What’s a Feather Stick
Feather sticks, sometimes called fuzz sticks, are one of the best ways to get a fire going when kindling is wet or hard to come by. At its core, a feather stick is just a branch that has had the bark removed and long, thin strips shaved off of it in order to provide more surface area and better catch a spark. With practice, a well-made feather stick can even be lit directly from a ferrocerium rod, eliminating the need for the sort of fluffy, light kindling that’s often the first to get damp in rainy conditions.
The Right Knife
Selecting a knife for making feather sticks really only comes down to one thing: Sharpness. A well-honed knife makes sticks with thinner shavings, and takes a lot less time to do so. Whatever knife you prefer, get it as sharp as possible by honing it or stropping it first, and only stop when you can easily shave hair from your arm. While a lot of people have opinions about whether stainless or carbon steel is best, as long as it’s a knife that you’re familiar with, and ideally one with a handle that’s easy to grip, you can use it to create a good stick.
The Right Wood
Find a dry stick a little bit bigger than your thumb and take care to remove all of the bark before you begin. You’ll need to avoid any length of wood with branches, since they can catch the blade and interfere with the creation of your fuzz stick. It’s fine to use a piece of wood that tapers at the end as long as you place the widest side of the stick down. Some of the best sticks are made using extremely dry pine, since the resins in the wood catch and hold a spark better than hardwoods. If you’re using a feather stick in addition to other kindling the sort of wood you select doesn’t matter as much.
Bringing It All Together
After you’ve selected your stick and honed your knife, find a flat surface to work on that won’t rock or move as you carve. Hold the thinnest end of the stick in your non-dominant hand and rest the far end on your work surface. Keep it firmly in place as you cut, but there’s no need to press hard enough to bend the stick, which can lead to dangerous, sudden breaks as you shave away material.
Using long, sweeping cuts with the blade of your knife held nearly parallel to the branch, run your knife down the length of the stick. Rotate the branch and make another cut. Stop your cuts just before the end of the branch, leaving the shavings attached, for the best results. As you work, make your cuts further down, whittling the stick uniformly as the shavings stack up. Any cuts that run to far or to deep may remove previous shavings, but they can be saved and added to the top of your stick when you’re ready to light it.
When you’re finished, you’ll see exactly why this tool is called a feather or fuzz stick. You’ll be left with a lot of thin shavings that will light up easily. If you rely on a butane lighter to get your fire going, a feather stick can be used to start a fire directly from the lighter’s flame. Using a ferrocerium rod, especially at first, it might help to create your nest of fluffy kindling directly on top of the stick. With time, you’ll be able to strike sparks and light up a feather stick directly, completely freeing yourself from the task of finding dry kindling in the damp woods.