Medieval Facts: Lighting, part two: Torches

Have you ever tried to start a fire from plain old wood? It’s not so easy and certainly wouldn’t burst into flame like the torch in this picture. At the start, anyway.

Torches were more than sticks. They were made from branches or sticks of wood, preferably green or wet wood to prevent the fire from burning up to your hand. Ouch! Torches can also be made from reeds or river cane, bark, or bamboo. These types of torches would need to be bound with twine so that they remain sturdy. Certain types of wood, bark, or other material burns better than others.

A bundle of rags would be bound to one end of the torch, then soaked in pitch, tree sap, animal fat, or oil. If you were in the wild and didn’t have any fabric, you could wrap bark around the end and stuff it with moss, dry grass, leaves, or small bits of wood. You’d still need to soak some pitch or animal fat on the end, though, or it would burn way too fast or blow out easily. I read recently that Chap Stick would work, though you’d need quite a bit. If my spy series ever gets published, watch for this Chap Stick torch in book three. I’m so using this in the survival story.  🙂

Torches do burn down or out. They would have to be replaced often. And if you were on a long journey, you’d want to take several with you or know how to make them and hope you could find what you needed.

Torches were not the cleanest lighting methods. They would leave a room or corridor smelling of smoke and pitch. They would also leave black soot marks up the wall or on the ceiling.

In By Darkness Hid, I make some things up regarding my so-called “torchlights” that whoosh into colored flame like a firework. That’s fantasy. But the way that Jax bundled river cane into torches would have been something medieval travelers would have done. Planning ahead is a good idea when you’re on an epic journey, after all.


See all the posts on Medieval Lighting here:

Lighting, part one.

Lighting, part three.

2 Responses to “Medieval Facts: Lighting, part two: Torches”

  1. Bella says:

    thank you for sharing this information! it was exactly what I needed for my own story. like yours, mine is fantasy and I have little leeway, but I like to make it as authentic as possible. you know, because magic is so real. 😛

  2. MlehFactory says:

    I would like to add that green wood (for the handle) might split in half when heated, and fire-hardened wood works best most of the time.


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