Fire is one natural phenomenon that shaped human culture like no other. By taming this genie, our ancestors had at least some amount of power over nature.
But even today, without the fire-making devices such as matches and lighters that man has since developed, we are no better off than those who lived centuries ago. When stranded in the wild, the ability to start a fire can make the difference between life and death.
Before you attempt to start a fire, gather the following in different piles:
- Tinder: This is dry, easily flammable material that needs only a few sparks to get ignited. You can gather thin, fibrous, plant material to be used as tinder. Fine steel wool is also a type of tinder. Even though tinder can catch fire easily, it cannot sustain it.
- Kindling: Kindling is slightly bulkier organic material that can be used to feed the fire you start with the tinder. Dry wood chips, thin twigs and dry grass stalks make good kindling.
- Firewood: Larger twigs and logs take longer to reach their kindling point, but once ignited, they sustain the fire longer, too.
With the basics down, let’s examine 7 fire-starting methods to add to your survival skills:
Let’s start with the simplest method. That said, this happens to be the most labor-intensive way to start a fire, but the upside is that you don’t need any special objects or chemicals.
You need a sturdy piece of hardwood as a fireboard. Make a notch in this with a knife or pointed rock. You need a two-foot-long stick to fit into the notch. Rolling this stick, or spindle, between your palms should turn it in the notch, generating heat through friction. Eventually, it’ll get hot enough to start smoking and then form tiny embers.
As you catch the embers in the tinder, blow on it to encourage the fire. Introduce bits of kindling. Build it further by adding increasingly larger pieces of firewood.
2. Bow drill method
This is a slightly more efficient variation of the hand-drill method, because you can drill faster and keep at it for longer without tiring your hands. Here, the spindle is stabilized on the notch in the fireboard with a piece of rock. A bow should be made by bending a strong stick and tying the ends with a string.
After looping the string around the spindle once, the bow can be operated by one hand with a back and forth movement that turns the spindle. The other hand presses down on the rock on top of the spindle, exerting pressure to generate more frictional heat.
Once you get the hang of it, the drilling speeds up, taking you to your goal faster, which is indicated by smoke and flying embers. Once the tinder starts smoking, proceed to build the fire by blowing and adding kindling.
3. Using a fire plow
Instead of the drilling motion in the above methods, a back-and-forth motion is used to create friction between the fireboard and the spindle. A long piece of hardwood is used as fireboard here. You’ll have to make a groove along the length of the fireboard, stopping just short of its far end. Use a penknife or a rock for this.
Move the spindle back and forth inside the groove, keeping some quantity tinder at the far end of the groove. Ideally, you should sit with the legs stretched out, with the distal end of the fireboard clasped tight between the feet. The proximal end should rest on a rock kept between your legs so as to make a slight incline. Lean on the spindle as you move it, and you’ll be able to put your whole upper body to work instead of just the hands. Work until you light up the tinder to build the fire as before.
4. Flint and steel
You can buy ready-made flint and steel sets that should be part of every survival kit. Flint is a gray stone with a somewhat smooth texture; if you don’t have it with you, scout around to find pieces of it. The next best alternative is a quartz stone which can be easily recognized by its shiny, glass-like surface. Gather a number of stones and strike each one against a piece of iron or your knife. The sparks that fly off the iron should make the tinder smoke and sputter and help you build a fire.
5. Burning mirror/glass
Let’s take a page out of history, imitating Archimedes. If he could set fire to a whole fleet of ships from afar focusing sunrays on them, igniting some tinder near at hand should be child’s play. Perhaps you have burned paper or grass with a magnifying glass back in school.
You need a parabolic mirror or a lens to pull it off. The reflector of the flashlight or the back of a soda can polished with toothpaste might work. A transparent bottle filled with water should act like a lens, too.
The idea is to focus sunlight on the same spot until the material heats up to its kindling point. Did you know that the Olympic torch is still lit this way at its starting point in Olympia in Greece? The tricky part is getting bright sunlight long enough to accomplish your goal.
6. Steel wool and battery
Moving a bit further toward modern times, you could utilize the battery of your flashlight and a bit of steel wool to start a fire. The battery terminals are rubbed across the steel wool until it smolders. The fire has to be transferred to the tinder pretty quickly before the steel wool burns up completely.
7. Chemical combustion
Let’s move from physics to chemistry for our last method and end it with a bang. Literally. This chemical reaction makes fire with just two ingredients in an explosive reaction, so you should stand aside while it takes place.
You need potassium permanganate crystals and glycerin. The former acts as a disinfectant when dissolved in water, so, it’s a good thing to have in your survival kit for purifying water and bathing wounds. Glycerin is an inactive ingredient of many syrupy drugs and a food additive. You can get it in drugstores and bakery supply stores.
Place a piece of paper or dry leaf with a spoonful of potassium permanganate in the midst of your tinder nest. Add a few drops of glycerin on to the crystals and stand back. A small explosion will take place after a few minutes to light up your tinder.
Of course, when you attempt to make fire, make sure you have the means to put it out. Take all the usual precautions of handling fire, too. A well-managed fire brings great rewards but a mismanaged fire can destroy much.
What is your favorite way to start a fire without matches? Share it in the section below: