How to Light a Fire

Introduction: How to Light a Fire

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Lighting a fire is only half the battle. The way you build a fire - that is, how you arrange the wood - can affect how long the fire will last and the amount of heat it'll give off during that time. This article will provide an overview of "fire architecture" so you can build the perfect fire for your circumstances.

1. Get an ignition source. The most obvious choice is a lighter or matches

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Step 1: Tinder

Gather tinder, which catches the initial spark or flame and transfers it to the kindling. If the kindling is damp or wet, the tinder must burn long enough to dry out the kindling.[1] You can turn dry sticks and pieces of bark into powdery tinder with a knife. You can also use:

dead dry plants and grasses
char cloth
wood shavings
pine pitch
dry needles from coniferous trees
fire sticks
fire starters

Step 2: Kindline

Gather kindling. Kindling needs a large surface to volume ratio so it can produce a very hot flame that's transferred to the main fuel. Good sources: dry twigs and wood pieces, cardboard, large pieces of wood cut into small pieces, fuzz sticks (shavings cut into sticks, but still attached).

Step 3: Fuel

3. Gather fuel. Fuel burns slowly and steadily for an extended period of time. Sources include dry wood, twisted dry grasses, peat, animal dung, and coal. Green or wet fuel can be used, but only once the fire is established; it'll be dried by the heat and burn more slowly than dry fuel.[1]

  • Softwoods/conifers/evergreens have leaves in the shape of needles. They burn quickly and very hot, and they also contain flammable resins that help with building a fire. Because of this, they're often used for kindling as well, since they're easier to ignite than hardwoods.[1]
  • Hardwoods have broad flat leaves and they don't catch fire as easily as softwoods. Once they do, however, they burn for a longer period of time and give off more heat.[1]
  • Look for branches at the bottom of a tree, nothing off the ground (it's likely to be too damp).
  • It may be necessary to know How to Split Hardwood Firewood or How to Split Gnarly Firewood
  • You can also Make Logs from Newspapers.

Step 4: Clear a Circle Around the Fire

Clear a circular area about four feet in diameter. Build a ring of rocks or dig a fire pit that's several inches deep. Constructing a ring of stones will insulate the fire. Alternatively, building a fire wall with logs or rocks will reflect the fire's heat, especially if you'll only be on one side of the fire (because otherwise the heat sent off in the other direction is wasted). If the ground is wet or covered with snow, build a platform out of green logs and cover them with a layer of earth or stones. Always have a bucket of water next to you in case the fire starts burning outside the base. You can also Build a Fire in a Hubcap.

Step 5: Set Up

Place the tinder in a pile of kindling that's spaced loosely enough to let air circulate, but close enough so a flame can spread through. Light the tinder and add kindling. As the fire grows, add firewood. Now here's where your inner architect can shine through...choose one of the following arrangements:

Tepee - Arrange tinder and a few sticks of kindling in the shape of a cone and light the center. The outside logs will fall inward and feed the fire. Burns well with wet wood.

Step 6: Log Cabion Method

Log cabin method - Stack layers alternating in direction, forming walls around a tepee. Air between sticks allows circulation of air. The "chimney effect" will suck air in through the bottom and let it exit through top as strong flame

Step 7: Pyramid Method

Pyramid - This is like the log cabin method, except the layers get smaller as they reach the top, and there is no tepee inside. Place two small logs or branches on the ground so that they're parallel to each other, then put a solid layer of small logs or branches on top of them in a perpendicular direction. Add three or four more layers, each time alternating the direction, and each layer being smaller than the one before. Light the top of the pyramid on fire, and it will burn downwards on its own.

Step 8: Lean Too

Lean-to - Push a green stick into the ground at a 30 degree angle, pointing in the direction of the wind. Put tinder underneath and lean sticks of kindling against the main stick. Light the tinder and add more kindling as needed.

Step 9: Cross Ditch

Cross-ditch - Scratch a cross in the ground that's 30cm or 12" in diameter. Make it 7.5cm or 3" deep and put a big wad of tinder in the middle. Build a pyramid out of kindling over the middle. The ditch will allow air to flow through and feed the fire.

Step 10: Star Method

Star - With this arrangement, you can push the logs inward to increase heat, and pull them out to decrease heat. It's particularly helpful if you're trying to conserve fuel

Step 11: Tips


  • If it's a small branch that is still attached to the tree, but has no bark, it will be an excellent intermediate between your tinder and kindling.
  • All the fuel must be dry; a good test is to see how easily things snap instead of bend, especially for the twigs. If it bends, it's safe to say it's damp.

Step 12: Works Cited

For some reason my works cited page didnt load thanks for letting me know, all this came from:

and a little bit of my knowledge. 

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    6 Discussions


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for letting me know for some reason 3 pages of this didn't load 1 being my works cited. sorry that I didn't catch it sooner.
    Thanks again.


    8 years ago on Step 6

    where should the tinder and kindling be placed?

    The way i make my fire its a cross between a Pyramid method and the log cabion method with alot of dryed grass in between. It lights so fast lol.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    You need to do a better job of giving credit to your sources.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Really nice man very detailed. it helped me a lot, i was always able too just make a fire and throw some twigs on it but never make an actual proper fire, well now i know thanks!