One of the landmark moments of humanity is the discovery of fire, so put away your matches, honor our ancestors, and learn how to start a fire on your own with these tips.
In this article:
- Flint and Steel
- Batteries and Steel Wool
- Sunlight and Lenses
- Gum Wrappers
- Parabolic Reflectors
- USB Cable
- Light Bulb
Here’s How To Start a Fire From (Literal) Scratch
We’ve put together a master list of the many ways to start a fire without using matches. But to start a fire you must know how to build a fire. It needs three major components:
- Tinder – The smallest, yet most easy-to-burn materials to get any fire started. Also called a firestarter because, well, it starts the fire. It can be anything: wood shavings, wads of paper, cardboard strips, dryer lint, wax, Doritos (or other chips), and more.
- Kindling – Slightly larger than tinder, this helps transfer the flame and make it bigger. These are usually twigs or smaller branches that have a diameter of about 1/8 to 1/2 inch.
- Firewood – This is the crowning glory of a perfect campfire. It can be made up of wood of about 1 to 5 inches in diameter to bits of wood split from larger logs.
We’ve written about how to build the perfect campfire, but it’s not every day that you hang around the woods with full access to Mother Nature’s bounty. You could be stranded in a cold home in the event of a power outage or weather-related emergency, or simply need to start a small bonfire in your yard. Here are some handy ways you can start a fire—sans matches!—at home.
Flint and Steel
These are great to have in your arsenal not just for when you go camping. All you need to complete the set is char cloth (in the absence of char cloth, use birch, or a bit of fungus).
- Step 1: Press the char cloth against the flint, letting about a few millimeters hanging over the edge.
- Step 2: Start striking your steel against the flint until the char cloth catches an ember.
- Step 3: Place the slowly burning char cloth onto your tinder bed and blow gently until a fire forms.
Batteries and Steel Wool
Steel wool and battery pic.twitter.com/lQqbqxL00z
— Chemical Reactions (@HoIdMyBeaker) August 22, 2018
They’re an odd combination, but it works! This is easiest with a 9-volt battery, but two AA or AAA batteries will work as well.
- Step 1: Stretch out the steel wool so that it’s about 6 inches long and half an inch wide.
- Step 2: Rub the contacts side of the battery on the wool. The wool will glow, then burn.
- Step 3: Quickly transfer to your tinder pile as the steel wool flame dies quickly.
Sunlight and Lenses
All you need is the sun and some form of lens. This could be a magnifying glass, eyeglasses, a balloon, a condom filled with water, or even some very clear ice.
- Step 1: Angle your choice of lens towards the sun.
- Step 2: Focus the resulting beam into the smallest possible area, and place your tinder pile there.
- Step 3: Eventually smoke will form, then a fire.
Pro tip: When using ice, make sure it’s made with the clearest water possible so the sun can pass through unfiltered.
Gum wrapper fire: Man Hacks pic.twitter.com/CyrDVvxdud
— Rated Red (@realratedred) January 26, 2017
This works on the kind of gum wrapper that’s foil on one side and plain paper on the other.
- Step 1: Cut the gum wrapper so that one end is only 1/8th of an inch wide.
- Step 2: Place the battery contacts across the aluminum foil side of the wrapper.
- Step 3: The narrowest part of the wrapper will start to burn, and the paper on the other side will maintain the fire. Place carefully atop your tinder pile.
This can be a steel ladle or a round steel bowl. You can use it to reflect the light off the sun and focus it onto a point to start a fire.
- Step 1: Point the center of your reflector at the sun.
- Step 2: Place your tinder above your reflector.
- Step 3: Adjust to find the focal point of the light of the sun, and keep still until a small fire starts.
You can use the electricity from your USB cable to start a fire.
- Step 1: Cut open a cable, and split apart the negative and positive wires
- Step 2: Separate every small fiber of each cable.
- Step 3: Connect two of the small fibers, making sure that the rest of the small fibers are folded away from it or cut away completely.
- Step 4: Plug in the USB cable. The fibers should start glowing and heating up soon after.
- Step 5: Place tinder or your choice of flammable material onto the heated fibers to start a fire.
You can use any light bulb for this, including house bulbs or car bulbs from your headlight or interiors. The electricity going through the thin wire is what you will use to start the fire.
- Step 1: Turn off the bulb and disconnect it.
- Step 2: Break the glass bulb.
- Step 3: Place your tinder near or over the wire.
- Step 4: Turn on the bulb. Without the glass bulb maintaining oxygen levels to regulate the heat, the wire will burn up pretty quickly, igniting your tinder pile.
Download this infographic now and reference it later.
Fire led the way for the modern world, so knowing how to start one from scratch is a must whenever you go camping, or for keeping yourself warm in the event of nuclear fallout. Just keep these steps in mind, and always put out fires safely when you’re done with them (otherwise you’ll be that idiot who burned a whole forest to the ground.)
Do you have some handy tips on how to start a fire? Share the knowledge in the comments section below!
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