How many times have you ever been camping in your life and not had a fire? It’s tradition, even if you’re just using it to roast marshmallows for s’mores.
Fire can sometimes be a necessity, though. In a SHTF situation, you will need fire to purify your water, you may need it to cook your food, and in the colder months you will definitely need it to stay warm.
You make fires in your fireplace, and sometimes you even make bonfires around which to throw massive field parties.
This is your ultimate guide to making fire! It may be an on-going project that will be tweaked, added-to and tuned-up from time to time, so bookmark it and read it time and again to keep your fire-making skills honed!
Making Fire: Preparation
When you are preparing to build a fire, you will need to know which method to use in order to determine all of the tools you are going to need. However, there are some pretty standard items you should have as well.
Tinder Bundle – A small bundle of dry grass, leaves, straw and sticks that will be used to receive the spark or ember — also called a “bird’s nest” because of the close resemblance. The tinder bundle will receive the ember or spark (which will form an ember in the bundle) made using one of the methods listed below. Cup your hands around the tinder bundle to slowly enclose the ember and gently blow. The oxygen will feed the ember and cause it to spread throughout the bundle, eventually igniting a flame.
Kindling – Small pieces of dry wood stacked in a pyramid or other shape. Once the tinder bundle is ablaze, it will be slid into the kindling stack.
Fuel – Larger pieces of wood that will be added slowly to the fire once the flame is established and burning good.
Accelerant – If you have some form of petroleum or other flammable chemical, fire making will be much easier. Some accelerants include gasoline, kerosene and vaseline. Add the accelerant to the tinder bundle or kindling to make the fire take and set faster.
Char Cloth – A piece of cloth made cotton, jute or linen that has been burnt slightly and will catch fire with even a small spark. You can make your own char cloth by using a small metal container (like an Altoids tin) and a cotton bandana (which you should have in your bug-out bag, anyway, right?).
Methods for Building Fire
Making fire using friction methods is (in essence) done by rubbing two pieces of wood together. It is probably the first way man discovered to make fire… and it is actually not that easy! The concept itself is fairly easy, but in practice, it can prove to be quite difficult. Basically you’re rubbing two sticks together — yes, just like in the cartoons, except it takes longer than 3 seconds, and it doesn’t cause a sudden burst of flame. The two main ways to make a friction fire are with a “drill” or a “plow” (also spelled “plough”). The friction wears down the wood which creates an ember. The ember is transferred to the tinder bundle to create the fire.
The Drill is the most common way you see people making primitive fire and is comprised of two main pieces. The “fire board” or “hearth” is notched to one side and has an indentation adjacent to receive the spindle. The “spindle” is the stick you will spin in order to create friction. The general concept is to place the spindle into the indentation on the hearth, hold the hearth still with your foot, spin the spindle, and form an ember from the dust created in the notch. You must be using wood that is totally dry or this will not work. Be sure you have a leaf or something underneath the hearth at the notch to catch the ember as it forms. Sometimes the ember may get stick in the notch, so be careful when dumping it out – if it breaks apart, it will fizzle out fast, and you’ll have to start all over again.
You can spin the spindle by hand if you’re wanting to really go old-school, but that is probably the hardest way and will tire you out the fastest. Simply place the spindle between your flattened hands, and move your hands back and forth – think Mr. Miyagi in the original Karate Kid movie. As you rub your hands together back and forth, apply downward pressure on the spindle to cause more friction on the hearth.
You can also use the bow drill method which is much easier. The diagram to the right shows you the spindle and hearth as well as the “bow” and “bearing block”. The bow is comprised of a slightly bent stick with a string (good preppers will use 550 cord) tied fairly taut between the ends. You don’t want it “bow and arrow” tight, but if it’s too loose, it won’t work at all. Same concept as the hand drill method, but you’re using the bow to spin the spindle and the bearing block to apply downward pressure. The thing to understand with the bow drill is that you can’t start with too much downward pressure, or it will be virtually impossible to make this work. Loop the bow string around the spindle once. Then, apply light pressure on the spindle with the bearing block and move the bow back and forth in a sawing motion.
