How to make a fire and what method to use
complete overview on different fire techniques and methods
Tinder is a highly combustible material which ignites with the slightest heat source. Tinder should easily catch fire when a smouldering ember or a spark is added. Sometimes it is needed to carefully blow to get enough oxygen to start a flame. The heat source can be created by friction, sparks, a coal from a previous fire, sunlight, a lighter etc. Look at ‘What to use to ignite a fire’ to see what you can use.
There are many different materials found in many different places which can be used as tinder. They all have different characteristics and all respond differently to a heat source. Knowledge and practice can work in your advantage.
Preparing your tinder
Tinder has the best properties when it is used dry. When the tinder is collected wet, than put it in your pocket or your hat and let it dry on your body.
Before using the tinder it is best to pulverize it to make it fluffy and fine. This can be done by rubbing the material along each other or by using a sharp tool and rub it over the material. This helps to expose more surface to the heat.
By making a small nest out of your tinderbunch, the heat source will affect a greater surface to transfer itself. This nest also prevents the cooling of the heat source in case of a glowing ember or a first flame.
Kindling is the material which catches fire from the ignited tinder. It is the material which is used to grow the fulnerable flame into a strong fire. Use dry kindling so it catches flame easily. The best dry kindling are dead twigs, found hanging in trees above ground-level (Living twigs contain a lot of moisture and therefore do not burn). They break easily instead of bending. Wood on the ground does contain a lot of moisture too and is therefore also not recommended to use.
The fire will need some time to transfer it’s flame from the first source onto the next. If the fuel is damp or too large to catch light, you will end up with a smouldering fire, likely to go down.
When you start a fire with the kindling described below and when you are using the right method, it can not go wrong.
The order of adding kindling into the fire can differ with different techniques of making fire and will be discussed at Techniques and methods to build a fire. Below are the different stages of kindling set out.
Fire can be made in all weather conditions. Even with a spark or by friction. It’s all about preparation, knowledge, skills and finding the right material. When starting a fire in bad-weather conditions, with wet materials, hard winds, snow and rain, it is good to be prepared. It’s a waste of time and materials if you start a fire wrong and it extinguishes. This costs more energy and is a no-go for your perseverance.
Herefore, your first priority should be finding good tinder. Chances are that this tinder is wet, so dry the tinder as good as you can and keep it close to your body. Your body heat will speed up the drying process. Dry it in your trouser pockets or in your hat. Now start to collect your kindling. Collect 3 times more bundles of kindling as usual, the fire will need more time to strengthen and therefore more initial fuel before the fire will have a good hot core and can burn for itself. The kindling and first fuel can be searched best around connifer trees. These trees deliver branches of a soft type of wood. This wood start burning easily and burns hot and fast. Perfect to let your fire gain strength. To make the actual fire choose a fire technique which suits your needs and build it. Keep the materials as dry as you can. When you ignite the tinder, make sure you’ve enough ‘extra small kindling’ on the side to ensure that the fire can quickly grow strength by adding these.
Many people think it is much easier to make a fire in good sunny weather than in bad weather. It must be said that making a fire itself is probably easier indeed. But, keeping control over the fire is much harder. There’s always the danger of creating a forest-fire which is a disaster for the forest and also for your safety. Building a fire is mostly done on the bare forest floor. It might be better to dig a hole until you reach rock or sand bottom. This will prevent the risk of an underground fire. Other risks can be overhanging bushes or bushes that are too near and can catch fire. You should also be aware of dry materials in the area (aswell as your own gear). Remember that sparks from your fire can travel to dry grass 13ft / 4m away or your bottle with benzene. Selecting your wood can also make your fire safer. Dry wood sparks less than wet wood. To prevent coals from being thrown out of your fire you can build a small ridge made out of sand around your fireplace.
Always take precautions for when things start to go wrong. Keep sand and water on the side to be able to extinguish the fire directly when this is needed. Read for this reason also; ‘Safety and rules for making a fire‘
Sadly, making a fire isn’t always easy and fire can look very unpredictable.
It is amazing though, how the development of a fire can be predicted as long you recognizde certain signals!
If it is not working in your case, have a look at the list below where some solutions for common problems are given. If your problem is not in this list, leave it behind in the comments on the bottom of this page and I’ll be happy to search for a solution.
My fire produces to much smoke:
If your fire is smoking a lot, check if there is enough space for oxygen to get into the fire. Also check if the fuel (normaly wood) is close enough to transfer the heat and if the wood is not too wet, too big or too hard. Fire needs warmth, oxygen and fuel. The way you create the perfect situation for the fire can be rated by how the fire burns.
Place wood with small distance of each other, so small that heat can be transfered but oxygen can still be drawn in. When you start the fire the distance between the small sticks and twigs should be about half the width of the sticks itself. When the fire is heavily burning, it needs more oxygen so you can now put more distance between the logs. Using green branches (can be seen once you have made a small notch) from living trees will not only harm the forest but also extinguish your fire. The moisture in these branches will fill the surrounding area with water gasses and dispel the present oxygen. When you’re adding a log that is too big or a woodtype that is too hard, the flames can’t reach the core and it will smoulder and start producing smoke.
