9 Ways To Start a Fire Without Matches

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 29, 2008 · 130 comments

in Manly Skills

Tom Hanks Starting a Fire Without Matches

There is a primal link between man and fire. Every man should know how to start one. A manly man knows how to start one without matches. It’s an essential survival skill. You never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll need a fire, but you don’t have matches. Maybe your single engine plane goes down while you’re flying over the Alaskan wilderness, like the kid in Hatchet. Or perhaps you’re out camping and you lose your backpack in a tussle with a bear. It need not be something as dramatic at these situations — even extremely windy or wet conditions can render matches virtually uselessly. And whether or not you ever need to call upon these skills, it’s just damn cool to know you can start a fire, whenever and wherever you are.

Friction-Based Fire Making

Friction-based fire making is not for the faint of heart. It’s probably the most difficult of all the non-match methods. There are different techniques you can use to make a fire with friction, but the most important aspect is the type of wood you use for the fire board and spindle.

The spindle is the stick you’ll use to spin in order to create the friction between it and the fireboard. If you create enough friction between the spindle and the fireboard, you can create an ember that can be used to create a fire. Cottonwood, juniper, aspen, willow, cedar, cypress, and walnut make the best fire board and spindle sets.

Before you can use wood to start a friction based fire, the wood must be bone dry. If the wood isn’t dry, you’ll have to dry it out first.

The Hand Drill

The hand drill method is the most primitive, the most primal, and the most difficult to do All you need is wood, tireless hands, and some gritty determination. Therefore, it’ll put more hair on your chest than any other method. Here’s how it’s done:

Build a tinder nest. Your tinder nest will be used to create the flame you get from the spark you’re about to create. Make a tinder nest out of anything that catches fire easily, like dry grass, leaves, and bark.

Make your notch. Cut a v-shaped notch into your fire board and make a small depression adjacent to it.

Place bark underneath the notch. The bark will be used to catch an ember from the friction between the spindle and fireboard.

Start spinning. Place the spindle into the depression on your fire board. Your spindle should be about 2 feet long for this to work properly. Maintain pressure on the board and start rolling the spindle between your hands, running them quickly down the spindle. Keep doing this until an ember is formed on the fireboard.

Start a fire! Once you see a glowing ember, tap the fire board to drop you ember onto the piece of bark. Transfer the bark to your nest of tinder. Gently blow on it to start your flame.

Fire Plough

Prepare your fireboard. Cut a groove in the fireboard. This will be your track for the spindle.

Rub! Take the tip of your spindle and place it in the groove of your fireboard. Start rubbing the tip of the spindle up and down the groove.

Start a fire. Have your tinder nest at the end of the fireboard, so that you’ll plow embers into as you’re rubbing. Once you catch one, blow the nest gently and get that fire going.

Bow Drill

Starting a fire with a bow drill

The bow drill is probably the most effective friction based method to use because it’s easier to maintain the speed and pressure you need to create enough friction to start a fire. In addition to the spindle and fireboard, you’ll also need a socket and a bow.

Get a socket. The socket is used to put pressure on the other end of the spindle as you’re rotating it with the bow. The socket can be a stone or another piece of wood. If you use another piece of wood, try to find a harder piece than what you’re using for the spindle. Wood with sap and oil are good as it creates a lubricant between the spindle and the socket.

Make your bow. The bow should be about as long as your arm. Use a flexible piece of wood that has a slight curve. The string of the bow can be anything. A shoelace, rope, or strip of rawhide works great. Just find something that won’t break. String up your bow and you’re ready to go.

Prepare the fireboard. Cut a v-shaped notch and create a depression adjacent to it in the fireboard. Underneath the notch, place your tinder.

String up the spindle. Catch the spindle in a loop of the bow string. Place one end of the spindle in the fireboard and apply pressure on the other end with your socket.

Start sawing. Using your bow, start sawing back and forth. You’ve basically created a rudimentary mechanical drill. The spindle should be rotating quickly. Keep sawing until you create an ember.

Make you fire. Drop the ember into the tinder nest and blow on it gently. You got yourself a fire.

Flint and Steel

Flint and Steel

This is an old standby. It’s always a good idea to carry around a good flint and steel set with you on a camping trip. Matches can get wet and be become pretty much useless, but you can still get a spark from putting steel to a good piece of flint. Sweedish Firesteel-Army model is a good set to use.

If you’re caught without a flint and steel set, you can always improvise by using quartzite and the steel blade of your pocket knife (you are carrying your pocket knife, aren’t you?). You’ll also need char. Char is cloth that has been turned into charcoal. Char catches a spark and keeps it smoldering without bursting into flames. If you don’t’ have char, a piece of fungus or birch will do.

