How to Build a Campfire

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Introduction: How to Build a Campfire

About: Hi! I'm Star Simpson! I'm a real me! See more at [http://stars.mit.edu stars.mit.edu]. photo by [http://bea.st/ Jeff Lieberman] (http://bea.st) stasterisk - my name is Star, and when I was 13 I ...

So, campfires are the best. They're warm, they give off light, they keep bugs away and they're great for cooking. This instructable is all about how to start a campfire with photos from our roadtrip to Mexico.
Originally, stasterisk was going to post photos she took and I was going to make up witty commentary. Then I realized that this is similar to what Emily and Joey of A Softer World do, and I love that comic so much, I couldn't pass up a chance to do a take-off.
read on!

A note on stones:
Star and Star's mom were walking along a rocky bit of coastline in Hawaii, when Star's mom, in her infinite wisdom, exclaimed, "Hey, these rocks would be great fire rocks! And look at all this dry driftwood - we could survive, out here!"
Star, in her infinite curiosity, said, "What makes them good fire rocks?"
And Star's mom said, "Look! These are lava rocks, so they're really porous. A strong rock will split, in a fire, but these porous ones are strong, and will hold heat, and stay together! Good fire rocks!"

Step 1: Kindling

You'll want to start your fire with kindling, or tiny, really dry sticks. You can find these pretty much anywhere--you want sticks less than 1/4" in diameter (ish) that are bone dry--they should snap sharply when you break them. We were camped on a beach in Mexico, so I walked around for a while until I found some brush. It worked pretty well.

Break up your kindling into ~6" pieces and make a little pyramid in the fire pit. It's important that there's good airflow at the bottom of the pyramid, or else you'll choke the baby fire. And no sentence with both 'choke' and 'baby' in it can be good, right?

Step 2: Larger Bits

Also gather some larger wood before you start up the fire. I like to have some ~.5"-1" diameter sticks ready to throw on once the kindling catches (and I also put one or two of them on top of the pyramid before I light it)
And then, of course, get some big logs. If you're going to be cooking, keep an eye out for dense wood, which makes great coals. While I was hiking in the California mountains, a wonderful botanist turned me on to using thick chunks of pine bark(that have already fallen off the tree) to make briquettes.
One note of caution: Under _NO circumstances use pressure-treated wood in a fire. Apart from being illegal everywhere in the US, it's a great way to release arsenic into the air (the 'treated' part of pressure-treated is Chromium Copper Arsenate, which is a cocktail of awful chemicals you don't want anywhere near you, and can make you sick almost instantly) The easy way to avoid treated wood is to use things that fell off of trees, and don't burn anything that looks like it's been in a mill.

Step 3: Starting the Fire

People talk about 1-match fires, or fires that are so well built that you just need one match to start them. This is a good thing to aim for, and a reasonably hard thing to achieve. Give it a shot!
To facilitate my 1-match luck, I loosely crumple a few bits of paper and jam them inside the wooden teepee. I also tightly twist another sheet of paper and light that with my match, so it lasts longer and I can poke it around the fire to make sure everything catches.

Step 4: Get Stoked!

Once your fire catches, start gingerly adding bigger and bigger sticks to the blaze. Don't just dump them on top, or you'll smother the fire. Try to keep some semblance to a pyramid, which both exposes more surface area of the new sticks to the wood and keeps the fire supplied with air.
If you have some wood that's not entirely dry, put it next to the fire for a few minutes before throwing it on, and the heat will dry it out a bit.

Woo hoo! Enjoy your fire!

oh, right. I little bit about cooking:
You don't want to cook when there are lots of flames. This will get lots of ash into your food and also get all kinds of soot on your pot. Let the fire burn down to coals, and then just sit your pot right on the coals. It'll get all kinds of hot.
Also, if you want to cook hobo-style, you can use tin cans instead of a pot. I also really like wrapping potatoes in tinfoil along with a little olive oil and sliced onions and chucking them in to the coals. mmmm, boy!

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    31 Discussions

    It's actually quite easy to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. (Just make sure one of the sticks is a match!)

