A good friend of mine, who is of Scandinavian origin (or of that region) and whose older cousins were visiting and added to this story, brought over one of, if not the, manliest gifts I have ever received. They called it a Traveler’s Candle and is something of a tradition from the old country. Essentially, it is a small piece of log with slits cut through the center about 3/4 of the length. When lit, it burns from the inside producing a long lasting radiating heat, with a sturdy base, and even a convenient cook top.
Although I have seen it called a Swedish Log Candle in my research, they called it a Traveler’s Candle and has its origins in Lapland, Finland. In that remote country, those who had houses with rooms to be let (rented), or just wanted to provide weary travelers a place to stay, would light a traveler’s candle outside their home. As long as the log burned, the travelers knew they could stop in and rest. Once the log went out, the owners were no longer taking guests. As we lit the log, with several other men around, we were all drawn to it like moths to a flame.
How to Make a Traveler’s Candle
- A bit of well seasoned log, 1 1/2′-2′ long and 8″ or more in diameter
- A chainsaw
- Lighter fluid (optional)
- A match
Selecting the wood
Make sure the wood is well seasoned if you want to burn the candle soon. Unseasoned wood can be cut and left in the garage or some other dry place for a few months and will dry out faster than if left whole. Plus you will have some spare manly gifts at the ready.
Pine and other evergreens
Pine is great because of the large about of sap, that when cured lights extremely easily and burns very well. However, it also burns very quickly so you have a shorter candle life.
Hickory, oak and other hardwoods
Hardwoods are so called because they have a denser cellular structure than the softwoods. They grow more slowly and their rings are much closer together. They also take longer to cure and can be tough to manage (heavier and harder to split) if you are just trying to have wood to burn. However, they burn very clean and last much longer. So, if you like to cook over a Traveler’s Candle and want a more solid cook top with longer cooking time, these are the woods you want to use.
Cedar is my wood of choice. It isn’t considered a hardwood so it burns a little more quickly. However, it looks great and smells even better. It’s also rot resistant so you can leave a couple of cedar logs laying around the house and get to them when you are ready.
Any wood is alright to burn as long as it isn’t treated (green lumber) or isn’t known in your area to cause issues. Next time you see some on the side of the road, grab a few large pieces and have at it.
Determine the number of cuts you need to make based on the diameter of the log. Two cuts (4 segments) will typically work but if you have a larger piece of wood you may want to add another.
Make your cuts about 3/4 the length of the log. This is easier if you set it on a higher surface than the ground. Definitely recommended if you are making a couple of these.
Find a spot where you don’t mind a few small hot coals falling off, add lighter fluid if necessary and light. You may be able to wad a piece of paper and stick it in the center and get it going just as well.
Give to a friend or enjoy with manly pride. There is something about the playful and dangerous glow of coals that still a man in his innermost areas. Conversations seem to come more freely and relationships are quickly formed and deepened. And, if some weary traveler happens to stop by, be sure to invite them in.