Grip the rock and char cloth. Take hold of the piece of rock between your thumb and forefinger. Make sure an edge is hanging out about 2 or 3 inches. Grasp the char between your thumb and the flint.

Strike! Grasp the back of the steel striker or use the back of your knife blade. Strike the steel against the flint several times. Sparks from the steel will fly off and land on the char cloth, causing a glow.

Start a fire. Fold up your char cloth into the tinder nest and gently blow on it to start a flame.

Lens-Based Methods

Fire from a mangnifying glass

Using a lens to start a fire is an easy matchless method. Any boy who has melted green plastic army men with a magnifying glass will know how to do this. If you have by chance never melted green plastic army men, here’s how to do it.

Traditional Lenses

To create a fire, all you need is some sort of lens in order to focus sunlight on a specific spot. A magnifying glass, eyeglasses, or binocular lenses all work. If you add some water to the lens, you can intensify the beam. Angle the lens towards the sun in order to focus the beam into as small an area as possible. Put your tinder nest under this spot and you’ll soon have yourself a fire.

The only drawback to the lens based method is that it only works when you have sun. So if it’s night time or overcast, you won’t have any luck.

In addition to the typical lens method, there are three odd, but effective, lens-based methods to start a fire as well.

Balloons and Condoms

By filling a balloon or condom with water, you can transform these ordinary objects into fire creating lenses.

Fill the condom or balloon with water and tie off the end. You’ll want to make it as spherical as possible. Don’t make the inflated balloon or condom too big or it will distort the sunlight’s focal point. Squeeze the balloon to find a shape that gives you a sharp circle of light. Try squeezing the condom in the middle to form two smaller lenses.

Condoms and balloons both have a shorter focal length than an ordinary lens. Hold them 1 to 2 inches from your tinder.

Fire From Ice

Fire from ice isn’t just some dumb cliché used for high school prom themes. You can actually make fire from a piece of ice. All you need to do is form the ice into a lens shape and then use it as you would when starting a fire with any other lens. This method can be particularly handy for wintertime camping.

Get clear water. For this to work, the ice must be clear. If it’s cloudy or has other impurities, it’s not going to work. The best way to get a clear ice block is to fill up a bowl, cup, or a container made out of foil with clear lake or pond water or melted snow. Let it freeze until it forms ice. Your block should be about 2 inches thick for this to work.

Form your lens. Use your knife to shape the ice into a lens. Remember a lens shape is thicker in the middle and narrower near the edges.

Polish your lens. After you get the rough shape of a lens, finish the shaping of it by polishing it with your hands. The heat from your hands will melt the ice enough so you get a nice smooth surface.

Start a fire. Angle your ice lens towards the sun just as you would any other lens. Focus the light on your tinder nest and watch as you make a once stupid cliché come to life.

The Coke Can and Chocolate Bar

I saw this method in a YouTube video a while back ago and thought it was pretty damn cool. All you need is a soda can, a bar of chocolate, and a sunny day.

Polish the bottom of the soda can with the chocolate. Open up your bar of chocolate and start rubbing it on the bottom of the soda can. The chocolate acts as a polish and will make the bottom of the can shine like a mirror. If you don’t have chocolate with you, toothpaste also works.

Make your fire. After polishing the bottom of your can, what you have is essentially a parabolic mirror. Sunlight will reflect off the bottom of the can, forming a single focal point. It’s kind of like how a mirror telescope works.

Point the bottom of the can towards the sun. You’ll have created a highly focused ray of light aimed directly at your tinder. Place the tinder about an inch from the reflecting light’s focal point. In a few seconds you should have a flame.

While I can’t think of any time that I would be in the middle of nowhere with a can of Coke and chocolate bar, this method is still pretty cool.

Batteries and Steel Wool

Fire from steel wool and a battery

Like the chocolate and soda can method, it’s hard to imagine a situation where you won’t have matches, but you will have some batteries and some steel wool. But hey, you never know. And it’s quite easy and fun to try at home.

Stretch out the Steel Wool. You want it to be about 6 inches long and a ½ inch wide.

Rub the battery on the steel wool. Hold the steel wool in one hand and the battery in the other. Any battery will do, but 9 volt batteries work best. Rub the side of the battery with the “contacts” on the wool. The wool will begin to glow and burn. Gently blow on it.

Transfer the burning wool to your tinder nest. The wool’s flame will extinguish quickly, so don’t waste any time.


Field and Stream

Primitive Ways

{ 129 comments… read them below or add one }

1 fathersez April 30, 2008 at 3:42 am

I didn’t even know there were so many ways. And ice!

THis post is really educational.


2 Adlyn April 30, 2008 at 5:20 am

wow that’s pretty cool! thanks for sharing!

