Gone Outdoors

How to Start a Fire Without Matches

by Ben Team

Knowing how to start a fire without matches or a lighter can be a lifesaving skill in a survival situation. Some of the easiest and most common techniques rely on friction to generate a burning ember, but you can also try to create and catch a spark, or use a lens to focus sunlight. A few other methods work, but they rely on access to less common supplies.

It Starts with Tinder

Most primitive or creative fire-building strategies produce a glowing ember, not a flame. Accordingly, you'll need tinder, which generates the actual flames. After producing an ember and placing it in a loose, orange-sized bundle of tinder, you gently blow on it until the whole bundle ignites. Good tinder materials include birch bark, shredded cedar fibers and cattails. In a pinch, you can use cotton lint from your clothing.

Friction Fires

To make a hand drill, use a long, straight stick for the spindle and a flat, wide piece of wood for the fire board. Make a V-shaped notch on one edge of the board, and bore a round depression near the tip of the V with a pocketknife. Place the tip of the spindle in the depression, and place your flattened hands on each side of the spindle. While applying downward pressure, move your hands back and forth to rotate the spindle. If you use sufficient speed, the friction will produce an ember. Gently dump the ember onto a piece of bark; place the ember in your tinder and gently blow it into a flame. The best friction-fire woods include cedar, aspen, basswood, cottonwood and dried yucca branches.

Catching a Spark

Make a spark by striking a piece of steel against a piece of flint or quartzite -- but you must have something that will catch the spark for it to be effective. Once you've caught a spark, you can transfer it to your tinder and blow it into a flame. Tinder fungus is well suited for catching a spark, and you can find it on some birch trees; if none is available, use a char cloth. Unfortunately, char cloth must be prepared beforehand, because you need fire to make it. Make char cloth by lighting a piece of all-cotton fabric on fire and snuffing it out before it turns to ash.

Light Through a Lens

You can use the lenses from glasses, hunting scopes, binoculars or telescopes to start a fire on a sunny day. Sitting with your back to the sun, hold the lens out and allow the sun’s rays to travel through the concave side of the lens. This focuses the rays emerging from the lens onto a single spot on your tinder bundle. In addition to glass lenses, smooth pieces of clear ice can be used to concentrate sunlight. Another alternative is to polish the bottom of an aluminum can with sand or toothpaste and use it to reflect light onto your tinder.

Additional Methods

Fire pistons work by allowing you to compress a small quantity of air extremely quickly. The compression raises the temperature inside the fire piston, resulting in a spark. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to make your own fire piston in the forest, so you must bring one with you. Additionally, you can start a fire by touching the terminals of a 9-volt battery to a piece of steel wool. The current flowing through the steel creates glowing filaments, which you place in your tinder and blow into a flame.

Photo Credits

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