Fire Starting Explained

Let’s face it, when we get out in the woods on a camping trip, there is nothing more satisfying than a campfire. A good fire while camping has been called “the television of the woods” and is known to be the only thing that scares the boogeyman away. A fire in the woods can save your life, cook your food, and boil your water. Ask an expert or survivalist, and they will tell you that there is no one way to start a fire, and that is the point of this post.

Starting a fire is not hard if you know what to do. But, if you are not prepared and don’t understand the components of fire, it can become a challenging task. I’m going to give you several ways to make a fire while in the woods, and each example will have a short video about it. Now, let’s dig in.

Essential Components of a fire.

There are three components to a fire. Think of fire as a triangle; on top, you have heat. On the bottom corners, you have oxygen and fuel. When all three components are combined, you have a fire. 

Oxygen: oxygen is necessary for the fuel to burn. Oxygen always has to be present during all stages of fire building. No oxygen, no fire.

Fuel: fuel is necessary to keep the fire burning. You can even break the fuel part down into three separate components—tinder, kindling, and fuel. Tinder is any material (natural or artificial) that can light with a spark. This material is usually folded together to like a birdnest to catch your spark. Kindling is small twigs or wood shavings that kindle or nurtures the fire to grow. Finally, you have fuel. Fuel is those large items that burn and keep the fire going. 

Heat: there are many ways to apply heat. You can use friction from a bow drill, a spark from a Ferro rod, or other devices such as flint or steel. An ordinary cigarette lighter or magnified light from the sun via a magnifying glass or water bottle produces heat. 

Putting it all together:  Once your generated spark (or heat) is transferred into your tinder bundle and given oxygen, you will have a flame. This flame will then ignite your kindling, which you will gradually and continuously add fuel. And so, you now have a fire. 

Now that we have gone over the basics, let me show you a few different ways to start a fire. 

The bow drill: 

When people think about starting a fire with natural materials, they always think about rubbing two sticks together. Instantly the bow drill comes to mind. This method has been used forever and is still a viable option to start a fire today. If you know how to put together a bow drill set, then with a bit of practice (believe me, it takes a good bit of it), you will be able to start a friction fire in just a few minutes. In the video below, I have created a fire with a bow drill. It is not as easy as some people make it look. Still, in this video, I have filmed my failures and my success. To be transparent, I was utterly exhausted after starting this fire. I have included two videos in this demonstration. One is a standard bow drill and the other is set up almost the same way but you will use gunpowder with the bow drill to ignite your tinder.

The Magnesium block Vs. the Ferro rod:

These two items are two of the most common fire-starting devices used by outdoorsmen today. They both are consistently able to start a fire even in damp environments. Both are relatively lightweight, and both can ignite many different types of tinder. I prefer the Ferro rod and carry one with me every time I head into the woods. In the video below, I demonstrate how to use both by lighting several different types of tinder.

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Bamboo Fire Saw:

Ok, I have to admit that this was the most interesting way to start a fire that I have ever seen. The idea is basic, and essentially it is plain ole friction. This method is still used today in the pacific islands and some Asian countries. You will need to split a length of bamboo in half. Then, you will drill a hole with your knife in one half of the bamboo. Now, take your saw and score a mark over your hole; this will create a channel that you will rub back and forth to cause friction. In the short video below, I demonstrate how to make the bamboo fire saw. Bamboo even comes with its very own tinder! Just scrape your knife along the side of the bamboo, and the very fine shavings will create a nice tinder bundle. 

The friction fire roll:

This method is arguably the easiest way of producing fire using friction. It is believed to have been invented by Prisoners of War trying to light their cigarettes during world war two. All you need for this method is a cotton ball, wood ashes, and two boards to rub the cotton back and forth to cause friction. In the videos below, I demonstrate how to start a fire with a cotton ball, and believe it or not, a tampon. Although I used cotton in this demonstration, you can use other natural materials. Inner bark from a tulip poplar tree that has been shredded down to fine fibers will work in place of cotton. Dust from any combustible material (such as willow bark, tinder fungus, pulverized leaves) will work in place of wood ashes. 

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Fire Piston:

The fire piston is a device that uses compression to ignite a charcloth in order to obtain ignition for your fire. A fire piston has three components; an air-tight chamber, a shaft slightly smaller than the chamber, and an O-ring. You place a piece of charred cloth in the bottom of the shaft and slam the shaft down as hard as you can to generate compression in order to ignite the cloth. If you do not have or do not know how to make char cloth, visit my Youtube channel for a video by clicking here. In the video below, i demonstrate how to use a fire piston to start a fire.

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Solar Fire:

There are many different ways to create a fire by magnifying the sun onto your fire tender to obtain ignition. The most common way is with a magnifying glass, obviously, but you can use a number of items as well. in the videos below, I use a water bottle to start a fire on two different types of tinder, and I also use a regular condom filled with water to ignite tinder. The possibilities are endless when it comes to the magnification of the sun’s rays to start a fire.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to starting a fire. There are as many ways to start a fire as there are as many ways to cook over it. Hopefully, you have found this article helpful. If so, use the form below to join the speiroutdoors mailing list! It will keep you up to date on any new posts and videos. If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel for more fire-starting content. Leave a comment below and let me know how you prefer to start your fire when out in the woods!

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