Content of the material
- What you need to start a fire
- Related Questions
- Natural fire starter
- 9 Pine cone fire starters
- 10 Tree resin
- 11 Dried orange peel
- 12 Wooden coffee stirrers
- Final Thoughts
- Precautions to take
- What Can You Use as Tinder?
- Electrical methods
- Cell phone and steel wool
- Batteries and gum wrapper
- 9v and Steel wool
- Friction Fire
- Step 4: #3 – Picture Frame
- 11 Ways to start a fire without matches
- 1. Flint and steel
- 2. How to start a fire with sticks (Fire plow)
- 3. Start a fire with a bow and drill
- 4. How to start a fire with a two-man friction drill
- Latest YouTube Videos
What you need to start a fire
Before we look at the 11 ways of how to start a fire, we need to know how to make a fire by selecting the right fuel, such as wood or anything else we can get our cold hands on.
When it comes to making a fire in the wilderness, there are three essential elements that we need to make the fire:
Without these three things, you will not get a fire going no matter how hard you try. The first one, heat, can be easily produced by the flame of a lighter or match, a ferrocerium rod also known commonly as fire steel, by the combination of certain chemicals such as glycerol and potassium permanganate, or perhaps by friction.
In an urban environment where there are not so many trees, we could use a lot of other accelerants for a roaring fire, but in the woods, we need three types of materials:
Tinder – Tinder is a dry material that ignites with very little heat. When the tinder is dry, all it takes is a spark to catch it alight. We use the tinder in a fire as a fuel to ignite less-flammable material like wood. You can’t just hold a log up to a match and expect it to catch alight, the fire needs the tinder to substantiate the intensity and effect of the fire.
So how do you make tinder for a fire? There are several sources of tinder such as:
- Tinder from tree bark (like paper), cotton balls, tampon cotton, steel wool, and cattail fluff.
- Dry wood shavings that can be made easily with a pencil sharpener, knife, or shaving off a stick. You don’t need any tools do make this sort of tinder at all.
- In snow-covered areas use fungus from trees. It holds the heat quite well.
Kindling – Kindling is what we add to the tinder to give a fire a more solid form. Because kindling is such an accelerant, it will only last for a short amount of time. Essentially tinder is the initial start and then kindling is the next necessary ingredient.
It is very easy to gather as it is small sticks and twigs. These need to be dry. Any wood the same thickness as a finger is suitable for tinder. An effective way to make tinder if you are in a damp area is to find a larger piece of wood and break it with rocks or larger pieces of wood. The inside of this wood is dry and will be suitable if turned towards the inside facing the tinder of your fire.
Fuel – Once we have started a fire, we need fuel to keep the fire going. Everything much thicker than tinder or kindling that burns for longer is a good source of fuel. Often fuel is in the form of thick logs. If you don’t have an ax to cut these down try looking for a dead or fallen log and dragging it over your fire. Once you have enough kindling you can effectively use your fire to cut the long piece of wood into multiple pieces giving yourself more fuel.
Whichever method we choose to use, these three ingredients are necessary for the formation of a good fire. Dry tinder much always be used in all of these circumstances to catch the initial spark and form into fuel for the kindling to catch alight.
Can I use rubbing alcohol to start a fire? Your first aid kit probably contains rubbing alcohol, which is also flammable. You can soak a cotton ball or a pine cone in it. Then place the ball or the cone on some dry twigs and leaves, and you will have a fire in no time.
How do you keep a fire on for a long time? Make sure you use dry firewood and that the fire pit is dry from the start as well. It’s also recommended that you use large pieces of wood. While they do not ignite that easily, they last long and keep you warm through the night. There should be some sort of a windbreak near the fire fit, to prevent the winds from putting it out. Additionally, fire needs constant supply of oxygen, so arrange the firewood in a teepee-like V shape. These methods will aid you in surviving the most extreme weather.
Besides starting a fire, what other survival skills are necessary to know? Whether you are a seasoned survivalist or a camping enthusiast, it is highly important that you know how to:
- Make a shelter
- Treat wounds and injuries
- Find water and purify it
- Forage for food and cook it
I go into more details in my post about basic survival skills.
Natural fire starter
9 Pine cone fire starters
Every fireplace should have a basket full of pine cones ready to get the sparks flying. They look pretty when they’re not fuelling the flames, and they smell wonderful when they’re being burned. They need to be totally dried out before they can be used as a fire starter. But you can also really maximise on their large surface area and fire lighting effectiveness by:
- Soaking the pine cones in used cooking oil. Leave out to dry before you use and if you are worried about your house smelling of delicious food, then only use on outdoor fires. It is also an excellent way to recycle your used cooking oil.
- Covering the pine cones in wax. Tie a piece of string around each pine cone and pull one of the ends up to the top. Melt some wax in a can over some hot water and dip each cone into the wax. Leave to dry before use.
