How To Make A Fire

How To Make A Fire

How to build or make a fire is something our ancestors could do without batting an eyelash. Often we, the modern human, with our matches and butane lighters, take shortcuts, seeing no need to learn how to make a fire without them. But, what if you find yourself in a situation where there are no matches and lighters to be found, and you need a fire very badly, say when you are in a camping expedition and you have dropped your backpack in the steam. The matches are wet, the night is closing in, the air has turned chilly, and wild animals are prowling about. Right about now you will be glad to know how to start a fire from scratch!

Making fire without matches or lighter is a survival skill every man should have, yet sadly it is not something that you learn in school unless you’re a boy scout. It may not be as easy as the guy on YouTube would want you to believe, but it is a useful and exciting skill to have, so read on while we teach you how to make a fire naturally.

How To Make A Fire Without Matches

There are several ways of making a fire without matches. For this tutorial, we will use the most primitive (and probably the most satisfying!) method of all – making fire with friction called the hand drill method. Before you start, remember that this is not for the faint-hearted since, by far, this is the most difficult method of all, but once you’ve mastered it, your pride will know no match!

Also, there are several factors that will ensure the success of your endeavor; choosing the right site and preparing it correctly, the materials that you’ll need, and some grit and determination.

Before you begin, check if the area where you will build a fire is safe and there is no danger for you to create a forest fire. Pay attention to the wind and the surrounding area, make sure that fires are allowed and follow local safety guidelines if there are any.

Step 1 – Choose The Right Spot And Prepare The Area

Look for a cleared area without plant, debris or grass. It should be far enough from anything that will catch fire just in case embers will be carried by the wind- tree limbs, roots, brambles. Once you found it, prepare the fire ring by digging a pit and placing a ring of rocks around it to contain the blaze.

Step 2 – Prepare The Materials

You will need a spindle, fireboard, tinder, kindling – both large and small, and fuelwood.

  • Spindle – A stick that you’ll spin with your hands to create friction and produce a spark to start a fire. The spindle should be made of a stem of a small plant such as butterfly bush, bigleaf maple, mullein, salmonberry or any plant, as long as the stem is around the diameter of a pinky finger. It should be around 18 inches long and straight. You will have to smoothen the stem with a knife so that it won’t hurt your hand when you spin it.
  • Fireboard – The fire board is the mate of the spindle. This is a piece of semi-soft wood as thick as a finger. It should not be too hard or too soft aspen, western red cedar or cottonwood root. Make sure that the fire board is flat on both sides.
  • Tinder – Tinder is a handful of highly flammable materials such as dry, dead plant, small sticks, dry grasses and leaves and twigs that should catch fire fast and be able to keep the ember until other materials such as the kindling start burning.
  • Small kindling – Small kindling is supposed to catch the spark from the tinder. They should be small, very brittle, very dry twigs that will encourage the flame to grow.
  • Large kindling -These are thicker and longer so they will burn easily, but should also sustain a flame long enough until the fuelwood catches fire.
  • Fuelwood – These are the materials that will feed the fire and keep it going. Fuelwood must be made of dry, brittle and aged wood.

Step 3 Putting The Spindle And Fireboard To Work Together

For these two important parts to work in tandem, you need to prepare the point where they will meet. Try to get the dimension of the spindle by positioning it vertically to the fireboard as you carve a shallow niche on the fireboard with a knife to mark the diameter of the spindle. This shallow niche is where you’ll need to put the spindle.

Step 4 Spin The Spindle (The Hand Drill Form)

You spin the spindle with the hand drill form, the proper form of spinning it. You do this by placing one end of the spindle on the shallow niche that you carved on the fireboard in a vertical position. Hold the spindle between your two palms and rub your hands together with the spindle between your palms. Exert even pressure inwards and downward into the spindle. As pressure is applied, your hand will move up and down the length of the stick or spindle. Pressure must be applied evenly as you spin the spindle so that it stays in a vertical position. You continue spinning and rotating until smoke emanates from the niche and you see the side of the niche burning.

Step 5 Carving The Notch

Carving the notch is an important step in this operation. The notch should be in the right location and the right size so that you can create an ember successfully. A notch is a carved out ⅛ of a pipe section from a thin piece of wood. Position the notch beside the fireboard in such a way that its pointed or narrowest part is pointing towards and reaching across the middle of the niche that was just burned. This is an important part of the success of the hand drill, so go ahead, linger on it so that you can make a good notch.

Step 6 Creating The Ember

A handful of tinder should be placed under the notch so that after you have made an ember, the tinder will catch it. Prepare also a large fluffy tinder to catch the smoking and hopefully smoldering small tinder. Once these are ready, you can now put your mind to creating that member by spinning the spindle using the right speed and downward pressure. If you spin too fast but do not apply enough downward pressure a glaze will be created on the niche. This will cause a reduction of the friction and lessen the dust that you create. On the other hand, if you put too much downward pressure you could create a hole on the fireboard, then you will need to start again on a new location on the fire board.

Go with pressure and speed that will produce plenty of dust inside the notch and lookout for smoke. As long as the notch fills with dust, spin the spindle faster and apply more downward pressure for that final thrust to create an ember. For the dust to ignite into an ember, a temperature of between 80 and 816 degrees is needed.

Step 7 Build The Fire

Once the handful of tinder underneath the notch catches the ember, blow at it until it ignites into flame, then transfer the small tinder into the larger tinder and wait for it to smolder before putting it in the rock-ringed area and piling first small kindling over it and then the larger kindling. Once the fire is steadily burning position the fuelwood over it to keep the flame going.


That is how to make a fire without matches or lighters using the hand drill method. A bit complicated, time-consuming and, yes, would entail some pain, especially if your palms develop blisters. But with practice, and as we mentioned earlier, a lot of grit and determination you can learn and even be an expert. That is a big achievement and a skill I’m sure a lot of your manly friends don’t have.

If you are looking to create good-quality fires then you will need good quality logs, and a great way to prepare wood for burning is to have a high-quality log splitter which can do the hard work for you and save you time. If you haven’t already got one, take a look at our reviews of some of the top log splitters on the market and see which would suit your needs best.

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