Troop 501 Eagle Scouts

Andrew Jackson - 2011

Project: Recycle Bins at the World Bird Sanctuary

William "Billy" John Fisher, III - 2012

Project: Fire Truck Reading Center at Arnold Branch Library

Christopher "Blake" Hufford - 2013

Project: Flag Pole Installation and Beautification Project at New Hope United Methodist Church

Paul Morton Claeys - 2013

Project: Playground Renovation and Update; Construction and Installation of Benches at New Hope United Methodist Church's Preschool

Drew Vitello - 2014

Project: Development and Installation of interactive, 3-D, educational playground mural at New Hope United Methodist Church's Preschool

Navigating Without a Compass

You are lost. Really lost. Standing in the middle of nowhere, and you have no idea where to go. If you are really in trouble, remember two things first of all: stay calm, think rationally, and you can survive a long time without food. What you need is to drink.

Further thoughts about extreme survival skills is beyond the scope of this page, seek advice elsewhere beyond this introduction. This page deals with the situation of finding your way, without the aid of a compass. What you have, is the sun, the stars, and the nature around you.

This page is mainly about the northern hemisphere of the earth, actually north of 23.5°. The methods described do, of course, apply to the southern hemisphere as well, but in some places there may be a need to swap north and south to get it right.

For a start, it may be a good idea to climb a hill, and get a good look around. Try to see traces of human activity. If you see nothing, you should try to figure out in what direction would be the best to travel. If you haven’t got a map, try to draw one if you can of the terrain in front of you, and try to mark off where north is, using the methods below. If you have a map, try to determine where you are. Remember, you don’t want to climb more hills than you have to. Also you should carefully consider not to climb if you are very tired. In that case you should consider staying where you are. Consult other sources for information on how to make it easy for rescuers.

Let us start with the most accurate method. This method requires that you have a pretty clear sky, though, and takes a lot of time. One of the advantages is that you don’t need any equipment. You would need a straight pole about 1 meter (or a yard) long, two small sticks or rocks, another stick (or rock) that needs to be a little sharp, and something that can act as a string.

Figure showing initial positionIn the morning, at least before noon, the trick starts. Stick the long pole in the ground, upright. The ground around the pole needs to be horizontal. Now, you can place one of the little sticks in the ground exactly where the shadow of the pole ends, like on the figure. Then tie the string to the base of the pole, and tie the little, sharp stick, to the other end, so that when the string is stretched it reaches exactly the little stick standing there in the soil. Then, scratch half a circle in the soil with your sharp little stick, and wait… Wait. Wait until the evening. During the day, the shadow will get shorter and shorter, until noon, when it gets longer again. At noon, when the shadow is at its shortest, you may want to mark the point. The shadow is now pointing north (if you are north of 23.5 ° north). It is however not very easy to see exactly when this is, but it is useful anyway. Finally, the shadow reaches your circle again, and when it does, place your other little stick at the spot where the shadow ends. If you haven’t got a string, you could use a pole that has the right length, or try to come up with some other improvised solution. Just make sure what you draw is a circle.

Figure showing final<br />
arrangementNow, the line from the first stick to the second is west-east, like on the figure. Actually, you may want to mark points regurlarly, because any two points that have exactly the same distance from the base of the pole will give the West-East line. If it is partly cloudy, this may be a good idea.

There is a short, fast version of this one as well. This is only approximate, though, and the further away from the equator you get, the more inaccurate is it. You don’t need the sharp stick and the string. Just wait 20 minutes between placing each of the sticks, and the line between the two sticks will be approximately west-east, like on the figure. Often, you wouldn’t need anything more accurate. 

At night, you can navigate after the stars. You should, however, be careful with walking, it is easy to stumble and fall and get injured, and also easy to lose sight of the stars as you go, and you might start going around in circles. Often it will also be more physically and mentally demanding. Big Dipper and PolarisIn the northern hemisphere, there is a star that is almost exactly in the north at all times, the Polaris. It is pretty easy to find, if you know the “Big Dipper”. (Everybody knows the Big Dipper (or the Plough)?) Take the two stars at the end of the “Big Dipper”, and make an imaginary line “upwards”, and extend it five times the distance between the two stars. There you have it – Polaris.

In the southern hemisphere, you would have to find the Southern Cross. That way is south.


