Let’s say you found yourself out in the woods and you need water. You don’t have any way to purify water from the nearby stream. (Read about ways to purify water here.) No filters. No iodine tablets. Nothing.
But you do have a way to start a fire. That means you can boil your water…
You do need a vessel to boil though. Once you have the vessel – a wooden bowl – then you can heat rocks that you will add to the bowl of water.
That is how humans have boiled water for millennia.
The concept is simple.
Place hot burning coals on your target piece of wood. Let the wood slowly burn and smolder. Scrape out the black, charred interior. Rinse the bowl well with water. You have a wooden bowl.
Selecting the Wood
It is best to use dried or cured wood. You may need to look around a little bit to find wood that is suitable.
If you use wet or freshly cut wood, it will shrink more and that makes it more likely to crack. If you can only find green wood, that is okay. In survival situations, you need to be flexible and adapt. The fact is that if you won’t be keeping the bowl, then it won’t matter much if it shrinks or cracks.
A Note About the Coals
It is best to use hot, slow burning coals if you have the option. You can control the burn on the target bowl easier with coals.
If you have to, you can use actively burning wood but it can be harder to control the flames. The target piece of wood may catch fire and burn too much. You can erase your progress quickly if the bowl is on fire!
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- Choose your piece of wood. Try to find a piece of wood that is dry not wood that is still wet and filled with sap. So avoid freshly fallen trees. Think about portability also – you may need to take the bowl with you. Technically, you could make a bowl in a large log but that isn’t practical unless you have a permanent camp.
- Get a fire burning so you have access to hot coals. You can start a fire many different ways depending on what you have available…like a 9V battery and steel wool a 9V battery and steel wool.
- Place the coal on the piece of wood where you want the bowl to be. Start with two pieces of coal and add more as needed. Once you have the first bit of the wood burned you can add more coals, particularly if the bowl will be large.
- Allow the wood to burn and smolder. Blow on the coals to speed up the process. Don’t go crazy here! The bowl can catch on fire and that isn’t good!
- Be prepare with some water in case the bowl catches on fire. You can halt the burning pretty quickly if you need to.
- Add more coals as needed. Keep at it until the bowl is deep and big enough for you.
- Burn the wood until the bowl is the right size for you.
- Pour out the coals. You can also use some make-shift tongs with a stick. Look for a stick or branch that has a natural fork and go from there.
- Add water to the bowl to make sure it isn’t hot and is fully extinguished. You need to make sure you don’t burn yourself on the next step.
- Use a tool to scrape the burnt, charred wood of the bowl. The tool can be anything: another piece of wood, a rock, an antler, a knife, piece of scrap metal, or anything else that can scratch the wood.
- Rinse the bowl well. You will probably need to rinse it out a few times to get all the tiny bits of wood and ash out.
You can use your new bowl to boil water, serve food, store water, and, so on.
If you plan on boiling water, then you can place rocks in your fire. Let them heat for a while, then you can place the hot rocks in the water. The residual heat in the rocks will cause the water to boil. You can use the same kind of stick tongs if you don’t have a shovel or other tool.
It wise to make 2 bowls when you want to boil water. You can have a bowl to rinse the hot rocks before adding them to the water that you intend on boiling. The pre-rinse will get some of the ashes off the rocks.
How not to coal burn
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Photo Credit: Cass