Nuorssjo: The Best Log Fire

Nuorssjo: The Best Log Fire

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Long-log fires or “long fires” seem to attract a disproportionate amount of attention in modern bushcraft circles. They are often effectively re-created in miniature by people understanding some of the principles but not having access to the materials, venue, or both, in order to fully apply these techniques. The masters of this type of log fire in the forest, however, are probably the Sámi and it’s from them I take my guidance.

Previously, I have written about how to build long-log fires as well as lean-to shelters which may be used in combination with these fires. The long-log fires in these previous articles have largely focussed on the three-log version, sometimes referred to as a nying fire (such as in the book of one of my old mentors, Lars Fält’s Uteliv på Vintern), although some folk refer to all long fires made of sizeable logs as “nying”.

Regardless of the three-log/nying nomenclature variations, there is another type of long log fire, one which, on the face of it, has greater simplicity still. This type of fire is described in a Swedish book on traditional fire craft as “den bästa stockelden”, meaning literally “the best logfire”. It uses two logs only and is called nuorssjo. It is trickier to light than the three-log long-log fire (which can effectively be ignited through sheer volume of flames) but has other virtues hidden within its subtlety.

The three-log fire burns relatively rapidly, strongly at first, weakly later on. The strong combustion, with its resultant high consumption of oxygen and great convection currents, creates cold drafts low down around the fire as air rushes in to replace the warm air rising on the strong updraft above the fire. Also, the construction of the three-log fire means you gain most radiant heat from it if you are raised up, somewhat above the lower logs. This is why the three-log fire partners well with a lean-to with a raised bed (such as the one shown here here).

The two-log fire, on the other hand, is more subtle, both in ignition as well as action, but the result is more a more gentle and much more steady, long-lived, warmth. This is referred to as a “standstill” or even “stagnant” heat. Moreover, the heat is given out sideways, at a level where lying next to the fire provides optimum warmth. In the video below, filmed while I was in Sweden, I find the correct materials in the appropriate environment to build what some of the old-timers there call the best log fire…

You can also watch this video on YouTube.

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

How To Build An Arctic Lean-To

Arctic Lean-To Revisited

Tree Felling For Winter Firewood: Axe and Saw

PK Podcast 006: Winter Outdoor Life Tips, Thoughts And Perspectives

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor, qualified canoe leader and mountain leader. 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.

52 thoughts on “Nuorssjo: The Best Log Fire

  1. A bit of effort, and a great fire for many hours, if not all night. I’ve tried self feeding fires, and not really that impressed with them. Does it till matter with prevailing wind direction? would you put it at an angle to the wind to prevent blow-back of smoke?

    1. Good informative video.
      Thanks again.
      Peter Australia

    2. Hi Martin, yes you do need to take into consideration the wind direction. If you are working in deep snow, as I was, then there is an element of shelter because you are down in a depression, out of the wind. That said, you should still consider it. The general principle is to put the fire end-on to the breeze rather than side-on.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  2. Brilliant Paul, absolutely brilliant!
    The highest quality information and demonstrated clearly, exactly what film was invented for.

  3. A fascinating film Paul. The following comments/questions are not meant to be facetious or flippant, although they may sound it!
    1, How long did it take to make?
    2, How long would you be wanting to stay in a location to go to all that work and trouble? Surely not just overnight?
    3. I can see it being a good skill to have but if you made a snow shelter, or even simple bivvi with a tarp, wouldn’t a smaller or less labour intensive fire be just as efficient?
    4. I can’t see clearing up after it being a simple matter either! 🙂
    I’ve never been to the places in the film and never encountered conditions like that so have no points of reference to judge for myself the answers to the above.

    1. Hi Ste,

      As always, it’s good to hear from you. Your questions are all good ones.

      1/ I don’t recall exactly how long it took to complete this on the occasion we filmed. By necessity filming requires some stopping and starting for the cameraman to get into the postion he wants to film from. That being said, felling a tree takes only minutes. It’ll take longer to find a decent tree in the first place. Mature Pinus sylvestris doesn’t have a lot of side branches to remove, so limbing is quick. Cutting out two decent sections is not overly time consuming either, probably about 10 mins for each cut.