If you’re looking to practice the bow drill method and need a starter set to get the hang of it, you can actually get one here.
Sparking a Fire
The spark method is much, much easier than the friction method. It uses (obviously) a spark to start the fire. How you get that spark is the issue here. You can catch that spark with your tinder bundle, or use a fire starter straw.
The most common way to get a spark, of course, is a lighter or matches. Every prepper should have both in their survival kit. Be sure that the matches are waterproof, though – it would be bad to need a fire and only have wet matches.
Starting a Fire with Lenses
Remember burning ants with a magnifying glass when you were a kid? If not, you missed out on a lot of common science. Using a lens to focus the sun’s rays into a fine point, you can set your tinder bundle on fire relatively quickly. You can use a magnifying glass, a lens from a camera or a pair of prescription glasses, or even a bottle of water. In fact, I have seen people use a condom to hold water and make fire like the water bottle, and even people use a smooth, clear piece of ice in a lens manner. These types of lenses are called “refraction lenses” or “fresnel lens”.
Making Fire with Electricity
If you happen to have a battery (like from a flashlight) and some wire, you can arc the positive and negative terminals of the battery with the wire, which will heat up. You can do this against the tinder bundle, and eventually the wire will get hot enough to ignite the bundle. Be careful, the wire will be hard to hold against the battery terminals – you might be able to attach it with some duct tape.
A better way to do the battery method is with a 9-volt and steel wool. Touch the steel wool to the terminals on the 9-volt and soon the steel wool will begin to smolder. Put the smoldering end into your tinder bundle.
Starting a Fire Using Pressure
The fire piston (also called a “fire syringe” or “slam rod”) uses (believe it or not) a key concept in thermodynamics called the adiabatic process. A piston with a rubber seal on it is inserted into a closed tube forming a tight fit. There is a small piece of char cloth affixed to the end of the piston. The piston is then slammed rapidly into the tube. This action super-heats the oxygen and ignites the char cloth.
Making Fire: The Fire Pit
Your fire pit can be as simple as a hole in the ground or rocks forming a circle – anything that will encircle the fire and contain it. If you want to get really fancy, you can make a “Dakota Fire Hole“. Do this by basically digging two pits (one large, one smaller) into the ground and connect them with a tunnel underground. Build your fire in the larger pit. The airflow from the smaller pit through the tunnel will help feed the base of the fire with oxygen. The Dakota fire hole is typically used when trying to be covert and not let anyone see the light from the flame. The pit is dug deep enough and the fire made small enough that the flame doesn’t rise above the pit. You can also place a grill rack over the fire pit and use it as a cooking surface.
Further Education on How to Make Fire
Still looking for more information and tips on fire building? Here are some excellent sources from some of my friends:
- How Lipstick Can Light His Fire in More Ways Than One – Mom With A Prep
- How to Build a Fire on Snow – Mom Prepares
- Blowing the Lid Off Char Containers – Survival Sherpa
- DIY Altoids Fire Starter Kit – Are We Crazy or What?
- Review of Homemade Firestarters – Homestead Dreamer
- How to Start a Fire With a Magnifying Lens – Food Storage and Survival
- How to Waterproof Your Matches – Survival at Home
- How to Make a Dakota Fire Hole – Graywolf Survival
- (Video) Fire Making Methods and Char – Mountain Man Journals
- A Modern Dad’s Guide to Building No-Fail Campfires – Home Ready Home
- Survival Firemaking: Make a Tinder Bundle from a Piece of Natural Fiber Rope – Survival Common Sense
- How to Start a Fire in the Wilderness? – Stay Hunting
Do you have any tips and tricks to share about making fire?
Do you have a favorite method or tool? Got a new way that nobody knows about? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!