Wristwatch illustrating the method


If you have an analog wrist watch, you can use the time to find north. Hold your watch up in front of you, and let the short hand, red on the figure, that indicates hours point at the sun. While holding it like this, cut the angle between the red arrow and 12 o’clock in two, (noonwards if the time is before 6am or after 6pm), that way is south. (The reason you need to cut it in two, is because the clock takes two rotations while the sun takes one around the earth, it is of course the other way around, but never mind.)

Many people wear digital watches these days. If you do, draw an analog watch face on a piece of paper, and then mark the hour hand on using the digital watch. The rest of the method is identical.

This method can be used even when it is pretty foggy. Although you may not be able to see the sun, it may still cast a shadow. If you take up a straw or a tiny stick, and you may see a shadow. You just have to remember that the shadow points the opposite way from the sun, but the rest of it is quite similar as above.

Glass of water with needleWant to make your own compass? Sure. You need a needle and a glass of water. A needle can in fact float on the water, or that is, on the surface tension forces if put carefully on the surface. Just put it carefully down on the surface of the water. This demands a lot of patience though. There are three tricks that makes it go easier. One: Put the needle on a piece of paper. If the paper floats too, there is no problem, and if the paper sinks, it’ll probably leave the needle. If you put some grease on the needle that isn’t water-based, it’ll go easier, or if you put it carefully down with a fork or something. Once it has got there, it stays there pretty good.

If the needle is magnetic, it will act as a normal compass and be very accurate. A problem is though, that you don’t know north from south. All you know is that it lays north-south. You would have to use one of the other techniques to find out, or make a good guess.

The greatest problem with this is: Not many needles are made of magnetic materials these days…. You can’t just use any needle. You may just have to look around to see what you can find, if you want to make a yourself a compass.

What if there is no shadow? Then, there are a few methods based on natural signs.


Tree with a ant's nest (Large Image - 62 KB)

It is very much about trees. First of all, there will be fewer branches to the north. This is usually easiest to see if you look up along the trunk of the tree. The north face of the tree would be more humid than the south face, which is something most species of lichen (or moss) likes, and consequently, there will be more of it on the north face. On the image above, you can also see that ants likes to build their nests on the south side of the tree.

It is also worthwhile to look at how snow melts. In the spring in the mountains, snow will melt faster on the south face of rocks, or in south faced slopes. Also, vegetation and undergrowth will typically be thicker on the South facing slopes, and also fruits ripen earlier on the South facing slopes.

These methods are not very reliable. Winds may alter the average conditions significantly, and cause deviations. If you use natural signs, you should use as many signs as you can before you draw a conclusion.

Orienteering As Sport

Orienteering is as a competitive sport combines racing with navigation. It is a timed race in which individual participants use a specially created, highly detailed map to select routes and navigate through diverse and often unfamiliar terrain and visit control points in sequence. Courses also can be enjoyed as a walk in the woods, with difficulty levels from beginner to expert offered at most events.

Control description, or clue, sheet, from PTOCA standard orienteering course consists of a start, a series of control sitesthat are marked by circles, connected by lines and numbered in the order they are to be visited, and a finish. The control site circles are centered on the feature that is to be found; this feature is also defined by control descriptions (sometimes called clues, right), a list of which you’ll receive along with your map, or printed on your map. Out in the terrain, a control flag (below) marks the location that the orienteer must visit.

Control flag or bag or markerTo verify a visit, the orienteer may use a punch hanging next to the flag to mark his control card. Different punches make different patterns of holes in the paper.

The route between “controls” is not specified, and is entirely up to the orienteer; this element of route choice and the ability to navigate through the forest are the essence of orienteering.

Most orienteering events use staggered starts to ensure that each orienteer has a chance to do his or her own navigating, but there are several other popular formats, including relays, mass-start endurance events, and “Score-O” events in which the orienteer must find as many controls as possible within a specified time (rogaine is an endurance version of score-O).

Originally a training exercise in land navigation for military officers in Scandinavia, orienteering has developed many variations. Among these, the oldest and the most popular is so-called foot orienteering–this refers to orienteering while running or walking on foot. Typically, when people use the term orienteering, this is what they’re referring to. But now people also orienteer on skis, mountain bikes–even in canoes!

Burning Properties of Wood

The Burning Properties of Wood

Below is a list of the most common woods for burning, there are more. It is worth remembering that ALL wood will burn better if split.

