Growing up in Wisconsin, the outdoors has and always will be a huge part of my life. I can still remember the first time we went camping and our father amazed us with his ability to start a fire without matches. Although he simply used a magnesium stick, as young kids we were amazed. In this class I am going to teach you 10 different ways to start a fire. Some of them will be primitive ways to start a fire and others will use more modern tools.
Primitive Friction Based Fire Making
Friction fire starting techniques are some of the most primitive and difficult ways to start a fire. The type of wood you use and tinder when using this process will determine a warm night by the fire or shivering in the cold. Without the right wood you won’t get a coal and with poor tinder you won’t get a fire going even with matches.
The best tinder is always the driest and most flammable/finest tinder. Some good examples include: dry tall grass, cotton tails, cedar tree shavings or dried leaves. The preferred woods are dry soft woods including juniper, aspen, willow and cottonwood. However, I have had success in the past with cedar as well. The friction of a spindle into a fireboard will produce a coal when the surface temperature reaches 800 degrees fahrenheit. Once you have an ember it is transferred to your tinder bundle and gently blown to life.
1 – Hand Drill
The hand drill method is by far the most difficult of the friction based methods. It works best in an extremely dry environment with the proper woods and tinder. Generating enough speed with the spindle is usually most peoples problem.
Step 1 – Cut a v-shaped notch into your fireboard then place a small notch next to for your spindle to rest in. Underneath your notch place a piece of bark to catch the ember. Your goal is to create an ember from the friction of the spindle and the fire board. The spindle should be roughly two feet long. TIP: Your spindle should be no more than 1/2″ thick. The thicker the spindle the less speed you will be able to spin it at which means not enough friction and a cold night.
Step 2 – Place your spindle in the notch on the fire board and begin to roll the spindle in between your palms working your hands down the spindle while keeping a light pressure. Continue to repeat this until you see some smoke. When you see smoke take your fire board and tap it on to the bark and transfer the ember to the tinder bundle while gently blow into a flame.
The two man friction drill is a little easier than the hand drill as two people are able to generate more friction.
Step 1 – You will use the same materials as a hand drill but you will also need a rope, shoe lace or even a thin flexible branch from a small tree can work. Wrap the rope around your drill and have one person apply downward pressure on the drill with a rock or another piece of wood. The second person will rotate the spindle by pulling back and forth on the shoe lace.
Step 2 – Once again, when you see smoke remove the drill and knock the ember from the fire board into your tinder bundle and blow to life.
The fire plow is another primitive fire starting method that uses a fire board and spindle. This method also requires a very dry climate and the proper wood to work. I have found a lot of success with cedar with this method due to the fact that cedar creates its own natural tinder from the friction ahead of the spindle.
Step 1 – Cut a groove down the middle of your fireboard from one end to the other. Rub the spindle up and down the groove while applying light pressure until the dusty particles ignite into an ember. Place in your tinder and blow to life.
TIP: Go to slow and you won’t create enough heat but go to fast and you will burn out. A steady medium pace works best with this method.
Of all the friction based fire starting methods the bow drill is the most efficient. Once again success usually comes down to the type of wood you are using.
Step 1 – Notch your fire board and place an indentation next to the notch to place the spindle, sames as a hand drill. Attach a string to the ends of a stick forming a bow.
Step 2 – Apply a light pressure on to of your spindle with a socket. A socket is simply a piece of wood with an indentation for the top of the spindle to rotate in. Wrap the bow around your spindle once and begin to pull back and forth.
Step 3 – As you begin to see smoke tap your fire board until all of you embers are on your piece of bark. Take your embers and put them in your tinder bundle and blow till you see a flame.
More Modern Techniques
5 – Magnifying Glass
This is a very effective method when the conditions are right. You will need a sunny day, so you must plan appropriately and start your fire when you may not need it.
Step 1 – Gather up a tinder pile and begin to focus the magnifying glass by tilting it until you direct the suns light into the smallest beam possible. Generally if the sun is strong enough you will have a fire within a minute. Once your tinder flames up apply some small branches to get your fire going.
6 – Soda Can and Chocolate Fire
This method is not nearly as effective as using a magnifying glass but in a true survival situation it does work.
Step 1 – Polish the bottom of a can with a cloth and chocolate if you have it. You can substitute the chocolate with some clay, wet sand or damp dirt. Just like the magnifying glass, use the bottom of the can to create the smallest beam of light possible directing the suns energy onto your tinder.
Striking a softer flint against a piece of steal will create sparks to start a fire. This works best if you have a piece of char cloth but if you don’t you will need some very dry and fine tinder. Generally an older piece of rusted steel works best. Trying this will your stainless steel knife won’t be effective. You can also substitute a piece of quartzite instead of flint.
Step 1 – Strike your piece of steal against your flint to generate a spark directly into your tinder bundle. You will have to repeat this several times until you get a large enough spark to create an ember in your tinder pile. As always, when you have a large enough ember blow it into a flame and apply to your kindling.
Using a magnesium stick is hands down the most effective way to start a fire in the wilderness. A magnesium stick will produce a flame source of over 5000 degrees Fahrenheit. A few degrees hotter than our bow drill. :) The advantages of a magnesium stick in a true survival situation is it will start dozens of fires, can get wet and only take a few seconds.
Step 1 – Use your knife to shave off a few small pieces of magnesium into your tinder bundle. Take your knife or a rock and strke it down the side of the fire steel to create a spark into your tinder pile. Some of the sparks will hit the magnesium igniting a 5000 degree inferno which will get your tinder lit. It’s that easy.
All the ways to start a fire without a match I taught in this class will work with a little practice and the right tools. You can do some searches and find some kits online for each of the methods we discussed. As always make sure to use caution and common sense when starting a fire. Help save our forests and use responsibility and make sure to never leave a fire until its fully extinguished. Enjoy!