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A fire can keep you warm and protect you from wild animals. It also provides light and helps you prepare meals in the wilderness. You can use fire to boil and purify water to make it safe for drinking.

Because of this, you should always have a fire starter in your survival kit for emergencies – like these.

But what if you don’t?

Read on to learn how to start a fire with sticks.

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Fire starting methods

What is the proper way to start a fire? Starting a fire with sticks may seem easy until you have to do it yourself. Nearly everybody understands how to go about fire starting. However, it can get complicated if you’re stuck in a survival situation or in the wilderness alone.

When you’re in a survival situation, you should first examine the area to make sure it’s safe. You don’t want to endanger your life by starting a fire in the wrong place.

What to consider before starting a fire

There are several different factors to consider before starting a fire.

First, make the location you choose is the right distance away from bushes, plants, or trees to avoid bush fires. The distance between the spot you choose and any plants should be approximately 6 feet. Before starting a fire, make sure the ground is bare.

Never start a fire with sticks on the grass. If you can’t find bare ground you may need to rake vegetation away and dig the spot to form a bare section. Remove any dry vegetation or plant material before starting your fire-making process because they can easily catch fire.

Once the fire and sticks light up, you’ll need to contain them. You can do so by creating a stone fire enclosure. Use this enclosure to mark out where you’ll start the fire.

Here are several methods on how to start fire.

Materials you’ll need to start a fire

Some of the fire starting methods we’ll discuss here require using a lighter or matches. Still learning how to start a fire without a lighter is a life-saving skill. If you’re a survivalist, always have a lighter or matchbox and survival stick in your backpack.

Let’s find out materials you need to start a fire in the wilderness.


These are lightweight and small materials that help you start a fire. There are different types of tinder that can easily be found including:

  • wadded paper
  • cardboard strips or shavings
  • wood shavings
  • wax

You can also use dry leaves or bark in case you haven’t carried any tinder in your survival bag. Where possible, always carry some homemade tinder to make your fire starting process easier especially during the rainy season.


You also need this next layer in your fire making process. Kindling are medium-sized sticks that light easily when they encounter a burning tinder. These can be small fire sticks,  twigs, or larger pieces of bark.

The branches and twigs you choose should measure between 0.5 and 0.5inches in diameter. Any bigger and the kindling won’t light fast from the tinder. To start fire fast in the process, your kindling should be dry.

Wood Logs

Wood logs are critical to make a fire and have it keep burning for a long period. They’re the core of your fire. If you haven’t got enough wood logs then your fire won’t run long enough to keep you adequately warm.

Firewood varies in size depending on what’s accessible. However, each of your firewood pieces should be between 1 and 5 inches in diameter. They shouldn’t be overly big. All you’ll need is firewood that’s large enough to keep your fire burning. Remember, bigger firewood takes longer to combust but when they do, they burn for a longer time.

Make sure you have enough wood to last you an entire night. An axe will also come in handy to help you chop your logs. It’s worth mentioning that different types of wood burn at varying rates. Hardwood and oak require some patience but it’s worth the wait.

Softwood on the other hand is ideal for beginners and also makes crackling sounds. An example of softwood would be cedar. Once you have all the materials you need, assemble them to build your fire structure.

Here are basic fire-making methods that everybody should know.

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The hand drill method

The hand drill method is a friction fire making process that is good for survival situations, but requires lots of skill to master. You’ll need the following materials.

Hand Drill

The Hand drill method uses a straight stick piece whose rough surfaces have been sanded or scraped away. It can measure approximately one or two feet long and ½ an inch in diameter. The one end that’s wider is often used as a friction part to spin against your flat piece of fireboard.


This board measures approximately ½ an inch thick and around two times wider than the thickest drill you plan to use. It can be wider to contain two rows of holes. It should, however, be flat enough on one end (the bottom) to stop it from wobbling. The best fire board can be made from weeping willow, cedar, or basswood.

Preparing your equipment

Choose dry and dead drills, carve the branches off, and scrape or sand any rough spots. Carve or sand each end to make it round. You’ll use the thicker end to instill friction against your fireboard. What should you do if the drill isn’t pointy? You’ll need to sharpen the end by carving to enhance efficiency.

