A cut above (or, Being in the chips)
In the continuing dissertations that come to my attention about the efficacy of arboreal fuel in the fossil crunch, I've seen no helpful instructions about kindling wood. Before the woodpile can be converted to thermal and culinary uses , it must be ignited, so touching her off is primary. The lore is considerable. First, I suppose, every home should have a grandmother with an ap'n.
That's apron, the housewife's protection from pie juices and such, but say it ap'n. When Grandmother came back from the clothesline, or from throwing orts to the hens, she would pause by the chopping block, gather up the front of her ap'n to make a pouch, and she'd come into the kitchen with a load of chips and bark for kindlings. When she let go her ap'n, the kindlings would cascade into the woodbox, and she would rub her hands down to brush away sawdust. Firewood was ''yarded'' from the woods in long lengths, to be sawn and split and tiered under cover in the woodshed. The chips would dry in the sun, but would also be wet on rainy days, so there was prudence in having a supply ahead and sometimes the woodbox would get so full of chips that the choreboy (me) couldn't put in too much firewood. Now and then I'd bring a basket and lug chips out! Else Uncle Tobey couldn't close the woodbox cover and sit there behind the stove to doze until bedtime.
There was a bit of deceit about those ap'ns, and the new-day woman who wants good kindlings should learn the trick. Grandmother always wore two at the same time. The outer one got the smears of jam and squirts from the jelly bag, so sometimes she looked a bit shopworn. But if a knock came to the door she would whip off the outer ap'n and go to greet the visitor all trim and proper. The inner ap'n was all for show, and had lace and starch and knew not the tribulations of duty.
The door-yard, or ap'n, chips were hard wood, but being small and dry they worked just fine. Soft wood, pine and white cedar, was favored for the ''worked up'' kind of kindlings, and called for fabrication at the chopping block. When a pine was taken down for sawlogs, it would sometimes have a hollow butt. Such wood could be added to the hard wood in the shed, but the women complained if they got too much of it - pine and cedar won't ''last.'' So often such butt cuts would be split into kindling wood with a small hatchet - a sliver at a stroke. These would be piled separately in the shed, and the boy (still me) was expected to bring in enough to start a new fire as needed.
In winter, it was not smart to let a wood fire go out, but often there would be but embers by daylight. If new wood didn't ignite right away from the embers, a handful of these kindlings, or the ap'n chips, would hurry things along. Grandmothers spent a lot of time before breakfast peering a-shiver at reluctant wood, and would assure you, if able, that good, dry, reliable kindlings are not to be ignored in the consideration of fires.
Pine and cedar are straight grained, and split smoothly. Cedar was usually scrap lumber from fence posts, and like the pine, residual. The two woods are whittling woods, and in many a home kindlings became a kind of scrimshaw to cheat evenings in the lamplight. Take a flat split of pine, about a foot long, and cut along the edge with a sharp knife as if you might be making a comb for the hair. The ''teeth'' will be quarter-grained, so they'll curve. You'll end up with a fuzzy-edged stick that will go off like tinder when saluted with the sulfur ardor of a Portland Star Match. Whittling these fire starters might be accompanied by Mother's reading aloud, by the table with the lamp, a chapter from the serial in Home Comfort Magazine. Gave a fellow something to do with his hands. And, the artistry that whittled fire starters was the same as made boats in bottles, balls in cages, and anchors and chains. Takes a good, sharp knife and a sure, steady stroke.
Then there is kerodust. Maine guides devised this for starting campfires when they cooked out for their ''sports.'' Fill an empty peanut butter jar with dry sawdust, and pour in a couple of tablespoons of kerosene oil. Tighten the cover for transport. This will kindle wet wood, and start a fire in the rain. One jarful will last a season. Can be substituted if you lack a grandmother with an ap'n.