Monday, June 5, 2023

How to start a fire with or without matches in 2021

How to start a fire with or without matches, but definitely without, gives us a feeling of euphoria. It’s been that way since the dark ages. Knowing how to make a fire is not only making you feel great, but it is also necessary for survival. Or just cool to show your friends. 

So continue to read this extensive guide on “How to start a fire with or without matches.” You might need it around your homestead, on your Hiking trip, camping weekend, or in any need of emergency. 

Let’s fire up!

Since it is so much content, we have made a little index for you.

1.How to make a fire with matches or a lighter
1.1 What materials do you need to make a fire?
1.2 What tinder is best to use for a fire?
1.3 Light it up!
1.4 What is kindling?
1.5 Big sticks for the fire to grow.
1.6 Big logs to last for hours.
2. How to start a fire without matches.
3. How do you make a fire in the wild?
4. Use a bow drill to make fire
5. Use a fire plow to make fire
6. Use a hand drill to make fire
7. Making fire using a lens or magnifying glass
8. How to use a plastic bottle to make fire
9. Making fire using ice
10. Starting a fire using stones or rocks
11. Using two stones to make a fire
12. Using flint and iron to start a fire
13. Using a firesteel / ferro rod / spark stick to make a fire
14. Using batteries to start a fire

How to make a fire with matches or a lighter

Matches to light a fire
Photo by Jamie Street

The basics for making fire are more or less always the same whether you use or don’t use matches or a lighter to start your fire. 

What materials do you need to make a fire?

What materials to use for a fire all depends on how you build a fire. If you want to use a fire plow, you need different materials than when you start a fire using rocks. 

Read on, and you’ll find what materials to use for any specific way of starting a fire. But in general, the steps are:

  1. Get tinder bundle (dry wood scrapings, paper, dried bark)
  2. Light it up
  3. Put on kindling (small pieces of wood)
  4. Then some sticks (like dead or dried tree branches)
  5. And eventually the big boys, logs (the big chunks of wood to keep the fire burning for hours)

So you now know the basics but let’s give you some more information about the different tinders you can find and when you are out and about what tree to look for when making a fire. 

What tinder is best to use for a fire?

Step one is to find tinder and use this as an accelerant for your sparks to become little flames. Below you’ll find the most common natural tinder options.

Tinder Fungus

Tinder Fungus or Polypore mushrooms, as the official name goes, is excellent for tinder. Found on trees generally with a thick canopy, and it looks like a flat mushroom with holes in it.

Birch Bark

We all recognize this one, right. The withe stems with the brownish pieces of bark you can peel of easily. It turns out they are excellent for starting a fire!

Cattail-, Reedmace- , Bulrush- , Reed- , Cumbungi- or Raupo fluf

All names for the same plant, it’s fluff is perfect to light up your fire. 


Fatwood is a pinewood, which has a lot of resin in it. This resin act as a fire starter. Unfortunately, fatwood is not that easy to find since you find it at the base of tree limbs. So you probably have to chop the tree open.

Cedar or Juniper Bark

Another bark perfect for tinder. Scrap some of the cedar tree’s bark until you have a round fluffy ball the size of your hand. Once you have this, try to light it up!

Light it up!

Step two is to light your tinder and make a proper fire. We are talking about how to start a fire with or without matches or a lighter. Since we can all operate lighter and some matches. We don’t elaborate on that for tor much; however, make sure:

  • The matches are dry.
  • The lighter is full, and the flint stone works.
  • The electrical ‘zipper’ in some lighters still sparks.
  • The wind is in your back so that the flame won’t be ‘killed’ by the wind.
  • You have the kindling wood at hand as soon as you light the tinder.

Alright, and now step three. ‘The kindling wood.’

What is kindling?

Step three: Never heard of kindling? Well, kindlings are the tiny sticks and twigs you’d use to get that smoldering tinder going into a proper fire. 

With kindling wood, it is essential to make sure the sticks are tiny and dry. Try to keep the wood thinner than your fingers and use dry leaves to ignite it even quicker. 

The type of wood is not of that much importance.

Big sticks for the fire to grow.

Step four. So you’ve got the fire going using tiny sticks and some dried leaves and maybe pine needles. Now it is time to put more giant branches and sticks on it. But, if possible leave the wet wood and take the driest wood you can possibly find. Start with finger-thick twigs, and as soon these catch fire, start using arm thick branches.

Big logs to last for hours.

Step five take whatever logs you can find and chop them into chunks. The drier the wood, the better. On your homestead or at your house, this is simpler to get. When out in the wilderness, you can look for dead trees.

Alright, so we’ve gone over five steps to make a fire with matches or a lighter. But what when you don’t have one?

Yeah, Bear Grills might step in and save the day. Or, you try using the following steps. 

