A fire can save your life to fend off hypothermia or as a means to purify water. Practice a number of these techniques before you really have to depend on them in an emergency situation. A key to most of these skills is preparation.
Wilderness Fire Starting Techniques
Flint and Steel – Many rocks will work in place of true flint. But a cheap file from the dollar store and find a rock that creates sparks. Use a low temp tender for the sparks to land in (low temp tenders are discussed at the bottom of the page).
Bow Drill – The components of the bow drill are a bow, a spindle, fire board, a pivot stone, and a nest to receive the ember you’ll create. The type of wood used is an important factor when making a bow drill fire. Birch, Willow, Alder, and Poplar are all acceptable. Find wood that is dry from dead limbs. Avoid getting wood that has been on the forest floor as it is probably wet or punky (i.e. starting to break down). The notch is critical in the fire board, without it the hot wood fibers will have no place to collect. Preparing a nest before hand is incredibly important. Focus on steady pressure and consistent bow strokes. Try to practice with someone with experience.
Two Man Friction Drill – Use the same setup as the bow drill but have a second person act as the drilling force. Simply leave out the drill and replace it with a second person using a rope, wrapped around the spindle twice, and pulling back and forth on the rope to rotate the spindle. One man can focus on the pressure and the other can focus on rotation. Prepare the fireboard the same as other drill type fires.
Hand Drill – This method is prefered in extremely dry climates. Yucca plants provide the best spindles but other types of plants work as well. The trick is to exert enough downward pressure will maintaining enough rotations to increase the temperature. Making your hands sticky with crushed raisins or sap can assist you in more traction. With a second person the strokes can be more regular and helps prevent over exertion. This method is difficult.
Fire Plow- This is best in dry climates as well. It requires a great deal of strength and dedication to get it started.
Fire Pump – This method uses a fly wheel on a spindle assist in wrapping the draw cord onto the spindle. A fire board with a notch is required to make this pump drill to work.
Fire Saw- If you can make a number of flat pieces of wood this is a good method. Make a sandwich with the bottom piece of wood, place fine tender in the middle layer, and then top it off with another layer of wood. Add two spacer pieces of wood on each end so the tender doesn’t get too compressed. Lash everything together and make sure everything call hold together. Place the two pieces of wood with the gap facing upwards. Press down in a position over the gap, with the tender in between, use the third piece of flat wood as a saw. Saw with deep, heavy pressure. Hot fibers will fall into the gap and ignite the tender. This same method can be used with dry bamboo with a small stick holding the tender into the flat area where the saw will pierce, bringing hot coals to the prepared tender.
Fire Starting Gadgets
Bic Lighter – The most common and easiest ways to start a fire. Limitations are fuel running out, it breaking, and the fuel not performing well when it is cold. For most situations this would work fine.
Matches – Waterproof, strike anywhere matches are best. There is a technique to lighting a match. If your hands are cold you risk breaking the match. The optimal way to light a match is to brace the back of the match head with a finger and use a steady stroke.
FireSteel Striker – These ferrocerium or magnesium compound strikers can produce sparks up to 5500 degrees. Many survivalist prefer these because they make dependable fires in almost all conditions. When coupled with some pre-made tender this gadget can help light a fire no matter where you are.
Piston Fire Starter – This gadget uses the rapid compression of air to ignite tender. It takes a little practice but it can produce hot coals for starting a fire.
Note: No matter what technique or gadget you use basic fire starting principles always apply. You must prepare dry, fine tender. Having a ready source of kindling is also necessary.
Electrical Heat and Sparks
9V Battery & Steel Wool – Touch the battery terminals against the fine steel wool and watch as the fine metal ignites. This produces a hot fire that can start most all tenders.
Car Battery and Jumper Cables – The sparks created with jumper cables is hotter than most sparks generated. Place the tender between the jumper cables and touch them together. Be aware that this can permenately damage a battery. It would be best to use a battery that you don’t mind ruining.
Hand Warmer Fire Starter – This is a MYTH! Unless you can chemically break down the elements in a hand warmer it will never get hot enough to light. I’ve tried a few different things, researched for hours, and have yet to see any results.
Glycerin & Potassium Permanganate – These are two items found in some first aid kits. Potassium permanganate is used in water purification and is a powerful oxidizer. I found a good price here http://shop.chemicalstore.com/navigation/detail.asp?MySessionID=110-626540203&id=PP100
Potassium Permanganate & Sugar (mixed 9:1) – When put under pressure and ground this mixture will ignite. It is best to keep both seperate until you need to use them as dropping the mixture can cause it to ignite.
Sodium Chlorate & Sugar Mix 3:1 – “The active ingredient sodium chlorate is found in a variety of commercial herbicides. Some trade names for products containing sodium chlorate include Atlacide, Defol, De-Fol-Ate, Drop-Leaf, Fall, Harvest-Aid, Kusatol, Leafex, and Tumbleaf.” Wikipedia. Potassium chlorate and sugar (3.1 ratio) is also very combustible. Potassium chlorate was an ingredient in some throat tablets.
