How to Build a Fire Without Matches

How to Build a Fire Without MatchesMatches and lighters are the most widespread and convenient ways to make a fire, but they are certainly not the only ones. Anything that creates enough heat near a fuel source in the presence of oxygen can potentially ignite it. As long as you have a way to make a spark and some dry tinder, you can turn that spark into a flame.


Difficulty: Moderate

Starting the Fire

Things You’ll Need:
  • Tinder
  • Kindling
  • Steel wool
  • Battery
  • Magnifying glass
  • Soda can
  • Chocolate
  • Sunglasses
  • Zinc-magnesium firestarter
  • Knife
Step 1
Gather tinder, kindling and firewood in three separate piles. Tinder is material that will ignite with a spark, such as cattail fluff, dandelion fluff, dry birch bark, cotton balls, dryer lint and dried grass. Kindling usually needs a flame to ignite and is used to build the fire. Kindling includes small twigs, most dry cedar bark and dry leaves. Your firewood should vary in size from fairly small twigs to large logs.
Step 2
Prepare your piles. Place the pile of tinder near the center of a flat piece of cardboard or wood. If you don't have either, place it on a dry, flat area of ground. Place the kindling within easy grasp and the firewood a couple feet away.
Step 3
Start a fire with steel wool. Place a bundle of steel wool about 2 inches in diameter beneath the tinder pile so that the it sticks out slightly. Touch the terminals of a 9-volt or lantern battery to the steel wool while gently blowing on it. The steel wool will begin to burn, catching the tinder on fire.
Step 4
Start a fire with a magnifying glass. Hold the glass above the tinder, focusing it into a small point on a flat piece of tinder, such as a piece of bark. Hold the magnifying glass still until the tinder starts to burn. Blow gently once it starts to smoke to encourage it to develop into a full flame.
Step 5
Start a fire with a can of soda and a chocolate bar. Hold a small piece of chocolate in its wrapper and rub it on the bottom of a soda can. Then, rub the soda can with a cloth or the wrapper until the chocolate is gone. Repeat the process until the bottom of the can is shiny. Put on sunglasses if you have them, and point the can toward the sun. Hold a small piece of tinder about an inch in front of the can. Move the tinder in and out until you find the focal length, where the sunlight converges to a small point. Hold the tinder there until it starts to smoke and form a coal, then carefully place it on the pile of tinder. It may take a few tries, but on a bright day this will start a fire. Do not eat the chocolate afterward unless you're in a situation where every morsel of food counts. It will be coated with aluminum which can be toxic.
Step 6
Start a fire with a flint-magnesium fire-starter. Use a knife or scraper to scrape a quarter-sized pile of magnesium at the base of the tinder. Turn the fire-starter over so that the flint side is up and place it about an inch above the tinder. Scrape your knife along the flint toward the magnesium pile to create a shower of sparks. Keep scraping until the sparks light the magnesium on fire. The magnesium will catch your tinder on fire.

Building the Fire

Step 1
Add kindling to the tinder one piece at a time, being careful not to smother the flame. Continue to slowly add tinder until the fire has flames several inches high and is burning steadily.
Step 2
Begin to add 1- to 2-inch in diameter sticks to the fire. Stack them in a tepee-like pattern so that they balance each other right above the flames.
Step 3
Add larger sticks until you get a fire of the desired size. Larger diameter logs will produce more heat and burn for hours instead of minutes like small sticks.

Tips & Warnings

Do not look directly at a magnesium flame. It produces a large amount of ultraviolet light, which can hurt your eyes.

Article Written By Isaiah David

Isaiah David is a freelance writer and musician living in Portland, Ore. He has over five years experience as a professional writer and has been published on various online outlets. He holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan.

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