So let’s continue.

How to start a fire without matches.

“How to start a fire without matches or a lighter?” is a good question and is much more complicated than some might think. It takes some practice. The steps, however, are almost the same as making a fire with matches or a lighter. 

  1. Get something to make a spark or generate heat.
  2. Collect hot ember.
  3. Use that to light the tinder bundle.
  4. Put the kindling on.
  5. Make a pyramid shape of small sticks.
  6. When that catches fire, you can do the same with more giant logs.
  7. Sit back and enjoy.

Steps 3 to 7 are more or less the same, whether you do or don’t use matches or a lighter. So below, we will dive into nr 1 and 2. 

We will do so by touching all possibilities to make fire (chemicals excluded). And, we start with the question of how to make a fire in the wild. Because many people want to know and it is giving you a significant confidence boost if you succeed

How do you make a fire in the wild?

How to start a fire without matches or using a lighter, you need one of three things. 

  • Friction to generate heat (use a Hand-bow, Fire Plow, or Hand drill).
  • Sun (concentrate the heat using a convex lens).
  • Sparks that light up the tinder (stones, flint, battery, and steel wool).

Use a bow drill to make fire.

Using a bow drill to make a fire is one of the easiest ways to start a fire using friction. The bow takes less physical strength compared to the plow and hand drill.

Items needed for a bow drill:

  • Sturdy twig for the bow – To make the bow take a sturdy twig the size of your underarm.
  • Some shoelaces or paracord – Tie this cord between both ends of the twig to make a ‘bow.’
  • Piece of hardwood, stone, or shell with a small notch (socket) – Something hard to put pressure on the spindle and hold it steady during ‘bowing.’ When using wood, make sure to use “lubricant” (snail, worm, wet leaves) to prevent the socket from producing ember.
  • A half-inch thick piece of dry wood – Use this to collect the ember. Also known as fireboard.
  • A stick about 8 inches/ 20 cm long and roughly 1,5 inch / 3,8 cm thick – Cut both ends of the spindle so it will fit into the notches.

So now we have all the items we need. It is time to produce some heat!

Making fire with a bow drill.

Making fire with a handbow is much more work compared to using a lighter or matches. But it is still a suitable solution when you have absolutely nothing at hand. 

Down below, you will read how to start a fire in 8 (or 11 steps) 

  1. Cut out an upside-down pyramid or V-shaped hole from the fireboard. Take some tinder and lay it around this hole for it to easily catch fire. Make sure you have a piece of bark or something similar near you so you can transport the ember and glowing tinder to the place of the actual fire.
  2. Tie the laces or paracord between the ends of the sturdy twig to make a bow. Make sure the rope is tight. 
  3. Loop the cord around the spindle one time. Try to do it in the middle, so there is room for you to move back and forth.  
  4. Whittle both ends of the spindle stick to reduce friction. You can imagine it is hard to move a chunky stick while a smoothed-out end will turn much more manageable and thus cause heat quicker.
  5. Place the spindle stick in the hole and place your socket on top and press down to maintain pressure and to prevent the spindle from going all over the place. 
  6. Rock the bow back and forth so the stick will go round. Eventually, it will generate enough heat and creates an ember. But this might take up to 10 – 15 minutes, so stay calm and focus on getting that hand-bow back and forth, creating friction and heat.
  7. Once you have a build-up source of ember and your tinder is partially lit, move it from the fireboard onto a piece of bark and move all of it over to your fire pit. 
  8. Now it is time to build your fire further and start putting on the kindle to catch fire. From here, you can read step 3 to expand your fire.

Average time till fire 15 minutes (depending on the level of experience)

Use a fire plow to make a fire.

Another way to make fire when you’re out of matches and a lighter is by using a fire plow. With a stick and a softwood board, you can generate enough heat for an ember. So, what do you need for a Fire Plow? Let’s dive in:

Items you need for a Hand Plow:

  • A piece of softwood for your plow board – Find one around 15 to 20 inches / 40 to 50 cm long and 2 inches / 5cm wide. Use poplar, aspen, basswood, or willow.
  • A knife or sharp rock to carve out a groove in the plow board – Make the groove 6-8 inches / 15-20 cm long and roughly 1 inch / 2,5 cm wide.
  • Find a hardwood stick – This stick is used for the fire plow and needs to have a pointed end.

Starting a fire using a fire plow.

The steps to make starting a fire using a fire plow are limited. Also, you don’t need a lot of materials. Besides your tinder, kindling, and firewood, You don’t need much more. 

So now it is time to know how to start a fire using the fire plow method. 

