Tinkering School

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Tinker for your life: Tinkering with FIRE (and hunting)

Help! (Winter 2016)Jay SimpsonComment

This week took a turn away from previous building projects focused on water and weather.... Instead, we turned our attention to one of humanity's greatest early achievements: fire! And how to capture food! 

But we have a leg-up from our cave-people ancestors — we're in a modern day shop with all sorts of things that can make fire! To begin our tinkering with fire, we came up with a list for various ways to make fire that we wished to try:

  • fire by sunlight / magnifying glass
  • fire by friction
  • fire by sparks / flint striker (for welding)
  • fire by electricity (batteries and wire)
  • fire by sparks / camping tool


Results: we got so close! Our cardboard started to burn, but our sunlight was in constant motion, which made it difficult to sustain our hot focal point.  We were working after 4pm from the reflection of the sun in the windows of a neighboring building. To make this work, having direct sunlight during the middle of the day would help!

TAN-URGENT NOTE: While our magnifying glass was focusing the sun, we realized it sometimes was also acting as a lens and projecting an image to our cardboard sheet like a camera obscura would!

Seeing the placement of the sun within the windows (inside the reflected image) helped us realize when it was time to move to a new spot. We had to keep the sun towards the middle of the windows to have any hope of making fire.


Two things came together here to give us our fire-generating plan: drill safety and seeing fire-bows for making friction fires. From our drill safety, we knew that drills get HOT when trying to drill through wood. We decided we could try running a big bit backwards to see exactly how hot we could get it! 

We then also remembered that embers/coals need air to light. So we used what we remembered from bow fires to create a slot on the edge of our wood to try to make our fire.

Results: No fire yet, but we may be able to make more improvements!


Results: This method seemed like a sure-fire win, but alas, we were foiled! We had plenty of sparks but it was really hard to get any additional material like sawdust or toilet paper to light. We may need to try again next week.


Once we found some 9-Volt batteries in the shop we started talking about how electricity works and how we can use them to try to make fire. First step was to, of course, lick the batteries. We few of us had never licked batteries before (ever!) so we have video to document & celebrate these life milestones!


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So awesome!

Results: The batteries and little bits of stripped wires we used to try to heat or spark didn't heat or spark. So no luck for us on the electricity fire :-(

FIRE BY SPARKS (Campfire tool)

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Results: This is a sure-fire way to make a fire... if you know what you're doing. So while we tried, we didn't have enough time to really make flames. Next week!


We started work on a mouse trap, made primarily of a box too deep for a mouse to climb out of. More about this next week!

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