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How to Start a Fire: 10 Tips For Building a Sure-Thing Fire

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December 26, 2012
How to Start a Fire: 10 Tips For Building a Sure-Thing Fire - 5

Fire building is one of those skills that you can only really learn by getting your hands dirty (and maybe a little burned). Fire building is also a skill that can always be improved with a little more practice. The skills required to make fire demand patience, awareness of your materials and surroundings, and, above all, attention to detail.

So whether you already light camp fires like a pro, or not, pay attention to these 10 details next time you go to work building a fire. You might just surprise yourself.
  
1) Arrange the fuel in a teepee shape. Lots of firemaking attempts are doomed from the start because the fire lay shape is too flat. Build a one-foot-tall cone of small twigs, and don’t bother from low-slung kindling configurations. 
   
2) Light the fire from the windward side. This lets the flames travel through your kindling, engulfing it faster and better.
   
3) Light the fire low. Fire climbs as heat rises, so make sure you have your match or lighter touching the material at the base of the fire lay. Don’t waste your time trying to light it at the top as if it were a candle.
   
4) Use a ton of tinder. Tinder is the dry, dead, fluffy plant stuff that lights on fire easily. The center of your fire lay should be loaded with tinder.
   
5) Keep a backup handy. A backup wad of tinder can save a failing fire, or be saved for future use.
   
6) Use a fire helper in cold or wet weather. Fire starter cubes, fire packets, fire paste, or some drier lint from home could be a lifesaver when the weather turns wet or cold (or both).
   
7) Cut out the middleman. Use your match or lighter to directly light the tinder in the fire lay. I don’t know why this happens, but I often catch beginners trying to light a stick with their match, and then use the stick to light the fire lay. I can’t imagine where this common and odd behavior comes from, but it is totally counterproductive.
   
8) Block the wind. Just as you can easily blow out a candle, tiny flames are very susceptible to the wind. Use your body to shield the fire lay as you light it. Just kneel near the fire lay with your back to the wind and the problem is solved.
   
9) Stick with the sticky stuff. Pines, firs, spruce and most other needle-bearing trees have sap in their wood. This is pitch, which is usually very flammable. Select dead twigs from these trees to get your fire going quickly even in damp weather.
   
10) Split wood burns better that whole sticks. Cutting or splitting your hardwood kindling in half lengthwise will expose the drier inner wood. The lower mass of these “half” sticks will cause them to light faster than it they’re left whole.  

Got any tricks for fire building that you swear by? Take a second to tell us about your best or worst campfires in the comments.

 

Comments (5)

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from KellieRN 1/18/2013 at 11:13am

We use an old Girl Scout trick--we save paper egg cartons and dryer lint, cut each egg-shaped area out and stuff with the dryer lint, dip in melted parafin wax and let dry. Makes the best fire-starters with just a tiny spark! Vaseline can get messy (especially if you have kids along, lol), so we tried these one year and haven't used anything since. Dryer lint by itself will do ok but burns up pretty quickly. The parafin-soaked fire-starters stay lit for a while. I've never had to use more than one unless all my available wood was completely soaked. We do carry a magnesium and flint stick for the spark but have used waterproof matches in the past with great results.

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from cody-nonotthatcody 1/12/2013 at 01:43pm

For me i use multiple tinder stages as well as multiple fuel stages. I start off with the finest dryest fluffiest stuff. like cattail fluff, milkweed fluff, thistle seed heads etc.. Then I go onto using dry grass, fluffed up poplar bark, cedar bark, etc. Then I get coarser stuff such as birch bark, but typicly I will go ahead and throw on m thinest little twigs after the grass because the dry grass goes up like a inferno. To me this is sure fire every fire.

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from Gunnar1945 12/30/2012 at 07:18pm

I keep a Magnesium firestarter in both my cars and one on my bike and another in the house. The advertising demo provided at the gun show indicates this is easy. However, like everything in life the more you try something the better you get at it. Practice before you need to use it.
Agreed - lots of tender - vasoline jelly coated cotton balls, vasoline coated dryer lint (this can be stored in a small waterproof plastic bottle. I keep one of these bottles teamed with my firestarter.

