March 8

11 Ways on How To Start a Fire Without a Lighter

By Rob

March 8, 2022

When it comes to how to starting a fire without a lighter, we tend to think that it's impossible and why even try. 

I know what comes to mind for most of you. You go back to when you were a kid rubbing two sticks together, hoping and praying you to see smoke.

Then for most of us, disappointment sets in fast as our hands start to get sore, and we soon give up. 

Let me break this up into fire source plans. 

We'll make it easy to follow and call them to fire source plans A and B so it will be easier to identify which one to use or try. 

For example, (plan A) source, such as matches, a lighter, or a fire piston, starting a fire is quite simple. 

Plan B will cover all the different fire methods used in a survival situation. 

Like the warmth, capability to cook, and mental elevation of fire might all end up saving your life.

Plan B sources will naturally be more tricky to use but more practical in an actual survival situation.

*WARNING*You should only do this if you are willing to take full responsibility for your actions. Recommended for adults only, in a secure spot away from possible fuel resources and with a substantial water source nearby.*

Be Aware of Your Fire Type Options

Primary = Plan A Fire resources: 

Plan A fire resources are straightforward.

They produce an easy flame for burning whatever you choose like wood, coal, paper, etc.

how to start a fire with a lighter paper on fire

These primary sources are mass-produced and commercially made.

Therefore, I like to refer to them as (home fire resources). 

You can buy them in most outdoor/camping stores, or even your local hardware store may carry them. 

Some common examples are:

  • Matches
  • Lighters
  • Fire Pistons

When using these fire sources, you will only need to supply the contents that can catch fire easily.

It might take you some time to figure out what burnable materials work well for starting a fire in the woods, but most of this is common sense. 

Remember, one of the critical points of building a good fire is proper airflow to keep it burning.

But with the plan, A fire sources most of the work for starting the fire is done for you.

I look at this as a skill like anything else.

You might have to practice and learn what works best for you in your situation.

Secondary = Plan B Fire Sources: 

Plan B sources work on the same principle as plan A, but I refer to them as a last resort. 

These fire sources use what I like to call the alternative approach.

This means you have to have some ingenuity, patience, and creativity.

These are often difficult to use and can be more theoretical than practical most of the time.

However, with a bit of practice, they can be a breeze, and well effort you put in to learn how to use them. 

The objective is to produce enough heat or sparks to ignite a tiny smoking ember or coal. 

Once you have your ember, you can drop it into your small dry tinder bundle to light a fire. 

There are four primary methods for starting a fire without a lighter or matches:

  1. Sparks: Creating sparks using materials such as stones, flint, a battery, and wool is a standard method of starting a fire.
  2. Friction: Friction is by far the most popular method of starting a fire and involves rubbing wood together with a bow, plow, or hand drill.
  3. Chemicals: There are certain types of chemicals you can carry with you that will combust when mixed. This is one of my least favorite methods because of the dangers of transporting ignitable materials on the trail. If you do choose this method, please be careful and make sure you follow all of the directions.
  4. Sun: I am sure you remember burning ants as a kid with a magnifying glass. I know I do, yes boys will be boys. This technique is not used that often, but it can work if you have the right weather conditions and materials. We will dive deeper into this later on in the post.

Prep for simple ignition 

Preparation is the key it everything.

how to start a fire with matches

From my experience, a good rule of thumb is you will spend 85% of your time prepping the fire to start. 

And only 15% of the time will be trying to get the fire to light.

I know that sounds a bit off, but those are correct percentages.

1st Phase what kind of tinder/fuel to use

This is by far the most critical step in the fuel preparation process.

It's all about collecting "tinder," which are very dry pieces of fuel/wood/dry grass that can cause an early ignite. 

A tinder bundle will lite much easier than a log or small sick. 

Once your tinder bundle is lite, you will transfer it to your primary fuel sources like small logs or sticks. 

Before trying this, make sure you have two to three medium-size handfuls of dried tinder. 