    1 reply

    yes - and the other 'stick' is a striker. (here ine Australia we have safety matches and none else.

    if your on the beach a good idea is to dig a pit, start a fire and when you get hot embers you put your favorite food in tin foil toss it on the coals anb bury it and it will cook nicely (make sure the tin foil is tight)

    7 replies

    my brothers a cubscout, so he goes camping alot. My friends brother is in it too, so he goes too. every time, we make foil packs (meat, veggies, fruit, and a touch of beer (alcohol burns off and left with good taste)) These are THE BEST to eat. my friend and I eat these all the time. About half of my body weight is from these. I will make an instructable soon.

    Wow that is a good idea! You can pre-pack all of your meal/dish's and and eat them like that. I camp allot and I usually take a pot and a pan to cook with and eat out of. It gets bulky even with the survival kinds

    yah these are extremly simple, it has the perfect portions, and it tastes great. If you know the area, you could even make them out of local plants and small animals that you have caught (i call it high class survival lol) but idk where you would get the ranch dressing.

    Porous rocks, such as chunks of volcanic rock, make horrible fire ring stones, especially in a humid climate. Moisture which has seeped through a small pore in a stone (particularly, into a cavern) will expand more rapidly than it can escape, resulting in the rock fracturing or (in some cases, depending on how rapidly it is heated, amount of moisture, and size of the pore) explode. Not a good idea. Good fire stones are of a consistent composure (ie, all of the same mineral composition). It would be a better idea to use something like granite, chert or even quartz, if they're available - ie, stones which do not remain "moist" for long, and are usually of fairly consistent composition.

    Oh yes, I did not mention it - but I mean only one match. No paper, no lighter fluid - no anything - just one match.

    Actually a 1-match fire is not hard to attain! It is ridiculously simple when you know what to do and think as to how the flame/heat process works. The concept is to start with a bundle of very small sticks (I tell people to look for "toothpick" sized sticks. After you get a good sized handful of these, place them in a small pile on the ground and then think of "matchstick-sized" sticks and collect a good couple handfuls of them (the strike-anywhere-Ohio-Blue-Tip-sized matches). Put these matchstick-sized pieces up against the sides of the toothpick bundle in a sloping format - ie. the toothpicks are horizontal, & the matchstick-sizes are piled vertically around them -- sort of like a teepee shape. Make sure to leave an "access hole" where you will be able to reach the toothpick sized sticks with your actual "one match." After this, think pencil-sized and get enough to surround the matchstick-sized ones . Again, though, do not stack the pencils over the access hole to the toothpicks. Then think double-pencil-diameter-sized and also get a bunch to surround the pencil sizes with. Continue with larger-sized diameter bunches - collecting one size diameter at a time. Put them on, in turn, around your teepee structure. Remember to leave the hole so you can reach into the toothpick sized ones with your match. Light and insert one match into the access hole you left - making sure the match makes contact with the toothpick-sized sticks. Prefereably you left them somewhat loose packed so the head of the match can actually be inserted, somewhat, into the bundle. Since they are smaller and catch so easily, they light. The heat from them naturally rises and gets hot enough, b/c of the amount of these smallest sticks, to ignite the match-stick sized sticks. in turn these ignite the pencil-sized etc. etc. This whole process can easily be done in 5-10 minutes depending on how big you want your fire to be. Especially where Hemlock trees are present b/c the small white, dead branches underneath (still connected) are excellent for fast collection of all sizes. I have taught a lot of people how to do this and used it in survival situations. Now, without matches is a whole different story! But once you get the technique down of that process also, then you can also do it!

    digging a hole would be a smashing idea. and did you know if you play your cards right. before you go off to sleep turn sone half burnt wood under the ash. next morning you will have a pile of ash or a ash hole. use a stick and dig. depending on your fuel, and weather. you will have burning embers (this is why you dont dig with ur hands) easy to start the morning fire from!

    1 reply

    you dont want them to snap too easily though, thats a sign their rotten.

    in cases of rain in the north east we break off the dead branches of a pine tree they are the easyest and dryest starter wood around here

    I second the ptoato idea. I've been known to build the potatoes right into the fire when I'm setting it. Right on the coals really is an efficient way to cook 'em.