Before we start explaining how to start a fire without matches / lighter, lets check out few basic requirements of building a fire. There are few things which you will need in order to build and sustain fire in all scenarios.
Things Required to Start a Fire
Tinder is dry and easily flammable material that needs only a few sparks to get ignited. There are many things that you can use as tinder as long as they’re absolutely dry. You can gather thin, fibrous, plant material, brown pine needles, fallen leaves, birch bark, bird feathers, cotton balls, lint and dried moss are just a handful of items you can find when you are out there. Tampon and fine steel wool can also be used as tinder. Just use your imagination and look at your surroundings. You must keep this thing in mind that even though tinder can catch fire easily, it cannot sustain it. To sustain a fire, you will need kindling and fire wood.
Kindling is slightly bulkier organic material than tinder that you can use to sustain the fire you started. It can range in size from small twigs to larger sticks. Dry wood chips, thin twigs and dry grass stalks make good kindling. Make sure that your kindling is absolutely dry, if it is not, it will snuff out your fire even before it gets started.
Larger twigs and logs that you use to feed the fire are called firewood. They take longer to reach their kindling point, but once ignited, they sustain the fire longer, too. They are comparatively larger in size as compared to Kindling wood and can be 8-24 inches long. You should look for lighter knots, bulbous chunks of wood on branches. This is accumulated sap and will burn for longer duration of time.
Note: When breaking larger branches, do not do so over your knee — it’s a good way to get yourself injured. You can place one end of the branch against a large rock or tree and use the bottom of your boot or body weight to break it. If you find a nice long log you can’t break, just feed it into the fire little by little.
Certainly, you will need some sort of ignition mechanism to generate spark that will light up the tinder and will start your fire. In next paragraphs we’ll explain different methods which you can use to generate spark to build a fire.
Cover from Air and Rain
You can not sustain a fire in rain or strong wind. Therefore, we suggest you to get into some sort of shelter if already available. In case cover from air and rain etc is not available, you should consider building one. Make sure to cater for ventilation of smoke or else you wont be able to stay near fire for long.
Electrical Methods of Building Fire
Method 1: Using Batteries and Steel Wool
- Steel wool
What to Do:
Get a battery and locate its battery terminals. The terminals are the two circular receiving prongs mostly located on the top of the battery. Take your steel wool and rub it on the battery terminals. The finer the steel wool, the better for this process. Continue this process by rubbing the steel wool on battery terminals till you get your desired results.
This process works because current flows from terminals into the small steel wires which are present in the steel wool. After some time, these tiny steel wire will get heated and ignite the steel wool. Blow gently on the steel wool when it starts to glow. This helps nurture the flame and encourages it to spread around. Once the steel wool is glowing brightly, place it on your tinder nest quickly. Keep blowing lightly on the nest until the tinder ignites and creates a flame.
Another way to start a fire is to take a 9-volt battery and a metal paperclip and rub the paperclip on both battery terminals at the same time to create sparks. You can direct this spark to tinder and get your fire going.
Check out this video for more details.
Method 2: Start a fire with Lemon
Frankly speaking I dont think that it is a good method for survivalists. Because number of items required to start a fire in this method and level of complexity is comparatively higher than other methods. But still if you want to check it out, watch the video below that explains how you can make a fire using lemon, nails and wires etc…
Method 3: Using Cell Phone and Foil Paper
- Cell Phone with detachable Battery
- Foil Paper
What to Do:
- Cut the paper foil in long strips but keep them adjoined at one end.
- Now carefully crumble the strips into a ball while keeping both the ends open. This will allow the foil to catch fire easily.
- Take out battery from your cell phone and identify Positive (+ve) and Negative (-ve) terminals of this battery.
- Connect ends of foil paper with battery terminals. These terminals are very small so you may need to use some small twigs or tweezers etc.
- Keep this circuit on for few seconds and it will catch fire.
- Wrap this foil ball in some fine tinder so your flame can ignite it.
- Now you have a stable flame available to start a fire.
Method 4: Batteries and Gum Wrapper
- Gum wrapper foil or Cigarette box’s silver foil
What to Do:
- Cut a small strip (almost a centimeter wide) of paper foil. After that, cut this paper foil diagonally as in image below.
- Make sure to keep the inner part as thin as possible.
- Now attach the paper (from colored side) on both the ends of battery.
- It will take couple of seconds and gum wrapper foil will light up form middle. Check out the gallery below for more understanding.