If one fails to lite, it's good to have a backup, and one might ignite faster than the other.

Without gathering and preparing suitable materials, you'll never have a successful backwoods fire.

Here are some options to consider for tinder

  • Dried fluffy grasses: Gathering natural items like milkweed seed fluff, dried grass, cattails, fibrous/sappy bark, or abandoned bird nests work great. Whatever you decide to use should be dry, dead, and fluffy if possible. Gather the tinder and form it into a ball the size of a tennis ball or bird's nest. This way, it will have no issues holding a smoking hot ember.
  • Manufactured fibers: Search through your pockets and backpack and look for some hidden dryer lint. If you remember, it's always a good idea to stash some in your pack before you leave. Ropes, nylon cord, or fishing line will also create an excellent ember bed. You can even use tampons or maxi pads if you have to. They work great.
  • Tiny small sticks: You can always collect small sticks and any small stuff you find on the ground and use them for tinder. Items like dried sphagnum moss will do the trick.
  • Small pieces of bark: You can use any dry tree bark you find to lite a fire. Look for branches that are about the length of your hand or smaller.

Remember, the more dry or dead, the better. 

I know this is hard to believe, but pine straw/needles make lousy tinder, contrary to popular belief.

It is frequently filled with sap, which prevents it from quickly igniting.

However, tiny wood shavings make excellent tinder if you have a knife.

2nd Phase gathering the tinder

After getting all of your tinder bundles together, you need to gather two to three handfuls of kindling.

Kindling is just smaller pieces of wood.

If possible, you want pencil-sized small twigs and sticks, but make sure they are nice and dry. 

My go-to kindling is pieces of dry grass, small sticks, or cattails.

The idea here is you want something that will catch fire easily from your smoldering ember from your tinder bundle.

It's crucial to pick the right wood-anything too wet will make it very difficult to ignite. 

If you can, try to find dead standing softwood for your kindling and primary fire.

Peel away layers to get the innermost, which is usually the driest.

3 rd. Phase gathering your wood 

Remember that the tinder will ignite first, followed by the kindling, and finally by these bigger pieces of wood like your medium-size sticks.

Make sure they are finger to wrist-thick and not too long.

People sometimes overlook this stage and rush to grab bigger sticks as their baby flame dies out.

Just make sure you take the time to stockpile plenty of dry sticks and wood all different sizes.

Once you have all three tiers of fuel, it's time to start taking a closer look at some other methods that can help ignite the fire.

Method 1: Fire Plow 

how to start a fire without matches

You will need: 

  • Fireboard: This is a flat piece of wood softwood like juniper, hibiscus, or cedar with a 6 to 9-inch groove carved into the center.
  • Plow: Flat piece of wood with a sharp edge on the opposite side from the groove. This will fit into the groove of your fireboard, making the width 1.5 to 3 inches is best.

How to make the fire: 

  1. Make a plow with an angled tip that fits into a groove on the exterior of the fireboard wood that is 6 to 8 inches wide. 
  2. Holding the plow at a 45-degree angle to the base piece of wood, swiftly move it up and down the groove until a burning coal forms.

Method 2: Fire Bow 

how to start a fire without a lighter

You will need: 

  • Piece of bow wood: A strong piece of wood with a bit of curvature that runs from your arm to your fingertip. Pine works well for this.
  • Bowstring: Any type of rope will work for this but not too big in diameter. Smaller rope and paracord work best.
  • Socket or top piece: This can be a rock, shell, or a small piece of hardwood that fits snug in your hand. The socket piece has a notch in it that holds the spindle. Household items work well to things like a rollerblade wheel or even an old skateboard wheel. If you are using wood, don't forget to place some leaves in the groove to keep the socket from creating coals/embers while you're bowing.
  • Fireboard: This can be any type of wood but try to find a dry piece if you can. The size should be half-inch thick and as flat as possible.
  • Spindle: A piece of dried, dead softwood approximately 8 inches long and an inch in diameter. On both ends, the spindle should be carved into blunt points.

