In yesterday’s article, we looked at the three essential components of fire – fuel, heat, and oyxgen. Today we’ll take a look at how that knowledge can help get a fire started.
The Science of Fire – Lighting a Fire
There are basically four steps involved in lighting a fire:
- Creating heat
- Igniting tinder
- Adding kindling
- Lighting the main fuel
Let’s look at these steps one at a time.
Remember the science of fire. Heat is one third of the fire triangle – the components needed for fire. So the first thing you’ll need to do is to create some heat. There are several methods to create heat:
- Chemical Reaction
Some ways require a combination of methods. For example, when you strike a match, you are using both friction and chemical methods. Flint and steel strikers also use a combination of these methods. Rubbing sticks together is a friction method only, but is also a pretty difficult way to light a fire. Letting the sun shine through a lens to light tinder is a solar method. Using steel wool and a battery is an electrical method.
Whatever method you use, you will need to generate enough heat to light your tinder.
For tinder, you will need material which ignites with very little heat. It should be very dry (remember the science of fire!), fine or lightweight, and capable of generating heat when ignited. It needs to stay ignited long enough to light your kindling. Some common materials used for tinder:
- dry grass
- pine needles
- thin bark
- fine wood shavings
- cotton balls with small amounts of petroleum jelly rubbed in
- dryer lint (best is from cotton clothes though), garden twine separated into fibers
So once you have your heat source, use it to light your tinder. Then you are ready for kindling.
When adding kindling, start with material which is about the thickness of a match and gradually work your way to larger material. Remember the science of fire. Your kindling needs to be dry or it will be difficult to sustain enough heat to keep the fire going. Try adding kindling like this:
- twigs about the thickness of a match
- pencil sized sticks
- small branches (about 1/2 inch in diameter)
- larger branches (about 1 inch in diameter)
- small logs (about 2 inches in diameter)
Be careful not to smother your fire by adding too much kindling at once. Once you have a few small logs burning, you are ready for your main fuel.
Lighting the main fuel
Your main fuel will probably be logs. If the log is wet on the outside, you can strip off the wet bark or use a hand ax to remove the outermost wet layer. Remember the science of fire. Add your main fuel in a manner that plenty of air still circulates to your kindling. You can add it like a tipi or a log cabin. Even pile style is OK as long as it is piled so air can still get to the fire.
At this point you should be able to sit back and wait for your fire to burn down enough so it can be used for cooking. Add additional fuel from time to time while there is still plenty of heat, especially if your wood is a little damp. Remember to keep your fire small and under control. Have a method of extinguishing your fire ready. And enjoy the marshmallows!