      Then it’s a question of moving the logs (hopefully not far). You’ll need to gather some kindling (birch bark, spruce twigs, wood shavings) and maybe some green wood for spacers.

      If you are making the fire during a time when there is much snow on the ground then you’ll need to excavate an area like the one I used in the film. This will take about 30-40 minutes with a snow shovel. To maximise the amount of filming time we had for the felling and fire, I dug out the area used in the film the day before we filmed. It snowed a little overnight, which is why there was a dusting of snow in there. Normally, it would be clear of snow and pretty much green.

      2/ Traditionally nuorssjo was used for an overnight stay. If there was no snow on the ground and you already have a reindeer skin to sleep on, it’s very quick to make this fire. In Yngve Ryd’s book on Sami fire craft, it’s stated “Förr eldades nuorssjo mest på hösten och höstvintern, vid samling och flyttning med renar då kåta inte fanns i närheten.“, which translates to “In the past, Nuorssjo was most fired in autumn and autumn-winter, when assembling and moving with reindeer when kåta was not found nearby.”

      FYI kåta is the name of the traditional wigwam-shape shelter of the Sami.

      3/ You definitely need to weigh up your options vs the temperature and the resources available (both natural and what you have with you, including tools). As general points you don’t tend to use fires with snow shelters. Long fires do work well with tarps as a bivvy, in a similar way to lean-to shelters improvised from natural materials. Building a big long-log fire will take much less time than building a decent natural shelter that might accompany it.

      4/ You have a point with three-log long-log fires and other nying fires but one of the things about the two-log version shown above is that as long as the bottom log does not burn through, then the ground is pretty much shielded from the fire. The lower log acts as a platform, on top of which and above all the combustion occurs.

      Thanks for your questions. I hope the answers are helpful.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

      1. They are helpful Paul, and I look forward to the day I can be there when one is made, (and maybe help!)
        Just a supplementary. Do you sleep? Look at the time! 😉

        1. Glad they are helpful Ste. Still weaning myself off Canadian time (6 hours behind).

          Cheers,

          Paul

          PS Amanda made me laugh so much the other day reading out your hammock and hedgehog comment 😉

  4. Great video, enjoyed watching it. Does seem to appear to be a rather labour intensive task, but considering you would be staying for the entire night I guess it carries it’s own justification.
    In the film you used deadwood pine for the logs, can I ask what effect different trees would have to timing and heat intensity? and are there any types of wood you would NOT recommend for this type of fire?
    BTW; enjoy your blogs, keep ’em coming.

    1. Hi Duncan,

      It’s not so labour intensive if you have good tools and are efficient with them. A bit of chopping and sawing but nowhere near as much as if it were all being sawn and split to go into a stove for example. Admittedly a stove makes more efficient use of the wood but you’ll understand my point about limited processing of the logs for a long fire.

      As mentioned in the video, make the fire as close to the felling site as possible.

      What woods would I use? – pine. Preferably straight as a telegraph pole and without much discernible twist.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  5. Enjoyed learning something completely new and different. Approximately, How long does something like this particular fire burn? and I, too, was wondering about smoke blow back while trying to sleep. Beautiful fire and scenery.

    1. Hi Rosemary,

      Good questions. Given the slow rate of combustion, it ticks over for hours before even any adjustment is required.

      Smoke can become an issue as flames die down but as mentioned elsewhere, you can scrape the burned surface to re-energise things and this does get the flames going again.

      As a general point, however, if there is a significant breeze, try to orientate one end of the fire towards the wind, rather than having the wind blowing across the fire sideways. This helps minimise smoke blowing onto the user of the fire.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  6. Hello Paul, perfect idea to show “how to do” warm night.

