You’re lost in the middle of nowhere… No food, map, shelter, phone, it’s pitch black and you’re freezing! What keeps you upbeat and fills you with hope? Fire! Bet you wish you knew how to make a torch. Right?
Torches have been created, improved and perfected since the days when cavemen were fending off sabertooths. They have been a source of light and a means of transferring fire from one place to another. They have been used throughout history and still are in processions, symbolic and religious events as well. Being able to control fire using a torch means that we are able to cook food, create fire for heat and of course light up the night. So right here, you’re going to learn how to make a torch when you need hours of fire. So let’s get into it, shall we?
How to Make a Torch – the Anatomy
A good torch will generally consist of 5 components, well, 4 plus something to ignite your fire so technically 5! Before we get into each of the components, we need to get something straight. When venturing off anywhere, whether that be a camping trip, a hike or even to the local shops (laugh if you will), you should always be prepared. You should have a bug-out-bag packed and ready to rock and roll. Here is a full guide on everything that you should include in your kit but for the sake of this article, we’ll stick to items that are related.
These items should include a decent survival knife, something to ignite a fire with (lighter, matches, flint and steel set) and possibly a small sealable container of cooking/vegetable oil. These items will be indispensable for anytime that you need to make a fire, which you will if you’re stuck out in the middle of butt f$&k nowhere! Now we have that out of the way, let’s get into the components… We’ll round off the components first. Then follow up with some manmade and natural materials you can use for each item. Here are the components of how to make a torch.
Component 1 – Holder/Base
The aim of the “holder” or “base” is to keep the fire away from the body. You will want to be able to hold onto at a reasonable distance to enable it to help guide you with its glow. You also want to be able to hold it towards anything else that you wish to set alight. The optimum size for a holder/base is generally around 2 feet in length and 2 inches thick (diameter).
- Man Made – random rubble including steel, metal, housing timber, etc.
- Natural – wet or green wood, river cane, cat tails, reeds, bark, etc. Make sure that whatever you choose is not old and/or dried out.
Component 2 – Wick/Torch Head
The aim of the “wick” or “torch head” is to hold and contain the fire within that part of your torch. Ideally, you will want it to be compact enough that your torch stays together and wont crumble. It must also be airy enough that oxygen can continue to keep your torch burning for as long as you need it.
- Man Made – tissue paper, toilet paper, fiberglass, kevlar, bundles of rags or socks (or an item of clothing that can be torn or cut – preferably cotton). Try to avoid using any kind of polyester or stretchy materials. They tend to melt and emit black smoke which is not the effect you’re after essentially. Plus mother nature wont be happy.
- Natural – flammable plant materials including Leyland cypress, Italian cypress, rosemary, arborvitae, eucalyptus, and some ornamental grasses. Also pine cones, bark nests stuffed with dry grass, moss, small bits of wood or leaves, soft bark.
Component 3 – Binding/Cordage
The aim of the “binding” or “cordage” is to hold the wick tight and snug in place around the holder. It helps create a strong, sturdy torch that you can hold with confidence. It can also be used anywhere else that requires binding.
- Man Made – twine, fine rope, sewing thread, tie wire (stainless steel) any galvanised wire will emit toxic smokes.
- Natural – stinging nettle , coconut palm fibre (Requires minimal preparation), hemp, spruce roots, yucca leaf fibers. (the latter sources can be used without preparation).
Component 4 – Fuel Source
The aim of the “fuel source” is to keep your wick alight as well as provide your wick with a protective coating. It will help to prevent your torch from burning out too fast or blowing out when you need it most. You want to make sure that your wick is drenched in fuel to ensure your torch stays alight.
- Man Made – cooking oil, vegetable fat, alcohol, paraffin, chainsaw bar oil, kerosene.
- Natural – pine pitch (sap) animal fats (eg: bacon grease), beeswax.
Component 5 – Lighter/Ignition Source
Of course you will need something to light your torch with. If you have prepped before you ventured out then you should have some kind of lighter with you. If you didn’t then check out our other post on how to make a quick fire.
- Man Made – lighter, matches, flint and steel set.
- Natural – pre made fire.
How to Make a Torch Using 3 Torch Building Methods
As mentioned earlier, you will need 1 (or multiple) of each of the 4 components plus a lighter of sorts. The types of materials will depend on where you are and what is available to you at the time. It is always advised that before venturing out that you have a basic supplies kit. Of course, you could be just stuck unprepared and without warning. You’ll need to try to improvise for a situation like that also. Let’s have a look at some really useful DIY torches.
