FIRE - How to Make Amadou Tinder
Amadou is a Top Quality Natural Tinder with the following qualities:
- It is one of the very best types of tinder for fire lighting
- It has an amazingly hot ember
- It is ideal for flint & steel fire lighting
- It can catch the smallest of sparks
- It is ideal tinder for Ferrocerium Flint fire lighting
- It is ideal tinder for Fire Piston fire lighting and
- It is ideal tinder for all solar fire lighting techniques
Amadou is made from the Horse’s Hoof Fungus (Fomes fomentarius), also known as Tinder Fungus and Hoof Fungus, and is one of the very best fire lighting tinder’s around. Amadou is incredible natural tinder that has superior ember making properties with all spark, solar and fire piston based fire lighting techniques. Just a small pinch of this great tinder, about the size of your little fingernail, is sufficient to light a fire when using a properly prepared tinder bundle.
What is the Horse’s Hoof Fungus?
The Horse’s Hoof Fungus is a bracket fungi that grows on Birch trees in cooler climates like Scotland, Norway and Sweden and on Beech, and sycamore trees in warmer climates like southern England. Fomes fomentarius gets its common name, Horse’s Hoof Fungus, from its shape, since it looks almost exactly like a horses hoof. The fungus comes from the Polyporus family of fungi, most of which are hard and leathery and grow on trees. Whilst none of this species of bracket fungi are poisonous they are also not edible, and often taste acrid, bitter or sour, or combinations of the three, they, also, smell fruity, mushroomy, fungusy or pleasant. Most of this family of fungi grow on rotting trees and have a very tough outer layer that protects them from damage or rotting sometimes for years.
Quite a few of this family of bracket fungi can be utilised for fire lighting in some way or other include, the most common varieties are Ganoderma applanatum (Artist’s Fungus), Ganoderma adspersum, Phellinus igniarius, Formitopsis pinicola, Daedaleopsis confragosa (Blushing Bracket) and Daedalea quercina (Maze-gill), however, there are probably a few more that are also suitable.
When the Horse’s Hoof Fungus’s fruiting body is budding from the tree, it often has a soft spongy, large thick, lip that spreads all of the way around the bracket. This soft white lip is the growing front of the fungus that seems to produce both the cuticle layer and the pores. As the fruiting body of the Horse’s Hoof Fungus matures the top surface of the fungus begins to form a very tough horny layer, this layer is usually called the “Cuticle”. The cuticle on the newly formed fruiting body of a Horse’s Hoof Fungus bracket is, however, very thin and has a beautiful tobacco tan colour that can be easily cut away.
As the Horse’ Hoof Fungus matures, the cuticle layer turns a mottled grey colour and thickens to become as hard as a walnut shell, these older brackets have more or less the same properties as the hard stony endocarp, or shell, that is formed on nuts such as coconut and Brazil nuts, although it is not quite as thick, but just as tough. Whilst removing the cuticle layer from young specimens is easy, removing the cuticle layer, from these older fungi, is both challenging and time consuming, and quite destructive to the cutting edge of a knife.
The underside of a newly formed fruiting body begins to develop into pores, which look like thousands of microscopic tubes all bunched together, rather like looking at a box full of children’s drinking straws, only much, much smaller. The pores, which produce the fungal spores, are very soft and constitute only a very thin layer, when the fungus is new, however, when the fungus matures these pores turn woody and become a lot thicker.
The trama layer is the stratum that lies between the cuticle and the pores and is the part of the fungus that we are mainly interested in if we want to make Amadou. Newly forming Horse’s Hoof Fungus are almost completely comprised of the trama layer, very little of the fungus consists of cuticle and pores, however, whilst the Horse’s Hoof Fungus’s fruiting body continues to grow, and mature, the trama layer becomes progressively thinner as the pores grow into, or from, it.
The trama layer varies in colour from a deep chocolate brown to a deep tan brown; however, as the trama layer is processed into Amadou, it loses some of its deep colouring, becoming progressively lighter, sometimes to a beautiful smoky tan brown.
This trama layer also has a beautiful soft velvety texture when stroked across the lower lip, that becomes very hard if the trama layer is wetted then dried without a bit of buffing.
Older Horse’s Hoof Fungus
When selecting suitable Horses Hoof Fungus that will, hopefully, make a reasonable quantity of Amadou for your efforts, you will need to take into account the size of the fungus and its age. As a general rule of thumb the larger the fungus is the older it is and the poorer the quantity, and quality, of the Amadou that can be made from it.