  1. Place the board flat on the ground and insert the stick in the groove – Move back and forth quickly for wood dust to appear. 
  2. Go and sit on your knees or go and sit on the board – Put pressure on your strokes to generate heat and friction to create an ember. 
  3. When you see some smoke, act quickly but carefully – Start putting the smoldering ember into your tinder nest and get some oxygen in there. 
  4. When there is fire – go to step three above and follow the steps.

The average time till there fire highly depends on your skill level and type of wood used. It can take up to 30 minutes.

Use a hand drill to make a fire.

Another ancient strategy to make fire is using a hand drill. Although this method is the hardest to execute, it has been working for thousands of years. So why can’t you make it work, right? Some determination and focus will get you a long way. 

So what do we need? Let’s dive in.

What items do you need to make a fire with a hand drill?

  • A hardwood stick – smoothened, 5 inch / 1,5 cm in diameter and roughly 18 inch / 45 cm long.
  • Preferably a soft wooden fire board – This will make it easier to get smoldering wood pieces. 

That is easy, right. Well, now, the hard part. 

Steps to start a fire using a hand drill:

  1. Make sure you have got good tinder at hand, within reaching proximity.
  2. Find a piece of wood with a hole or cut a V-shape hole yourself – We do this so that the stick won’t move all over the board.
  3. Put the stick inside the hole.
  4. Hold the spindle stick between your flat hands and start moving them back and forth – wood shavings will build up at the base of the spindle.
  5. Continue turning the stick without relieving pressure – This might take some time but keep focussed and determined.
  6. Once an ember starts, put it inside your tinder nest and start blowing – As soon the timber is lit, continue building your fire using steps 3, 4, and 5 from “How to start a fire with matches or a lighter” above.

Time till fire can vary, but don’t give up after 30 min. Keep on pushing and trying.

Jiehaa. You just became a 20th-century caveman ;-). So we’ve gone over three ways to make fire with sticks using friction. Let’s dive into some more ways to make fire when you are out of matches or your firelighter gas has run out.

Making fire using a lens or magnifying glass

Using a lens or magnifying glass to make a fire is something you might remember from being a kid. At least I do. But instead of making actual fires, we made burn spots on the wood, or we would burn some ants. 

Yeah, sorry, not that proud of it. But it is all part of growing up, I guess.  

What do you need to make fire using a magnifying glass?

Not so much, to be honest. Take a look at the list below.

  • You need a lens in a convex shape or a magnifying glass.
  • Sunlight.
  • Tinder – Obviously also kindling and more giant logs described from step 3: How to start a fire with matches or a lighter.

What steps to take when using a lens or magnifying glass to make a fire

  1. Make sure your lens is clean and clear.
  2. Make sure you have enough sunlight.
  3. Focus the beam onto your tinder – Wait till the tinder starts to smoke and glow
  4. Blow some extra air into it for the tinder to catch fire – Try not to blow to hard since you will only kill the fire.
  5. Build your fire as described from step three onwards

Time till fire can be as quick as 5 minutes.

How to use a plastic bottle to make fire?

To make a fire using a plastic bottle sounds cool but is trickier as you think. It only works if the bottle has a concave top part, and you can keep the bottle very still. Otherwise, you will have a hard time ‘focussing’ the beam onto your tinder.

So what do you need to make fire with a plastic bottle?

  • You need a bottle, clean and transparent would be the best, and with half a sphere as the top part.
  • Transparent / clear and clean water.

Easy peasy, right? Now we start catching the sunlight and see if we can concentrate it into a hot beam.

Steps to start a fire with a water bottle

  1. Have your tinder at hand.
  2. Make sure to have your kindling ready.
  3. Tilt your bottle in such a way that the water is in the concave part (mostly the top part).
  4. Direct the concentrated beam you see exiting the back onto the tinder.
  5. Hold your bottle steady and focussed – This might be more difficult than it sounds, but keep the beam pointed at one spot on your bark or fluff and wait till it smokes or start to glow.
  6. Gently blow some extra oxygen into the tinder.
  7. When it ignites, start building your fire as described in step three.

Making fire using ice

When I heard about this one, I was like…What the heck?! Is this possible? Well, some people say it is, I have never tried it myself. However, the physics is the same as with the bottle or the magnifying glass. 

You catch sunlight and use a convex-shaped object to bundle or bend the outgoing light beams. At a specific point, these rays of sunlight meet. That point will be the hottest.

Items you need for making fire using ice

  • Chunk of Ice
  • Sunlight
  • Tinder

What Steps to take making fire with ice

  1. Get a clear chunk of ice.
  2. Melt this into a ball – Make sure that at least the top and bottom parts concave.
  3. Keep your tinder and kindling ready.
  4. Focus the outgoing beam onto the kindling and wait for it to smoke and burn.
  5. Build your fire further, starting with the kindling

The tricky part here is not to let the ice melt due to the heat of your hands. Perhaps you can clamp the ice between two sticks or use gloves which do not transfer your heat. 