3 Hunter Nuttall April 30, 2008 at 5:35 am

Love the Coke and chocolate method! If you learn enough methods like that, you can be effective in any situation.

4 lady brett April 30, 2008 at 6:46 am

super informative! i just wanted to add one i saw once. it’s not particularly useful – because if you have all the things it takes (potato, salt, toothpaste, wires, cotton) you probably have a better way of making fire – but it sure is cool!


5 Joe Poniatowski April 30, 2008 at 11:42 am

This is awesome. I’m going to test out a few of these, like the soda can and toothpaste (can’t be wasting chocolate in a survival situation!)

6 Cameron Schaefer April 30, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Had to make fire using a couple of these methods during survival training and I found the key was always finding good tinder.

One of my favorites was using chunks of tree sap, but there are many others: dry leaves, grass, pine cones, moss, fungus, etc. Without good tinder the whole process became 10x harder than it already was.

7 Frank Karns April 30, 2008 at 2:08 pm

Rob over at cockeyed.com has a pretty nice write up on this subject.


8 Neal April 30, 2008 at 2:09 pm

This is fantastic. I have used many of these methods successfully. I agree with Cameron – you have got to stage everything perfectly using the right materials in order to preserve the spark.

One other method that is very cool is the fire-piston.

9 George Sudarkoff April 30, 2008 at 2:15 pm

There’s also a whole slew of chemistry-based fire making methods. Like mixing potassium permanganate with glycerin – both commonly found in first aid kits. Or if you have a broken internal combustion engine by your side, you might be able to extract a few grams of sodium from its valves, then just spit on a small chunk of it and it will burst into flames (cover your eyes).

10 PNG April 30, 2008 at 4:22 pm


11 Cameron April 30, 2008 at 6:18 pm

i always find pine needles to be good tender. well, maybe not tender but for the stage right after the tender. even if they are soaking wet, they will still light.

12 Bad Dad April 30, 2008 at 7:42 pm

For many years I’ve packed a 9-volt battery and steel wool, just in case the water proof matches didn’t work.

Important safety tip: keep the battery and steel wool separated. You don’t want those to touch and ignite in your pack. I like to store the 9-volt in a 35mm film canister. Keeps it safe and dry.

13 Mark A April 30, 2008 at 10:49 pm

If you are in a broken down car situation your cars battery and or alternator can make a ton of hot sparks by causing an arc. Even a “dead” car battery will work.
Out at a remote fishing spot friend/driver left the light on. Came back cold and wet to find the car would not start. Once we got the battery set up we had wet tinder going in seconds. Kept us warm till the wife called in a rescue at 3 am. I can still taste the fish roasted over that fire.

14 arc May 1, 2008 at 7:06 am

Mark A is right, tinder works way better than tender.

15 Scott May 1, 2008 at 11:12 am

If you live in an area with lots of pine trees, try to find a stump of a pine that was cut down in the prior 6-9 months. The wood in the stump holds pine oil which makes it much easier to light. I usually grab a few chunks of a stump and carry one or two with me to shave off pieces for my tinder.

Also, not a fire starter per se, but most bug juice/repellent is alcohol based and can be used to help with getting the tinder to light more quickly. In the military, the bug repellent was useless for repelling bugs – I htink it attracted them!- but was great for help getting a fire started.

16 Babak May 1, 2008 at 2:10 pm

I really enjoyed this post.
thank you.

17 Mitch Ross May 3, 2008 at 3:24 am

I’ve got a bunch of links to unusual methods of starting fire. Honestly, this post on AoM did a better job than I did. I did find some links to easy methods of making ice lenses, and other odd methods though.


18 Jody May 5, 2008 at 3:07 am

It’s tinder, not tender.

19 mindfvck May 8, 2008 at 12:33 pm

You are under bad control :) http://badcontrol.com/?p=745

BTW great article, I`ve posted it on my website

20 Chris Gregg May 15, 2008 at 4:06 pm

Excellent article! I have one tiny nitpick: most eyeglasses are useless as burning lenses, as most people are nearsighted and have diverging (concave) lenses in their eyeglasses. If you happen to be farsighted and have _reading_ glasses (or bifocals), those will work fine. (And we are to suppose that Piggy, in _The Lord of the Rings_ had reading glasses…).

21 Brett McKay May 15, 2008 at 5:16 pm

Very interesting Chris. I didn’t know that. Thanks for the tip.

22 Hill Billy May 15, 2008 at 5:34 pm

Take a second look at that youtube video with a Coke can & Chocolate bar, you can clearly see the shadow of the magnifying glass which is actually burning the leaf. This is a total sham…come on people, think about it.