How to make the fire: 

  1. Start with creating the burn-in hole with a knife in the flat board. Make sure the spindle fits the hole. 
  2. Then you want to carve a V -shape notch into your fireboard so it can collect the hot wood dust or coal when drilling. 
  3. Next, insert the fire board into the socket and hold it tightly. 
  4. Using a small knife, carve grooves all down the side of the fireboard that will act as channels for the tinder. 
  5. Place three to four leaves on the fire board to help it hold its flame. 
  6. The last step is to "bow" the fire with the spindle by quickly spinning the spindle in your hand with friction. 

Continue moving the bow back and forth for another minute or two until you get a good hot ember. 

Make sure you use a leaf or piece of bark to catch your first ember and transfer it to your tinder bundle.

Method 3: Using Rocks 

start a fire without a lighter and mathces

You will need: 

  • Rocks: Quartz or other types of hard rocks that are similar; a carbon steel knife or striker will work if available.

How to make the fire:

  1. Find a little piece of quartz or break up a bigger piece so that you get a small piece of quartz with sharp edges that fit in your hand.
  2. Hit the quartz's sharp edges at a 30-degree angle with a carbon steel knife to generate sparks.
  3. Hold a little piece of tinder on top of the rock as you strike it so it will catch a spark and ignite on fire. If quartz is unavailable, try a similar hard-to-break, smooth rock with sharp edges and facets.
  4. Keep in mind you might have to try a few types of stones until you find one that works well for creating sparks.

Method 4: Hand Drill 

how to start a fire with a hand drill

You will need:

  • A fireboard: A half-inch thick flat piece of dried, dead softwood
  • Spindle: Made of softwood or pithy wood, it is 18 to 24 inches long and roughly your pinky's thickness. The ends of the spindle should be sharpened just slightly.

How to make the fire: 
This is the same deal as the fire bow above. 

The only difference is you are using your hands to spin the bow instead of the paracord or rope. 

  1. Make a burn-in hole with a knife, making a slight depression to fit the spindle. 
  2. Carve a V-shaped slot in the fireboard where you drill to catch the coal and hot dust that forms. 
  3. Collect the embers by placing the fireboard on top of a leaf or piece of bark. 
  4. Then put the spindle into the burn-in hole and spin. Spin it fast but with control. 

Make sure you have some downward pressure as you are spinning with your hand. 

This will help to generate the friction you'll need.

Method 5: Glass/Metal 

starting a fire with a magnifying glass

You will need:

  • A piece of glass or metal: A pair of glasses or magnifying glass is best, but a soda can, or mirror will work as well. And don't forget about binocular glass if you have a pair.
  • Sunlight

How to make the fire: 
Any of these methods relies on focusing sunlight into a beam hot enough to spark a fire. 

  1. Concentrating sunlight into a white-hot beam is possible using a piece of glass, a soda can bottom that has been polished with toothpaste or clay, or a mirror. 
  2. Direct the glass, soda can, or mirror toward the sun's glare. 
  3. Place your tinder bundle in the front or the white-hot beam. 
  4. Then wait for the smoke to start

Just remember, have the brightest part of the white beam of light hitting your tinder bundle.

Method 6: Plastic 

how to start a fire with plastic water bottle

You will need: 

  • Plastic: Water bottle, plastic bag, or balloon with liquid
  • Sunlight

How to make the fire: 

  1. Add water (or urine) to the Ziploc bag half-full and twist until it creates a liquid sphere, but do not burst the balloon. 
  2. Place the bag in the sun to focus the light into a beam, much like a magnifying glass. 
  3. Then place your tinder bundle in front of the beam of light
  4. Wait and hold steady until the bundle starts to smoke or ignite. 

If you don't have a plastic bag, you can use the top concave part of a clear water bottle.

This will work just a well, if not better.