There is an old saying, “before starting a fire – collect the right wood.” It is worth learning which wood is best for your fires as it will make life a lot easier. A natural result of tree recognition is to learn the burning properties of their wood



Alder Poor in heat and does not last
Apple Splendid/ It bums slowly and steadily when dry, with little flame, but good heat. The scent is pleasing.
Ash Best burning wood; has both flame and heat, and will bum when green, though naturally not as well as when dry.
Beech A rival to ash, though not a close one, and only fair when green. If it has a fault, it is apt to shoot embers a long way.
Birch The heat is good but it burns quickly. The smell is pleasant.
Cedar Good when dry. Full of crackle and snap. It gives little flame but much heat, and the scent is beautiful.
Cherry Burns slowly, with good heat. Another wood with the advantage of scent.
Chestnut Mediocre. Apt to shoot embers. Small flame and heating power.
Douglas Fir Poor. Little flame or heat.
Elder Mediocre. Very smoky. Quick burner, with not much heat.
Elm Commonly offered for sale. To burn well it needs to be kept for two years. Even then it will smoke. Very variable fuel.
Hazel Good.
Holly Good, will burn when green, but best when kept a season.
Hornbeam Almost as good as beech.
Laburnum Totally poisonous tree, acrid smoke, taints food and best never used.
Larch Crackly, scented, and fairly good for heat.
Laurel Has brilliant flame.
Lime Poor. Burns with dull flame.
Maple Good.
Oak The novelist’s ‘blazing fire of oaken logs’ is fanciful, Oak is sparse in flame and the smoke is acrid, but dry old oak is excellent for heat, burning slowly and steadily until whole log collapses into cigar-like ash.
Pear A good heat and a good scent.
Pine Bums with a splendid flame, but apt to spit. The resinous Weymouth pine has a lovely scent and a cheerful blue flame.
Plane Burns pleasantly, but is apt to throw sparks if very dry. Plum. Good heat and scent.
Plum Good heat and aromatic.
Poplar Truly awful.
Rhododendron The thick old stems, being very tough, burn well.
Robinia (Acacia) Burns slowly, with good heat, but with acrid smoke.
Spruce Burns too quickly and with too many sparks.
Sycamore Burns with a good flame, with moderate heat. Useless green.
Thorn Quite one of the best woods. Burns slowly, with great heat and little smoke.
Walnut Good, and so is the scent. Aromatic wood.
Willow Poor. It must be dry to use, and then it burns slowly, with little flame. Apt to spark.
Yew Last but among the best. Burns slowly, with fierce heat, and the scent is pleasant.

Fire Types

Below, you will find illustrations and descriptions of the most common types of campfires. Some are used for campfire shows, some for heat, still others for cooking. 

Figure 1 – Log Cabin Fire

Probably the most useful and easiest to light fire. Works good in high wind and rain. Used as a general campfire, ceremonies, etc. You can actually time this fire by the number of logs and their size. It is possible to make a 28 minute fire or 43 minute fire, etc… A small version of this is the best way to start a fire.


Figure 2 – Star Fire

This is basically one of the simplest fires to make.


Figure 3 – Trench Fire

This is the most commonly used Scout fire because it is easy to build. Build it so that the shallow end of the trench faces into the wind. This will make it burn very hotly because the air is directed into the heart of the fire.


Figure 4 – Gypsy Fire

This is an excellent fire for using a cooking pot. Stews cook very well on this type of fire and it is also useful for boiling bilious of water for hot drinks.


Figure 5 – Fire in a hole

This is very much like the Gypsy Fire, but the wood will slide downwards into the heart of the fire and help reduce the need for continually monitoring it. Very useful if there are other things to do as well as cooking because it allows you to move away for short periods of time.


Figure 6 – Lumberman’s Fire

Again this is very like the previous two fires, but the logs to either side act as wind shields and allow the air to be directed into the heart of the fire. Good for supporting cooking pots, or spit roasting.


Figure 7 – Alter Fire

This type of fire is ideal for long stay camps as it helps eliminate the-need for turf removal and low-level cooking. Watch the height you build to. It is much safer to have it too low than too high.


Figure 8 – Reflector Fire

The Back shielding on this type of fires reflects the heat forward. Very useful for directing heat into the bivouac.