10 Tree resin
This is a good emergency fire starter method to have up your sleeve when you’re out in the wilderness. Conifer trees are best and if you can find a pine tree then you’re laughing as you can also use the pine cones together with sap from the tree. For information on how to find and harvest ‘Pitch’ from conifer trees take a read of Mother Earth News.
11 Dried orange peel
Surprisingly the skin of oranges is a very effective natural fire starter. It contains limonene oil which is also used as an essential oil. Leave your orange peel to dry out on a tray or cooling rack and when burned the peel will ignite easily, diffusing a sweet smelling fragrance.
12 Wooden coffee stirrers
Yes, they may be manufactured by humans, but coffee stirrers are most certainly all wood. Their thin and lightweight nature make them really easy to ignite and an excellent addition to your fire starter kit. So long as you can store them in a totally waterproof container, they are the ideal last resort when dry kindling is few and far between.
The top-down method for starting a fire is typically thought to be superior to the log cabin approach. This is because the pyramid-shaped arrangement creates a stronger draft, which feeds oxygen to the fire and allows it to burn strong for a longer period of time. Plus, the consensus seems to be that the top-down method produces more heat than the log cabin method does. The Chimney Safety Institute of America also recommends the top-down method because it prepares the largest pieces of wood (at the bottom of the pile) for burning, ultimately creating a cleaner burn and less smoke than a log cabin–style fire that’s lit from the bottom.
In the end, the best way to build a fire in your fireplace will be the one that works best for you. Why not try both methods and decide for yourself which you like better?
Precautions to take
- Place a bucket of water nearby, in case the fire gets out of control and also for when you need to extinguish it before you leave the site.
- Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from the nearest tent or any other combustible material.
- Ensure that no motor vehicles are parked close to your fire.
- Keep the surrounding area clear of brushwood and loose leaves.
- Ensure that the fire isn’t lit too close to overhanging branches of trees.
Now that we have studied the basic procedure of how to start a fire let us go into the details of how to start a fire with a battery.
There are different types of batteries available. However, all sorts of batteries have one thing in common, and that is, they produce electrical energy that can be converted into heat, which in turn can cause combustion. Here are a few methods that show you how to start a fire with a battery:
What Can You Use as Tinder?
Lots of things make good tinder so let’s not beat around the bush and see the full list:
- dryer lint
- cotton balls and Vaseline
- waxed cotton balls
- coconut husk
- dry leaves
- petroleum gauze dressing (from your first aid kit)
- birds’ and bees’ nests (if you can find one)
- steel wool
- and even powder obtained from a bullet (really helpful under damp conditions)
Cell phone and steel wool
Cell phones have a battery that can ignite things like steel wool or small batteries. Watch the magic happen:
Batteries and gum wrapper
I’ve tried this one myself. The trick is to get the wrapper cut small enough that it heats up enough but wide enough that it doesn’t burn up or break before you get your fire started. It takes two batteries because each is 1.5v and that’s not quite enough. You could use a 9v instead, and you can use strips of aluminum foil instead of the gum wrapper. You also have to have your tinder and fire ready to go though because this doesn’t burn very long:
9v and Steel wool
steel wool can be ignited by rubbing both battery posts of a 9V battery, the battery from your cell phone if it’s removable, or wires from a 12v car battery on it. Here’s a quick video of a 9v and steel wool.
Friction fire is one of the oldest ways fire was made by our ancestors. The basis for this technique is creating heat and eventually a hot ember through friction by rubbing two pieces of wood together. Their are many variations of this technique but the easiest and most efficient way is the bow drill.
The bow drill consists of a fire board, a drill, a socket, and a bow. These items should be made of dried softwoods with the fire board being the softest if possible. Create a round impression into the fire board the same diameter as your wood drill. Then cut a notch at the edge of the impression all the way through the fire board.
Next create a bow by using a curved branch and tying a piece of string, rope or even a shoelace to each end. Twist the drill around the string so that it is fully wrapped around the bow. Place the fire board on the ground so that the notch is right on top of a small pile of tinder. Place your foot on the other side of the fire board and place the drill in the round impression while still wrapped in the bow string. Put the socket on the top of the drill to stabilize it.
Now pull the bow back and forth spinning the drill against the impression in the fire board. Once the friction starts creating smoke, keep going until a small ember appears in the notch of the firewood and smokes on its own. Pick up the tinder with the ember in it and gently blow on it until a flame appears.
Step 4: #3 – Picture Frame
Take a picture frame, and cover it with a layer of plastic wrap.
Suspend it on something that is a couple of feet off the ground.
Carefully pour hot water onto the plastic. As you do this, it will begin to sag. Forming a natural and effective liquid lens.
Gather up something you can use as tinder, and find the focal point of the beam, to concentrate the heat.