Each new growing phase, of an established Horse’s Hoof Fungus bracket, takes place on the underside of the old bracket. This can be seen as tiers of distinct growth, one on top of the other, expanding the size of the fungus to as much as 400mm plus across. Whilst previous growth tiers offers the new growth both support and protection, each new growth cycle often builds each of the three layers (i.e. cuticle, trama and pores) beneath the previous cycles ones. This often means that as a Horse’s Hoof Fungus bracket grows and matures, the three layers become more and more mixed together. This mixing of layers is great for the fungi, since it strengthens, protects and is energy efficient; it poses a bit of a problem for us humans, because this continuous succession of fungal development often renders the fungus almost completely useless, to us, for making Amadou. However, even at this stage in its life cycle these fungi can still be utilised, as a means of storing fire since when lit it will happily smoulder away for many hours.
Whilst the process of making Amadou is quite simple, at least in theory, the actual process, in reality, is somewhat more difficult. Amadou is not the easiest tinder to prepare, unless you can find a nice young specimen, where the usually tough outer horny (Cuticle) layer is still very soft and easily broken through by pressing a thumbnail into it.
As already stated, it is much more usual to find Horse’s Hoof Fungus with the outer, cuticle layer as hard as a nut shell and very hard to remove, since the cuticle layer is bonded to the trama layer; older specimens will simply bend your thumbnail as you press into it, rather than give way. A good hard whack, on an older specimen, with the spine of your knife will quickly tell you just how hard it is going to be to get at the nice soft leathery trama layer hidden beneath it.
Removing the Cuticle Layer
To make Amadou you will need to remove the usually tough cuticle layer, assuming that the fungus is a mature specimen and has a nut hard cuticle layer. Removal of this layer can best be done when you have softened it a little, if it is at all possible to soften such a substance, by either soaking it in water for a day or so, or by boiling it for a few hours.
You will need a good sharp knife preferably a full tang, small blade, wood carving knife that should be kept very sharp. Long blade knives will prove to be more difficult to use because you will need to use the tip quite frequently to get beneath the bonded layers of cuticle and trama. Using a folding knife of any kind is not advisable since the pivot point will be under a lot of sideways strain as you try to get between the layers and prise them apart.
Your knife will lose its cutting edge very quickly whilst cutting through the tough and quite brittle cuticle layer, so a sharpening whetstone will need to be constantly used. A dull or blunt knife will tear the cuticle layer from the trama layer resulting in the loss of the valuable trama, so it is recommended to constantly keep the cutting edge sharp.
As you work at removing the cuticle layer one bit at a time you will slowly, and I mean slowly, start to reveal the trama layer. Once the cuticle layer has been completely removed from the whole upper surface of the Horse’s Hoof Fungus, it is time to move onto the second part of the process, the removal of the pores.
Removing the Pores
Whilst the removal of the pores from the trama layer is not as difficult as the removal of the cuticle layer, it is still, none the less, fairly time consuming. Again it is best to use a very sharp wood carving knife with a full tang for this part of the process since the pore layer can usually be prised off the trama layer in reasonably sized amounts, in a similar way to removing the edible part of the coconut from its shell. As each section of the pores layer is removed, you should easily be able to see, and follow, the interface between the two layers, wherever they may go. You will often see that this layer thickens and thins as it will, so keep a close eye on the boundary and do not assume that it will go where you think that it will go.
Leaving Just the Trama Layer
Many hours later, or so it will seem, once you have completely removed both the cuticle layer and the pore layer of you Horse’s Hoof Fungus, you will be left with just the trama layer. The trama layer can often be so thin, especially on older fungus that you are left scratching your head and wondering why you ever bothered starting making Amadou in the first place. However, if you wish to make your own Amadou, it is just one of those little frustrations that you will have to take in your stride.
The Boiling Processing
The trama layer, which should resemble velvety soft, brown suede leather, will need a great deal of further processing, if you want it to become good Amadou tinder that will easily catch a spark from Flint & Steel. At this stage in the Amadou making process it, should already be good enough to catch the very much cooler and smaller sparks that are obtained from Flint & Pyrite (Fool’s Gold), assuming that the Amadou it is dry and you scrape the surface of the Amadou to create a small fluffy ball.
