Start a Fire, Old School

Over the years, there have been several innovations and breakthroughs that have brought amazing products to the outdoor community. Such products include new types of synthetic materials for tents, protective and function clothing, and materials for starting fires, like waterproof matches or firestarters. While matches are very useful for starting a fire, there will be an instance or two when you’ll lose them or forget to bring them on your trip, and you’ll be forced to resort to more rudimentary means to start your fire. If you’ve never attempted to start a fire without the aid of matches, however, not to worry; today I’ve detailed a few solutions to this problem that will have you roasting marshmallows in no time.

After preparing a site in which to build your fire, it is imperative that you collect good kindling and plenty of firewood. Kindling should consist of small, dry sticks or tree bark that will ignite easily. For firewood, gather dry sticks and logs and collect them into a pile. After you do this, make another pile. We go through firewood quickly and having extra is a smart idea. After all, too much is better than not enough. Now there are a few fire starting techniques that require flint, batteries, steel wool, or a magnifying glass, but today’s article is strictly for those campers without such assets, so that leaves us with two methods: the plow technique and the bow technique.

The plow technique requires two pieces of wood, one longer and flat on one side, like a board, and the other needs to be thinner, but strong, like a branch. You’ll need to cut a groove into the board, lengthwise, like a trough, and then hold it firmly between your knees or on your lap. Then, use the thinner piece of wood by inserting one end into the groove between a 60 and 70-degree angle, and rubbing in a downward motion along the length of the board, away from you. As you do this, wood shavings will collect at the end of the groove and, once enough heat is created, the shavings will ignite and you’ll add them to your kindling to start the fire. This is the easier method of the two, physically, but it does require some patience, as it will take some time to complete.

Perhaps a little more well-known, the bow technique is a bit more involved than the plow, but just as efficient. For this, you’ll need two pieces of wood—one needs to be flexible or bent, like a bow, and the other should be stronger, like a thick branch, roughly a foot long—as well as a plank, a rock, and a shoe string. To make the bow, you’ll need to cut two notches into the ends of your flexible stick, then fasten both ends of your string into them tight enough so that the stick bends, just like a bow. Next, you’ll need to cut a small hole through your plank, smaller than the end of your other stick (the spindle), as you’ll need friction. Feed the spindle through a loop in the string and then insert one end into the hole in the plank. Hold the rock securely over the top of the spindle, to protect your hands from the friction, and apply pressure as you move the bow back and forth in a sawing motion, which will cause the spindle to spin in the hole. Once you build up enough wood dust and heat, it will ignite and you can add it to your kindling.

The two techniques I’ve outlined above have been used for hundreds of years and are very effective, in terms of starting a fire. Yes, they require a bit more time and patience to utilize, but master them, and you’ll never have to cope with that nagging worry about leaving your matches behind. Besides, starting a fire with such “old school” methods will make you look like a pro to your camping buddies.