Now another way to start a fire without matches or a lighter. This one you might have seen in some movies. 

Time till fire depends on the clearness of the ice. I have heard of people do it within 10 min.

Starting a fire using stones or rocks

When using rocks as a fire starter, you cannot take any stone. The best is to take a rock like quartz, agate, Chalcedony, Chert, or Eolith. Of course, there are many more. These rocks are named flint, which word is now generally used for fire starter equipment. 

They are perfect to start a fire without matches or lighter fluids.

Using two stones to make a fire

Using two stones to make a fire is possible. However, you need specific rocks. One of them is mentioned above: flint. The other is a Marcasite or other iron pyrites.

What do you need to make a fire using two stones?

  • Flint: Agate, Chalcedony, Chert, Eolith, jasper, nodule, obsidian, onyx, opal, or whinstone will do.
  • An iron-containing rock like pyrite.

How to start a fire using two types of stone

So we’ve got our flint and pyrite. Now it’s time to make some sparks. 

  1. Form the tinder so it can easily catch a spark – Usually, the shape of a birdnest works fine.
  2. Hold both rocks comfortably in your hands.
  3. Hold your fire-starting rock or flint near the tinder – So your sparks hit the tinder quickly.
  4. Strike with the other rock to produce sparks – Hit the stone from an +/- 30degrees angle. 
  5. Place the tinder with the kindling as soon as it smokes and apply extra air.
  6. Follow steps three and onwards to build your fire.

Time till fire approx 5-10 min.

Using flint and iron to start a fire

Using flint and iron is an old but still, a common way to produce sparks and thus fire. Things your need are:

  • Piece of flint – Agate, chalcedony, chert, jasper, or one of the others
  • Piece of char cloth – a burnt piece of fabric with ignites easily and is often used to ignite the tinder quicker.
  • Piece of metal – Like a knife, small metal stick, you name it.

When you have the items above, it is time to go to the next step. 

How to make a fire using flint and iron

  1. Take a char cloth and your tinder.
  2. Hold the flint next or just on top of it.
  3. Use your knife or a steal flintlock to strike so it produces sparks.
  4. When the char cloth smolders, make sure to surround it with tinder.
  5. Blow as long as a flame arises.
  6. When that happens continue building your fire.

Using a firesteel / ferro rod / spark stick to make a fire

You can use a firesteel (sometimes referred to as spark stick or firesteel) to make a fire. A firesteel often contains a stick made of ferrocerium or magnesium and a steel ’striker’

Rubbed against one another at a certain angle give you sparks. 

What do you need to make a fire with a ferro rod / firesteel or spark stick?

Most fire-sticks have everything combined. It looks more or less like a key chain with the rod made of magnesium or ferrocerium and the metal striker. As for the striker, any metal tool will do. 

  • So you need your spark stick.
  • Tinder.
  • If your striker is lost or broken, use a knife, screwdriver, or anything different made of metal to lay your hands on.

How to start a fire using a firesteel

  1. Place the tinder on the ground or a piece of bark. 
  2. Hold your stick close to the tinder.
  3. Find the right angle for your striker to scrape the stick, so it produces flames.
  4. Try scraping rapidly but controlled so the tinder can ignite.
  5. Apply extra oxygen when the tinder is smoldering and glowing 
  6. When lit, build your fire starting with kindling
  7. Continue building your fire from step three onwards.

Time till fire depends on your practice and state of firesteel but on average; you can have a fire within 5 – 10 minutes.

Using batteries to start a fire

Are you carrying a battery on you and some steel wool? Then you can start a fire using batteries. Never thought of steel wool to be handy? 

But for now. 

Things you need to start a fire using batteries

  • A battery, a 9-volt battery will do the job the quickest.
  • Steel Wool.
  • Your tinder, kindling, and other fire equipment, at hand.

How does it work, making a fire with batteries?

  1. Grab a piece of steel wool and a battery
  2. Rub the prongs of the battery over the steel wool as fast as possible. 
  3. The current in the battery will react with the steel wires.
  4. Blow gently onto the steel dreads as soon as they start to glow
  5. Put your tinder on top of the ignited steel wool and start building your fire.

Awesome right? By the way, it turns out that steel wool has some more tricks up its sleeve. So it is always wise to have some in your shed or backpack.

Making a fire yourself now

I hoped this extensive guide on how to build fire with or without matches or a lighter helped you on your way. If there is anything you would like to add, please write it in the comments.

Did you like what you read? Please be so kind to share this on your socials. It would really help us building this blog.

-- Get The Things You Need To Start --
Blogging about everything I learn regarding (urban)homesteading, off-grid, and outdoor living and what it takes to build my own CO2-neutral home, one-day ;-).

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