7 Tips to Instantly Improve Your Fire-Starting Skills

Starting a fire is often talked about as one of the most important outdoor skills to have. Fire can do so much for us that having one in a survival situation can make a huge difference. 

Many times, we hear in articles or see in videos that starting a fire is super easy and while that is the case sometimes, it is usually the exception. Depending on the circumstances, starting a fire with a lighter can prove impossible, and even experienced individuals can have difficulty. 

Saying that starting a fire is easy without going into all the nuances of using a certain tool or method is a disservice, especially to inexperienced persons. That is why this article aims to present 7 tips of common tools and methods that will improve your fire-starting skills. 

7 Tips for Starting a Fire 

Patience and Gathering Materials

Having patience and gathering all materials before starting a fire are arguably the most important parts of the process yet are the least talked about. 

The lack of patience leads to frustration and frustration piled on top of other emotions during a survival situation, is not going to help. Attempting to start a fire “right now” without the proper materials is only going to waste precious resources. 

Collecting a large pile of dry tinder and kindling is to sustaining the initial flame. Having a cotton ball-sized piece of tinder and a few twigs will most likely lead to failure because the flame will die out while a person runs off to collect more tinder and kindling. 

Carry as much tinder and kindling to your campsite and then go collect some more. Have everything you need ready to go before you ever strike the first match.

Protect the Fire  

To give yourself the best chance possible of getting a fire going, it needs to be protected from the elements, primarily wind and water. 

Unless the ground is bone dry, elevate tinder and kindling by placing it on top of another piece of dry wood or stone. By, doing this you will not have to worry about moisture from the ground interfering with the process. 

The process can further be protected from the wind by building small walls made of logs or stone around the fire pit and having something overhead will help to protect from rain. 

Prep the Tinder

Throwing a pile of tinder to the ground and showering sparks onto it is not always effective. For example, cedar bark makes good fire tinder but ideally it needs to be scraped, roughed up, and tightly formed into a tinder bundle. 

By roughing the tinder up, it produces more surface area for a flame or sparks to take hold.Also, the same can be said about kindling. Break or cut twigs into thinner sections that will heat up much faster than the whole. 

Lighters 

Just because you have a tool that produces an instant flame, does not mean a tinder bundle should be abandoned. People will sometimes try to use a lighter to ignite twigs and kindling.

Larger pieces of wood will not instantly ignite even when a flame is put on it, so this is a waste of lighter’s fuel. A large tinder bundle surrounded by kindling will ignite easier and save resources. 

Ferrocerium Rods 

When using a ferrocerium rod, there are a few tips that will make you more successful. The most common way to use this tool is to push the scraper down the ferrocerium rod and towards the tinder bundle. This can lead to a person accidentally knocking the bundle over. 

An alternative way is to hold the ferrocerium rod as close as possible to the bundle and pull the rod towards your person while holding the scraper stationary. 

Do not hold a ferrocerium rod above a tinder bundle thinking that the sparks will shower down onto it. At best, sparks only burn for a few seconds so the rod needs to be as close as possible to the tinder bundle. If you cannot feel the tinder bundle on your hands when striking the ferrocerium rod, then you are not close enough. 

If you need a little extra help igniting some tinder create a small pile of Ferro rod shavings. This can be done by using the scraper to slowly shave dust-like pieces from the rod. Make a pile that is roughly the size of a quarter that is within the tinder bundle and direct the sparks towards the pile of shavings. 

Lastly, make sure there is depth to a tinder bundle. Gaps that go through a bundle provide areas that sparks will travel through instead of contacting the tinder.  

Magnifying Glass

Producing a flame by using a magnifying glass is a misconception that most people have. It can happen, but again it is the exception. Instead, focus on producing an ember that can be coaxed into a flame. 

To do this, create a large pile of wood dust (or use a piece of charcoal from a previous fire) and place it into a large tinder bundle. Focus the magnifying glass on the wood dust to heat it. Once the wood dust begins smoking on its own and an ember can be seen, you can begin blowing gently on it to help grow the ember.    

The wood dust does not have to be placed into the tinder bundle before heating it. However, the act of transferring an ember to the tinder bundle can accidentally snuff it out. 

Lastly, always make sure that the lens of a magnifying glass is as clean as possible before using it. Any dust or debris on the lens will interfere with the sunlight passing through it.  

Primitive Methods  

Patience and using the right materials are critical to starting a fire with primitive methods. These methods take a lot of practice and using them is never “easy.” 

Other than patience, using the right materials within your region is key. Watching a person use bamboo for a friction method doesn’t do much good if bamboo doesn’t grow in your region. Applicable materials in your area need to be known. 

While knowledge is always great to have, primitive techniques need to be practiced a lot. It is detrimental to your skillset to only watch someone else do something rather than practice yourself.

The last bit of advice under this section has to do with the ember. It takes time and a lot of energy to produce an ember using primitive methods. But when people reach this step, they tend to rush it. 

Once the friction method stops and you have a pile of smoking dust, slowly back away from it and allow it to smolder on its own for at least a minute. After a minute, introduce more oxygen to the ember by waving a hand around it or blowing extremely gently.

When it is time to transfer the ember to the tinder bundle, bring the tinder bundle as close as possible to the ember. Do try to carry the ember to the bundle because it may blow away, be snuffed out, or dropped.  

Pick up the ember and wood dust and gently slide it into the tinder bundle. Close the tinder bundle around the ember and take your time giving it more oxygen. 


FAQs

What do I do if my tinder bundle won’t catch fire?

If you are having trouble igniting a tinder bundle it is either not dry enough or there is not enough surface area. Try to finder dryer material and rough it up as much as possible. 

My tinder bundle will burn but not my kindling, what do I do?

Make sure that the kindling is as dry as possible and small. Dry kindling should easily snap apart when broken, if it doesn’t then it is probably too wet. Also, kindling should not be larger than the diameter of your fingers. 

No matter what I do I cannot make sparks with a Ferro rod, what am I doing wrong?

This is a common problem and usually has to do with the angle of the scraper and the amount of pressure being used. Adjust the angle of the scraper and apply more pressure while scrapping.  


Wrap Up 

I hope that you enjoyed the above article and that the seven tips presented help you to be more successful when starting your next outdoor fire. Remember, patience, proper preparation, and lots of practice. Thanks for reading and stay prepared! 

If you have any questions or want to share some first starting tips of your own, be sure to sound off in the comment section below and let us know!




Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021. Read more of Bryan's articles.