1. The Primitive Torch
The primitive torch is exactly as the name describes. Uncivilised, simple and created with materials that should be able to be found within a short distance of your location. This first method is just an example and only offers suggestions of materials that you may find out in the wilderness. If you piece it together correctly, it can last for hours!
Holder/Base – Wet or green wood, cattails, reeds, thick river cane (2 feet long, 2 inches wide/diameter).
Wick/Torch Head – Birch bark strips, dry leaves, wood chips, dry grass, and/or moss.
Binding/Cordage – Spruce roots, stripped to form twine. Otherwise, twine.
Fuel – Animal fat (if you can get a hold of some) or cooking/vegetable oil.
Lighter – Lighter, matches, flint and steel set from your bug out kit.
Step 1: Find then bind together your river cane or reeds to create a thicker, sturdier holder.
Step 2: Wrap your bark strips around the top of your reeds or cane forming a nest. Secure it tightly at the bottom of the nest with your binding material. Make sure that it is tight enough to stay together but loose enough to stuff with your wick materials.
Step 3: Pack the nest with your dry leaves/grass, wood chips or moss.
Step 4: Douse the wick nest with your choice of slow burning fuel.
Step 5: Light up your torch.
2. The Minimalist Manmade Torch
The Minimalist Manmade Torch is another simple method that relies on its simplicity and little materials to create. It’s a mixture of nature and manmade materials, mostly man made.
Holder/Base – A larger stick or branch.
Wick/Torch Head – A pair of socks, tissue/toilet paper.
Binding/Cordage – Twine, tie wire.
Fuel – cooking/vegetable oil, bacon grease.
Lighter – lighter, matches, flint and steel set.
Step 1: Find a decent larger stick/tree branch.
Step 2: Cut a hole in the bottom of either 1 or both socks (depending on their thickness). If they are thin then put one inside the other so it forms 1 thick sock.
Step 3: Slide the sock(s) down the top of your branch to form a nest and bind the bottom of the socks to the stick so it closes off the bottom.
Step 4: Pack the wick nest with your tissue/toilet paper.
Alternate Step: Just wrap the socks around the top of your holder and bind it
Step 5: Douse the wick nest with your choice of slow burning fuel.
Step 6: Light up your torch.
3. The Tree Resin Torch
The tree resin torch takes a little more skill to create. It’s great for the purpose of light but not so good if you’re relying on it to keep you warm. It is a torch though after all. The materials can be a little trickier to find but the result is one of the better, more longer burning torches you’ll see.
Holder/Base – A branch with the recommended size already mentioned.
Wick/Torch Head – A pine or spruce cone (Try to find cones that are elongated and have closely-spaced scales). Also a couple of small straight twigs.
Binding/Cordage – Twine, tie wire.
Fuel – Tree resin (sap).
Lighter – Lighter, matches, flint and steel set.
Step 1: You will need to find some resin first. Try to find some wounded pine or spruce trees and collect it’s sap. Make sure that the sap is hardened and has a beeswax texture. If you’re absolutely desperate, you can use the more syrupy parts.
Step 2: Using a knife or axe, split the branch from the top downwards. (About 5-6 inches) Once in one direction and once again in the opposite direction. Aim to form a cross.
Step 3: Take your 2 twigs and wedge them into the newly cut sections. One in one direction and the other, the opposite way. Follow the cuts with your twigs in their criss-cross shape. These will act as wedges to keep the split wood open enough to slide in your pine cone.
Step 4: Smear resin all over your pine cone, try to get it into all of the cones scales.
Step 5: Jam the resin covered cone down into your holder. Once you have it low enough, remove the twigs to close the gap. This will ensure that the holder now grips onto the cone super tight.
Step 6: Lock the cone in place by tying off around the branch, underneath the cone. The extra pull-in strength will really make sure that it can’t go anywhere. It will have a vice like effect.
Step 7: Light it up.
These torches are mostly designed for the purpose of providing light and as a method of ignition for fire pits in other areas. They shouldn’t be treated as a source of warmth as they just don’t have enough punch. You would need to huddle very close around a stick which could also be quite uncomfortable. At the end of the day, you do what you need to do to survive, sometimes that requires a little effort. If you have any other ideas surrounding how to make a torch, please add a link or description in the comments so we can update our database. This will enable us to continue to broaden ours as well as our readers survival skills.