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How to Start a Fire

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 16 Apr 2015 | comments*Discuss
How To Start A Fire Fire Ignition

There are many different ways of lighting a fire. Some of these methods date back many generations amongst ancient tribes and although they can often take months, if not years, of painstaking practice to learn, by mastering them, it can give you an enormous sense of achievement and bring you much closer to nature. This article will touch upon these primitive techniques later. However, in a survival situation, you’ll want to get your fire started as quickly as possible and here are some useful tips.


Before considering the ‘ignition’ element of the fire making process, you should always have prepared yourself initially. Therefore, you should have ensured that you have at least one, but preferably two, sources of fire igniting equipment contained within your emergency survival kit. Always ensure that you have collected your tinder, kindling and a good sized portion of your fuel before starting the fire off.

The tinder is the first material you’ll light and as it’s the most delicate, it’s better to light it upwind. To make things as easy as possible, you should either use a lighter or some matches. Dampness can affect lighters however and matches should be waterproof and also kept in a waterproof container. If these more modern day fire starters are the only fire starting tools you have, you should treat like them like ‘gold dust’ as you cannot be sure how long it will be before rescue reaches you, so try to work off the principle of ‘one fire, one match’. Alternatively, if you’ve a candle in your survival kit, this will cut down on the number of matches you use.

But, what if you don’t have matches or a lighter and have none of the primitive fire lighting skills? There are other ways of lighting fires, some of which require more skill than others. However, unlike starting a fire with a match or lighter where the flames are immediately visible, the following methods all rely on producing an initial smouldering and perhaps, a glow to the tinder before it suddenly bursts into flames. And whilst you may have seen many wilderness experts start a fire using these methods by cupping the tinder in their hands and blowing on it gently before it ignites, they have become very used to knowing when it’s about to ignite so that they can release it into the fire without burning their hands and face. They use the cupping method to keep the effects of wind and air to a minimum but, unless you’ve practised these methods, you need to be very careful that you don’t get burned. Placing the tinder between two sticks which you can use to hold it in place might be a safer option.

Using a Lens

As you are harnessing the powers of the sun, this method can only be used during daylight hours when it’s sunny and bright. Your lens might come from various items of equipment you might have brought with you – a camera, glasses, binoculars, a telescope or a magnifying glass. In fact, a magnifying glass in particular is a useful item to have in your survival kit. Whatever type of lens you use, you should angle the lens so that it concentrates the rays of the sun directly onto the tinder. Hold it over the same spot until you can see that the tinder is smouldering. Then you need to gently blow or fan the tinder until it bursts into flame at which point you can add it to the fire.

Using a Battery

Even a simple AA battery, in fact most types of batteries, can be used to light a fire. All you need is to attach a piece of wire or wire wool to each end of the battery and the touch the other ends of the wire together next to the tinder. This will create a spark which can be used to ignite your fire.

Primitive Methods

The easiest primitive method is a great skill to learn and is still commonly used today. It involves the use of steel on flint to create a spark and you can still buy these ‘metal matches’ in outdoor stores today although you can use any form of sharp-edged rock instead of flint.

In simple terms, it works exactly the same as a flint in a lighter works – by creating friction to create a spark. Carbon steel is better than stainless steel at producing a spark. However, it still requires some practice. You need to hold your steel and flint over the tinder and with a loose-wrist, strike the flint (or rock) in a firm flicking motion with the steel. When a spark catches the tinder correctly, it will ignite. Buying the correct flint and steel kit from your outdoor store is probably the best way to learn this skill and it’s a useful skill to learn should your lighter or matches fail to work.

Two other primitive methods of igniting a fire are the fire plow and bow and drill. They are both designed out of wood, which is why tribesmen found them so popular and work on the principles of friction, the fire plow working on the principle of rubbing a hardwood shaft into a groove in a softer wood base and the bow and drill, which requires far more effort both in crafting and using. This method involves twirling the drill back and forth with the bow faster and faster in a grinding motion until hot powder is produced which will be able to ignite the tinder. This article only touches upon these types of fire starting methods as, unless you know them already, you’re unlikely to have the time to design them and master their techniques in a survival situation. In fact, they can actually take a very long time to master fully.

The important thing about fire ignition is to remember to take 2 sources of ignition device with you in your survival kit and it can’t be emphasised enough, how important it could be to learn the flint and steel method so that you don’t rely on matches or a lighter which could get wet and be unusable.

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
So lets just say, I am aware this sounds crazy but hear me out, what if there was a zombie apoccolypse (Have no frickin idea how to spell that) and I was not prepared for anything like this (for example if it happened tomorrow) which would be the easiest option?
DickR - 16-Apr-15 @ 11:52 PM
what if you were in an extreme condition where were no emergency kits or any source of tinder or kinds of wood? perhaps if you were on an island, crash landed from a plane? how would you make a fire then?
bob - 14-Apr-14 @ 3:52 PM
We’ve lost all the old skills, haven’t we, so it’s only the survivalists who know how to start a fire without any equipment. For most of us, though, a lighter and carrying a box of matches in a waterproof bag should be perfectly adequate for camping. The instances when you’ll need more will be rare indeed.
Rich - 26-Sep-12 @ 11:55 AM
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