Sunlight Refraction (Using Sunlight to Start Fire)
Magnifying Glass – Many compasses have magnifying glasses built into the plastic. This is the easiest way to start a fire if the sun is shinning.
Top Can and Chocolate Bar – Take a Coke can, flip it upside down, polish the bottom with chocolate using a piece of the tin. It will take about an hour and the whole bar of chocolate to get the mirror like finish you need. Hersheys works ok but Trobalone is the best
Saran Wrap, Balloon, or Condom filled with water. To make this work you need to make a ball of water using one of the items here. For saran wrap try making a liner for your cup, filling it with water, and gathering all four corners to make your round water droplet. With the condom or balloon try twisting a segment off to avoid long shapes.
Clear Ice Lens – You need some clear ice, a saw, and a pipe. Ice tends to be clearer toward the edges. Find at least a 3 inch piece of clear ice. Cut it into a cube, a octagon, then use the end of a pipe (which needs to be slightly smaller than the rough piece of ice) to make an ice ball. Polish the final ball with your gloves or snow.
Eye Glasses – Try using your eye glasses at different angles to focus the sun’s energy. Note: Most glasses don’t work.
Flashlight (Headlight) Reflector – Disassemble the top of your flashlight being careful not to lose anything. The shiny reflective piece in the flashlight can be used to concentrate the suns rays to start a fire. Place your tightly packed tender in the hole where the bulb would usually be. This method requires a certain amount of heat to be stored up in the tender before transporting it to a prepared tender nest. Tightly folded paper worked for me.
Two Liter Bottle Filled with Water – You will need the 2-liter bottles with the round top for this method to work. Make sure their are no bubbles in the water as this may hinder the focusing power. Set up the water bottle and point it into the tender. You may need to let this one sit for a while. Practice on your hand to feel what the hottest rays look like (get the basic shape). Once you get an understanding of what the hottest concentration looks like point the focal point at your tender.
Spark Temperature and Tender Options
All wilderness fire starting depends on using the correct tender to accept a spark. If you are using a low temp spark on the wrong tender you may have a difficult time getting a fire started. These are some ideas for low temp and high temp tenders.
Extra Fine Tinder for Receiving a Low Temp Spark
All sparks are not the same temperature. The temperature of the sparks can vary greatly. Sparks from fire strickers and battery terminals are very hot (in excess of 5,000 degrees). Sparks from lighters or traditional flint and steel are much less in temperature. These colder sparks need extra fine kindling to receive the spark.
Char Cloth – Char cloth is made from cotton using a special technique. Basically, cotton is burned without oxygen to produce char cloth. This requires an air tight metal tin and a fire. Place the cotton pieces into a sealed can. You will need a small vent hole initially as the cotton reaches the right temperature in the fire. When smoke stops comming from the vent remove the can and stop the hole with a wooden plug. A pointed stick works great as a plug. Allow the cloth to sit and cook. When the can has cooled down open the can and retrieve the char cloth. If you use an Altoid tin the char cloth can be left in the can as a container. Video
Tinder Fungus – Generally grows on Birch trees and looks like a big black infection. Cut a piece off and allow to dry naturally. It is difficult to speed up the drying process so some extra preparation is needed.
Horse Shoe Fungus – This requires to be boiled and pounded flat so it won’t be much help unless you’ve done some preparation. It looks like a light brown clam shell (or horse hoof) growing from a tree.
Lint From Cotton Socks – Pinch the small fibers from your cotton socks until you have at least a dime sized amount of fibers. This tender works great but burns quickly. Be prepared with other fine tender once you get a spark to catch.
Ultra Fine Steal Wool – This needs to be the finest steal wool you can find without any cleaning agents in it (SOS pads will not work).
Magnesium Powder – Places that sell firework materials is a good source of magnesium powder/shavings. Skylighter.com is a dependable website. Tip: Use a thin layer of Vasiline to hold the powder/chips in place.
Hot Spark Tender (Accepts High Temp Sparks)
Cotton Ball (add Vaseline for extra flammability and burn time)
Dryer Lint – This catches sparks really well but has a hard time spreading the heat of a coal into a flame.
Juniper Bark – Receives sparks and embers very well. The longer you rub it together the more fine tender it will produce.
Trioxane Fuel Bar – Instant Blue Flame that works when wet. A valuable thing to add to your bug out bag.
Weird things that work.
Potato Fire Starter – Cut a potato in half and scoop the contents out of the lower half. Mix 1:1 toothpaste and salt in the lower half. Shove two wires through the top portion of the potato and bend them at a 90 degree angle before pushing them into the goo. Close the potato, add some cotton to one of the exposed wires, and wait five minutes. Touch the two wires together and you’ll get a hot little spark.
Citrus Fruit Fire – Push a copper wire and a galvanized nail into a softened fruit (roll it around to break up the insides). Wrap some cotton around the nail. Wait a few minutes and touch the wires together. A penny and nickel will also work in place of a copper wire and a galvanized nail.