Method 7: Battery and Steel Wool

how to start a fire with battery steel wool

You will need:

  • Steel Wool
  • Two AA batteries or a 9-volt battery

How to make the fire: 

  1. Take a small amount of your steel wool and place it into the middle of your tinder bundle. 
  2. Then take your 9-volt battery and connect the two terminals or touch the steel wool. 
  3. You should then see the steel wool glow and ignite on fire. This happens very quickly, so be ready. You may also use two AA or AAA batteries, but you'll need to tape them together, so they line up in order. 
  4. To complete the circuit, take a piece of steel wool and wrap it around the positive end of the first battery and the negative end of the second battery. 

Once both ends are connected, the steel wool should ignite.

Method 8: Flint and Steel 

how to start a fire with flint and steel

You will need:

  • Steel striker
  • Flint rock or flint bar

How to make the fire: 

  1. Place a tiny piece of tinder or char cloth on top of the flint and hold the two in one hand. 
  2. Strike down with the steel striker at a 30-degree angle to generate sparks. 

The key here is to get the spark to land on the char cloth or tinder.

When that happens, it should begin to smoke or smolder.

Then very carefully move your ember or coal over to your tinder bundle and start to gently blow some air on it until it catches on fire. 

This is not as easy as it looks on TV, but it can just make sure you have a nice dry tinder bundle ready, and you should be fine.

Method 9: Firesteel 

how to start a fire with fire steel

You will need:

  • Firesteel: Magnesium-pre coated firesteel with a metal scraper

How to make the fire: 

  1. Take your firesteel and put it over the top or directly into your tinder bundle. 
  2. Then scrape down with the metal scraper at a 30-45 degree angle. 
  3. This action will produce a lot of sparks. Just make sure they fall into your tinder bundle. 

You may have to do this method several times but don't give up and keep trying until you get a smolder or fire. 

Please note also you may have to blow a little bit of air on your tinder bundle after it starts to smoke and smolder.

Method 10: Chemicals Part A 

how to start a fire with chemicals

*Warning: this is a dangerous technique that should only be used in a life-or-death emergency.*

You will need: 

  • Glycerin
  • Potassium Permanganate

How to make the fire: 
As I mentioned above, this is not my favorite method, but I will cover it for you.

Most of you will not have the chemicals available, but you can get them if needed. 

  1. Pour some Potassium Permanganate onto a rock and make a tiny well in the center of the rock like a little pool. Here is where it gets dangerous so please be careful. 
  2. Add some glycerin to the potassium permanganate. 
  3. Then wait for a couple of minutes. 
  4. After that, the mixture should burst into flames

Make sure you store the Potassium Permanganate nowhere near the glycerin while hiking or walking. 

Sugar may also be substituted for glycerin.

Simply combine equal parts potassium permanganate and sugar and crush them together with the blunt end of a stick to ignite a fire.

Method 11: Chemicals Part B

how to start a fire with chemicals (1)

*Warning: this is a dangerous technique that should only be used in a life-or-death emergency.*

You will need: 

  • Salt
  • Zinc powder
  • Ammonium nitrate

How to make the fire

  1. Combine four grams of ammonium nitrate and one gram of sodium chloride (table salt) and thoroughly crush with a rock. 
  2. After that mix ten grams of zinc powder. 
  3. Then here is where the fun starts, add a few drops of water. 

The water will start a chemical reaction that'll produce a flame.

So when transporting these chemicals in your pack, use extreme caution.

You don't want them to combine and catch fire while hiking accidentally.

To sum it up

I hope you've enjoyed learning about how to make a fire using different methods.

So now you know how to make a fire using 11 different ways.

I hope this post was helpful for you, and please come back for more survival tips, tricks, and hacks.

As I mentioned several times above in the post, please be careful when trying any of these methods.

The main takeaway here is that you can start a fire without a lighter or matches in a survival situation.

It just takes some patients and a little practice.

Please leave a comment and don't forget to share with your family and friends.

Here are a few prepper hacks that will help you get started with your survival journey.

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