Mastering the art of feather stick making is a terrific way to
process dry tinder and hone your knife skills… and it’s lots
Feather sticks (also known as fuzz sticks) are a popular bushcraft activity/skill to master for a number of very practical reasons. Feather sticks are not only a terrific improvised source of tinder, but making feather sticks dramatically improves your knife skills! These two reasons alone make mastering feather stick making a must for every survival and bushcraft enthusiast!
Quality feather stick curls are paper thin and can be ignited with merely a spark from a fire steel or ferro rod. Even less-than-optimal feather stick curls can be tremendously helpful in a survival situation, but the finer and thinner you can shave your feather stick curls the better! All you have to do is spend a little time working on your technique and practice and you should be able to get paper thin curls in no time!
The primary bushcraft/survival benefit of learning to make quality feather sticks is that this skill gives you the ability to process dry tinder even in wet conditions. As we all know, when conditions are wet it can be really challenging to forage natural dry tinder. In wet or damp conditions, being able to make a few feather sticks allows you to process dry tinder when dry tinder cannot be found or foraged. This can be a game changer in terms of creating fire and can literally be the difference between having a fire and going without!
Not only are feather sticks a tremendous way to process dry tinder, they are also a fantastic way to hone and finesse your knife skills. It takes considerable skill and control to make quality paper thin curls on a feather stick and it’s something that takes some practice and technique. It takes an extremely delicate touch, but anyone can master it with some practice and proper technique. It’s one thing to baton a beefy knife through a log to process it down into kindling. It’s quite another to have the ability to leverage your knife with finesse and delicacy to process a typical stick into paper-thin tinder that can ignite with just a spark!
A few variables are required for optimal feather sticks. First, you must have a quality (not necessarily expensive) sharp knife. Feather sticks can be made with a number of different types of outdoor knives, but some types of knives work much better than others. We have found that a “scandi” grind (beveled) blade tends to work better than other types of grinds. Also, fixed blade knives tend to work better than folders for this application.
Wood type is another variable that will impact the quality of your feather stick curls. Try different types of woods. Green sticks are even easier to shave and curl than dry sticks, but unfortunately the moisture content in green sticks is higher making them more difficult to ignite with just a spark. That being said, even green sticks dry out very quickly once they are feathered… so making a few feather sticks out of green wood and setting them in the wind and sun can dry them out overnight or even in a few hours improving their ignition point. Dry woods are definitely preferred for producing immediately available tinder. The size, shape, length and diameter of your wood will also impact the quality of your feather sticks. There are a number of schools of thought on these variables, so try several and learn which variables work best for you.
Technique is a huge variable in the feather stick equation. There are a number of ways to approach feather stick making (general technique), but several common variables in feather stick making seem to produce better results regardless of the general technique that you end up preferring. A firm grip of your knife (much like the grip you’d use to hold the handle bar on your mountain bike), a locked wrist and elbow are also key to your technique as you push through your wood with long strokes powered by your shoulder are key to nice long curls. Angle of the blade as you glide down your stroke can change the dynamic of your curls as well. Angling your blade to the left or right as you push through tends to make your curls travel in like direction into nice elongated spirals as opposed to tight overlapping curls, allowing your curls to access more air which is ideal for ignition. Another tip is to use the curved part of your knife blade for best results.
Here’s a great feather stick video tutorial from the bushcraft legend Mors Kochanski!:
So what does a “textbook” optimal feather stick look like? Here is an illustration from Mors Kochanski’s Bushcraft book to use as a guide for your feather sticks and how to evaluate your technique and curls for optimal results:
From Mors Kochanski’s book, Bushcraft, examples (left to right) of best
feather stick results compared to worse feather stick results
Now don’t get discouraged if your early attempts at feather stick making don’t result in a huge blossom of gorgeous paper-thin curls. It takes practice getting the proper technique down! Don’t give up! Also, “textbook” feather sticks have all of their curls intact and attached to the stick they are shaved from… but this is not required. Even loose curls make wonderful tinder (Tip: Collect your loose curls in a hat or container to keep them off the damp ground and keep them dry)! Keeping your curls attached to the original stick merely adds to the fun of the challenge and demonstrating additional skill. It’s lots of fun to practice improving your technique and make adjustments to your blade angle, draw length, etc. to produce thinner and curlier feather sticks. You will see your results improve dramatically with practice!
One last reason to learn to feather stick: Quality feather sticks are simply a thing of beauty! The tight delicate curls of finely shaved feather sticks are absolutely gorgeous! They are like small curled paper sculptures that look magical in the light of the sun and fire. The ability to transform a typical “boring” stick into a bloom of gorgeous paper-thin curls is an impressive skill that even your friends will admire! Doing it right in front of them will elicit a response that is almost like executing an impressive magic trick!
So next time you find yourself with a little extra time, a knife and some wood, try your hand at some feather sticks! Feather sticks are a really great way to hone your knife skills, process tinder for fire and spend a little time relaxing in the outdoors!
Let us know what you think about feather sticks! Got any tips or tricks of your own you’d like to share? Can you think of any other great reasons to learn feather stick making? Let us know with your comments below!
Want to see some more examples of gorgeous feather sticks? Check out our Feather Stick Pinterest board below!