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from Bob Hansen 12/28/2012 at 03:36pm

Hi...

Reading about how to make a campfire...especially in an emergency...is one thing. Doing it is another thing.

Most experienced outdoors people will usually advise you to practice fire-making before-the-fact. When no emergency exists. This will give you some experience when a fire-making emergency actually faces you.

Many of us carry several methods of making fire, which all of us should practice. One well known example is to carry vasoline coated coton balls, which can be easily lit...sometimes just by a spark (under ideal conditions, of course).

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from HBhunter 12/26/2012 at 01:36pm

A candle makes for an excellent middleman. I've never seen or heard of anyone trying to light a stick, but a candle can do wonders!

If your making a fire in the snow, first try to clear the snow to solid ground, if you can do this proceed making fire as normal.
If clearing the snow to solid ground isn't possible stomp the snow down as much as possible. You'll then need to make a 'bed' for the fire to lay on. This can be as simple as something like a chunk of bark or you can gather a bunch of green limbs and lay them in a pile and build your fire on top of that.

*Important note. If you're making a fire in the snow, don't set down your fire starting tools as soon as you have a flame! You might lose the only fire starting device you have! This is a common problem as people tend to get excited and focus all their attention towards the fire instead of their gear.

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from HBhunter 12/26/2012 at 01:36pm

A candle makes for an excellent middleman. I've never seen or heard of anyone trying to light a stick, but a candle can do wonders!

If your making a fire in the snow, first try to clear the snow to solid ground, if you can do this proceed making fire as normal.
If clearing the snow to solid ground isn't possible stomp the snow down as much as possible. You'll then need to make a 'bed' for the fire to lay on. This can be as simple as something like a chunk of bark or you can gather a bunch of green limbs and lay them in a pile and build your fire on top of that.

*Important note. If you're making a fire in the snow, don't set down your fire starting tools as soon as you have a flame! You might lose the only fire starting device you have! This is a common problem as people tend to get excited and focus all their attention towards the fire instead of their gear.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Bob Hansen 12/28/2012 at 03:36pm

Hi...

Reading about how to make a campfire...especially in an emergency...is one thing. Doing it is another thing.

Most experienced outdoors people will usually advise you to practice fire-making before-the-fact. When no emergency exists. This will give you some experience when a fire-making emergency actually faces you.

Many of us carry several methods of making fire, which all of us should practice. One well known example is to carry vasoline coated coton balls, which can be easily lit...sometimes just by a spark (under ideal conditions, of course).

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gunnar1945 12/30/2012 at 07:18pm

I keep a Magnesium firestarter in both my cars and one on my bike and another in the house. The advertising demo provided at the gun show indicates this is easy. However, like everything in life the more you try something the better you get at it. Practice before you need to use it.
Agreed - lots of tender - vasoline jelly coated cotton balls, vasoline coated dryer lint (this can be stored in a small waterproof plastic bottle. I keep one of these bottles teamed with my firestarter.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from cody-nonotthatcody 1/12/2013 at 01:43pm

For me i use multiple tinder stages as well as multiple fuel stages. I start off with the finest dryest fluffiest stuff. like cattail fluff, milkweed fluff, thistle seed heads etc.. Then I go onto using dry grass, fluffed up poplar bark, cedar bark, etc. Then I get coarser stuff such as birch bark, but typicly I will go ahead and throw on m thinest little twigs after the grass because the dry grass goes up like a inferno. To me this is sure fire every fire.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from KellieRN 1/18/2013 at 11:13am

We use an old Girl Scout trick--we save paper egg cartons and dryer lint, cut each egg-shaped area out and stuff with the dryer lint, dip in melted parafin wax and let dry. Makes the best fire-starters with just a tiny spark! Vaseline can get messy (especially if you have kids along, lol), so we tried these one year and haven't used anything since. Dryer lint by itself will do ok but burns up pretty quickly. The parafin-soaked fire-starters stay lit for a while. I've never had to use more than one unless all my available wood was completely soaked. We do carry a magnesium and flint stick for the spark but have used waterproof matches in the past with great results.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Write a Comment Your comment (200 characters or less):