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When it comes to fire-starting, we all know about the obvious modern methods — lighters, matches, and ferro rods. As for more primitive ignition sources, you’re probably aware of how to make a bow drill, use a magnifier to focus sunlight, or strike flint against steel. These methods are all well-publicized. However, there’s one traditional fire-starting method you may not have heard of: the Rudiger roll.
The Rudiger roll is named after German survival instructor Rüdiger “Sir Vival” Nehberg, who documented the method in one of his books, but legend has it that this method was originally developed by WWII POWs who needed to start a fire without tools. The Rudiger roll consists of a flattened piece of combustible fibrous material, such as jute twine, cotton, hemp, or yucca fibers. The material is arranged into a long strip and covered with a layer of powdered abrasive/accelerant, such as ashes, rust, tobacco, or even crushed walnut husk. Accelerants are recommended but not always used — it’s still possible to start a fire with nothing but the fibers, though more friction will be required.
Once the fibers and accelerant are combined, the strip is rolled tightly into a bundle that resembles a cigarette or a joint. This bundle is then placed on top of a flat surface such as rock, concrete, or a wood plank. Another flat item is placed on top of the roll, pressed down, and moved forward and backward rapidly to apply friction to the Rudiger roll. With the right technique, the friction should leave the roll smoldering in just a few seconds, ready to ignite a tinder bundle.
The following video from David West shows how to assemble and use the most basic Rudiger roll, composed of cotton and ashes.
Another YouTuber who goes by Boggy Creek Beast has dedicated dozens of videos to testing the effectiveness of a Rudiger roll with various natural and manmade materials. He has used chaga fungus, baking soda, poplar bark, manure, bone dust, newspaper, and even manganese dioxide from an alkaline battery. Watch the video below for an introduction to the technique, or check out his channel to see all his Rudiger roll videos.