Using Friction to Start a Fire
Method 5: Using a Hand Drill
- A flat piece of wood (also known as fire board) to use as base of hand drill.
- A piece of wood to use as spindle stick
How to Proceed:
As usual, make a tinder nest and make sure that the material can catch fire easily. Now, get a flat piece of wood to use as the base of your hand drill, also known as a fire board. You will use this piece of wood to create friction. Take your knife or any sharp object and cut a small V-shaped notch in the center of your fire board. Make sure that this notch is just big enough to hold your spindle stick. Place tiny pieces of bark underneath the notch to create more friction.
Get a thin stick of about two feet long and half an inch in diameter and place it in V-shaped notch. This stick is known as spindle stick and used as a hand drill. Hold it between your two flat palms and begin to roll the spindle back and forth while simultaneously pushing it down firmly into the fire board. Do not forget to cut its rough edges with your knife or else you will injure your self. Continue to roll the spindle quickly between your hands, until you see an ember on the fire board. Take a pinch or tinder and place it on glowing ember. As it catches the ember, add more tinder to it and blow gently to create a stable flame. Add kindling and firewood subsequently to sustain the fire.
Be advised that this method takes a while to start a fire, and requires physical as well as mental determination.
Method 6: Using a Bow Drill
- A flat piece of wood to be used as fire board
- A thin wood stick to use as spindle stick
- 2-3 ft long string, preferably paracord rope that can withstand a lot of friction
What to Do:
This method is almost same as of method # 5. Only difference is that instead of rolling the spindle stick with your hands, you’ll use a bow.
Firstly, find a long, flexible piece of wood about 3 ft long. It will be great if this piece of wood has a slight curve in the middle of it. We’ll use this as handle of our bow. Now, tie the paracord rope as tight as possible to each end of the bow handle. If there are no natural notches already in the bow wood to anchor the string, whittle small, straight notches into the wood to use as a groove for the string.
Loop the spindle stick in the middle of the bow string so we have enough space to roll the string back and forth. Place one end of the spindle in the V-shaped notch (which you should have created by now) in your fire board and then place a stone or something solid on other end of your spindle stick. Now start sawing the bow quickly back and forth, holding the curved, wooden part of the bow in your dominant hand. This will cause the spindle to spin (way faster than hand drill) and create heat at the base of the fire board. Continue to saw back and forth until you create an ember where the spindle meets the fire board. Take some tinder and place it on the ember to initiate the flame. You know what to do next, feed the fire by kindle and fire wood.
Method 7: Two-Man Drill
This method is similar to method # 5 and 6 explained above. There are 2 ways you can work this out.
Option 1: Make the same bow drill as explained in method number 6 above. One person can take care of bow and other can hold the stone on your spindle stick. This way, you can maintain a speed and pressure very easily.
Option 2: Instead of making a bow, both persons can sit opposite to each other, hold the rope in 1 hand and 1 person can hold the stone above to create required pressure. Now move your hands back and forth to spin the spindle.
Method 8: Using a Fire Plow
Instead of the circular motion in the above methods, a back-and-forth motion is used to create friction between the fire board and the spindle. A long piece of hardwood is used as fire-board here. You’ll have to make a groove along the length of the fire board, 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 of tinder at the far end of the groove. 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.
Method 9: The Rudiger Roll Friction Fire Method
- 2 x flat pieces of wood
- Wooden Ash + Cotton / Tinder
What to Do:
Also known as “Fire Roll” method, little is known about this method of friction fire or its origins. It’s believed to have been invented sometime during WWII. A German survival expert named Rüdiger Nehberg wrote about this method in one of his books. A small amount of wood ash is rolled up inside of cotton like a cigar. The cotton is then placed between two boards and rolled back and forth. Pressure and speed are both gradually increased. With proper technique ignition can occur in seconds.
Method 10: Fire Piston
- Fire Piston
- Char Cloth / Tinder
What to Do:
An unusual method of making fire is with a device called a fire piston. Commonly constructed from wood, horn, plastic or metal. It has a hollow tube with one sealed end and a piston that fits snugly into the tube. At the end of the piston is a depression where tinder is held during compression. The tinder is inserted into the depression, and the piston is quickly pushed into the tube. This compresses the air, raising the temperature in the tube, just as a diesel engine fires, until the tinder ignites and forms an ember. Check out that Wikipedia article above to know more about fire piston.
