100 Days of Useful Homesteading Skills: Day 21 – Start a Fire Without a Match

Wooden_tinderbox_with_fire_steel_and_flintWhen you live in the boonies, convenience stores don’t exist. Sometimes the power or heat goes out when you least expect it and there you are, needing to start a fire but you can’t because your teenager thought it would be fun to use the last of the lighter fluid lighting cow patties on fire on the back 40 last week.  Its an hour to town and dinner needs to be cooked.

You could bundle everyone up and go eat in town, which would cost a fortune, or you could put a pot of soup on the wood stove and start a fire the old-fashioned way. We’d prefer to do the later and not reward the teen’s behavior.

There are many ways to start a fire without a match. I will list 3 of them in order of least to most difficult.

Always start with a tinder nest. This is a loose nest made of light, dry, combustible material. You will also need some small dry sticks and larger pieces progressing up to different sizes you will eventually need.

  1. Battery and Steel Wool – This is probably one of the easiest methods available. 9-volt batteries are the easiest but any voltage can work. Fine steel wool works better than rough steel wool. Rub the battery terminals against the steel wool, creating friction until the steel wool begins to ignite. Blow gently on it when it begins to glow to encourage the flame. When it begins to glow more brightly, transfer it quickly to your nest and blow gently on it. Then build your fire up from there. Add larger and larger pieces of wood, until you have the desired size of fire.
  2. Magnifying Glass – If there isn’t enough sunlight to create a fire, this method won’t work. If it is cloudy, consider a different option. Magnifying glasses aren’t the only way to make this work. Eyeglass lenses, binocular lenses, water inside a glass bottle or prisms can also do the job. It works best on very hot days with intense beams of light. Turn the lens toward the sun until the lens creates a focused beam of light on your nest of tinder. Hold it in place until the nest smokes and flames. Then blow on it gently until the flame comes to life. Increasingly build up our fire with larger pieces of wood until you reach your desired fire size.
  3. Flint and Steel – Those who use a flint and steel tend to be very hardcore about it. They carry a kit with char cloth, flint, steel, and a bit of tinder. It isn’t hard to do but it does take a little practice. It is definitely more reliable than the magnifying lens method above. Take a flint rock and hold it firmly between your forefinger and your thumb. Hold the char cloth between the flint and your thumb to catch the sparks. If you don’t have char cloth other easily combustible materials might be used. Stike your flint with the steel piece, scraping it quickly against the flint until sparks form. Catch them in the char cloth or combustible material until it glows. Transfer this to the tinder nest and blow on it gently to create a flame. Begin gradually adding larger pieces of wood until the desired fire size is attained.

Hand drills and bow drills are also options but are beyond the range of most people in a pinch. If you decide to learn how to use them, having them ready to use and learning how to use them in advance of needing them is necessary because they take a great deal of skill to use.

Have you ever tried any of the methods mentioned or one that hasn’t been mentioned? Tell us about it.


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