Introduction: Starting a Fire Without Matches

People are challenged by the great outdoors, and while some are unfamiliar with these associated challenges, others seek the thrill of them. Survival is a practice that is never truly perfected, but with this easy tip it doesn’t have to be such a daunting task. After reading these instructions, users should be able to start a fire without the use of matches, fuel, or any other accelerants. The user will be creating friction by wrapping string, twine, or other friction-inducing materials around a wooden stick, and using the heat from this friction to start a fire.

Enthusiasts of the outdoors, as well as the lesser-educated, may find themselves in a situation in which matches or a lighter is unavailable to them, and will need to improvise. Safety will also be a concern, so the user will be instructed how to conduct this experiment safely. By the end of these instructions, the user should be able to:

  • Gather proper materials
  • Understand the necessary environment and conditions
  • Create friction on a wooden stick to safely generate heat
  • Start a fire
*Note that these instructions are only to be used to start a fire, further knowledge is required in order for the fire to grow and be sustained.

These instructions may be tested indoors, but the purpose for them is to be conducted outdoors. The user will be notified at what point to prevent further testing due to safety precautions. All participants are welcome to test these instructions as long as the user is physically able to, and is able to do so safely.

Step 1: Get Your Supplies

  • Two sticks to be used as handles
  • A string or small rope, at least one and a half feet in length
  • A hearth, which is a small board. A piece of 1x3 cedar roughly a foot long works very well, or just any piece of flat wood roughly that size.
  • A drill, a stick that should be 6-8 inches tall, at least half an inch thick, and made of the same wood as your hearth. A socket. This will be on top of your drill to hold it in place. A shot glass works perfectly. One can be carved out of a hard wood if a shot glass isn’t available
  • Cotton balls (or another material that catches fire easily) to hold the ember

Step 2: Prepare the Supplies

  • The drill should be carved so that it is slightly rounded on the bottom and small enough to fit in the socket at the top

  • Carve a small spot in the hearth about half an inch from the edge. This will be for the drill to fit into when you start

  • Carve a small notch up to the spot you just carved. This will catch the dust caused from spinning the drill. Because of this, the notch shouldn’t be too wide or narrow. It should be roughly an eighth of an inch wide

  • Tie one end of the string to each of the handles. The space between the handles should be about 14-18 inches when held from each other

Step 3: Starting the Ember

  • Set your hearth on the ground and position yourself kneeling in front of it with one foot holding it down

  • Your partner will position themselves on the other side of the hearth. They will be holding down the drill with the socket

  • Stand the drill up in the started spot carved in the hearth with the flatter, more rounded side down. The flatter side should be down because this side will generate more friction

  • Wrap the string once around the drill. More than one wrap will make it more difficult to spin the drill. Once the string is around the drill, place the socket on top of the drill to hold it in place

  • Holding one handle in each hand, make a sawing motion to spin the drill against the hearth. The socket should be held down firmly enough to keep the drill in place, but not so hard that it is hard to get the drill to spin. This balance may be difficult at first, but you’ll get the hang of it after a bit of practice

  • Continue spinning the drill until enough saw dust builds up in the notch, and enough friction builds up to light the saw dust into an ember. This will take roughly 3-5 minutes; it will probably be longer the first time, but it will be shortened with practice

Step 4: Start the Fire

  • Carefully move the ember onto the cotton balls (or whatever other fast burning material you are using) and blow lightly on the ember. Once the cotton balls have started catching fire, move them to the fire you have set up
Warning: Fire is dangerous. If you are testing this method indoors, stop when you start to see smoke. The only place you should actually build the fire is outside and in a safe area. The fire should be in a fire pit, or at least an area circled off to be sure that the fire doesn’t spread and no one accidentally stumbles onto it. Be sure that your fire is a good distance away from anything flammable that you do not want getting burned.