  7. Loved seeing you build this fire Paul. Nice filming and edit.

    How would you go about in feeding new logs to this setup in case you want it to last longer? I’m asking this as I think it is quite a fiddly task to just lay a new log on top of the two existing (partially burned) logs. In that case it is just adding fuel to a normal fire, you’d lose the stagnant heat-element. (If that makes any sense at all… 🙂 )

    greetings
    Ruud

    1. Hi Ruud, thanks for your kind words. Glad you liked the filming and edit as well as the content.

      I wouldn’t go about feeding more logs into it. The key is to choose logs which are large enough in the first place to provide sufficient fuel.

      The Sami have a way of re-energise the coals when they start to die down by scraping across the glowing wood with an axe.

      Hope this makes sense.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  8. Hi Paul,
    An evocative and informative film. Excellent as always.
    Thank you for making and sharing this.
    Regards
    Hils

  9. Hi Paul, thanks for sharing this. In answer to the questions about the amount of time taken to prepare this, with 2 people working on the preparation and lying either side for the night, the workload would be no more than cutting enough wood to last the night for a “regular” log fire, but with a more sustained warmth rather than having to get up and refuel every couple of hours.I know which I would choose.
    All the best, Dave.

  10. Excellent video Paul. Thanks so much for taking the considerable time and effort to disseminate something so informative to so many for free. For those that are fortunate enough to see your content I’ve no doubt you’re a major proponent that living outdoors is not only an exciting adventure but potentially very comfortable, adaptable and a pleasure.

    With this configuration of the two logs, is there a danger of the top one rolling off at some point during the burn? I see the fire doesn’t extend quite to the ends, so perhaps this provides sufficient stability. Are there any other precautions to be taken in this respect?

    Thanks again.

    1. Hi Dan,

      Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you appreciate my material.

      You’ve pretty much answered your own question in that you have noticed where the flat ends of the logs mate with each other and do not burn, there is stability.

      You can put a small diagonal prop against the top log if you wish but this is generally done more to hold the gap open wider than it is to stop the top log moving from the point of stability.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  11. It is worth the extra attention to detail. Another advantage is one less huge log to saw and drag. If worried about it falling over you can always add stakes at the ends.

    (Though I must say after 5 weeks on the rather tree-less Hardangervidda and in a tent with pulk throughout the Beast of the East storm, I am very thrilled to build any fire at all!)

  12. Good video, thank you Paul.
    It is very correct to learn the secrets of life in the forest from local natives, they had thousands of years of preparation.
    I can add, you can build a fire by placing the logs nearby, for cooking, and then put the logs on top of each other

  13. I’m flabbergasted that you didn’t mention safety, Paul. If that top log rolls off in your direction, it would do more than ruin your sleep. Stakes were mentioned but they can burn away before the log rolls. Putting a smaller diameter log, about 3 or 4″, between you and the fire can stop a rolling log.

    1. What flabbergasts me is that people don’t know a subject very well before choosing to lecture me on something I have researched in depth. I don’t just make this stuff up, you know? This point is clear with you, right?

      You understand that I worked with Lars Fält for a number of years, running courses in the north of Sweden?

      You understand that during those times, as well as learning from Lars, and subsequently I have had plenty of exposure to Sami culture?

      But even if none of the above is clear, for starters, we have this thing nowadays called Google. Enter the word nuorssjo into the search engine then select images. Have a look at the various ways Sami make this fire. There are a few images.

      You could also look at this blog: https://naturallore.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/jokkmokks-marknad-2012-part-1/ which features John Stokke.

      If you could be bothered, you’d seek out Yngve Ryd’s book Eld, Flammor och glöd – samisk eldkonst. Then you’d read the chapter on long-log fires, including nuorssjo, which would involve translating the text from Swedish to English (if you don’t read Swedish).

      Then you’d go out and make a few fires. Then you’d properly understand where the stability comes from in what I did in the video.

      If you are going to criticise, at least don’t do it from a position of ignorance and fanciful speculation.

  14. Thanks for the lecture. I’ve followed you for a long time and highly respect your knowledge and experience. I’ve always been impressed with the professionalism and thoroughness of your answers and your videos but nobody is perfect and I think that this video missed the mark. There are a number of videos on Youtube that show how to build a long log fire and show several ways to stabilize the logs, beyond the flats on the end which I have to presume you were referring to in your remarks to me however they will burn away eventually. The Sámi may be the experts but safety doesn’t seem to be a priority for them OR that didn’t get communicated and I’m selling the Sámi short. Either way, somebody new to the subject could get badly hurt if they build a fire based on the video.

