoke is an indicator that that a flame is almost there. When you see the greenish smoke you will need to blow a little harder, but is short puffs, this should cause the tinder bundle to spontaneously ignite into a flame.
When you have a flame, gently blow on the tinder bundle, just below the flames, a couple more times to increase the air to the ember, and then, without burning your hands, place the burning tinder bundle into your previously prepared fire lay.
When it comes to fire lighting, Amadou has several main advantages over char cloth, which is also without question an excellent form of tinder:
We, at Shark-Tinderbox, have obtained a batch of Amadou, the quality of which is without comparison. Each piece of this, exceptional quality, Amadou (sold in 10 gram bags and 50 gram bags or as sheets that measure 100mm x 120mm and 150mm x 200mm), is light and incredibly soft, it has the feel of best quality suede, or soft buckskin leather, and is beautifully made, to a consistent and outstanding quality. It is, by far, the best Amadou that we have ever seen, made or used.
Amadou of any quality is very difficult to come by, unless you make it yourself and anyone who has tried to make Amadou for themselves will readily admit that it is not the easiest thing to produce. The process, at its simplest, involves a whole lot of time and patients.
If you would like further information about how to make Amadou tinder fungus or would like to purchase some of our authentic top quality tinder or , please follow one of these hyperlinks.