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.
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!