Figure 9 – Backlog Fire

This fire again is useful for supporting cooking pots, but has no overhead support. The logs act as shields.


Figure 10 – Fuzz Stick

Sometimes there are not enough small twigs and sticks around to start a fire with. Resourceful Scouts will always be able to make themselves “fuzz sticks” which, because of their curls of wood, catch fire more easily than a solid stick. Something for whittling away those spare moments of ‘nothing to do’.

Building Fires


A safe fire is one on which nothing will burn except the fuel you feed your fire. It’s a spot from which flames cannot spread. Parks and Scout camps may have large metal rings, grills, or stone fireplaces. Use these existing sites whenever you can.

Otherwise, select a spot on gravel, sand, or bare soil well away from trees, brush, dry grasses, and anything else that might burn. Look overhead for branches that sparks could ignite. Stay clear of boulders that may be blackened by smoke, or large tree roots that might be harmed by too much heat.

Clean the fire site down to bare soil, then remove all burnable material from the ground around it. Rake away pine needles, leaves, twigs and anything else that might burn. Save the ground cover so you can put it back when you are done with your fire. Keep a pot of water close by to douse the flames should they begin to spread.

Bare Ground Fire Site

When the ground is bare, haul enough mineral soil to the center of the cleared circle to make an earthen pad about two feet square and three inches thick. Kindle the fire on top of the pad, and the mineral soil will protect the ground from the heat. After you have properly extinguished the blaze and disposed of any unburned wood, crush the remaining ashes, mix them with the mineral soil, and return it to the sites from which you borrowed it.

Gather Tinder, Kindling, and Fuel wood

Patience is the key ingredient for successfully building a fire. You will also need tinder, kindling, and fuel.

imagec001 Tinder catches fire easily and burns fast. Dry pine needles, grasses, shredded bark, and the fluff from some seed pods all make good tinder. So do wood shavings cut with a pocketknife from a dead stick. Gather enough tinder to fill your hat once. 




 imagec002 Dead twigs that are no thicker than a pencil are called kindling. Find enough to fill your hat twice. 






 imagec003 Fuel wood can be as thin as your finger or as thick as your wrist. Use sticks you find on the ground and gather them from a wide area rather than removing all the downed wood from one spot. 




Lay the Fire

There are many ways to arrange tinder, kindling, and fuel so that the heat of a single match can grow into flames of a campfire. A tepee fire lay or log cabin is a good all-around method:

1.   Place a big, loose handful of tinder in the middle of your fire site.

2.   Mound plenty of small kindling over the tinder

3.   Arrange small and medium-sized sticks of fuel wood around the kindling as if they were the poles of a tepee. Leave an opening in the “tepee” on the side the wind is blowing against so that air can reach the middle of the fire.

4.   Ease a burning match under the tinder. The flame should rise through the tinder and crackle up into the kindling and the fuel wood above.



Fuzz Sticks
Fuzz sticks can help get a fire going. Cut shavings into each stick, but leave them attached. Prop the fuzz sticks upright in among the kindling.


A fireplace holds your cook pots above the flames and allows air to reach the fire.

Three-Point Fireplaces

For a single pot or pan, stick three metal tent stakes into the embers.

Wet-Weather Fire Tips

1.   Before the rain begins, gather tinder and kindling for several fires and store it under your dining fly.

2.   Keep a supply of dry tinder in a plastic bag.

3.   Split your wet sticks and logs with an ax The wood inside should be dry.

4.   Keep matches safe from dampness by carrying them in a plastic container with a tight lid.

5.   A butane lighter will give you flame in even the wettest weather. Store it away from heat.

Putting out a Campfire

Extinguish every fire when you no longer need it. Make sure it is cold out – cold enough so that you can run your hands through the ashes. Trickle, don’t pour water on the embers, steam is hotter than bioling water and ash will go everywhere if you pour. Stir the wet ashes with a stick and wet them again. Repeat until you can touch every part of the fire site with your bare hands.

Cleaning a Fire Site

Clean a permanent fire site by picking out any bits of paper, foil, and unburned food. Pack them home with the rest of your trash. If you made a new fire site, erase all evidence it was ever there. Scatter any rocks, turning their blackened sides toward the ground. Spread cold ashes over a wide area and toss away extra firewood. Replace any ground cover. When you’re finished, the site should look just as it did when you found it.