    Sorry I ruffled your feathers, I was trying to be helpful. Trust me, it won’t happen again.

    1. Trying to help from what perspective though?

      What you appear to be saying is that you imagine someone might get hurt.

      Forgive me if I am wrong, but your critique does not seem to be coming from the perspective of any actual experience of this technique but rather supposition.

      This in itself is dangerous and it’s something I am seeing more and more of in the field of bushcraft – people with theoretical knowledge mixed with imaginings. It more often guides utterances and written comments than actual action but even so this phenomenon muddies the waters. It blurs things. And it needs to be cut through, for everyone’s sake.

      There may be all sorts of things on YouTube but look to the source is what I am saying. At least in the first instance. There are too many Chinese whispers warping things. And I will fight against them whenever I see them. Listen to what you are saying in your retort, it’s effectively “It might be a Sami technique but I’m not going to give their (or your) experience any credence. I saw something different on YouTube and I imagine what you did could be dangerous.”

      Look, I don’t mean to upset you (you haven’t upset me) but if you are going to come onto my site and criticise my work (which is fair enough in itself), then you can expect me to defend my position. And I’ll do it robustly. Not least because others will read your criticism and I have to provide an answer. You in turn are welcome to try to convince me of another position with empirical evidence and research, all bound up with logical coherence. But if your critique is weak, you will get savaged.

      I don’t know what you do for a living but imagine I had watched a couple of YouTube videos about your area of professional knowledge/experience and then come into your place of work and criticised something you had done, when we hadn’t even been introduced. You may have followed my work for a long time but you haven’t even left your name and you don’t appear to ever have left a comment on this blog before (certainly not with the credentials you left on this occasion). So your critique appears as your first communication to me, cold, out of the blue. How did you expect me to react?

      Bushcraft (and survival) is weird in this respect. Everyone has an opinion. This doesn’t happen in plumbing, or sheep farming, or law. You don’t get guys watching legal videos on YouTube then criticising the work of lawyers. “Hmm, I imagine that’s not a strong argument”. “Someone might get jailed if you don’t consider that legislation.” It just doesn’t happen. Yet it’s what I deal with every day.

      In terms of the set-up in the video, I can tell you the top log was still on the bottom log in the morning (yes, the flat ends). The ends did not burn away. Just because you can’t imagine it being sufficient, doesn’t mean it wasn’t.

      OK, so I understand the concept that it might not be sufficient next time (seeing a black swan after a lifetime of seeing only white swans). The wood will be different. The cuts I make will be different. But that’s where skill and judgement come into it. Just the same as if the next time I swing that axe when I’m sectioning a tree – if I don’t do it with skill and judgement, then I’ll split my foot.

      So, we also need to put the risk into perspective. It is far more likely that someone felling a tree or using an axe on snowshoes will injure themselves in these processes than with a fire of this type (remember I write risk assessments as well as manage risk dynamically in the field as part of my profession). Yet you didn’t criticise my lack of explicit safety instructions in the video with respect to these aspects.

      Those aspects are not there because this video is not a training video. The film certainly does not deconstruct any of the basic tool skills required to complete the tasks I completed in the video in the detail that would be required for someone to replicate them safely and competently. Rather, the video is an account of what I did, on one occasion. I’m sorry if you expected more of it.

      Regards,

      Paul

      P.S. I’m not trying to agitate or brow beat you. You must know, however, how seriously I take this subject.

      1. Thank you, Paul. Your response is exemplary of the kind of (online) discourse we desperately need today.

        It is so rare to get civility, passion, and logic all in one place.

  15. The best log fire is used by all northern peoples, military, and adventurists, in Scandinavia, Canada, Russia, and Alaska (USA), so it cannot be criticized. Variations include a three log (two bottom, one top triangular shaped), some with vertical greenwood stakes to hold the ends, but all versions are traditional, hence, proven effective, and to be considered useful both for survival, or for a pleasant night out in the show.
    I love your posts Paul. You are a treasure of bushcraft skills and experience.