Pick a dead dry piece of wood or branch to become your fireboard. Carve it flat at the bottom to prevent it from wobbling while in use. This will also create a flat surface at the top where you’ll drill holes. Create some holes around ⅛ inches deep and ½ inches wide from the edge of your board.

With your knee or foot on the board, twist your drill using your hands on one hole. Insert enough pressure to make a deeper hole in the board. Now, make a 45-degree angle incision at the edge of your board. This is the most common notch shape and size. However, you can make any of your preferred sizes or shapes.

Making the hand drill method fire

  • Set up your hand drill in a kneeling or sitting position. Hold the board down with your knee or foot. Have dry leaves or bark under your fireboard to act as a barrier against the humid ground. Place a small piece of wood, a thick dry leaf, or bone under the incision you made to pick up coal.
  • With your hands pressed together tightly, spin the drill back and forth while pressing it down in your fireboard. The spinning back and forth while pushing down generates heat and dust before finally producing coal. It also forces your hands to move the drill down. Once you get to your drill’s bottom, hold on to it in the hole firmly with one hand.
  • Now move back quickly to the top part of your drill. You want to resume spinning faster to avoid losing heat from your drill and fireboard. Continue with this drilling method until smoke forms. At this point, lots of dark brown dust should be coming from the incision.
  • Drill faster once dust fills up the incision and make various runs down your drill to flare it (dust) up. When you stop drilling and the dust is still smoking, a coal will form after a few seconds. However, if the dust stops smoking, you’ll need to resume drilling at a higher speed to set dust on fire.
  • Leave the dust to smoke and glow for some seconds before tapping your board. Proceed to carefully lift it away to expose the coal. Place the coal under a bundle of tinder and close it. Blow gently until the tinder bursts into flames.
Hand Drill Method Video

The fire plow

The fire plow method is a friction fire making technique that’s good for survival situations, but requires lots of determination to master. Here’s how to go about it.

  • For the fire plow method, get a piece of softwood approximately 2 inches wide and 18 inches long. This will be your plow board. Poplar and willow trees would be ideal options. These are commonly found near rivers and streams.
  • Carve an 8 inch long and 1-inch wide trench along at the center of your plow board using an edge of a sharp rock or a knife. This trench should be around 2 inches from the end.
  • Choose a hardwood stick approximately 1 foot long for your plow. One of its ends should be pointed out.
  • Place your board flat on the ground. Now put the plow in your trench. Rub your plow back and forth with gentle pressure to produce small pieces of wood dust.
  • Once you’ve produced some moderate amount of dust, lift the top end of your board. Now place it on your knee and allow dust to collect at the bottom.
  • Rub fast with lots of pressure until the dust burns. Pick the board and blow gently until a flame forms. You can now transfer the flame to your tinder.
Fire Plow Method Video

Bow Drill

You’ll need regular practice to master the Bow Drill friction fire method and feel comfortable using it in a survival situation.

Materials you’ll need

  • For the Bow Drill Method, start with a socket. This can be a hand-size flat rock with a small dent on one side
  • Bow Drill. This should be a straight and sturdy hardwood stick approximately 1 foot long and between 1-2 inches in diameter
  • Bow. This should be a sturdy and flexible green stick between 18 to 24 inches long and 1 inch in diameter.
  • Fireboard. This should be a softwood flat board approximately 6 inches wide and 1 foot long. It should also be around 1 foot thick.
  • Cord. You can even use hiking boot laces

Making the fire

  • Carve a slight round dent inside the middle edge of your fireboard
  • Make a V-shaped incision at the base of a middle edge
  • Bend the bow stick to form a half-moon and tightly tie it with your bootlace
  • Put your board on the ground. Now place some tinder under the incision
  • Place your foot on the board for added stability. Now coil your bowstring around your drill and rest it along with the round dent
  • Put your socket at the top of your drill with slight pressure and move your bow back and forth. This will spin the drill and produce a black hot powder that’ll fall on your tinder. The tinder should flare up within a short while. Now you can transfer your fire into the fire pit.
Bow Drill Method Video

How long does it take to start a fire with sticks?

There isn’t a general answer to this question. However, some seasoned survivalists have mastered how to start a fire with sticks in between 10 and 15 minutes. Others have managed the same time using a bow fire starter.