Making a Fire Piston using a Flashlight:
You can easily make a fire piston using a small flashlight. Just empty your flashlight from inside and remove everything. Keep its one end open and other end closed. Now place some tinder inside on closed end. Get / make a wooden piston and pump it in that hollow tube to spark a flame. You need to make sure that the piston fits your flashlight tight enough to trap air inside.
Method 11: Chemical combustion
- Potassium Permanganate (KMnO4)
What to Do:
Let’s move from physics to chemistry now and create a bang, literally. This chemical reaction makes fire with just two ingredients in an explosive reaction, so you should stay away once reaction takes place.
You need Potassium Permanganate (KMnO4) crystals and glycerin. Potassium Permanganate (KMnO4) acts as a disinfectant when dissolved in water, so it’s a good thing to have in your survival kit. 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 and will light up your tinder. Be careful with ingredients because if you add more of these chemicals intensity of explosion will also increase. So, just use few drops.
Method# 12 Brake fluid and Chlorine
- Brake Fluid
- Chlorine Powder / Tablets
What to Do:
If you find some chlorine powder or tablets that you can shave or crush into powder, you can combine that with brake fluid to start a fire. Its better if you use chlorine powder for a pool because I dont think that laundry chlorine will work. You must be extremely careful because it is an extremely exothermic reaction so it’ll have some force behind it when it combusts.
Make a pile of tinder and place some chlorine on it. Pour few drops of brake Fluid on it and stand back. It will burst into fire after few seconds. Immediately catch this flame using Kindling and later on fire wood.
Miscellaneous Methods of Building a Fire
Method 13: Using Glassy Stone and Steel
- Glassy Stone (quartz, jasper, agate or flint)
- Carbon Steel
What to Do:
Find a glassy stone such as quartz, jasper, agate or flint, preferably with an edge. If you do not have a flit stone rod in your back pack, you should look around to find some flint stone. This is a good article that can help you identify the flint stone. Hold it between your thumb and forefinger. If you have a char cloth readily available, place it between your thumb and flint. In case you don’t have any char cloth, use tree fungus.
Now quickly scrape the steel (carbon steel) of a steel striker or the back of a knife blade against the flint. Continue to strike until you see the sparks. Catch these sparks with your char cloth and continue the process until you see the cloth glowing like an ember. Now, transfer this glowing char cloth to your tinder pile and gently blow on it to induce a flame.
If you do not have char cloth, you can direct these sparks directly to your tinder. It will take some time to ignite, but if you have fine tinder like cotton, it can catch fire in few attempts.
Method 14: Using a Magnifying Glass
- Magnifying Convex Glass or Concave Mirror
What to Do:
I guess everyone must be already familiar with this method of creating a fire, so lets just skip to the chase. Focus the sunshine on tinder for few seconds and it will start a flame, use kindling and firewood to build your fire.
I also think that I do not need to tell you that you generally need the clear sun with no clouds covering it for this method to work. However, in case you do not have enough sunshine, you might try because still there are chances that you can get what you want. But it works best if you have clear sky.
Now comes an important question, from where you can get a Magnifying Convex lens or a concave mirror? Well, here are some options.
- If you wear glasses and you know if your lenses are powerful enough, you can use it.
- You can also use binocular lenses.
- There is always a convex lens in your flashlight that you can use to light up a fire. Similarly the silver concave part can also be used to focus light (that part is specifically made to focus light onto the lens).
- You may have one magnifying glass in your Swiss Army Knife. Or you can get this concave mirror fire starter to keep in your B.O.B (bug out bag).
Here are some additional tips if you want to start a fire with magnifying glass.
- Adding few drops of water to the lens allows you to create a more intense, because it provides a focused beam of light.
- The fastest material (readily available) to burn with a magnifying glass is newspaper. The easiest part to start a fire on a newspaper is an area on which there is a lot of black ink, like in the photos.
To sum up, anyone can create a heat source (sparks, burning coal) in any weather conditions. The trick is to convert that brief heat source into a sustained fire. Even the experts like Cody Lundeen have failed to start a fire when conditions were bad and have spent miserable nights in the wild as a result. The lesson there is two-fold, that shelter is your number 1 priority in a survival situation – NOT fire – and that you must practice, practice and practice. The technique you use is dependent on the materials available so don’t focus on just one method.
Here comes a million dollar question; What if I don’t have anything with me?
Most abundant thing found in nature that can be used to ignite a fire is wood. I would say that hand drill will be your best bet. Try to find a base log that already has a small hole and a pointed stick. Make some tinder using a knife, or if you dont have a knife even, check out the section above that tell us about different materials that we can use as tinder.
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