At this point in the Amadou making process, you should decide how thick you want your Amadou to be. Cutting the trama into thin slices will require a very sharp knife that is nice and long, if you are to avoid the cut striations associated with a smaller blade. The thinner you make the Amadou slices now, the speedier and easier it will be for the rest of the process. I usually only make a few slices leaving the rest of the trama in as large a lump as I can, so that it can be scraped into a wad of fluff for Flint & Pyrite based fire making, or for slicing as and when it is required.
To make good Amadou that is suitable for fire lighting we need to boil the trama layer, sliced or whole in copious quantities of water. The basic principle of the boiling process is to remove as much of the soluble proteins that make as possible, leaving just the fluffy velvet fibres behind. These proteins seem to act as a sort of fire retardant lessening the quality of the Amadou, making it harder to catch and hold a spark.
As the trama is boiled, the water begins to resemble a dark, strong tea, this tea is believed to have medicinal properties and may help in some stomach complaints like indigestion, it is also said to have a strong purgative effect, so it not advisable to imbibe the liquid unless you know what you are doing.
After about a day of simmering the fungus, you might want to change the water, it will not necessarily make any difference to the removal of the undesirable elements of the Amadou, but you might feel that you are making some kind of progress. The water can be changed as often as you feel it is required, but make sure that it never boils dry. I think the theory is that if you keep changing the water it should become clearer and clearer, however, this never seems to happen, it is very much like Willy Wonkers everlasting gobstopper. The truth is that a considerable amount of boiling and re-boiling is required before you start to notice that the water is becoming clearer, so stick with it.
Speeding up the Process
On many occasions I have added certain chemicals to the water as it is simmering in the hope that this would somehow speed up the process, but nothing has ever made any real difference.
My first attempts were with hard wood ash, the idea being that hardwood ash and water can be used to make lye. Lye is meant to act like a kind of corrosive soap, which is meant to help with the leaching process. I added the ash to my pan and chucked in the Amadou pieces. I reasoned that any un-dissolved chemicals would settle out anyway, so what was the point of making the lye in a separate container and then using that to cook the Amadou in, (actually it’s because I am lazy!). After a good 24 hour boiling and a 6 day soaking, all I ended up with was a pan full of gritty silt and a slimy pieces of Amadou that were no different from any other pieces of Amadou I have ever made. I have to say, however, that my efforts were entirely based on guesswork, so I may, or may not, have used too much ash, and may or may not have made the lye solution strong enough.
The idea behind using the next chemical was based on the use of lye. I reasoned that if the lye was being used as a corrosive kind of soap, the use of a biological washing powder would give a similar action, but with less mess. Biological washing powder also contains biological enzymes that are designed to break down food stuff on clothing, but not affect clothing fibres themselves; it is also smelt nice. Several boiling sessions later I found that it had made no difference to the finished Amadou.
Much beyond these two chemical I couldn’t really think of anything that would deliver any real advantages, until I saw a program by Ray Mears that showed how coconut string and rope was made. The idea involved the use of microbes, and to let nature do the hard work for you. The program showed a split bundle of the coconut husks being placed in a string bag and then submerged in the sea, under some rocks. Over the period of a month, the bacteria in the seawater ate away the proteins that were in the coconut fibres, the result was a stinking mass of half-rotted coconut pieces that allowed the long string making fibres to be easily separated and then turned into a very strong twine that was used to tie the outriggers to the canoes. This idea seemed like a good one, so I placed a batch of Amadou pieces in a pan of water and left to rot away for well over four months, I have to admit at this point, it was only meant to be for a month, but being thoroughly lazy and partly forgetful the time passed by without notice. Anyhow after this extended period of being bacteria food, all that I was left with was a pan full of another type of fungi and the two pieces of trama layer that were still exactly the same as they were when I first put them in the water. The water was clean when I started this little experiment and a strong coffee colour afterwards. I thought that was a good idea to kill off any microbes that were in the Amadou, so I replaced the water and began to boil my Amadou pieces for 24 hours, not surprisingly the resultant waster was the same colour as a strong cup of coffee.
You might want to try some chemicals of your own, and if they work please let me know.
After the Boiling
For Amadou to accept and hold a spark well, requires that the boiled to death Amadou, be buffed up by given it severe beating – perhaps it could be thought of as a retaliatory beating, a release of built up frustrations for giving you a hard time during the leaching and boiling process – actually you must not think of it so much as beating, but as a severe teasing out of the fibres. Anyhow, the best tools to use for this process is either a light, very smooth, gently rounded, wooden mallet, or debarked and smoothed stick that is about 1 foot (300mm) long and 1 inch (25mm) thick and a very smooth wooden surface or anvil. I have tried this process with metal hammers and stones, but these tools are too hard and unforgiving, and seem only to force the fibres apart rather than gently tease them apart, also, very hard implements just seems to smash the Amadou to bits, especially around the edges, wooden implements do not seem to cause as much damage.
