E014 - How to Build a Fire

This time on Across the Peak, Rich and I tell you how to build a fire and keep it going!

Intro Stuff

  • Rich’s Drink: Carnivore red wine

Carnivore.jpeg
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Why You Should Know How to Build a Fire

EVERYONE should know how to build a fire! Building a fire is potentially a life-saving skill. Learn it now because, “when it’s time to perform, the time to prepare is over.” Specific reasons you should know how to build a fire are that fire provides:

  • Warmth and can save you from hypothermia,

  • Light for working, reading, or signaling,

  • an ability to cook food and sterilize water, and…

  • A fire will also keep you company.

In fact, most of our modern appliances replicate functions that fire used to fill. We now use light bulbs instead of candles or lanterns. Our stoves and ovens have replaced cooking fires. Heat pumps, furnaces, and electric heat have taken the place (in most homes in the U.S.) of wood stoves or fire places.

To actually build a fire you will need to both know how, and practice it. Recency of experience allows you to access skills more readily under stressful situations - the more recently you’ve done it, the easier it will be to do.

The wood-burning camp stove Justin referenced: Ohuhu Personal Camp Stove, see a full review on RevolverGuy.com.

 The  Doan Manufacturing magnesium firestarter . Accept no imitations!

A Brief History of Fire

Man mastered fire approximately 1.3 million years ago (estimates vary, but it was a long damn time ago!). Fire was a total game changer because it:

  • Extended the day. This allowed humans to be more productive and thus, more successful.

  • Repelled mosquitoes. The smoke from certain types of fuel will repel mosquitoes. The mosquito is the most deadly animal on the planet, killing 175,000 people per year. This allowed humans with a mastery of fire to prosper.

  • Allowed humans to access food sources that were previously inaccessible without cooking. This permits the over-sized human brain and the ability to deal in abstraction.

  • Killed deadly bacteria in food, which improved human mortality,

  • Permitted humans to access new places, like caves and cold climates. This gave us the opportunity to explore new areas and find new food sources.

  • A fire even served as a meeting place and helped to strengthen relationships.

What it Takes to Build a Fire

Four things are required to build a fire:

  1. Fuel. Fuel is subdivided into three categories:

    • Tinder. This is the smallest, lightest, driest material you can find, and will start your fire. It should be able to be ignited from spark (or flame from a match or lighter).

    • Kindling. Kindling is slightly bigger than tinder. It is small enough to be ignited by the tinder, but large enough to burn longer, and generate enough heat to ignite the fuel. Like tinder, kindling should be dry.

    • Fuel. Firewood; the stuff that is going to generate enough heat to warm you, and keep your fire going for a substantial amount of time.

  2. Heat. Heat is transferred onto the tinder from your fire-staring tool. Your tinder must be appropriate to your fire-starting tool - the heat generated by the tool must be sufficient to ignite the tinder.

  3. Oxygen. A fire must have oxygen to produce the..

  4. Chemical reaction. The chemical reaction between fuel, heat, and oxygen creates and sustains the gases we recognize as a flame.

How to Build a Fire: Fuel

Let’s take a deep-dive into the various types of fuel required to build a fire.

Tinder. Tinder should be light and fluffy. Acceptable materials will vary depending on what fire-starting tool you are using. If you are using a lighter or match, paper is acceptable tinder. If you are using a spark-creating device, you will need to work on more refined tinder. Some materials that make excellent tinder:

  • Homemade/Adapted: paper, dryer lint, gauze bandages, cotton balls, tampons, wood shavings. Pro Tip: a pencil sharpener can turn any dry, pencil-sized stick into awesome shavings that will work as tinder.

  • Natural: birch/cedar/pine bark, cattail fibers, dandelion heads, leaves/pine needles

  • Store-bought: Tinder-Quik tabs, trioxane tabs

 Wood shavings makes excellent tinder. Even damp, dead wood can be carved into to reveal a dry center from which tinder can be shaved.

Wood shavings makes excellent tinder. Even damp, dead wood can be carved into to reveal a dry center from which tinder can be shaved.

Kindling. Kindling is a necessary middle step between tinder and fuel. Kindling is larger-diameter wood. The following general principles apply to kindling:

  • It should be very dry, and graduated in size from very small, to large enough to ignite your fuel.

  • Lightweight softwoods work very well as kindling. They ignite easily and burn very hot.

Sources of kindling vary. If you have the ability to process firewood, split sticks make excellent kindling. If you are foraging for firewood, don’t just look on the ground; dead limbs that are still attached to the tree are excellent kindling. Remember the Boy Scout rule: “if you can’t snap it, scrap it!” Translation: if it’s not dry enough to snap in two, it’s probably not dry enough to be good kindling.

 This downed tree offers a massive amount of tinder, kindling, and possibly some fuel if treated correctly. Shavings could make excellent tinder, smaller branches could be split for kindling, and the larger portions cut for fuel.

This downed tree offers a massive amount of tinder, kindling, and possibly some fuel if treated correctly. Shavings could make excellent tinder, smaller branches could be split for kindling, and the larger portions cut for fuel.

A note on fatwood: fatwood is an excellent fire starter. It can be used as both tinder and kindling, depending on the size of the fatwood and your fire starting tool. You can harvest your own fatwood, or purchase commercially-available fatwood.

Fuel: Fuel can be varied. Denser, harder woods like oaks and maples make excellent fuel because they will burn for a very long time. Softwoods like pine can be fuel, but they will burn very quickly. Fuel has to be seasoned, so look for downed trees, or standing dead trees. Don’t cut a live tree down and attempt to burn it right away.

 Cutting firewood before it is seasoned.

Cutting firewood before it is seasoned.

How to Build a Fire: Fire-Starting Tools

Tools

  • Consumable Tools: Lighters, matches.

    • Benefits: Extremely inexpensive, common, and easy to use. Lighters and matches allow you to utilize nearly any source of tinder. These are also potentially the fastest tools to use.

    • Disadvantages: Easily broken, finite supply of fuel/matches, not robust against wind/water

    • Excellent examples: Lifeboat/Storm Matches

 REI’s Stormproof Matches are extremely resilient against the effects of wind and water. We tested these by lighting them then dunking them in water for 1 second. The match would restart itself after being removed from water.

REI’s Stormproof Matches are extremely resilient against the effects of wind and water. We tested these by lighting them then dunking them in water for 1 second. The match would restart itself after being removed from water.


  • Sparking Tools: These tools are slightly more difficult to use, but have a number of advantages over consumable tools.

 Justin’s  Exotac nanoStriker  and some tinder. The Exotac is nothing more than a small ferrocerium rod and striker.

Justin’s Exotac nanoStriker and some tinder. The Exotac is nothing more than a small ferrocerium rod and striker.

  • Primitive Tools. These are experts’ tools and are the hardest to use.

    • Benefits: Extremely robust and durable. If these methods are mastered you can build a fire in the wild from almost nothing.

    • Disadvantages: Extremely difficult to use and require an extremely high level of skill. These tools are also extremely difficult to use successfully in rainy or windy weather, and require you have the absolute best tinder.

    • Examples: flint and steel, bow drill, fire piston

Book of the Week

Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade

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Justin Carroll