How to Start a Fire
Three ingredients are required in order to build a fire – fuel, oxygen, and a spark. Sounds easy, right? Fire is often considered a pillar of life, along with water, food, and shelter. It’s really as primal as it gets. Creating and harnessing fire has been a part of human history for literally millions of years. A controlled fire has so many useful benefits, from being a source of warmth in cold climates, to warding off predators, and ultimately cooking food. Cooking food over an open flame played a large part in Homo Sapiens’ evolutionary process, by breaking down digestive fats, allowing our bodies to spend less energy consuming proteins, and allocating those resources towards the development of a larger brain. Socializing around a campfire is arguably the oldest form of a dinner party known to man. Whether you’re interested in starting a campfire or want to be prepared for a survival situation, the following will provide you with information to help you be successful. Keep in mind, very little of this information will help without practice, which is true with just about anything. So, let’s dig into those three ingredients to make sure our socializing doesn’t extinguish.
How to Start a Fire: Fuel
Wood is quite simply the primary source of fuel to build a sustainable fire. But, you cannot simply light a log of wood on fire with a match. It’s the order in which you apply fuel to the fire that will determine how successful you are. Given our awareness in helping to prevent forest fires, it would seem that creating such a small fire wouldn’t require such massaging. It seems that acres of land are incinerated in an instant from a random ember, but it’s important to remember that conditions must align for that situation to occur, and that ember is red hot; the ideal vehicle to spark a massive fire. So, in order to build a fire, you’ll want to prepare three stages of fuel.
The three stages of fuel refers to the size of the wood that will be applied to the fire in successive stages. They are tinder, kindling, and large fuel. Each stage of fuel is designed to ignite the following stage.
Tinder: This is really anything that is flammable. This includes pine needles, small bark chips, or wood shavings from larger sticks. If you have the benefit of household items, crumpled paper, or a cotton ball coated in Vaseline also work great. If you’re working with organic matter, gather a baseball sized amount if possible.
Kindling: This is where you’ll want to spend most of your preparation. Find and organize twigs into three separate piles that vary by size and make sure they’re long enough to the point you’re able to hold them over an open flame. For each pile, gather as much as you can hold separately in each hand. If you want to be on the safe side, gather a bit more as not having enough kindling is where most fires fail. Your first pile should be very thin sticks roughly the width of a tooth-pick. The next pile, the width of a match-stick to pencil width. Lastly, the third pile should consist of twigs the width of your finger.
Large Fuel: This one is easy. It’s all the wood you’ve been dying to throw on the fire immediately. It typically ranges from the width of your thumb to roughly the calf of your leg. Don’t bury the fire though. Give it room to breathe and pile it on slowly.
How to Start a Fire: Spark
Gathering fuel for a fire may be the most time consuming part of this process, but creating a spark may or may not be the most frustrating part. Depending on the tools at hand, this could either take a matter of seconds, or hours. The obvious solution is to use matches or a lighter. If you have those tools at hand, might as well grab a beer now. If not, we move into phase one of cursing.
A fire striker is a fantastic tool to create a spark. A fire striker is often referred to as a ferro rod, or ferrocerium rod. It consists of a short metal rod made from a synthetic alloy, along with a metal striker. This tool will take some practice, but with enough repetition, it’s a very reliable source of heat to ignite tinder. Simply hold the rod pointing at, but not touching your tinder, and quickly run the striker along the rod to shave off small flecks of red hot ferro that will land in your small pile of tinder. The angle and speed at which you do this is key. After a handful of attempts, you’ll quickly begin to get the hang of it.
Flint and steel. It’s pretty badass. This tool is also very consistent in creating sparks hot enough to light tinder. It consists of a curved piece of steel that will wrap around your hand – ala brass knuckles, along with a small sharp edged flint flake, and a pre-charred piece of cloth. You’ll hold the curved steel in one hand and the flint flake in the other. You’ll place the charred cloth on top of the flint where the edges are lined up. Scrape the striker across the edge of the flint where the edges line up. In theory, this will create sparks that will be close enough to the cloth to ignite the edge. Once the cloth is glowing red on one edge, you’ll gently apply your tinder to it and blow into the small fire. Similar to the ferro rod, you’ll be able to get a better sense of the technique of flint and steel by watching a few YouTube videos. Either way, both are very effective and useful tools.
Ok Caveman. If you really want to go old school, as in thousands of years old school, a bow and drill is where it’s at. It should go without saying, that if you plan on using a bow and drill, you’re either doing it for fun, or you’re a serious survivalist who has planned and practiced this method for quite some time. It’s not like many of us have a spare Buffalo rib bone laying around the house. But, for the adventurous, it can be rewarding. The material and technique to create and successfully use a bow and drill is a lesson in itself. If you’re hell-bent on trying it out, there are plenty of bow and drill resources out there.
How to Start a Fire: Oxygen
It’s literally everywhere. If you cannot find this element, you are likely in the vacuum of space. Oxygen is the last part of the fire starting equation, and similar to fuel and spark, it’s the method in which you apply oxygen to a fire that determines the outcome. If you’ve gathered your fuel and chosen your spark generating tool, you’re ready to apply oxygen to it. Once you’ve managed to create a small flame with your tinder and spark, you’ll want to pick up that small ball of material into the cup of both hands, and gently blow into it. You don’t want to apply enough force like blowing out a birthday candle, but you want to see the flame grow as you apply increasing levels of oxygen to it.
Once that small ball of oxygen is consumed by flames, apply your smallest kindling to it and increase the size as the fire begins to grow. Don’t let your flame go out, but be cautious about adding too much too quickly. As you add kindling to the fire, begin forming a tipi shape. Add kindling one-by-one until you’re ready to throw on the large pieces of fuel, which at that point, you’ve got a roaring fire on your hands.
To Put Out a Fire: Do It
As you can see, creating a fire takes a lot of preparation and practice. But, once a fire is roaring, it’s a powerful force. Creating a controlled fire is what this process is all about; It is not to end up on the local news. Pour water on the fire a little at a time and make sure you stir up the ashes to eliminate any hot spots. If you don’t have water at hand, dirt or sand will work fine as well.
Fire is a powerful thing. It’s easy to take for granted simply a gas fireplace can be lit, or how easy it is to build a fire with a dose of lighter fluid. Learning to effectively create one without training wheels is a life skill. Now, get out there lumberjack!