How to Start a Fire

Ways to Build a Fire (Any Type)

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At some point in our lives, we have all Googled this question. For some, it was lighting a fire in the wilderness on a camping trip and for some others, it was just about lighting a cigarette without a lighter.

Either way, to be able to build a fire from scratch is a very useful and rather impressive skill. Often, this is left as the job for the man but this is one skill that makes you feel good about yourself in a very primal manner. And in that case, it doesn’t matter if you are doing this in the fireplace at your home or with logs at your campsite.

There are many different ways of building a campfire depending on the amount of experience you have and also the kind of tools you are carrying with you. There are a couple of techniques that give you a big bonfire that will last a really long time if you have a couple of basic tools. But don’t worry, we go through the basics too for those of you who are just venturing into this exciting world. So, without much ado let’s dive in.

Building a Campfire

This is the most expected scenario to build a fire. And if you have seen anyone do this before, you know that this is more than just stacking a few pieces of wood and striking a light. It is certainly a lot more than that if you are planning to cook over it. Here are a few ways to get it right. The next time you are out camping, you won’t have to wonder what to do for hot coffee or campfire.

Tinder and Kindling

The first thing to know about starting a campfire is that it starts small. You don’t get flames that engulf giant logs right away. You have to build it from sparks and take care of it with a bed of coals before it gets there. The first step in that process is to get the right kind of tinder.

Now, depending on your campsite, it could be as easy as collecting dry bark from trees. You could also choose to bring some of your own to avoid surprises. There are a lot of commercial products out there and if you pick something with 80 percent resin, you will be able to light them even when it is wet outside. Pair that with any of these waterproof matches and camping in the monsoon is all taken care of.

If you want to make your own tinder substitute, dryer lint is pretty good too. That with a few drops of sanitizer will do the trick.

Types of Campfires

Now that you have your gear ready, let’s take a look at the many ways in which you can build a fire pit. Whether it is to roast marshmallows or just a little warmth out in the woods, you’ll find your answer here.

Tipi Fire

This is the most basic type of fire that all Boy Scouts are taught. But don’t underestimate it because this is the foundation for learning all other techniques. The name comes from the fact that the wood must be arranged in a lean manner into a Native American style tipi which is a conical tent. This arrangement gives you lots of space for air and the matches.

The advantage with a tipi fire is that you can keep it small or scale it by kindling the tinder to make a huge bonfire. A lot of people prefer to keep it small and build a separate outer fire using larger wood. This kind of fire is used to burn things sooner.

Tipi fires are good if you are looking for a little heat and light and want it soon.

Lean-To Fire

When there is a wind or dampness in your campsite, it is obviously going to be a bit more tricky to get a fire going. So, you need to change tactics a bit. In those scenarios, lean-to fire will be your savior.

The first step is to pick some of the larger sticks and logs and create a windbreak out of them. Now build a small tipi fire on the leeward side, which is the sheltered side of the fire. On the windbreak side, lay the longer sticks above the core of your smaller fire in a stacked up fashion. This will make sure your tipi fire can breathe unaffected by the wind or dampness.

It will slowly grow and become strong enough to burn some of the larger sticks in the lean-to. It will get big enough to fight the wind and the weather by the time a regular tipi fire would have been exhausted. Another advantage of building a lean-to fire is that the windbreak also acts as a great heat reflector. This is perfect for those who want to cook on the fire.

Star Fire

This one is for people looking to build a fire that will burn slowly and last the whole night without having to keep an eye on it. It is also for folks who are not going to carry gear to build a fire. This one is quick and easy to build and all you need are a few long logs and sticks.

The first step towards building this fire should be predictable. Yes, you start by building a mini tipi fire. Then you must fetch your larger logs and place them in a five-point star pattern. This will make sure the fire burns outwards and keeps it compact. Whenever you want a little flame, just push a log towards the fire and it will be good. This is perfect for bonfire setups. It is also a great choice if you are working on a campsite or backyard fire pit. The logs will just slide down to the center of the fire as they burn down which also makes cleaning it up quite easy.

Log Cabin Fire

If you are looking to roast marshmallows or hot dogs, this is the kind of fire you want to build because it is symmetric. If you manage to do a good job, the bed of coals will do the same with your food. Once again, start with a small tipi fire and start kindling it once the flame is steady.

Get started by stacking the larger logs on one side and alternate it like your good old Lincoln Logs kit. This creates a strong bed of hot coals when you light it from the bottom, making it the perfect pattern for a cooking fire. You can also choose to build it like a pyramid. That means you will have to stack the large logs at the bottom and the core tipi is at the top of the pyramid. This one will take a little time but eventually, it will burn down the whole pyramid. That’s the only kind of good burning down.

The Swedish Torch

If you are out in a rained down place, the soaked ground and surroundings are going to make it quite challenging to build a fire. But that’s what this research is for. And the sideways campfire called the Swedish torch is going to save your trip. Even in the worst weather, this one will keep the fire going for two to five hours provided you do it right and you have logs of the right size.

