17 Different Ways of Making Fire
A selection of natural and artificial ignition sources, tinders and accelerants to help with your next fire
Anybody who has attended one of our bushcraft, survival or campcraft courses will know that when we teach the skills of firecraft and firelighting we break it down into two distinct halves – ignition and architecture.
There are many ways of making that first flame – the ‘ignition’ phase – and the video clips below show 17 of those methods.
Each video segment is set to begin at the relevant segment in the video, but the entire video can be found here on our YouTube channel.
Butane lighters (the type with liquid fuel and a spark-wheel) are one of my favourite ways of achieving the ‘first stage’ of a fire. They are reliable, have few moving parts and even if you break the casing and lose all of the fuel – you can still use the miniature ferro rod and the spark-wheel mechanism to ignite a suitable tinder that way.
These gas-fuelled lighters are effectively mini blowtorches. They are very powerful, and not susceptible to wind. They are however a little more delicate or finicky than their simpler butane cousins – and are very heavy on fuel. For short trips they work well but don’t rely solely on them.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get hold of the traditional style of matches (the ones that rely on friction), and instead safety matches (that rely on a chemical reaction with the striker strip) are becoming the default option when you look for them in shops. This is fine, but you need to make sure you protect the striker strip when storing them in your kit.
Matches are a good low-tech backup to keep in your firecraft kit, but it’s worth making sure you have developed a good match-striking technique so you don’t waste them when out in the field.
A Lifeboat Match (AKA Flare Matches or Storm Matches) differ from ‘normal’ matches in that two thirds of the length of the match is made up of the ‘head’, i.e. the part that initially combust when struck. These matches are almost always ‘safety’ types, and need to be used with the supplied striker strip to work. They are issued in some military ration packs and survival kits and can also be purchased in waterproof boxes.
Cotton Wool Pads and Petroleum Jelly
This is two methods, because the addition of petroleum jelly does significantly affect how useful this is as a technique.
Cotton wool (either in balls, or pads) can be easily lit with matches, lighters or ferro rods. As long as they are kept dry and grease-free they will light easily – but also burn away very quickly without producing much usable heat.
The addition of petroleum jelly (a very small amount, less than a teaspoonful) will significantly change the amount of potential energy in the tinder and allow it to be released steadily – producing a steady, hot flame that will burn for several minutes.
Tampons are essentially compressed cotton wool surrounded by vaguely flammable material. They come in waterproof pouches and can be easily opened, spread out and ignited. They don’t burn as well as other improvised tinders, but do work. This is probably something to keep in your emergency kit, but is a useful technique.
Bicycle Inner Tube
Butyl rubber bicycle inner tubes (the cheaper, more common type) are handy for several things. They can be made into improvised lashings and add extra grip and storage options as Ranger Bands – but also make very good components for lighting fires in wet, humid conditions. I have used thin strips of inner tube to light fires in the pouring rain, or after travelling through wet and humid places where everything in my kit was possibly going to be saturated – they are fully waterproof and don’t absorb moisture.
They work best when cut into tapering strips and being lit from the thin end.
Go Prepared Survival Tinder Strips
This is a commercial product marketed as a ‘survival’ tinder, but could be used as a regular firecraft resource if it suits your needs (and your budget!). It is included in some NATO military survival kits, and has the benefits of being easily stored and tucked away with no weight or packed-size penalty. It does however need a flame to light directly, to use a ferro rod you will need to combine it with cotton wool (supplied in the purchased/issued kits).
Another commercial product, but a little cheaper. Rather than being a woven fabric this is a paper-based product and a little bulkier. It will light with a flame or a ferro rod, but for the latter I find it helps to warm it in my hands for a minute or so, then to create some fibres/particles by scraping with the striker of my ferro rod (as you would with birch bark).
This is one of my favourite ways of quickly and reliably starting a fire – even if it’s just embedded in a larger bundle of natural tinder.
BCB FireDragon Fuel
We have used BCB FireDragon fuel blocks for several years now and they are very useful – it’s easy to see why they have replaced the famous ‘hexy blocks’ as the solid fuel source issued to UK military personnel.
These solid blocks of ethanol are easily divided into smaller segments and will light with a flame or a ferro rod. They can also be blown out easily, but do melt and turn to liquid whilst burning so be careful with your placement.
Sisal string, made from the fibres of Agave, is pretty terrible for any serious lashing or other cordage uses – but if you have some to hand it can be unwoven and separated into fibres that will ignite from a flame or a ferro rod.
Daldinia concentrica (Fungus)
Daldinia concentrica, AKA King Alfred’s Cakes, Cramp Balls etc, is inedible but quite useful as a way of creating then preserving an ember. It is flammable, but won’t burst into flame – even with strong encouragement. It will however glow brightly like a piece of charcoal, and can be embedded into a ‘nest’ of natural tinder which will ignite from the heat created by the glowing fungus.
Fatwood – wood from resinous pine trees that has been infused with that flammable resin – can have shavings taken from the surface which will ignite either with a flame or several strikes from a ferro rod (if the shavings are thin enough).
There are several varieties of Birch with flammable outer barks (the type in the video is Betula papyrifera – Paper Birch), but a similar technique is used for all of them. Scrape away several small shavings of the outer side of the bark and then strike firmly with a ferro rod to produce a good shower of sparks. I will always try to have a small handful of thin strips of bark ready to add to the flames once they have begun.
The type used in this video is Common Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) and was collected shortly before filming the video so isn’t the best example – it is slightly easier to work with when completely dry. If torn into thin strips it will light easily with a flame, and can be coaxed into combustion with a ferro rod if dry and thin enough.
Potassium Permanganate and Glycerol
Potassium Permanganate is a chemical with strong oxidizing properties, and is often purchased as a fine powder. When combined with glycerol (or other substances) it will oxidize and combust, producing a short-lived but bright and smokey flame. This can be used to ignite other tinders, but is pretty useless on its own.
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