You’ll need to consider a few factors including weather conditions, humidity in your sticks with fire wood, and type of wood. Your stamina in exerting pressure to start the fire also plays an important role.

If you’re a beginner with these survival techniques, it’ll take some time before you master how to start a campfire. For example, it may take you up to one hour to produce any dust. With experience and regular testing, however, you’ll reduce this time and improve your fire-starting skills.

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How to start a fire with friction

How do you make a fire? You’ll need fuel, heat, and oxygen. Heat is provided through friction between the hearth board and spindle. Fuel on the other hand is generated when a hearth board wears away and creates dark brown fine dust. Oxygen is supplied by mother nature.

Equipment you’ll need

  • Hearth board and spindle
  • Bow
  • Ember pan, and
  • Bearing block

Hearth Board & Spindle

There are 2 different methods of making your spindle and hearth board as seen below.

  • Make both of them from different pieces of wood, or
  • Make both of them from the same pieces of wood

Regardless of the method you choose, these components should be made from very dry wood.

Using the different type of wood technique

This is a commonly used technique that offers higher chances of success. It’s one of the best techniques that beginners can use to develop their friction fire-starting skills. The spindle you choose should be harder than your hearth board. It should also be the right diameter. Your spindle can be made from different types of trees such as sycamore, ash, or hazel.

Using the same type of wood technique

This technique is more difficult for beginners but it’s also essential. By mastering this technique you’ll be able to achieve two things as seen below.

  • Save time
  • Eliminate irregularities where nearly everything needs to be precise

How to make the hearth board

This is a piece of wood that you’ll be drilling into. It should be approximately 10cm in diameter.

Cut around 30cm long of wood and avoid knotty areas. Split down your wood in the middle to get two pieces. Split one of the pieces again to form a board whose thickness is approximately that of your middle finger. Clear away any remaining bark and make sure both sides of your block are flat and almost smooth

Clear away any pith that may be present and ensure your hearth board doesn’t get into contact with moisture.

Making the spindle

People’s preferences vary when it comes to the diameter and length of their spindle. Some people prefer short and thin ones while others work well with longer options. You need to practice regularly to determine your favorite option. If you’re just beginning, choose a 20cm long spindle.

It’s worth noting that while a longer spindle will last longer it may wobble inside the hole. A shorter spindle on the other hand wobbles less but it doesn’t last. Some survivalists say that a longer spindle helps maintain an upright position of their backs during the drilling process. This allows them to apply downward pressure using their body weight as opposed to their arms.

Making a spindle and hearth board from the same type of wood

To make a spindle from Hazelwood, get a straight piece, and ensure it’s the right length and diameter. It should also have proper point ends. How do you make your spindle and hearth board from the same piece of wood?

Pick the wood that remained from making your hearth board. Split it into two. Remove any corners and carve it to form a triangular shape. At some point, you’ll need to use a knife to continue with the process.

Your spindle should be cylindrical with a sharp part similar to a pencil. The bottom part should have a small bow shape. This will ensure that friction is created between the hearth and spindle.


The bow shouldn’t be too thick as this makes it heavy which means it’ll end up tiring your arm. It should be between 2, to 3 cm in diameter with a slight curve and well balanced. If one of its ends is heavier you can make it the handle part.

Drill a hole at the handle part to fasten your cord. Tie your string around a hand’s width from the end. This way, you can use your index finger to apply more pressure on the string when bowing.

The cord should be strong and stretch free. In this case, a paracord can be a good option but you can still use a bootlace especially in case of an emergency.

Ember Pan

You can pick the ember pan from a cut created when making your hearth board. Make sure it’s very dry.

Bearing Block

This can be made from seasoned wood. The size of your hand will determine your bearing block’s diameter. The block you choose should sit on your palm comfortably.

The process

Start by greasing the top part of your spindle. This will eliminate friction at the top. There’s a proper way of holding your drill and bow as detailed below.

Put your left foot on the left part of your hearth board. The dents should be at your right. Your cord should coil once around the spindle. Position your spindle and bow to ensure the blunt part faces down.

The arc of your bow should face away from your knee. Grasp your socket in your left hand and place your left wrist against the lower part of your left leg. Shift your right foot slightly from the hearth board. Put the lower part of your spindle on a hearth board where you want to create a dent.

