The Easy Way to Use Fomes Fomentarius as Tinder

by Paul Kirtley

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Fomes Fomentarius, Horse's Hoof Fungus, Tinder Bracket, False Tinder Fungus

Fomes fomentarius. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Fomes fomentarius is a bracket fungus, more commonly known as Hoof Fungus or Horse’s Hoof Fungus. It is also known as the Tinder Bracket. Confusingly, Fomes Fomentarius is sometimes referred to as False Tinder Fungus. There is nothing false about the usefulness of Fomes fomentarius as tinder. In fact this fungus can be prepared into first-rate tinder. The term False Tinder Fungus is used to differentiate it from Inonotus obliquus, sometimes called True Tinder Fungus and also known variously as Chaga, Birch Conk or Clinker Polypore.

Fomes fomentarius occurs throughout much of the northern hemisphere. It grows on various species of trees. At more northerly latitudes the brackets are usually found growing on dead birch (Betula spp.) Further south the fungus is often hosted by beech (Fagus spp.) The brackets are the fruiting body of the fungus and are perennial. They grow slowly, adding a growth ring each year, and can live up to 30 years.

The use of Fomes fomentarius for tinder has been known for a millennia. Ötzi the iceman had pieces of Fomes fomentarius amongst his belongings, possibly as tinder. There are various processes for preparing or improving Fomes fomentarius as tinder, including producing amadou. Tinder produced in this way will catch and hold the small, relatively cold sparks produced by striking together flint and iron pyrites.

In concentrating on these more involved processes, it is possible to overlook the simplest and easiest preparation of Fomes fomentarius as tinder. This can be done quickly in the field and the tinder produced can be used immediately.

The bracket is the fruiting body of the fungus and its outside layer is hard, like the crust of a stale, dried-out loaf of bread. Observing the underside of the fungus you will see many pores, which are the ends of the spore tubes.

Fomes Fomentarius pores

Underside of Fomes fomentarius showing pores. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Inside the bracket, between the spore tubes and the outer layer is the trama layer or “flesh” of the fungus. The trama layer of Fomes fomentarius is quite dense, firm in consistency and has a cinnamon colour. Within the trama you will see growth rings. You can see clearly see the structure of the bracket by slicing through it.

Fomes Fomentarius cross section

Fomes fomentarius cross section, showing trama and pore tubes. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Whichever process you are using to produce tinder from Fomes fomentarius, it is the trama you need to start with. If you slice the trama thinly, you will notice that it is somewhat fibrous. This is easiest to see at the end of your slice.

Fomes Fomentarius cross section and slice

Fomes fomentarius cross section and slice of trama layer. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

For our simple method of producing tinder from Fomes fomentarius we will make use of the fibrous nature of the trama. Slice off the surface layer of the fungus. Then slice the trama obliquely to create the largest possible slices.

Slice of trama of Fomes Fomentarius

Slice of trama of Fomes fomentarius. Note growth rings and fibrous nature of the material. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

To prepare the trama as tinder, we need to scrape up the surface of the slice. Using a knife or other sharp implement is the easiest way to do this. Scrape up the surface until you have a bunch of fluffy material.

Fomes Fomentarius, trama layer fluffed up to take spark

Fomes fomentarius, trama layer prepared to take a spark. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Now all you need to do is drop a spark into the fluffy material. This fluff is very good at catching a spark and once ignited will smoulder for a while.

Fomes Fomentarius smouldering tinder

Fomes fomentarius tinder smouldering after receiving spark. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The smouldering will spread into the remainder of the slice. This will then smoulder for a long time. This combustion is remarkably hot. The material will not flame, however. Therefore to light a fire via this method you must then take your smouldering tinder to very fine kindling to produce a flame. Examples of natural materials suitable for this include dried grass, dried bracken fronds or properly prepared bark fibres.

Piece of Fomes Fomentarius, smouldering and hot.

Piece of Fomes fomentarius, smouldering and hot. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Once ignited, a larger lump of trama can smoulder for hours and can be used for carrying an ember or rekindling a fire at a later stage.

Because the fruiting bodies of Fomes fomentarius grow so slowly and can live many years, please show restraint in collecting them. Areas take a long time to recover from over-exploitation. Take only what you need.

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

 

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Bayley

Brilliant! I’d been put off experimenting with Fomes fomentarius because of the faff involved in producing amadou. I’ll just get on with it using your straight forward method. Thanks Paul.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Steve

Good to hear that the article has you enthused. Let us know how you get on.

All the best

Paul

Reply

Gary Waidson (Wayland)

I’ve tried this before with flint and steel but found it reluctant to ignite without more processing.

Am I right in thinking this was lit using a ferro rod?

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Gary

Yes, the cooler the spark, the harder it is to light without processing. The tinder in the pictures in the article was ignited with a Swedish Firesteel. I think it would have lit from a flint and steel without further processing on this occasion though. But I didn’t have a set with me while I was in Canada. The tinder caught a small spark from the Firesteel extremely readily – more readily than usual. The fungus was in excellent condition and, straight off the tree, it was very dry. There had been a good dry spell before and everything was quite dessicated. The more damp/humid the conditions, the harder this material is to light with lower temperature sparks. As you rightly point out, the Firesteel is the most reliable method.

