One of the most essential survival skills everyone needs to learn is how to start a fire with or without matches and lighters. Whether you’re camping, lost in the woods, or just trying to start up some s’mores for your next backyard cookout – there are a few tried and true methods of getting that flame going.
Using safety matches
Thanks to a simple accident back in 1826, humans have been able to start a fire using matchsticks. Back then, a British pharmacist named John Walker (not related to MCU’s U.S. Agent or a popular whisky brand) was experimenting on a paste made out of antimony sulfide, potassium chlorate, and gum arabic, which was intended for use in guns. He accidentally scraped his wooden mixing utensil in the paste and lit it up thus giving birth to matches or what he then called “friction lights.”
The first mass-produced matches used white phosphorus instead of antimony sulfate since it made them easier to ignite. However, the toxic substance caused phosphorus necrosis of the jaw or phossy jaw, which was then common among workers in match-making factories.
Thankfully, the use of white phosphorous to make matches has been banned since 1906 and nowadays, it’s a lot easier and safer to start a fire using matches. There are waterproof matches, windproof matches, and long-burning matches that are perfect for lighting campfires in the wild.
To start a fire in the wild using safety matches, you need to do the following:
- Gather materials for starting the fire, such as dry kindling, small twigs and branches, and larger logs.
- Clear a spot for the fire, making sure it is far away from any flammable materials and is in a designated area for fires.
- Build a small teepee structure with the kindling and small twigs, leaving an opening at the top for oxygen to flow.
- Place the matches near the teepee.
- Strike the match and hold the flame to the kindling at the bottom of the teepee.
- Blow gently on the flame to help it spread to the other materials.
- As the fire grows, add larger twigs and branches, and eventually logs, being careful not to smother the fire.
Keep a close eye on the fire at all times, and never leave it unattended. You need to add firewood to prevent the fire from dying. It’s also important never to leave the fire unattended to keep it from spreading and causing a wildfire. When finished with the fire, make sure it is completely extinguished by pouring water over it and stirring the ashes until no heat is felt.
Using a lighter
Lighters are the next most common tool for starting fires. We owe it to a German chemist named Johann Wolfgang Döbereiner for inventing the “Döbereiner’s Lamp,” the precursor to the modern lighter, back in 1823.
There are different types of lighters but the more common ones are plastic sparkwheel lighters, piezo spark ignition lighters, Zippo-type lighters, butane torch lighters, electric arc or plasma lighters, and electric coil lighters.
Using a lighter has its own set of pros and cons. The main advantage is that it is extremely convenient and one of the quickest ways to start a fire. However, one drawback to consider is that lighters are limited in their fuel supply or power source. Butane lighters need to be refilled once the fuel runs out while electric lighters may run out of battery power and need to be recharged.
Starting a fire with a lighter is similar to using matches. Just follow the steps mentioned above for using matches but replace the strike-anywhere match with a spark from your lighter.
Using a flint and steel striker
Flint and steel is an age-old traditional method of fire starting. It’s a technique used by our ancestors long before matches, lighters, and other modern fire-starting tools were invented. Flint and steel are two distinct implements that create sparks when struck together. These sparks, when combined with tinder, start a fire.
The main advantage of this method is that it’s reliable and works even when wet. The items used in this technique are also readily available and relatively inexpensive compared to other fire-starting tools.
To use this survival tool, you just need to strike the flint and steel together near a pile of tinder. The sparks will ignite the tinder, and then you can start adding more fuel to build up the fire. You may need to blow on the embers to get the fire going. But be careful not to blow too hard, as this could blow out the flame.
Using a Ferrocerium rod
Ferrocerium rods are small, handheld rods that are made of mischmetal, an alloy of rare-earth metals. The actual composition differs from brand to brand but, in general, it contains cerium, lanthanum, iron. praseodymium, neodymium, and magnesium. This combination of metals creates sparks when struck making the Ferro rod an effective way to start a fire.
A ferrocerium rod works just like flint and steel. You need to scrape the steel striker down the length of the rod to create sparks that will ignite the tinder. In case you don’t have a metal striker, you can use a knife. Just keep striking until the sparks light up the tinder.
Compared to flint and steel strikers, Ferro rods or fire steels create more sparks; however, they are less resilient and are prone to breaking or becoming worn out faster. They can be used in any weather condition and even if they’re wet.
Using a magnesium fire starter
Magnesium is highly flammable which makes it the perfect material for starting a fire. This type of fire starter is pretty convenient since the magnesium block itself serves as a tinder as well as a striker.
To use this survival tool, simply shave some magnesium into a pile of tinder using a metal striker or the backside of a knife. Then all you have to do is scrape the block once more to create sparks that will ignite the shavings and start a fire.
Using a magnifying glass, eyeglasses, or binocular lenses
The sun is not a ball of fire and it is not burning. But we can harness the power of the sun’s rays to start a fire by using the lens of eyeglasses, magnifying glasses, or binoculars. Eyeglasses are, obviously, used by people with poor eyesight to see more clearly. Magnifying glasses were popular among scholars back in the day as they helped them read small texts and study tiny organisms. They’re also commonly used by craftspeople and hobbyists to get a closer look at their work. Watchmakers, for example, deal with tiny components that require intense magnifications they depend on magnifying glasses to do their work properly. Binoculars, telescopes, and spotting scopes are all essentially just magnifying glasses for seeing into the distance.
All these items have what is known as foci. These are the single points where rays of light meet and become concentrated. The concentrated ray of light can get really hot causing the area directly exposed to it to combust.
