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Birch Bark

Birch bark is one of the best types of bark you can use to start a fire. It will light when it's damp because its natural oils are highly flammable. 

Where is Birch Bark Found?


White birch and paper birch grow naturally throughout Canada and the northern U.S., as far south as Tennessee and in the west, most of Oregon. Some type of birch grow everywhere in the U.S., but if you want the classic paper birch bark at-hand in the Southwest, you'll have to plant this tree in your yard. 

You can peel off handy sections of bark with your knife, or use bark from a fallen tree or branch. If you plant one, be aware these trees are some of the fastest growers, but they're also susceptible to disease from borers and beetles. The bark protects against pests, so don't cut off too much bark at a time. Just take what you need.

How to Handle the Bark


Once you peel the bark off the tree, you'll see that the outside is white and the inside is a pale beige or brown color. With the inside of the bark facing upward, press the bark as flat as you can. Scrape with the grain of the bark to make the finest shavings you can for your tinder. They should look like pencil shavings. After you get the super-fine shavings, cut up some medium and larger pieces of the bark to make sure your fire has the fuel it needs to get going.

To Start the Fire


If it's wet outside, chances any matches you might have are wet also. This is where firesteel comes in. 

Prepare your kindling with the superfine shavings, medium, and larger pieces. Put the superfine shavings on a larger piece of birch bark and put your ferro rod close to these shavings. A few strikes of your striker or the back of your knife should help you get a small, stable matchlike flame.

Once this flame is going, carefully add the medium-sized pieces. Once this stage is burning well, add the larger pieces of bark. Once these are ignited, you can add more fuel and kindling carefully. Just don't smother the flames.

Harvesting and Storing Birch Bark


Spring is the best time to harvest birch bark because the sap is running. Sometimes bark will pop off the tree on its own due to rapid growth. Be careful about taking bark from a living tree, because you could damage the inner bark, and the tree could die. 

If you harvest more than a one-time use of the bark, you will want to store it. Roll the bark longwise (the way it curls naturally) and store it in a cool, dry area. Most bark can be split in two layers and sometimes even more. If the bark hardens, you can also soften it with steam or soaking in water to unroll it for scraping and use.

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