23 Brett McKay May 15, 2008 at 5:53 pm

@Hill Billy-

I can’t vouch for the youtube video but they tested it on Mythbusters and it worked. See here: http://kwc.org/mythbusters/2006/01/episode_45_shredded_plane_fire.html

24 jasontimmer May 15, 2008 at 6:35 pm

you should have mentioned the fire piston. it’s an ancient, effective, and fun way to start a fire that uses compression to ignite the tinder, much like a diesel engine. google it.

25 JIm May 15, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Nice list. Problem is you’re not descriptive enough of that V notch and the embers. Could do with a better picture and description of the V notch in the fireboard, because it’s not at all clear what is meant there. I’d really like to follow it better, just in case I ever get on Survivor.

26 fileoffset May 15, 2008 at 8:25 pm

there is also the Fire Piston.

It can be made from scratch using natural and raw materials found in the wild.

Im surprised it wasn’t on your list as its very old

27 Case May 15, 2008 at 8:47 pm

Interesting, but none of it beats a BIC.

28 stig of the dump May 16, 2008 at 4:18 am

I was out walking the other week, and had lost my lighter at some point. So I tried to make fire, kinda hoping that I’d have some kind of primative flash of inspiration, and the fire-making would come naturally.

I tried the hand drill method, and only got as far as once getting a bit of a whiff of burning (more like hot wood). It didn’t work because I think the wood I was using was a bit too soft.

But the stick I was using between my hands also wasn’t quite straight, and had a couple of knots on….. for the next few days the palms of my hands were covered in small bruises! Not even vaguely manly, I know! :)

29 Walter Muma May 17, 2008 at 5:41 am

The original source on the Internet of the “Fire From a Can of Coke and a Chocolate Bar” method is my Wildwood Survival website:
This is where Mythbusters got the idea; also the final proper technique for “Fire From Ice”: http://wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/fire/ice/index.html
Go have a look!

30 Ryan May 18, 2008 at 4:44 pm

Piggy in Lord of the Flies. And yes, tinder. However, if it were tender and Piggy in Lord of the Rings I can just sitting around burning money.

31 PrimitiveDude May 21, 2008 at 6:13 pm

Don’t forget the fire saw.

32 Survivaltek June 8, 2008 at 4:17 am

There really is something captivating about fire. In my research, I’ve developed “Ken’s five fire categories” in which all created fires fall. These categories are: Friction, Percussion, Optical, Electrical, and Chemical. You might enjoy visiting my fire webpage at: http://www.survivaltek.com/fire.html and see some of these methods that I have demonstrated on Metacafe – http://www.survivaltek.com/video.html

33 hpesoj June 10, 2008 at 12:08 am

hi im joseph wyeth im 12 live in Brisbane Australia and go to Indooroopilly and i Bully people cause im a retard and i have mental problems like the time i poisoned the teacher (lol!)

34 Ivanna Humpalot July 12, 2008 at 6:29 am

amazing dudes

35 Baniz September 6, 2008 at 12:52 am

You don’t need all these methods when one of them is better than the others in emergency situations.DUH

36 Me November 2, 2008 at 9:36 pm

I saw the coke can and chocolate done on survivorman on discovery channel last week. I thought he was crazy but it did work. I want to try this myself. I also saw him use some liquid in a small container to start a fire as well I am wondering what that was.

37 michael November 6, 2008 at 12:28 pm

Cigarette ashes work very well as a polish for the soda can parabolic mirror fire starting technique. Mix with a bit of saliva and polish with something made of cloth. Everywhere I have ever been on this earth, a soda can has preceded me.

38 fred burger November 11, 2008 at 1:59 pm

That was potassium permanganate and glycerine. Very fun. I bought a 10 pound jug of the stuff at southern states for 5 bucks ( the permanganate). it’s supposed to be used for seperating iron out of water in filters. Antifreeze works as well as glycerine (since glycerine rarely comes in anything larger than suppositories and who wants to carry those around).@Me -

39 Erik December 20, 2008 at 7:42 pm

Another method to use to start a fire is the use of an old bic lighter that is
out of fuel. Pick at your cotton sock to obtain a lot of lint. Wrap it around a
stick. Use the sparks from the old lighter to light the lint on the stick.
Quickly transfer the flame to the tinder pile.

40 Free Stuff January 1, 2009 at 6:17 pm

Nice post — never heard of using ice before but guess it makes sense. I think I’d stick with flint, though.

41 tom March 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

The best tinder out there no matter the method for fire starting is a 35 mm film container with a couple of cotton balls saturated with petroleum jelly. It burns fairly long and hot and will start a fire well. It fits easily in your pocket.

42 Brian March 11, 2009 at 5:46 am

The 9 volt battery and steel wool works well, but it works even better with dryer lint. Wrap the dryer lint around and through the steel wool, and when the battery touches the steel wool, the dryer lint will ignite very easily. You can keep the dryer lint and the wool in a small ziplock bag (separate from the battery of course); it is very lightweight way to carry your tinder with you.