When you see your tinder’s smoldering, set it down so it rests in the beam.
Now just sit back and watch the elements ignite the fire for you, completely hands free.
11 Ways to start a fire without matches
Now that we know what we need to make a fire with the type of wood we need, and a great way to build the base for a good fire, let’s look at some alternative ways to start a fire without using matches or a lighter. This list is broken down into three main sections, which include the traditional primitive fire-making methods, using sunlight to make a fire, and then some of the more interesting ways to start a fire that you might not have heard of.
1. Flint and steel
Flint is a family of stone. A flintstone is not a cartoon, it’s either quartz, chert, obsidian, agate, jasper, and a few other less common ones. Essentially, what you want is a stone that is harder than steel. If you’re in upper Canada you’re in luck as they are very common in those areas, but for everywhere else it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
If you can’t identify any of those types of rock, just grab some of the different variations around you and try them out against the metal you have or a steel knife.
Step 1: Move the stone against the knife in a shaving motion – it will cause sparks. These sparks are small splinters of steel being ‘shaved’ off and are heated by the friction of the shave. If you have a piece of dry fabric dry wrapping it around the stone, it will catch the spark and start warming. Having rotten wood is also a great way to catch the spark that comes from steel.
Step 2: Shave the sparks into the rotten wood, fabric, or tinder bird’s nest.
Step 3: Place the wool, wood in the bird’s nest, and gently blow until you have a sustainable flame.
Step 4: Place the nest in the kindling tee-pee, you now have a fire.
2. How to start a fire with sticks (Fire plow)
You have probably always wanted to know how to start a fire with sticks? It’s an essential survival skill known as a fire plow. Fire plows are manually hard work but are a very simple and thorough way of fire starting. The fire here is originating from the friction caused between two bits of wood. The primary concern here is having dry wood, without it you’re going to be stuffed as the friction between the wood is meant to light the wooden dust particles that gather in the plow.
Step 1: Get a large piece of wood as a plow board. Ideally, this would be a log that has been split longways down the middle. If you are in damp environments a fresh piece of wood split in the middle can also be used as it will be dry.
Step 2: Make a divot in the middle of the wood longways down the plow. This will be the path that your stick will run on.
Step 3: Get a firm stick and run it repeatedly through the groove made in step 2. Make sure the stick has a blunt end which you can make by using a rock to blunt the tip of the stick.
Step 4: Once you have run this enough tilt the plow so that the wooden dust is at the end of your divot, the friction you make from the stick running along the divot will hit the wooden dust causing an ember.
Step 5: once you see a little ember or two, blow gently to get the dust alight and place some tinder on it as well.
Step 6: Once you have a sustainable flame place nest in the kindling tee-pee, you now have a fire.
3. Start a fire with a bow and drill
This method is another way to start a fire with sticks and quite similar to the last, however, a little more bush engineering goes into the formation of this contraption. This method is a level above the last one because it involves a piece of string, twine, or other naturally forming rope to make the bow. Shoelaces could be used for this too.
Step 1: Make a bow – it should be 30 inches or 60-70cm long. It should have a little bit of flexibility but it should not be pulled like a bow. It should be more of a slight flex in the wood. Notch your string/cord onto the bow but loose enough so that you can wrap the excess in the middle around your drill.
Step 2: Get a drill – it should be thumb thickness of softwood like cedar. Make sure the drilled wood is dry. The drill should be about 8 inches long and should be blunt round on one end and blunt on the other.
Step 3: Get a fire plank. This would be the same as the one used in the fire plow above. Make a V shape notch in the middle of the plank. At the tip of the V make a small hole for the drill. The pointy end of the drill should sit in the hole, not go through to the other side. This is where the drill will sit and the wood dust will catch around it.
Step 4: Find a rock to hold on top of the drill. Ideally, it would be a stone with a concave cup-like section to hold the drill in place as it drills the plank. You could also use the knot of a branch or bone to hold it in place.
Step 5: Place bird’s nest of tinder under the plank to catch the ember when it forms.
Step 6: Wrap the cord around the drill once and start moving the bow left and right while holding the top. Use a small bit of pressure on the top while doing this. There should eventually be some smoke coming from the dust collected.
Step 7: When the sawdust pile is smoking, gently lift the drill out of place and put a slight amount of tinder on the dust and gently blow into a flame. Add the sustainable flame to the bird’s nest. You have a fire.
4. How to start a fire with a two-man friction drill
For the bow drill, two people are better than one. Team up with someone and do the same but easier.
Step 1: instead of using a bow wrap the cord once around the drill and pull the left side first the right. The drill should rotate.
Step 2: Have your partner apply downward pressure to the top of the drill.
Step 3: When the sawdust pile is smoking, gently lift the drill out of place and put a slight amount of tinder on the dust and gently blow into a flame. Add the sustainable flame to the bird’s nest. You have a fire.