All the best

Paul

Reply

Rody Klop

Finally a good article about the use of this mushroom. Many articles only tell it can be used but never how. Took me some research a few years ago.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hey Rody, good to see you back. So my article was only a couple of years late for you then?! :)

Thanks for your comment. It’s hard to find good information on some subjects. I hope people find this article useful.

All the best

Paul

Reply

Dave Smith

Hey Paul.

Ive seen these many times on the Birch here in BC.
And once i even took one off, but it did not look like this inside ?.

Could it be that it doesn’t happen here in BC ?.
Or should it be a certain size ?

Awesome artical Paul, Cheers.

Dave.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Dave

Thanks for commenting. The example depicted in my article is a good one. They brackets do vary. They do eventually die off too. Sometimes they can be old and rotten inside when you take a look. One I examined the other week was full of grubs, eating away at it.

Cheers,

Paul

Reply

Dave Smith

Ok, i will continue to look for a ” good one ” as there are tons of them.
Im bound to find one that’s just right.

Cheers,

Dave.

Reply

Martin Dryden

Great article. Any chance of expending it on some of the processing to improve the ignition. I’ve tried to find information in the past but it’s sparse on the ground. Read wood ash in one I found and urine in another. Any thoughts :)

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Martin, thanks for your comment, it’s nice to hear from you. I won’t be expanding this particular article with other processing options. I really do want to keep it focused on ‘the easy way’. I think processing should form a separate, future article.

I wanted to write the current article because many are discouraged from even trying to use F. fomentarius due to thinking it necessarily requires some involved processing before they stand any chance of igniting it. And the first comment from Steve hit the nail on the head by writing “I’d been put off experimenting with Fomes fomentarius because of the faff involved in producing amadou. I’ll just get on with it using your straight forward method. “

With this article I wanted to generate more positivity about using F. fomentarius ‘straight out of the box’, as it were.

All the best

Paul

Reply

Martin Dryden

Fair point well made :)
You were the instructor on my Intro to Bushcraft course and the steel striker and char cloth realy stuck with me. First thing once back home was getting a steel, finding suitable flint and making my own char cloth. Amadou was my next progression with mixed success.
Thanks for all your inspiration.
PS still working on the bow drill. It will not beat me however :)

Reply

Paul Kirtley

:)

Martin, I remember your Intro course well. It was a really good, keen group of people and I remember how enthusiastic you were. It was a very enjoyable course to teach. Good to hear you are still finding my output useful. Good luck with the bow-drill :)

All the best

Paul

Reply

Mark H

Hi Paul,

Welcome back…..As the theme of article suggests there is an easier way to ‘process’ False Tinder Fungus. I have never bothered because of the in depth processing that I believed was required and a lack of the raw material down here in the South West. The abundance of Cramp balls (Daldinia concentrica) has meant they have always been my first choice for Fungi and Fire preparation.

I have found plenty of Artist’s Fungus (Ganoderma applanatum) on Beech trees , but no Horse Hoof. Are there any other Fungi which offer a Trama layer ? Are there any guides to Fire and Fungus ?

Best

Mark

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Thanks Mark. I don’t know of any good guides to fire and fungus. There are just bits and pieces here and there and some things I’ve not seen written down anywhere. Many fungi have trama as it is just the ‘flesh’ of the fungus see here for more info. The question is whether the trama of any other fungi are suitable as tinder. There are some other bracket fungi that can be processed to produce tinder. Artists Fungus is amongst them. I’ll try to cover this in a future article (it’s a question of me getting some good photos).

All the best

Paul

Reply

Duane Yates

Cheers Paul
Thats another one for my list of things to try. Would a very simple way to ensure this works be to collect some of the Trama layer, slice it thinly then leave it somewhere warm to dry? Not ideal for a quick fire start i grant you but ideal for a future source of tinder. Or would it just become too brittle?
All the best
Duane

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Duane

Once the trama is sliced it should remain flexible, even when dry. It’s reminiscent of a soft suede leather.

All the best

Paul

Reply

Survival Topics

Very good post, and well documented with pictures. Articles like these make us all want to go out and try it for ourselves.

Yes, being as dry as possible is always the key to catching a spark

Reply

tony croft

Nice article, I’ve noted some of the questions above, and as a mycologist the many uses of fungi fascinate me.

I will do some research into which fungi contain similar trama in large enough quantities to be of use to ush bushcrafters.

One I can thoroughly recommend not mentioned here is the giant puffball, Clavatia gigantea, edible when white throughout, and very good at catching a spark when mature and brown. The flesh is even fluffier and the entire body is of this fluffy material, no spore layer.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Thanks Tony. I’ll certainly be interested to hear the results of your research.

As for giant puffballs – yes, very eidble and one of my favorites, sliced and fried in bacon fat for breakfast (with the bacon).

Next time I find one that has gone over, I’ll give lighting it a go – something I’ve never tried. Thanks for the tip!

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

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