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Survive this: Make a Scandinavian log candle for emergency lighting

Survive this: Make a Scandinavian log candle for emergency lighting

Want to  make a long-lasting wooden “candle” for outdoor emergency lighting, warmth and cooking? All you need is a log and saw!

by Leon Pantenburg

It takes a lot of wood to build and maintain a bright, warm campfire. But what if there isn’t much wood available, you want to stay warm and  also be able to see in the dark? One possibility might be to make a log candle.

Survive this: These three Scandinavian log candles will provide light, warmth and a cooking area fro several hours. (Pantenburg photos)

These three Scandinavian log candles will provide light, warmth and a cooking area for several hours. (Pantenburg photos)

I was camped along a popular lake in Central Oregon and noticed a man at a campsite working on a four-foot long log. He had already done some work with a chainsaw, cutting six pie-shaped cuts about 18 inches lengthwise into the end of the log.

“It’s a Swedish candle,” he commented, while poking pine pitch into the saw cuts. “I’m making it for a wedding present.”

The idea, he said, is to make a controllable fire that provides warmth and light. The base doesn’t heat up, so the fire won’t melt down through the snow and put itself out.

The log is prepared by cutting lengthways with a chainsaw, he said, for about 18 inches. Height can be whatever you want.

There was a chainsaw in our camp, along with unlimited firewood logs from blowdowns of  Ponderosa and Lodgepole pines.  It didn’t take me long at all to make a candle.

In camp, we had a Swiss ski instructor, and he was very familiar with the log-torch concept. The torches are very popular at winter events in the Scandinavian countries, he said, because they provide warmth and light. But he couldn’t narrow down the country of origin, so I’m  calling it a “Scandinavian log candle.”

Here’s how to make one.

Once the cuts are made, the top is packed with pine pitch and lit. The melting pitch will spread the flames down the saw channels.

Once the cuts are made, the top is packed with pine pitch and lit. The melting pitch will spread the flames down the saw channels.

  • Find a log about eight-to-12-inches in diameter.
  • Bury one end about knee-deep in the sand or dirt, so the log is securely anchored and immovable. In deep snow, it would probably be best to stomp down the snow, and then dig a hole for the log.
  • With a saw, cut  lengthwise down from the top  in pie-piece segments. It didn’t seem to matter exactly how long the segments were. The fire stops at the end of the cuts.
  • The cuts are then loaded with pine pitch or other tinder or kindling and this is lit to ignite the log segments. Don’t pack the cuts too tightly, or the air flow will be blocked.

The first candle was such a hit that we made more all week.  We used pine pitch to ignite the first candles. But once we depleted the campground’s pitch reserves, we were forced to use lamp oil brought in for the  bamboo Tiki torches.

It didn’t seem to matter. Once the wood was ignited, the candles could burn from one to three hours. Fire longevity was directly related to the length of the cuts.

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The length of the saw channels will determine how big the flames will be and how long they last.

Saw channel length determines flame height and how long they last.

In a survival situation, this log candle technique could prove to be invaluable. In the dark aftermath of a disaster, light might be critical, especially if there was no electricity or artificial means of creating illumination.

In that scenario, a person with a chainsaw and access to a downed wooden telephone pole could quickly make a few of these candles for lighting. I didn’t try it, but there is no reason you couldn’t cook or boil water on top of the candles. And think about this – if the ground was saturated, or there was standing water, a log candle could burn without being affected by excessive moisture.

An added benefit is that the log candles are fun to make. Every night of the campout, the kids in the party would arrange a different pattern for the candles, and an adult would do the chainsaw work. Then, after dark when the torch were lighted, the kids hung out around them.

Cleanup was easy: In the morning, when the fire was out and the logs were cool, the stumps would be dug up and used later for campfire wood. We also picked up trash left behind by other campers. The beach and campsite were left cleaner than when we arrived.

Check out the video to see what the candles look like in use. We had to use some lamp oil to get them going, since all the pine pitch had been used up!


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View Comments (3)


  1. Leon

    07/16/2015 at 06:08

    I agree about the treated wood. But all wood smoke is toxic, so you make your choices, based on training and the circumstances.

  2. left coast chuck

    07/11/2015 at 10:40

    That was my first thought upon reading the article. Any treated wood should only be burned in the most extreme of circumstances such as: it is 15°F. Your clothes are wet. There is no shelter for miles. You are going to freeze to death shortly. In that circumstance, anything that will burn will do, but stay out of the smoke stream. Burning painted wood has risks too. For firewood only unpainted and untreated wood is suitable.

  3. Tom Hogan

    10/10/2013 at 23:04

    Using a telephone pole is not wise. They contain (CCA) Chromated copper Arsenate preservative. Not good to burn in any fashion. Not good for your health

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Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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