A hand pulls a fixed blade along a strip of wood, demonstrating how to make feather sticks for fire starting.

How to Make Feather Sticks: A Hunter’s Essential Guide to Successful Fire Starting

Discover how to make feather sticks for fire starting in the wilderness. Turn a dangerous night into a comfortable one with a knife and this survival skill.

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Starting a fire in the wilderness isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Fortunately, we humans have come up with ways to make it easier. All you need is a little preparation and, in this case, a knife.

I’d like to teach you how to make a feather stick fire. It’s one of the most effective fire-starting methods I know.

Feather Sticks Bushcraft

Feathering wood is a technique where you shave thin curls of wood from a stick using a knife. These shavings burn easily and work well to start a fire. Because the curls stay attached to the original stick, the final visual looks like a feather.

The technique is especially useful when you can’t find other fine tinder, or when available materials aren’t dry enough. And because you leave the feather stick intact, wind won’t scatter or blow away your tinder.

Feather sticks for fire starting are ideal because they allow you to pack light. It’s a classic example of an adage repeated by many hunters and outdoorsmen: “Know more, carry less.” 

If you create the feather stick correctly, the thin, dry shavings will ignite like heavy paper or cardboard.

Quote: How to Make Feather Sticks: A Hunter’s Essential Guide to Successful Fire Starting

Feather Sticks: Kindling in Practice

A few years ago, my friend and I were on a late-season rifle hunt for elk. The weather unexpectedly turned from sunny to heavy rain, sleet, and snow. Temperatures were creeping below zero.

We weren’t prepared for the weather change, but knowing that the cold front would likely force the elk on their feet to stay warm in the morning, we wanted to stay. We’d need a fire to dry out our boots and gear.

The only problem was the weather had soaked and frozen every bit of moss, bark, and grass. Unfortunately, neither I nor my hunting partner had any form of small tinder packed. What we did have was a small knife and a folding saw.

Using those tools, we cut a few sections of dead standing wood that wasn’t completely soaked through. I cut the standing wood into eighths (pie-slice style) with my Stonewall Skinner and a batoning stick first. Then, I feathered the dry inner portion of each piece.

They readily lit on fire and turned our wet, miserable, dangerous night into a warm and dry one.

Best Knives for Feathering Wood

The best blade for feathering wood is a fixed-blade knife.

Ideally, it should have a thin edge and quality construction. It needs to be sharp, too. A comfortable handle with a good palm swell helps relieve hand fatigue. I’ve used my MKC Stonewall Skinner to feather wood in the past.

The list of requirements for a wood-feathering blade is pretty short. While I would never recommend using a serrated knife for this, a folding saw can be helpful if you need to break down larger pieces of wood, like I did.

Don’t use a folding knife to make feather sticks, especially if it doesn’t have a locking mechanism to hold it open.

How to Make a Feather Stick Correctly

The secret to making perfect feather sticks is selecting a good piece of wood. Check that it’s dry and dead. It should be about a foot long with a straight grain and no knots. 

Next, split the wood to about ½″ to 1″ in diameter. Try to maintain any sharp corners on the wood if you can — don’t round them off.

Place the end of the stick firmly on the ground and, from a kneeling position, push your knife along its length in a controlled way. Stop the cut about an inch from the bottom, leaving the thin ribbon of wood you’ve created attached at the base. Repeat the same motion, rotating the stick with each cut.

The finished feather stick should make a bundle that’s roughly fist-sized or larger. The tighter the curls, the better they’ll ignite.

Infographic: How to Make Feather Sticks: A Hunter’s Essential Guide to Successful Fire Starting

Practice Feather Stick Fire Starting at Home

If you want to learn how to make a feather stick, practice. Give it a couple good tries, either in the field or at home. It’s better to test yourself in a controlled environment than in an unpredictable one.

Take a short walk through the woods on a rainy or snowy day. Try starting a fire using the techniques you’ve learned here. You can even practice in your backyard with firewood or lumber scraps if you want to start small.

The important thing is to familiarize yourself with your gear and your environment before you get out there for real.


by Tristan Richter, valued MKC Team Member