My fire is not creating a drag:
Fire always wants to go up. This can be explained by the fact that heat rises. It can be magical to see what happens to a smouldering fire where some right sized fuel is added on top. Many times when there is no drag, the fuel on top of the fire is too big in size. Making this fuel smaller or adding smaller fuel around it can help. Another reason for a fire not to create drag is when it is too small. The rising air drags new oxygen from underneath. When there is no big fire, there will also not be a lot of drag.
My new logs/ branches are not catching fire:
If added logs or branches (fuel) do not start to burn, check if the the new fuel is close enough to the fire / hot coals. Or if the added fuel is not too big or the woodtype is not too hard. Place the wood with small distance of each other, so small that heat can be transfered but oxygen can still be drawn in. When you’re adding a log which is too big or of which the woodtype is too hard, the flames can’t reach the core and it will smoulder and start smoking.
It has been raining for days but I want to make a fire:
The solution for this problem has been explained under ‘special weather conditions’.
On this page you’ll find all information about making a small star fire.
A small star fire needs maintenance every 5 to 10 minutes depending on the width of the twigs or sticks. It is a great fire technique for cooking and a small source of warmth on the trail. It is easy to keep the heat at the core. The sticks can smoulder for a long period of time in the center, making it a slow burning fire with a little plume of smoke.
On this page you’ll find information about making an up-side-down fire.
An up-side-down fire needs maintenance every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the width of the sticks or logs. It is a fire technique for long-term warmth, light, cooking and coziness. Wood can be added from every direction and there is a lot of space for air to flow through.
On this page you’ll find information about making a long log fire.
A long log fire needs little maintenance during the night but will then burn for about 8 hours. It’s a firetechnique for expert bushcrafters and survivalists. The fire is lid as usual when you are going to sleep and will burn for a whole night. For bushcrafters and survivalists it’s key not to create risk-situations and therefore I do not recommend this fire technique. Sleeping next to a fire can be dangerous for you and your environment. This fire technique provides long-term warmth and light. It also keeps the animals away. It has a very high initial expenditure as it needs a truckload of wood.
On this page you’ll find information about making a pagoda fire. This fire technique is ideal for a long lasting and manageable campfire.
A pagoda fire is also smokeless and offers a lot of heat and light.
It needs maintenance every 20 to 40 minutes depending on the width of the logs. A pagoda fire must be combined with another fire technique because it only works for a fire that has already gained some strength. Wood is added in a special criss-cross way to keep the construction stable and manageable at all time.
On this page you’ll find information about making a Dakota fire. A stealth way to cook with one cookingpot.
The dakota fire is an adjusted fireplace to support a very effective combustion. The technique provides a very hot, clean, smokeless and stealth fire meant for cooking.
When you build it right, it needs a very little amount of wood because of its efficient combustion. The pit is dug into the ground and therefore easy to ignite under strong wind conditions and hard to see from a distance. This is the reason why it is used in the army to make fires that are not visible for the enemy. A small dakota fire needs mainanance every 5 to 10 minutes, a big dakota fire needs maintenance every 10 to 20 minutes.
On this page you’ll find information about making a T fire. With this fire you’ll be able to cook yourself (or your guests) an elaborate meal.
The T fire is, just like the hunters fire, mostly an adjustment of the fireplace to make it possible to cook on a stable construction with fire in between. It’s a technique which makes it easier to cook with big pots that can’t hang. This is because pots can be placed on a special frame and the heat of the fire can easily be controlled. Because of the T-shape of the fireplace, it’s easy to use branches without the need of cutting/sawing them.
A T fire needs maintenance every 10 to 20 minutes. This technique is ideal for regulating temperatures for cooking. It can best be started with a small criss-cross or teepee fire technique.
Fire can be used to heat stones, these stones can be added to water to make it boil. This technique is used when cooking without the availability of fireproof pots. Pots out of birch bark or banana leafs for example.
This technique only needs hot coals. Place clean and dry, tennis ball sized stones which are not porous, onto the hot coals. Wait until they are hot and then remove them from the fire. Use other stones, branches or leafs to pick the stones out of the fire and place them carefully into the water which needs to boil. Remove old cooled stones every now-and-than and add new, hot stones, to the water. Do not (re)place stones in the fire which are/have been wet. The water in the cracks can expand rapidly and make the stones explode!
It is also possible to heat a big flat stone and to place the pot on this stone or place your food directly onto this stone. This technique prevents you from burning holes into your cooking pots
LOSER = a Lunatic, Obtuse, Simpleminded, Erratic and Reckless fire.
This is a useless fire. A fire made out of green (living) wood, just thrown into the firepit (if this is even the case) combined with trash like bottles, cans, plastic etcetera. It can usually be recognised by a lot of smoke and a capricious fire. Not the fire technique I want enyone to make as it can be dangerous and leaves many disturbing traces in nature. There are a lot of other fire techniques to use, try those! It will be fun!
Lean-to fire (coming soon)
Grate-fire (coming soon)
Signal fire and anti insect fire(coming soon)