Outdoor pizza kitchens and fancy grills are great, but there are ways to create a grill or cooking area without so much fuss. A Finnish or Swedish torch is a grill constructed out of a log. You don’t need much to create a Swedish torch, just a stout log, an ax, a cast iron pan, and some patience.
If you’re looking for an ingenious way to cook your food outdoors, you can use a log and your ax to create a smoldering cooking surface within an hour or two. Stick what you’d like in a cast iron pan and start cooking. Afterward, you can let the log burn down into merrily glowing coals.
History of the Swedish Torch
Dating back to the 1600s, soldiers and foresters in Europe needed an easy way to create a fire so they could cook, warm up, and illuminate their surroundings. This type of fire, one inside a log, is also called a Canadian torch, a Finnish torch, a Siberian torch, or a Russian tree torch.
Oral tradition establishes that these compact heat sources propagated during the Thirty Years’ War when soldiers from more Northern climates would distribute them to their peers. The great thing about a Swedish torch is that you don’t have to bring dry wood with you, as long as you have dry wood for the main log, because even green kindling will burn in the wooden chimney.
A Swedish torch can burn for 2 to 5 hours, especially if you choose a log of the proper proportions. Your Swedish torch should be at least 15” long and 6” to 8” wide. They produce a lot of heat and embers, so they’re ideal for cooking traditional camping cuisine.
How to Make a Swedish Torch
You don’t need much to create a Swedish tree torch, but you need to have a deft hand with a chainsaw. Although historically, you’d cut a Swedish torch with a hacksaw or ax, it is challenging to do so. A chainsaw makes the process much easier.
Step 1: Prep Your Log
You need a seasoned log, so choose one that’s been in a dry, humidity-free atmosphere for a minimum of 6 months. Stand the log on one end to prepare for cutting. If the log has a jagged end, shear it off so that you can stand it up. You also want a flat surface on top, as it is easier to be more precise and to set pans on top of it.
Step 2: Plan Your Cuts
The log’s cuts will go almost to the base, stopping only a few inches before the log ends. The result, when looking at the round end, resembles a pizza or pie cut into slices.
Step 4: Start Cutting
Make the first cut across the log’s face and cut a deep groove ¾ of the way down. Pull out the chainsaw, rotate 90˚, and make a perpendicular cut to the same depth.
When you look at your Swedish torch from the top, it should like a cleaved pie with 4 distinct sections. Next, make cuts in the middle of these sections, creating 4 deep cuts in total and 8 areas of your log pie.
Step 5: Load Your Tree Torch
Use the same technique to build a fire in your Swedish torch as you would when making a traditional campfire. You need ventilation to get the flames going, which the deep crevices in the tree torch provide naturally.
Tinder could be dryer lint, bark shavings, or paper, and you should keep some extra on hand as you may have to feed your Swedish torch consistently before it catches on fire. You can feed your tree torch green kindling after it has caught, as the chimney effect will allow the greenwood to burn. However, your tinder needs to be bone-dry.
Stuff tinder into the cracks and then place kindling on top of the log. When you light the tinder, it will eventually burn the kindling, and embers will fall into the cracks below. These embers will ignite the inside of the log in a while, and your torch will soon burn brightly.
Step 6: Be Patient
It will take a while for the inside of your Swedish torch to get going, and you should let it burn for some time before you cook on it. Don’t worry about wasting precious cooking time; a Swedish torch is a consistent and reliable heat source and will still be hot enough to make s’mores after dinner.
Tree Torch Variations
Since this type of campfire has been used for centuries, there have been modifications to it over the years. The “Blast Furnace” tree torch has a drill-made hole down the center, and to make a Canadian Candle, chop the log completely through and reassemble.
The Blast Furnace is a variation of the Swedish torch that uses a hole instead of ax cuts. The hole needs to be ¾” across for the fire to receive sufficient oxygen. A flammable material such as kerosene and firestarters is poured into the hole as well as embers.
Another way to create a tree torch is to cut the log all the way through, chopping it into 4 quarters. At this point, some like to use a hatchet to feather the insides of the split logs to provide more surface area on which the fire can catch. Tie the 4 quarters of the logs back together, with space in the middle to create the chimney.
The Final Word
If you want a novel way to start a campfire on your next great adventure, try the tree torch method. By splitting the log to the base, you create a chimney in which to build a fire.
By starting a fire inside the log, you create a compact heat source on which to cook. Swedish torches last a long time, and cooking on them is a breeze if you’ve prepared it correctly.