43 Brett McKay April 5, 2009 at 5:45 am


44 Matt May 1, 2009 at 7:36 pm

I knew about the fire and ice method before reading this, and I have used it successfully. However, I would like to add a word to the wise – WEAR GLOVES, PEOPLE!!!! Ice is cold, and will melt in your hands. If you are in freezing temperatures, then you may not be able handle the ice due to two reasons – 1. Your hands will hurt like hell until they go numb, and 2. You have a high risk of getting frostbite, which can almost be a death sentence to loose the use of your hands in the wild.

However, the method is still awesome, and this page really hammered it down. Great job. I now consider you a man.

45 paul June 10, 2009 at 9:56 am

one comment on fire and ice. In the test cases, people are using “artificial” ice — ie: ice from a refridgerator and going out on a sunny day to make fire.

More typically, outside of the tropic zones, you’re not going to find ice when the sun is strong enough to make a fire. Optical reading lenses are a different matter, since eye glasses can be fairly powerful.

In a wilderness situation, skip the ice method and go hunting for a bow/drill or quartz for flint and steel. (A real neat trick is to use two stones– one with iron against a piece of quartz.)


46 dancasa September 2, 2009 at 11:12 pm

how do u rub the chocolate because when i did it the metal was coverd in chocolate

47 Bob Saget September 23, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Wipe the chocolate off……


48 ronin1975 October 3, 2009 at 6:59 am

If backpacking or hunting Ive found that taking a magnesium block along to be as helpful as flint and steel, it burns at extremely high temperatures and will even burn wet wood, the only draw back is the amount you have to use. It takes a pile of shavings about the size of a quarter, in windy conditions it becomes a challenge to keep your shavings together.

49 Ryan October 9, 2009 at 5:34 pm

This is a really great site!! I have a few different ways to start fires on my blog. If you want to check it out at http://www.kingofdiamonds1.blogspot.com there are also some gear reviews and such there. Hope you like it!

50 Lainey October 15, 2009 at 8:05 am

Just a thought… with the coke can/chocolate method, I doubt it would be the chocolate itself causing the metal to become reflective. Chocolate is generally coated and/or mixed with carnauba wax to make it shiny, so don’t go getting any wrong ideas about the magical, mystical, fire-making properties of chocolate. ;)

51 David Young October 29, 2009 at 9:40 pm


One more interesting way is if you happen to have a pistol or rifle handy. Remove the round from the casing, pour anywhere from 50-75% of the powder on to whatever you’re trying to light, stuff a wad of cotton (think tearing a small piece from the bottom of your shirt) back in to the shell casing, then just point and shoot. You’ll fire a flaming ball of cotton on to the gun powder and will most certainly light your fire.

52 Rick Scoutmaster October 30, 2009 at 9:30 am

My first negative response to AOM: This fire post is terrible.
Lesson #1 for most all things: “there are no answers in the office.” I dare the writer to go into the bush and try any of these things. The battery/steel wool method is your only hope, and then only if you have good tinder, which is a whole subject by itself. Please don’t give people false hope. Fire is often the difference between life and death. Even a 3 day summer rain can kill you with hypothermia. Unless you have extenstive training, always always carry survival materials, including at least 3 ways to make fire and a good knife when you are going anywhere that you could get stuck, stranded, injured, dissoriented, or cut off from help. The novice must have tinder like a commercial fire starter or birch bark. The military steel/flint/magnesium bar is good. Water proof cases of matches, and the skill to know how to make them work in wind and rain. This means practice. Good luck,

53 Rick Scoutmaster October 30, 2009 at 9:52 am

To David Young, the guy with the pistol. Good idea, but very unlikely to succeed. Bullets are seated very tightly into their brass casing. Without a commercial bullet puller, you will not be able to remove a rifle bullet. Just now I did my best with 2 pairs of pliers on a handgun cartriage (.38) and only mutilated it, no powder yet. A good knife, or better a file, and you eventually could cut the brass below the bullet. But you still are far from fire, you are just going to scatter your tinder/powder with the minor blast (mostly from the primer). Modern powders usually don’t ignite unless confined (hence the reason bullets are seated so firmly.) You are correct, it can be done, but without knowing the method, and without practice, you will not get fire. Fire is life in the wilderness, second only to water. Study and practice; challenge your friends to contests like we do in Boy Scouting. Making fire is indeed a manly skill to have, and a life saver.

