Fire Lighting

  • How to Light a Fire

    Aside from hunting, fire lighting is possibly the oldest skill that exists in human culture. The ability to light a fire, for many men, is a skill that represents masculinity and to light a fire quickly and reliably is

    Aside from your wood, there are 3 other things you need to light a fire:

    • Tinder - A small, dry, easily flammable material.
    • Kindling - Small twigs and sticks to start the fire.
    • Fire Starter - Anything that can produce or create a small flame.

    The first step in starting a fire is gathering your fuel. Start with your kindling, small twigs and sticks which, unless you're building an upside-down or pyramid fire, will form the base of the fire. The larger sticks and logs will provide the majority of the fuel for the fire. The best advice we can give for gathering wood is gather as much as you think you need, then double it. You will almost always need more wood than you think you need.

    The next step is dictated by which method you'll use to build your fire:

    Assuming you've now built your fire using one of the methods above, it's time to get the fire going.

    There are a number of tools you can use to start a fire. The easiest and most popular option is to use matches or a lighter, you simply ignite the lighter or match and hold the flame against your tinder to light. However, lighters can run out of fuel and both matches and lighters don't perform well in wind or rain (unless you use weather-proof matches). 

    A popular option among bushcrafters and survivalists is to use a flint and steel or a ferrocerium rod with a magnesium striker. Striking one against the other produces a shower of sparks at 1,650 degrees celsius that when they come into contact with kindling can begin a fire. Place the end of the firesteel against your tinder and strike the magnesium (or knife spine) against the rod. The shower of sparks should land on the tinder and ignite. You may need to do this a handful of times before the tinder catches.

    If you really want the primitive experience, you can try using a bow-drill (fire by friction), but this does take a lot of practice and patience, especially taking into account Britain's humidity..

    If you're having difficult getting the fire started, you can make the job easier by using a flammable fuel such as ethanol/spirits, hexamine blocks, or a fire lighting gel.

    You've chosen your tool so you simply need to light the tinder. Once the tinder is lit or is smoking, place the tinder inside your kindling and blow gently until the kindle catches fire. This can take a few minutes and there will be a lot of smoke.

    When the kindle is lit place it in your fire and observe until the rest of the wood begins to burn. If the fire goes out at this stage, you can often reignite it by blowing gently against the fire.

    Your fire has started and you can now cook your food, boil water or sit around the fire enjoying it's warmth.

    Safety Considerations

    1. Be mindful of your hair and clothes when handling the fire as they could easily catch a flame.
    2. Especially, when windy, ensure that there's nothing flammable around the fire that could catch fire if a stray gust of wind pushes the fire beyond the pit.
    3. Never pour flammable liquid onto an already burning fire, unless the bottle has a positive pressure nozzle, the flame will travel straight up the stream of fuel and into the bottle, causing an explosion.
    4. Never leave a fire unattended until it's completely out. Even white ashes can retain a lot of heat and reignite the fire and potentially spread.
    5. Don't use your fire as a rubbish pile. Only add wood, and food waster (vegetable peelings) to the fire. Burning plastic, metals and glass can produce toxic fumes which are extremely dangerous when inhaled.
    6. Be careful about adding paper to your fire, most commercial paper (printing paper, notepads) have chemicals and plastics added. Paper could also be blown away and ignite a fire elsewhere.
    7. Lastly, and the most obvious always take care with other people, especially children moving too close to the fire.
  • How to Light an Upside-Down Fire

    Traditionally, fires are built tepee style, from the bottom up. You light your tinder and then pile on some small twigs followed by sticks, then logs until you've got all your fuel on the fire. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s worked for thousands of years. The downside is you do have to manage the fire quite a bit.

    There is an alternative: the upside-down fire.

    An upside-down fire is essentially the opposite of a traditional tepee fire. The fire burns down and requires little management. The fire won’t look very impressive for about 20 minutes, but this is fine. The idea of this fire is that the embers will fall to the layer below and light that layer; hence why the platform can’t have any spaces between.)

    These fires can burn for hours without any interference.

    •     Firstly you want to arrange your largest logs at the bottom, making sure that there is little to no space between them. This provides a platform.
    •     Next put on another layer of slightly smaller logs laid across the platform.
    •     Repeat this with smaller and smaller logs until you are left with a pyramid structure
    •     Now place your tinder atop the fire; tinder can be anything from newspaper, to cotton wool to silver birch bark (depending on where you are). Light the tinder and observe.

    When lighting your fire you can use a lighter, matches, ferrocerium rod or a flint and steel. Sometimes you’ll have problems lighting the tinder, especially when your outdoors and it is easier to use an aide. The best aids are soaking your tinder in alcohol (works well for cotton balls) or using a fire lighting gel.

    Once your fire is lit, it won’t need much management, so you can sit back and relax for the next few hours either cooking your food or soaking up the warmth of the fire.

  • How to Light a Teepee Fire

    The teepee fire is the fire that most people have dealt with, especially if you were a member of the Scouts as a child. The teepee fire is named as such as it resembles the cone-shaped teepee used as houses by Native Americans.

    The basic principle of a teepee fire is that you lay your kindling and smaller wood in a pile and then arrange the larger pieces of wood around the pile, with their ends touching in the middle above the fire (as pictured).

    The first step is to gather your wood; you'll need small sticks and twigs, larger sticks, thick logs.

    The small sticks and twigs will form the base of the fire and will be placed in a mound at the centre. Then place the larger sticks around the fire leaning on each other in the middle. Make sure these sticks are as close as possible, but make sure to leave a small opening (like a doorway) for you to reach in and start the fire.

    Once the first ring of sticks has been added, you then need to add your final layer of thicker logs. Now the fire is built, it's time to light.

    You can use matches, a lighter or a ferrocerium (fire-starter) rod. Light your tinder (lint, dry grass, char cloth, silver birch bark shavings etc.) and then place it among the kindling. Blow lightly until the kindling catches fire.

    If you don't have any fine material for tinder, you can our a small amount of fire starting gel directly to the kindling. In some conditions (wind, rain) using a fire lighting gel or other alcohol fuel will make lighting the fire easier.

    Now that the fire is lit, you can add a few more logs to close the opening, just leave enough space for air to ventilate.

    The next step is to start cooking, or sit back and enjoy the warmth of your fire.

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