Now, building a sideways campfire means you must get a seasoned log with two flat ends and a chainsaw. That’s right. This needs some preparation which means it is not the best option for backpackers. But if you have a car and can carry gear along with you, this is pretty great. You need some tools to get this going but when you have a wet campsite, you will thank yourself for doing the research and having thought of carrying them.

Now that you have the seasoned log and a chainsaw, set the log in an upright position and saw two slits halfway through the log using the chainsaw to create an ‘X’. These wedges will help keep the log burning for a long time. It will take some kindling to build a fire on top of the log. It will burn inside out keeping the top flat which means you can set a pot up there and get some cooking done. After all this effort, you didn’t think we were building a fire just for one purpose, did you?

Dakota Smokeless Fire

This one is quite popular in the US military because it produces less smoke and is also wind resistant. It also does not leave any evidence of a campfire there which keeps them safe. You can do the same with the aim of keeping your campsite clean.

To build this smokeless fire, you need to start by digging two holes in the ground. The first one will contain the fire so dig it straight down depending on the size of the fire you are going for. It also keeps your fire safe from the wind. So, remember that too while digging.

The second hole should be next to the first one. It will extend diagonally downwards and meet the base of the first one. This structure helps create a flow of oxygen to keep the fire burning efficiently. That is also why there is less smoke. If you want to make sure there is no trace of this fire, you must cut the top layer of soil, sod and set it aside before you start digging the holes.

Once you are done with the fire, fill the holes with dirt and put the sod slices back on top. Like the Swedish torch, this fire too takes some effort but it keeps the surroundings clean and you can cook on it.

Building a Fire in a Fireplace

Now, if you are not out in the woods, there is a lot more we can do to build a good, steady fire. Today we have a ton of options like gas furnaces but it doesn’t hurt to learn how to build a fire for those apocalyptic days. Whether it is to impress someone or to sit by it and quietly read, building a fire in a fireplace is a great choice. It provides warmth to both your body and soul. And what’s best is that this is a relatively easy one to build. All you need are a few simple tricks.

Start by taking a shovel to the fireplace and cleaning up the ashes from the previous fire. If you’re looking at a brand new one, well, good for you. Then you must open the damper and locate the chain or handle inside the fireplace. In that, place two large dry and split logs parallel to each other such that a nest is created in there. Twist some newspapers and place them in the nest.

If your fireplace has a steel grate, place some beneath the grate too. Take your smallest kindling and place it on top of the newspaper. If you don’t have them, split the bigger pieces with a hatchet. Then add the larger pieces of kindling on the two parallel logs to create something that resembles a bridge. Leave some space between the logs so that the oxygen in the air can find its way into the fire.

If there is a downdraft, light up a piece of newspaper and get it to the flue opening. This is called priming the flue and it will reverse the direction of the draft. You might have to do this a couple of times if there is a downdraft in your home.

Another way to deal with this is to open a door or window to stabilize the air pressure. Take another piece of newspaper and light up the nest in multiple spots. If the logs are in good condition, all you need to do from here on is watch the fire burn.

When you feel the need for more fire, add more logs. If you place them perpendicularly, it will be like building a cabin. That’s how you are supposed to do this. Try to resist the urge to use combustible liquids to build a fire. For one that is cheating but it can also be extremely dangerous if you have not done this before.

Putting out a Fire

Once you are done with the fire, it is important to know how to put it out. This is helpful at campsites if you lit a massive bonfire which lasted longer than you need it to. There are different ways to put out the fire as well. Here’s the simplest way.

The first thing to remember is that it takes longer than you would anticipate. So, keep an eye on the clock and start about 20 minutes before it is time for you to leave. Remember to keep a bucketful of water next to you at the campsite for safety reasons. You are dealing with fire, after all.

When you start putting it out, begin by sprinkling the water on the fire. Fight the temptation to pour it all at once because you don’t want to flood the space. Someone else might need to use it later. Sprinkle enough water to make sure the embers and the charcoal are put out. Take a stick or shovel and still the embers as you sprinkle the water on them. This way the ashes get wet. When the fire is close to being completely put out, you will stop hearing hissing noises and will stop seeing steam.

It is not the brightest idea to run your hands through the ashes to make sure the fire is completely dead but you must check it. You can either put your hand near the ashes to check the heat or add water and stir it till you stop seeing any traces of the fire. If you stop feeling the heat, your fire has been completely extinguished.

You must also remember to get rid of the ashes so that the next set of campers don’t hate you because they found a campsite that is completely unusable because of you. You should also scoop up the ashes in a bag and spread them around the site because it’s your responsibility to leave the place the way you found it and it will come in handy if you want to create your own fire bed. In that case, you must replace the dirt and sod. Otherwise, patch up the ground after spreading the ashes.

The Bottom Line

There are a ton of ways in which you can build a fire. And it doesn’t matter if you have done it before. The only thing you need to know is to keep water by your side for safety reasons. You must also remember to clean up the ground around your bonfire so that you don’t accidentally ignite other materials and start a forest fire. I think we’ve seen enough of those in 2020.