54 shanyse January 3, 2010 at 6:31 pm

thses methods are cool. they rock and they are good for backyard science but in a real survival situation it takes u hours up on hours unless your an expert.there should be some for rain weathy methods because non of these really helps u in a soaking wet with nothing but a pocket knife situation

55 Joshua January 5, 2010 at 6:05 pm

I own a fire piston that I use when I go camping. Very reliable (as in I’ve never been able to NOT start a fire) provided you have good dry tender or char (which I make in advance at home). Just place a bit of tender at the end of the piston and smack both ends together the sudden change of pressure turns your tiny bit of tender into a good ember which will start the rest of your tender bed with good air circulation. Google fire pistons and you’ll find many quality pistons on the market.

56 Johnny Utah February 10, 2010 at 6:36 am

saw a survivorman episode where Les did the coke can and chocolate method- so cool.

57 Chris Macey March 15, 2010 at 6:16 pm

Ahhh, the coke can and chocolate method. I’ve personally dont it before. It takes a very long time to start.

Chris Macey

58 Taleswapper March 18, 2010 at 7:55 am

Very few people are without their cell phones these days, and if you have no signal to call for help, a cell phone battery will work on steel wool as well. ATS has a great post on firestarting as well:

59 Steven March 27, 2010 at 3:20 pm

The fire piston must be a rather new item, as I would have loved to had one of those back in my Boy Scout days.

I would always carry a “fire kit” which would fit into a small container that could easily slip into any pocket in a backpack or jacket (usually something about the size of the metal container Band-Aids would come in). In addition to some matches stored in a 35mm film canister with the friction strip glued under the lid (If you don’t have waterproof matches, dip the heads in some melted paraffin.), the kit included a magnesium fire starter (available at any military surplus store or outdoors store), some tinder (usually a small zip-top bag with dryer lint in it), and a candle (Usually one of the little tea candles, as you could fashion a makeshift lantern using a can and a candle.) . I would also pack a few homemade fire starters made from the paper egg cartons filled with paraffin with torn up pieces of the egg carton thrown in the melted wax before it cools. Some of the guys in our Troop would carry the steel wool and batteries as well as a few other materials that definitely weren’t Scoutmaster-approved.

When I earned my Wilderness Survival merit badge many moons ago, we had to start a fire without matches, and I ended up using the flint and steel method because the fire by friction method was taking way too long. Most of the guys in the Troop working on the merit badge always seem to take the easy way out and use the steel wool and battery method because it was the easiest.

60 Pritch March 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Great post, Brett! That being said, it is important to distinguish between the “flint and steel” method and using a ferro rod such as the Swedish Army Firesteel. Although both methods are spark-based, (as are matches and lighters) the techniques are significantly different , and blurring the lines could lead to failure when fire is really needed. The flint and steel method involves STRIKING a piece of natural stone, such as flint or chert, with a piece of high-carboon steel. This produces a relatively low temperature spark, but is sufficient to ignite some tinders, the most common being charcloth. With this technique, you hold your tinder in the same hand as your flint so the spark has a very shot distance to travel. Once your tinder catches the relatively weak spark, you blow some life into it and transfer it to your tinder bundle and fire lay.

Conversely, the “Firesteel” is a ferrocerium alloy rod which is used to start a fire by SCRAPING a hard, sharp object against it, generating copious, very hot sparks. These sparks will ignite many natural and prepared tinders. Although steel is often used to scrape the ferro rod, sparks can be generated by scaping with glass, ceramic, or the like. You do not need or want speed or impact when using a ferro rod. Both could damage your equipment or scatter your tinder. Control is the key here. Either your rod or the scraper should be isolated, while the other is drawn against it, sending the sparks into your tinder. This is a relatively easy technique to master and ferro rods are completely foolproof.

Proper firebuilding technique involves more than mastering a method of ignition. This would be a good topic for a future entry.

61 Mike D April 5, 2010 at 8:31 pm

The thing about the steel wool and a battery really works. But, you have to be careful.
I work in a factory and our storeroom guys once put steel wool and 12 volt batteries in the same drawer. Both contacts for the batteries were on the topside. When the steel wool accidentally came in contact with the battery, people started smelling smoke. Fortunately, it was put out pretty quick.

62 PA med malpractice lawyer April 14, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Great post, some really interesting ways to resourcefully start a fire. Thanks for the look into survival scenarios, and all the different takes on each one.

63 Bobby Calvert - "Ninja Bob" May 5, 2010 at 4:46 pm

It is really sad to think that we live in a time where people trust such things a their cigarette lighter to keep them alive in a real survival situation. I have a whole kit dedicated to fire making and I am always adding new tools and techniques. A BIC lighter is fine in some cases although in most real survival situations it will fail and leave you without the means to start a fire. The lighter can run out of fuel, the very small piece of flint can break or completely run out or the casing of the lighter can break leaving the lighter useless. Don’t put your trust in your cigarette lighter!

Should you learn to use other techniques, you will always be able to light a fire in the worst of conditions regardless of the situation. I carry a lighter in my kit although I never place my trust in it.

