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mental_floss's Be More Interesting series will teach you new interesting skills. This week, Max Silvestri learns to start a fire without matches.

(And don't worry--the regular list show will continue on Wednesday!)

Music provided by Scorebuzz Music.
Today we've got Victor Sheldon from Primitive Pursuits to teach us some prehistoric trickery.

M: So Victor, I understand you teach people primitive skills, is that like, how to use MySpace or clean a VCR? What is a primitive skill?

V: Not quite. Basically survival skills that our ancestors used.

M: Seems like it could be valuable because, uh, if I lose reception on my phone a block from my house I just start dry heaving. What's an example of a good primitive skill?

V: Primitive rope-making I think is good. Primitive---

M: You can make your own rope?

V: Yeah, actually this bracelet right here and this necklace I made from plant fibers.

M: So fire is kind of, what we want to learn. Can anyone in any sort of wooded area just figure out how to make fire?

V: Well you need some basic knowledge of different trees and plants to use. There are certain woods that will work really well and certain woods that won't work at all.

M: Well Victor let's try to make some fire.

V: Sounds good.

M: Let's go do it.

V: This is an example of a bow drill kit. There are a number of different varieties of friction kit.

M: What does a friction kit do?

V: The idea of a friction kit is to create dust with the wood. The rubbing of the sticks together creates dust and when that dust reaches a certain temperature, it'll become a coal. An embering, glowing coal, and that coal we'll put in our tinder bundle here.

M: And what is this tinder bundle?

V: Um, this particular tinder bundle is made from Cedar bark

M: So sort of like really dry pulled pork?

V: Yes, exactly. All these friction kits here are materials that I've found and harvested from either Central or Prospect Park.

M: And then once you just have a flame and the tinder running you just start putting wood in?

V: Yes, you want to start with just very very small sticks, like pencil lead size. Sometimes we call them "wispy" sticks.

M: Wispy sticks, sure.

V: And then move onto maybe pencil sized, and then eventually you can make it as big as you want. Starting them out is hard and---

M: Yeah this is difficult but that's a good thing. You know, when Skynet takes over and we all have to live in the woods like animals it'll be hard. We should get ready for it.

V: So basically what you're going to do is just take it and do a clean swipe and try to get a nice flat piece off of there.

M: I think something's wrong with the knife [laughs]

V: [laughs] There you go

M: Is that enough or does it need to be longer?

V: Um, let me try one.

M: Okay.

V: That's how you do it

M: Oh, okay. I didn't know that's what you wanted I would've made that I thought you wanted smaller, more precise strips that are actually harder to do.

V: And so we've got our baseboard, our spindle, we'll put this underneath---

M: Oh that's for if we do make a little coal That's where it's going to be for you to carry the coal to that, uh, tinder pulled pork birds nest.

V: Exactly.

M: Cool

V: So why don't you put your left foot there, assuming you're a righty

M: Yeah

V: And we'll attach the spindle for you

M: You're just kind of twisting it once around there 

V: Yeah, just put it on the outside of the rope and take the top and just twist it around 

M: Okay

V: This is the part that I find people struggle with the most.

[Both laugh]

M: Then when you say go I just run as fast as possible that way?

V: [laughs] Yeah, it feels good, it's good

M: Yeah, it feels really good and natural right now, this is just, like, what I'm always doing [inaudible]

V: Yeah you want this part of your wrist to be on that part of your leg. Here you go. And don't push too hard at first---

M: Okay

V: You want to let it be soft while you start and then as it starts moving start pushing harder and harder. Little faster, and use the whole bow. There you go, you're getting smoke. 

V: Alright, let's see what you got. I think you might have one. So see how it's still smoking right there

M: Yeah

V: Well that little piece of smoking dust is a coal, and I like to just fan a little bit until you start to see it glow maybe. That's a nice healthy coal. Nice job

M: Thank you! I'm dead

V: And now you have to use breath control, so you can see it starting to glow---

M: Oh wow!

V: So why don't you hold on to this, good.

M: Okay

V: Like a sturdy nest, okay we're just gonna gently pick this up and put it inside. Okay, now close it and start to blow on it gently. Right, right at the coal good. Then pick it up a little bit, don't choke it. The heat is going up so you want it to be heating fibers that are above it. The more smoke you see, the harder you can blow. Keep going, and once it goes into flames you're going to throw it on the foil. Harder, harder. 

M: That's pretty hot

V: You can just use your finger tips. There it is. Blow on it again

M: Yeah!

V: Nice job

M: We have a fire! Great!

V: So this small flame here can be built up with twigs, like I said before, and with larger and larger sticks and--

M: And if I'm in the wild, I've got to then catch an animal and, I'd rather just die, it's so hard

V: Well if you feel like living, this is a good way to do it

M: I'll just play it by ear

So now you know how to start a fire with nothing but, uh, some wood and a lot of sweat and uh, time. And help and a knife. Afterwards you're definitely going to want a nice cold Dos Equis. Until next time, I'm Max Silvestri for Mental Floss and Dos Equis, reminding you to stay interesting.