How to Build a Fire by WikiHow

By WikiHow

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 how to build a fire in any setting.


Part 1 of 2: Gathering What You Need

  1. Build a Fire Step 1 Version 2.jpg

    Get an ignition source. The most obvious choice is a lighter or matches, but if you’re in a pinch, try one of these ideas:

    1. Build a Fire Step 2.jpg
    2. 2
    3. Gather tinder. Tinder catches the initial spark from the ignition source and transfers it to the kindling. If the kindling is damp or wet, the tinder must burn long enough to dry out the kindling.
    4. You can turn dry sticks and pieces of bark into powdery tinder with a knife.
    • Other sources of tinder include:
      • dead dry plants and grasses
      • wax
      • lint
      • birch bark
      • charcloth
      • moss
      • wood shavings
      • paper
      • pine pitch
      • dry needles from coniferous trees
      • fire sticks
      • fire starters
  2. Build a Fire Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    1. 3
    2. Gather kindling. Kindling needs a large surface to volume ratio (about 1/8″ to 1/2″ diameter) and more bulk than tinder so it can ignite easily, produce sustained concentrated heat and flame, and light the main fuel source.
    3. Good sources: dry twigs and wood pieces, cardboard, large pieces of wood cut into small pieces, and fuzz sticks (sticks with shavings cut into them, but still attached).
    • If you need to split small pieces of wood into smaller pieces for kindling, try these methods:
      • Hold the wood you want to split parallel to the axe, with the top of the stick touching the axe blade. Both your hands are near the bottom of the axe handle: one holding the ax, and the other holding the stick. With the stick touching the axe blade where you want it to split, swing both the stick and the ax together to hit the chopping block. When the axe splits the stick, give it a twist to finish splitting the stick into two pieces.
      • To split a small piece of wood, hold the stick upright, either by sticking into the ground or holding it with your feet. Take a rock a little bigger than your fist, and smack the end of the stick with the rock until a crack has been created. Peel the layers back with your fingers to split the wood into smaller pieces.
  3. Build a Fire Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    1. 4
    2. Gather logs or other bulky fuel sources. Good fuels for sustained burning include dry wood that is 1″ to 5″ (2.5 cm to 12.5 cm) in diameter, twisted dry grasses, peat, dried animal dung and coal. Gather more fuel than you think you’ll need, especially if you’re going to sleep by the fire.
    3. Green or wet fuel can be used, but only once the fire is established because it will burn more slowly than dry fuel.
    • Softwoods/conifers/evergreens have leaves in the shape of needles. They burn quickly and very hot, and they also contain flammable resins which burn hotter and help with starting a fire. Because of this, they’re often used for kindling as well, since they’re easier to ignite than hardwoods. You will know if you are using a wood with resin because it crackles and pops while burning.
    • 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. It may be necessary to know How to Split Hardwood Firewood or How to Split Gnarly Firewood
    • You can also Make Logs from Newspapers.
  4. Part 2 of 2: Building the Actual Fire

    1. Build a Fire Step 4 Version 2.jpg

      Clear a circular area about 4 feet (1.2 m) in diameter. Build a ring of rocks or dig a fire pit that’s several inches deep using a shovel or hand trowel. Constructing a ring of stones will insulate the fire. 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.
        Build a Fire Step 4Bullet1.jpg
    2. Build a Fire Step 5 Version 2.jpg

      Pile kindling loosely in your fire ring or fire pit. You want your kindling close enough to ignite but spaced enough for good air circulation.

      • Place your tinder on the pile of kindling. Light the fire with your ignition source and gradually add more kindling.
        Build a Fire Step 5Bullet1.jpg
      • Slowly blow air on the igniting fire to build heat and intensity.
        Build a Fire Step 5Bullet2.jpg
    3. 3

      Add firewood starting with the smallest sized pieces and working your way up toward large pieces. The arrangement you choose will determine the fire’s longevity, how fast it burns, and how long your wood lasts.

      • Build a tepee. Arrange the tinder and a few sticks of kindling in the shape of a cone, and light them at the center. The outside logs will fall inward and feed the fire. This is the most effective of all fire arrangements.
        Build a Fire Step 6Bullet1.jpg
        • Since a flame is hottest at the tip of the fire (where the oxygen combusts into fire to create carbon dioxide) the top of the teepee is where the most intense heat will be, so if a stick is thicker at one end, be sure to place the thicker end at the top of the tepee.
        • Because of the tepee arrangement, wet wood and green wood will burn well. However, since very intense heat is generated by the arrangement, the fire burns through wood rather quickly.[1]
      • Construct a log cabin. Stack layers in alternating directions to form 4 walls in the shape of a square. Leave enough room for a tepee structure in the center, and make sure that air can circulate between the logs in your “cabin” walls.
        • The “chimney effect” will suck air in through the bottom and let it exit through top as strong flame. If the fire seems like its not getting enough oxygen, dig small holes under the walls to allow for better air flow, or blow on the fire to reach optimal burning temperature.
        • This arrangement is best for cooking food, because the square shape creates uniform heat. You can place food on top of the stack for a while if you use larger, green pieces of wood at the top.
      • Erect a pyramid. Place 2 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 3 or 4 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 the flame will naturally travel down toward the base.
      • Build a lean-to. Push a green stick into the ground at a 30-degree angle with its tip 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.
        Build a Fire Step 6Bullet4.jpg
      • Dig a cross ditch. Scratch a cross in the ground that’s 12″ (30 cm) in diameter. Make it 3″ (7.5 cm) deep, and place a big wad of tinder in the middle. Build a pyramid out of kindling over the tinder. The ditch will allow air to flow through and feed the fire.
      • Create a star. With this arrangement, you can push the logs inward to increase heat, and pull them out to decrease heat. This method is particularly helpful if you’re trying to conserve fuel.[1]
    4. Build a Fire Intro Version 2.jpg

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