-Bobby Calvert Ninja Bob

64 Chris May 15, 2010 at 9:07 am

I just challenged my grown son that when I am home visiting him this summer, between the two of us, we had to be able to start a fire without any matches. He laughed and accepted the challenge. THEN I came across this website. Very nice.

However, just watched a Mythbusters episode where they took on almost all these methods. AND they all worked! Ice method a little hard to duplicate. They ended up using a ball-shape. They were skeptical of the sofa can, but in the end they made it work. Just has to be really shiny.

I appreciate this information and will share with my son.

65 Gabe June 2, 2010 at 8:10 pm

These are all very good and I found a video of the steel wol one on youtube so go there if you want to see it in action. I also own a website at http://www.newwwords.com/ and I should add this video there or some of these pics.

66 Hansie June 10, 2010 at 4:55 am

If you have a thin iron rod, or a rod with a tapered tip (almost as thick as a match head), you can create fire by striking the tip with a hammer. After a few strikes, the tip glows red hot for a couple of seconds, but it is hot enough to light tinder. Great article!

67 TedBike3000 June 12, 2010 at 2:37 am

Couple of things…1) Practicing these is great for confidence building and less panic in a survival situation…2) Don’t “start rubbing it over the bottom of the can”, big mess, use a small dab and “polish” it…it’s the small grit in a chocolate bar that does it….3) The bullet method works, you just have to insert the cartridge in the end of the barrel and work it back and forth to loosen the bullet….4) start your hole first in the fire drill method then carve the notch, otherwise the drill tip will want to walk down the notch.

68 Steve June 23, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I’ve achieved fire through flint-and-steel, battery-and-steelwool, and the firedrill, .
1. The flint method works great–if you have charcloth. Otherwise, it is really hard to catch a spark.
2. Battery and steel wool works surprisingly well, if you have happen to have those on hand.
3. I made fire with the drill about 20+ years ago in the Scouts. But it has eluded my attempts over the last few months. There is a lot going on, and if the spindle is too long/short/hard/soft, or the fireboard is too hard/soft/thick/thin, or the cord is too thin/slippery/weak/fuzzy, or… no ember. And if you don’t have enough tinder, any ember you make can’t start a flame.

The main thing is practice, Practice, PRACTICE. The time to learn these skills isn’t when you are in a WTSHTF situation.

69 forestescapes June 26, 2010 at 7:58 am

flint and steel type firestarters can be bought at most camp stores for less than $10.
to go into the forest without one would be foolish! a small amount of cotton balls soaked in metholated spirits (stored in 35mm film container or small glass jar) will make you an easy fire starting king!! practice practice practice…enjoy the outdoors

70 Vincent June 29, 2010 at 9:22 pm

When I was younger I was staying over at a friend’s house and we wound up sticking a size D battery in a full pad simply through experimentation.

Not only did it light up quickly, and smoke like crazy, but my friend attempted to blow out the fire which of course only made it spread; he looked like Super Mario chucking that thing out of his hand.

71 adams August 1, 2010 at 8:07 pm

I really like the name of this website! and I will definatly try some of these ways of making fire. When I started reserching making fire, all i could find were the battery + steel wood, and the coke + candy bar, ones. all this playing with fire will be fun!!! But this site isn’t too good for me cause… I’m a girl… :)

72 Joe McAwesome September 19, 2012 at 3:53 pm

If you’re willing, sacrifice your flashlight! Open the top, break the bulb, and be careful not to break the filament inside. Place dry kindling of grass or frope in the top of the flashlight and turn it on. Works surprisingly well! And who said LED’s are superior?

73 Everett De Morier October 8, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I did a survivor weekend a few years ago where one of the events we had to do was to start a fire with steel wool and a battery. I got the steel wool going easy enough, but it went out quickly because I never had enough dry kidnling to catch the bigger stuff on.

Great article.

Everett De Morier

74 android uygulamalar October 14, 2012 at 4:12 am

they rock and they are good for backyard science but in a real survival situation it takes u hours up on hours unless your an expert.there should be some for rain weathy methods because non of these really helps u in a soaking wet with nothing but a pocket knife situation

75 bill engel October 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I saw a video using the top rounded part of a full plastic water bottle as a lens to focus sunlight to start a fire. Seemed to work as well as a regular magnifying glass. There’s usually one around nearby.

76 martin November 3, 2012 at 12:53 pm

What is a guy who has been tossed out of a boat in the wild do to start a fire with none of the things you have mentioned?

77 anomanous November 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm

friction+orange peel

78 John antol November 9, 2012 at 8:47 am

I once scraped a utility knife on concrete and caught a spark on char cloth.

