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HomeSurvivalFireFire From Ice

Fire From Ice: The Trail of Learning Part III

Allan "Bow" Beauchamp

In the previous articles of this series, I have tried to give the readers a starting point for this great skill. In doing so, I have gained many insights into developing this skill. I had tried to develop a "feel" for forming a lens with my hands. Also, I had experimented with various types of ice, from deep water, fast water, sheltered water, and so on.

Photo 33

My initial work led me to what you see in Photo 33. This was the best lens that I could fabricate with the materials I had encountered.

Photo 34

In Photo 34, you can see the actual light being focused.

The problems faced were always the same in every scenario. Weather variables always derailed my attempts at making "fire from ice." A gust of wind or a change in sky conditions would ruin my chances of actually igniting my tinder. That alone, with the amount of time available to use a melting ice lens, made me seek other "options." I did not want to just be able to make fire under perfect conditions. I needed more practical solutions that could only be learned through more trial and error. I have followed the trail of learning in my article Two Stone Fire Starting. Now a new trail was laid out before me.

Photo 35

I needed to find a new source of material, something more practical. As I was traveling through the bush one day, it occurred to me to try what I call "bush ice." This was nothing more than a small creek with water in it. Photo 35.

Photo 36

The ice had surprisingly good clarity and was easy to harvest. Plus, the ice had had a uniform thickness that would require less crafting time. Photo 36. The ice was good and hard, not brittle, that would work to my advantage. I would like to add here another advantage of "bush ice." By not having to walk on a frozen lake or river, I reduced my risk of falling onto icy water.

Photo 37

As you see in the previous photo, I began to smooth the outside of the ice with my hands. A smooth surface with few imperfections, bumps, or uneven spots is a plus. Smooth ice with no obstructions allows for the best chance for the light to produce the heat we need. Remembering what we have learned earlier, we know that the light's angles entering the lens, plus the angles of the lens's surface combine to produce the intensity of the rays. In order to produce greater heat, I decided to try a larger diameter lens. Photo 37.

Photo 38

With the larger diameter lens, it seemed that I would not have to make the ice as "convex or concave." You can see that I used my knife in Photo 38 to help shape the interior.

Photo 39

After starting the shape with the knife, I returned to my method of using the warmth of my bare hand to smooth and continue to shape the lens. One slight difference was that I used a gloved, and therefore cooler hand to hold the lens. This preserved my previous crafting and materials for the fine-tuning stage. Photo 39.

Photo 40

Looking at Photo 40 shows us that light is indeed passing through the lens. My goal now is to slowly shape the lens to increase the focus of the rays. Notice the different intensities of the light on my buckskin. Look closely at the 3 o’clock point on the buckskin. Next to the shadow of my thumb, the light took on a unique quality. Was the water melting from my warm thumb increasing the intensity of the light? This thought might come in handy in future trials. One thing gained for sure was the knowledge that the larger lens and shallower " concave-convex" shaping seemed to move me closer to my goal.

Photo 41

In Photo 41, you can see that I was able to use my palm to shape and smooth the larger lens.

Photo 42

Photo 42. I held the lens with my gloved hand and tried to make sure the thickness was uniform throughout, and that the lens had a smooth circular shape. Trial and error again gave me a feel for this. There is no easy answer or shortcut.

Photo 43

I used my knife at times to help the process, but all rough surfaces must be smoothed by hand. Photos 43 and 44 show the dimensions of the lens clearly. "Fine tune" or remove the ice slowly to preserve material!
A word of caution here: On several occasions as I shaped the lens, I would seem to lose some intensity of the light. This is not always due to a mistake on your part. Light conditions can vary from minute to minute. Pay close attention to the sun and other variables that might affect your light source. This is one of the variables that has kept me looking for better and more practical "options."

Photo 44


Photo 45

Photo 45 shows how far we have come in directing the focus of our light. In order to directly focus the light more, I steepened the outer edges of the lens all of the while remembering to maintain symmetry and uniform thickness.

Photo 46

In Photo 46, you will see a side view of the lens that shows the "concave-convex" qualities that I sought.

Photo 47

In Photos 47 and 48, I experimented by holding the lens at different angles. I hoped to find a "sweet spot" in the lens that would not be as susceptible to the changes in the sun's light.

Photo 48


Photo 49

Moving on to Photo 49, I further fine tuned the lens with my thumbs carefully to check the light's focus while accounting for light conditions.

Photo 50

You can see the tinder bundle of shredded cedar protected in a turtle shell. Photos 50 and 51. Notice my gradual fine-tuning, along with adjusting the lens angle, has provided a concentrated light beam. What you can not tell from this photo is that I smelled the cedar heating up. Still, I was just short of ignition.

Photo 51

There must be other variables. Could it be that my northern latitude compromises the strength of the sun's rays? Do I need a site-specific lens for the Canadian bush?

Of the countless lenses that I made, each one brought me closer to "fire from ice." I have learned to consider variables ranging from the type of ice, size and shape of lens, angle and intensity of sunlight, and even moisture on the ice's surface.

My lens style changed dramatically. So did my idea of the learning curve for this skill. I now had an "ok" heat generator, but not a fire starter. Preparation time and dependence on the weather left me searching for further "options." Had I missed a crucial clue in the initial stages of developing ice lenses? My trail of learning would indeed continue.


Photo 52

Photo 53


Part I    Part II    Part III


This article originally appeared in Wilderness Way magazine, Vol 9, issue 2
Text and Photos Copyright by
Allan "Bow" Beauchamp