With the installation of the new Jøtul F602 stove (more about that soon), temperatures that could be described as ‘room’ have finally arrived on the ground floor of Breg House.
This marks a significant upgrade in comfort; for the last decade, heat downstairs was in short supply and female guests in particular had complained of the rather chilly situation in the WC. Well, visitors need endure the winter chill no longer; Breg House just got a whole lot hotter.
But whilst starting my Piazzetta e905 stove has never been a problem, I’m still getting used to the Jøtul with its much smaller firebox. This got me thinking again about firelighters. Now, I don’t buy firelighters. I dislike the stench of the common paraffin-soaked white tablets, and even the wax-woodshaving firelighters which I have used in the past and are very good, still use paraffin wax, and still have to be purchased.
In general, I have enough waste paper and card from everyday living to provide myself with sufficient firelighting materials but to facilitate the lighting of the Jøtul I started thinking about collecting some naturally-occurring firelighters from the forest that surrounds Breg.
Birch bark is the first natural firelighter that comes to mind, but birch trees are not in abundance in the area. There are however thousands of pine trees which naturally secrete resin from their trunks wherever they have sustained a wound. Pine resin contains terpenes and it lights very easily, and burns hot and long enough to make it an ideal natural fire starter.
I wandered into the forest to see if I could find and collect some of this amber. There was no need to make any fresh cuts; almost every pine I passed had a least some secretion of resin, but I was looking for trees which had bled so much that the once-liquid resin had solidified into a hard, brittle material – akin to the hardened blood of a scab.
Within just a few minutes of searching I found exactly that. But on my first expedition I’d come armed only with a penknife. This turned out to be inadequate for prizing off chunks of pine amber; I required a tool with greater leverage. So I returned to the house and picked up a long-shanked flat-head screwdriver, plus an old Pringles’ tube in which to collect my amber and returned to the Amber hunt.
The two-tool combo proved ideal for amber collection. I found it best to avoid the fresher resin which was still in liquid form (albeit highly viscous) and instead located aged resin that was brittle and easily prized from the trunks with little effort.
The Tree of a Thousand Cuts
Most of the trees that had bled some resin provided me with a piece or two of amber. But then I happened upon a tree that had so much resin flowing down the trunk, it looked like a well-used wax candle.
Beads of solidified resin coated the trunk, forming mini-stalactites in places. Even well up the height of the trunk, I could see resin oozing from this tree; it had clearly seen some action. In fact this one battle-scarred tree had produced so much resin that I was able to pick up perfectly-sized hunks from the ground below, which had already broken off and fallen of their own accord.
With the discovery of this fountain of resin, my Pringles tube was quickly filled and I returned to the house. I later tested the resin’s firelighting abilities in the Jøtul by placing a small piece – about the size of a sweet-chestnut – on a piece of cardboard and lighting it with a match. It worked perfectly, igniting the kindling first time.
I find a great pleasure in gathering things from the forest. As with my homemade wooden gutters that I made during the pandemic from tree trunks, there is satisfaction to be found in the hunt for materials. Yes, I could buy firelighters cheaply and easily, but I like that looking for resin takes me into the forest and it is rewarding to return with a useful substance that is completely natural and is found so close to home.
A word of warning for anyone thinking of collecting their own; pine resin is very sticky stuff. Even the hardened chunks tend to have a little viscous goo adhered to their surface so my screwdriver and my hands got a little sticky. But with a couple of drops of hand sanitiser (any strong alcohol will do the trick) it was quickly cleaned off.
With a Pringles tube full of the stuff, lighting up my new Jøtul F602 should be quick and easy, and as it only takes a small piece of resin for ignition – I expect my supply to last me until spring. And if I run out, ten minutes of amber hunting in the forest will quickly replenish my store.