    Cheers,
    Marcel

    1. night out in the snow…although, that would be quite the show, in snow, with a low long long fire on the go.
      tally ho!

  16. Brilliant and very elegant. I spent 10 days on an expedition hammock camping in Sweden last winter, and I can see that your set up would have taken a similar amount of time as mine (everything takes much longer to do in an arctic environment) and possibly more comfortable at -30C, though I hope you had a thick wool blanket too.

    Please could you confirm a couple of points for my curiosity? How close to the logs did you sleep? How many hours did they burn for – all night or did you need to get up to complete some maintenance during the night?

    Many thanks for such great content as always

  17. Pal-
    I really enjoyed this video. It was very well choreographed. I don’t understand the comments about this being overly labor intensive! I think this may be coming from people who have never used an axe such as the GF Scandinavian Forest Axe. This sharp cutting limbing axe would make quick work of this specific log fire task. This axe has made me leave my saws at home now when I go out, and is all I take along with a small knife. Thanks again for the superb and helpful instruction.

    1. Thanks for your comments Fred. Yes, you have the benefit of experience in using the Scandinavian Forest Axe, so you understand! 🙂

      Warm regards,

      Paul

      1. Yes, another thing to point out I believe, is the SFA would be much safer than using a hatchet for the log hewing task due to the longer handle.

        1. Indeed. Very good point.

          I don’t know if you’ve seen it Fred, but I went into a fair amount of detail on safety aspects of different sizes of axe in the article linked below.

          http://paulkirtley.co.uk/2016/axe-safety-camp/

          I think it’s worth adding the link here for others reading this thread of comments, so they can refer to it.

          Warm regards,

          Paul

  18. Fantastic video Paul.
    I have only dreamed of places like Sweden so have no experience in this climate myself. I think what Dave has said in his comment about 2 people sharing the load etc. making the log fire faster and less labour intensive is an important point that it seems many hadn’t thought of.
    Including myself!

    1. Hi Liam,

      Yes, this fire lay works well for two people – one either side of the fire. You need a little more spruce (or a couple of reindeer skins) to sleep on of course.

      It’s really not that labour intensive though. Cutting a couple of logs and setting fire to them. That’s it!

      Cheers,

      Paul

      1. Of course! Compared to setting up a shelter out of natrural material etc. Labour is very limited I’d imagine. I think the thought of felling a tree and sectioning it with just an axe at first seems like a lot of labour but I guess once you have skill + experience it’s probably not as bad as it seems.

        1. That’s right Liam. And you know how time consuming building a decent shelter is, don’t you? 😉

          Cheers,

          Paul

  19. Really, really nice video. Great production resulting in clear instruction / demonstration. Thanks for this, I have built 3 log fires before but never knew of this one; the only sad thing is I cant just go out tomorrow to try it, I will have to wait to find a suitable place with suitable materials (legally). Until then I shall just have to enjoy the video. Thanks again.
    Mick

    1. Thanks for your comments Mick. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      If you can find a place to do this later in the year, it would be a wonderful experience on a frosty December evening in the UK.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

  20. Wonderful cinematography, Paul and Ben! At first I wasn’t sure I liked the slow pace, but I realized that is exactly what I need. Our world is so fast-paced and this captures the patient, off-the-clock spirit of our time in nature.

    I was going to ask about stabilizing stakes but I see that has been addressed in other comments.

    Professional and instructive, as always. Many thanks!

  21. Hi Paul, is amazing to see such a beatiful fire lay!
    I woul like to try a fire like that but most of the time I have no access to whole dead trees as my area is very anthropized so they collect almost all the wood, also here are lots of beech tree, but sooner or later I’ll move up north countries!!!

    Thanks for showed this beatiful fire and places .

    Regards

    Pierluigi

    1. Hi Pierluigi,

      I understand about dead wood being collected by people. That said, this fire lay makes the most sense in the area where it originates.

      The north is definitely the right place for it.

      Warm regards,

      Paul

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