79 pitypie November 11, 2012 at 2:55 pm

good for buggin out thx

80 Joel December 30, 2012 at 6:58 pm

I have found that a regular flint and steel struck on a cotton pad works extremly wll. It only requires 1 or 2 sparks to instantly ignite.

81 bc January 11, 2013 at 4:04 pm

A camping buddy introduced me to a common item that can be used as tinder: dryer lint. Stick some in a ziploc for your next camping trip.

82 akhil January 12, 2013 at 10:42 pm

there is an easy trick to make fire in a 1 sec it is with lighter

83 Aishwarya February 26, 2013 at 9:36 am

The best one: Cigarette lighter alight in front of a spray of deodorant!

84 Vaughn Hathaway March 5, 2013 at 7:12 pm

You had a complete article on a 10th way to start a fire withut matches. It was about making a fire-starter our of two aluminum tubes. I cannot find it in the archives.

85 Aakash March 23, 2013 at 7:50 pm

that was so helpful

86 Dustin March 26, 2013 at 11:56 pm

If you have a bag of potato chips you can use it as fuel. The oil from the chips will ignite them fairly easily and they will burn for about 2 minutes.

87 Dakota April 8, 2013 at 8:53 am

Since I stopped smoking I no longer carry multiple lighters in my possession, be that my jean pocket, coat pockets, car center console and glove box. So, I figured since I am California gal moving to the godforsaken tundra of Colorado, I believe it wise to carry a magnesium fire starter block and one package of lighters in a waterproof box in my trunk along with my road hazard emergency kit and mini survival kit.. Btw, pitch inside the trunks of certain trees makes fantastic fuel starter, but yeah… w/o a source for the spark, what friggin good is the pitch going to do a person right?

Also, I am aware that if I lose the stuff in my trunk, I’m so screwed…

88 trev May 27, 2013 at 5:20 pm

A magnifying glass will light a cigarette I’ve done this a couple of times. The good thing is the cigarette stay lit you don’t have to struggle to keep it going

89 mark June 12, 2013 at 11:14 pm

all these ways can work. I keep steel wool, magnesium, fireproof matches, lighter and a couple 9v batteries with me in my backpack seperated of course. If you have nothing not even a knife…not to slick! I would find a dry hardwood branch, maybe use a shoelace, a rock to cut into the board, or even find a tin can or bottle and use a sharp rock to cut it to shape and where there is a will there is a way.

90 Jdrusso June 15, 2013 at 6:47 pm

What about hand mirrors would that work with light refraction (not a girl) but still if it dose that would be cool

91 kevin June 17, 2013 at 12:24 pm

wow i never knew there were so many ways to start a fire.about the board and spindle thing,, the guy on dual survival ended up with some nasty blisters on his hands from trying this . the bow method is better. also cotton balls and lip balm work good lip balm has a lot of petrolium in it.

92 Ron June 25, 2013 at 12:28 am

How about while your hunting need a fire try taking a round take the bulet out dump out powder put in steel wool shoot down barrel into nest it will cause friction you got fire.

93 brian July 1, 2013 at 9:17 am

why dont anyone like bic lighters. they r small and work well. i know they may get wet but r easy to dry and u can carry a few of them easily. i have used them i wet enviorment in a pour down rain storm. the key is to know how to big a fire in the frist place. hell a couple of corn chips and a lighter will make a hell of a fire and u can eat the rest of the chips

94 livingston July 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm

this guy makes fire look to easy to make on this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqk4YKVG9D8

95 Junior July 15, 2013 at 12:31 am

I am glad to see a website that shows these. I knew of all of these except the coke can and chocolate. That one is awesome. I got to try it.

Fire with ice method is always a joke with friends. People can’t figure it out and always think it’s bs. Kinda like telling them to find the radiator on a old Volkswagen Bug. There are some mechanics who think they know everything.


96 Josh July 21, 2013 at 9:43 pm

One more way in case you actually have this or find this in an abandoned location— if you mix Dot 3 brake fluid and Shock-it (for a swimming pool) the chemical reaction will create a fire after about 60 seconds or so…. Usually 2 parts Shock-it to 1 part brake fluid will be fine.

97 Jake July 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm

Pretty awesome collection of ways to start a fire. Mastering fire making is probably the most essential survival skill a person can have so be sure to practice up!

98 Elmo July 29, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Great Methods!

99 Lemont Southworth August 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Several people have suggested using dryer lint for tinder. If it is from cotton towels or underwear or denim it will be good. Lint from synthetic fabrics, not so much. The sparks tend to melt rather than ignite synthetics. 100% cotton balls work great with flint and steel; synthetic “cosmetic puffs” look the same but just melt instead of catching fire.

100 main August 9, 2013 at 1:33 pm

muy bueno gracias y ahora a la selva

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