That said, lenses can be used to start a fire and survive the wild. You just have to angle the lens towards the sun and point the reflected sunlight on a pile of tinder. Keep it steady until the concentrated sunlight starts to heat the tinder. Once you see smoke, blow gently on the tinder to help the fire grow and spread.
This method is a good option if you’re out in the wild and don’t have other fire starters. It can even work despite bad weather. As long as there’s some sunshine peeking through the clouds, you can start a fire and increase your chances of surviving the cold and treacherous nights in the wild.
Using reflective surfaces
Reflective materials like mirrors, spoons, Mylar blankets, and aluminum foil can also be used to reflect sunlight and start a fire. They’re not as effective as lenses with foci, but they can still get the job done.
Using a plastic bottle or clear plastic bag filled with water
If you only happen to have a plastic or a Ziploc bag and some water, you can still start a fire and live to survive another day in the wild. You just need to apply the same principle as using a magnifying glass. All you need is a tinder and some sunlight.
Take the plastic bag or empty bottle and fill it with water. If there’s no water anywhere near you, fill them up with your urine instead. Find the right angle at which the sun’s rays are reflected then point it towards your tinder bundle. The concentrated sunlight can quickly start to heat up tinder and start a fire in no time.
Using the bow drill or hand drill method
The bow drill and hand drill methods are more traditional ways of starting a fire, which require some practice to master. A bow drill is made up of a bow, a string, a fire board, and a spindle. The bow is used to spin the spindle, which creates friction and heat on the fire board. The heat and friction will eventually create an ember that can be used to start a fire. The hand drill method uses the same principle but with the hands instead of a bow.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start a fire using the bow drill and hand drill methods:
- Like with the other fire-starting tools and methods on this list, you’ll need to gather dry tinder, kindling, and logs first. These will be used to catch the ember created by the bow or hand drill method.
- Find a flat piece of wood that is soft enough to be easily drilled into, but hard enough to hold an edge. This will be your fire board.
- Using a knife or a sharp stone, create a depression in the center of the fire board. This depression will hold the tinder and catch the ember created by the spindle.
- Cut a straight, smooth stick that is slightly longer than the length of your hand. This will be your spindle.
- Place the spindle in the bearing block. The bearing block is typically a small piece of wood or a stone that is used to hold the spindle in place while drilling.
- Hold the spindle in place with one hand and use the other hand to rapidly spin the spindle between your palms. For the bow drill method, you’ll need to attach a bow to the spindle and rapidly move it back and forth. The goal is to create friction and heat between the spindle and the fire board.
- As you spin the spindle, gradually apply downward pressure onto the fire board. This will create a deeper hole, which will generate more heat and friction.
- Continue to spin the spindle and apply pressure until you see smoke rising from the hole. At this point, you have created an ember.
- Carefully transfer the ember to the tinder bundle, and gently blow on it to create a flame. Once the tinder is burning, add the kindling to the fire.
Please note that using the bow or hand drill method takes practice and patience. It’s important to use dry and well-seasoned wood for both the fire board and the spindle. Also, it’s crucial to make sure the fire board is soft enough but not too soft that it will break apart while drilling.
Using a fire plow or fire saw
These are traditional methods of starting a fire that involves using a stick or a saw to create friction and heat on a piece of wood. The fire plow uses a stick to rub against a piece of wood, while the fire saw uses a sawing motion to create friction. Both methods will create an ember that can be used to start a fire similar to what the hand drill and bow drill methods do.
The fire plow method starts a fire by rubbing a stick (the plow) against a piece of wood (the hearthboard) to create an ember. The stick is held at a slight angle and is pushed back and forth along a groove carved into the hearthboard. As the stick rubs against the wood, it heats up and eventually creates an ember that can be used to ignite tinder.
The fire saw method requires sawing a piece of wood against another piece of wood to create an ember. One piece of wood (the saw) is held vertically and pushed back and forth against the other piece of wood (the hearthboard). As the saw rubs against the hearthboard, it heats up and eventually creates an ember that can be used to ignite tinder.
Using a fire piston
A fire piston is a small cylinder with a piston that can be rapidly compressed by hand, creating a spark that can be used to ignite tinder. The cylinder typically contains a small amount of air at the bottom and a piece of tinder at the top. When the piston is rapidly compressed, the air inside the cylinder heats up and creates a spark that can be used to ignite the tinder. Fire pistons can be used to start fires in a variety of outdoor settings, such as camping or survival situations.
Using a fire thong
The fire thong method is another way of starting a fire using friction. It’s similar to a fire plow, but instead of using a stick to rub against a piece of wood, a thong or a strip of leather or other flexible material is used. The thong is held in one hand and the other end is attached to the hearthboard). The thong is then pulled back and forth along a groove carved into the hearthboard, creating friction and heat. The rubbing action eventually creates an ember that can be used to start your fire.
Using a battery and steel wool
Many survivalists carry batteries and steel wool in their packs or emergency kits. That’s because these two can be used to start a fire when you need it most. This method involves using the electrical current from a battery to heat up steel wool, which will then ignite. To start a fire, attach the negative and positive ends of a battery to the steel wool. When the strands of steel wool touch both terminals of the battery, they will complete the circuit and cause electricity to flow. The current will start heating up the wool until it’s hot enough to start burning. Once it starts burning, transfer it quickly to your tinder bundle and start blowing on it gently until you get an ember.
These are just some of the most effective ways to start a fire in the wild. It’s always a good idea to have different fire-starting tools in your emergency kits. That way, you can start a fire no matter what situation you’re in. With enough practice and preparation, you’ll be able to start a fire with ease. So start practicing today!
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