Before you start to thin out the Amadou make sure that the Amadou is completely saturated with water. Start the thinning out process by gently striking the Amadou all over, making sure that you do not strike the same area, consecutively, more than once or twice. Do not hurry this process, you are trying to tease the Amadou slices flat, not beat them flat. As you are making the Amadou thinner, you should be watching for signs of it splitting, cracking or falling apart; excessive thinning will cause it to disintegrate, so stop thinning it when you begin to damage it. Amadou taken from older brackets is more likely to crack than Amadou taken from younger brackets.
Once the Amadou is at the thickness that you want, it can be re-boiled in clean water for another 24 hours or so; the water will most likely become very dark again so don’t be surprised if it does.
Once it has be re-boiled it can be given another teasing with the stick, or another boiling, the choice is yours. The more the Amadou is boiled the better it will be.
The Drying Process
When you have boiled and re-boiled the Amadou and eventually decided that enough is enough, you can remove the Amadou and dry it. The drying process can be done in two ways. The first way is to simply remove the Amadou and place it on a cloth, leaving it to air-dry naturally. If you air-dry the Amadou, however, it will become stiff as cardboard, so it will need to be made soft and pliable by bending, teasing once again with the beating stick, rolling and stretching.
Alternatively you can let it dry from the heat from your hands as you are softening it, by bending, teasing, rolling and stretching as it is drying; whilst this method takes more of your time, it does produce a better quality Amadou. You can also try massaging hardwood ash powder into the Amadou, as you are softening it, which will improve the overall quality of the Amadou as the ash powder becomes massaged deep within the fibres.
Either method should leave you with a piece of Amadou that is as smooth as the finest velvet suede, when stroked across your bottom lip.
At this point you will have just about the best Amadou that you can make.
The use of Urine
There are several web sites that suggest that urine be used in the processing of Amadou, but I would not recommend its use in the initial boiling process, due to its unpleasant odour and the lack of chemicals that would effectively aid in the leaching process. The use of urine, however, in the latter stage of the Amadou making process has some validity, since urine was commonly used in the manufacture of gunpowder. Urine contains lots of chemical that are rich in nitrogen, mostly in the form of urea, and when left to breakdown under bacterial action produces nitrate salts, the resultant salts would then have been collected and concentrated to form Potassium Nitrate crystals and from there purified for use in gunpowder. When Amadou is soaked in a solution of Potassium Nitrate, which is more commonly known as Nitre or Saltpetre, it dramatically increases the ability of Amadou to catch and hold even the coolest of sparks.
Did you use urine, I hear you ask?
Of course I did! However, it made me feel like upchucking when I got a whiff of its putrid odour when the wind changed direction and blew the smelly vapours up my nose. As to its effect on the Amadou, well it did make a small difference to its spark catching and smouldering abilities, but it also smelt quite bad and not surprisingly, no one wanted to touch it, not even me! The Amadou ended up being re-boiled just to make it less contaminating, which consequentially made it just like any other batch of Amadou I have ever made, good, but not amazing.
Therefore, unless you have good control over your gag reflex, and are the only one intending to use the Amadou, it is probably something you might want to avoid.
The use of Saltpetre
If you are a purist, you might balk at soaking your hard won Amadou in Saltpetre, unless you made the Saltpetre yourself that is, see ‘The use of Urine’. If you do have access to some Saltpetre, homemade or not, you might want to try soaking your Amadou in a weak solution that is made from it.
A WORD OF WARNING!!!
It is very important that you do not make the saltpetre solution too strong, or it will flare up like a match when it is lit. It is, also, very important that you dry your Amadou pieces flat on a level surface, failure to do so will cause the saltpetre solution to pool, under gravity, at the lowest point of the Amadou. As it dries the Saltpetre becomes more concentrated at that point, which will cause it to flare like a 2-second fuse, which is, I assure you quite startling and very dangerous.
Well there you have it, Amadou at your fingertips, all you have to do now it find a Horse’s Hoof Fungus, process it and use it. Good luck, and if you know more than this article is able to provide, I humbly ask you to please let me know.