Making the dent

Choose a point where the spindle’s diameter lies in line with your hearth board’s edge. Rotate your spindle gently to create a small dimple. This process will generate smoke. Create a large dent capable of holding your spindle through with ease.

Now stop and make a small incision near the middle of your hearth board. This will allow dust to fall from the hole while also providing an edge to facilitate heat build-up. Finally, this will trigger dust to flare up.

Put a leaf under the incision to collect coal. Use slow, rhythmic, and methodical movements during this process. Within a short time, smoke will start drifting up and this will increase with time.

Once you notice a great amount of smoke stop and check at the dust. If the smoke continues then chances are high that you’ve already produced coal. Place the coal on your tinder and blow gently until flames burst.

How to start a fire with sticks and a lighter

Collect tinder from small materials such as dried grass and shape them to form a ball with a hole at the center. Fur or cotton wool can be good tinder materials. Make a hole in the ground and ensure it’s deep enough to shelter your fire from strong wind.

Throw in some lighter fuel or kerosene if these are available and strike. Your tinder will start burning slowly and you can add your medium sticks one at a time. Once these start burning, add thicker pieces of wood.

How to start a fire with sticks and string

This method involves the use of a fire bow and it’s commonly used in movies. A fire bow comprises a stiff branch but in this case, it should have some moisture. This prevents it from cracking during the drilling process.

Making a fire bow as a beginner

If you’re a beginner, start by making a bow fire starter at home using natural material. This will help you know what to do in case you’re stuck in a survival situation. With your bow-shaped stick, you’ll now need a paracord or string. A shoestring or twine can work well.

If you don’t have these you can rip off a long strip of stiff material from your clothes. When stuck in the wilderness with none of these, find flexible and sturdy vines such as grapevines. Your cord would be approximately one and a half times longer than the fire bow. Fasten your string to both ends of your fire bow.

Creating a smooth spinning process

Remember, a fire bow drill works well if your stick has a larger circumference which you can’t spin in your hands. This gives your bowstring more space to hold on and helps create a smooth spinning process. Use one of your hands as a stabilizing bearing block and place the other on the fire drill.

A stabilizing bearing block can be wood. When using wood ensure you add a natural lubricant on it to prevent it from working against your spinning efforts. Now prepare your tinder material and start drilling the fire.

The fire drilling string is coiled once around your stick. Coil it by moving your bow in an alternating motion as though you’re sawing. The string will rotate your fire drill until its point rubs across your fireboard to create fire generating friction. Hold your fire drill steadily in place with your hand on top of the clamp to prevent fire sparks from splashing all over.

How to start a fire with sticks and paper

Roll dry paper (preferably newspapers) to form a tight tube and tie it into a knot. Place it inside your fire pit before putting thin kindling on top. Light the paper knot and watch it as it burns slowly allowing your sticks to flare up. Once your thin sticks catch fire, start adding thick wood.

How to start a fire with rocks

You’ll need to locate the right stones for this activity. In this case, these should be hard and heavy rocks which you can break with a sharp edge to form flint. Here’s how to go about it.

With your tinder and kindling in place, proceed to build your preferred fire layout. The most popular layouts are lean-to and Teepee shapes. However, there are various other shapes you can try out in the process of enhancing your survival skills. Now prepare your tinder nest or ball and start sparking.

Creating a spark

Strike two rocks against each other to create a spark. Remember, you can strike your rock against a high carbon steel where possible. Once the produced sparks land on your tinder it should ignite almost immediately. Don’t expect it to light up to an orange blaze immediately.

You’ll need to give it time or blow into your tinder nest to ensure it lights up accordingly. Some people prefer lifting the tinder nest and spinning it around to facilitate a stronger flame. Once your tinder nest catches fire, you can transfer it to the rest of your wood to build a good campfire.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you start a fire without kindling?

This is a list of items you can get in your home.

  • Potato chips
  • Toilet paper
  • A match or lighter
  • Dry lint
  • Pinecones
  • Pine needles
  • Twigs
  • Bark
  • Leaves, or
  • Moss

Roll your material of choice and place it between and beneath your firewood. Use a lighter or match to start the fire. Keep watch on the fire just in case you need to add more paper.

How can you start a fire with damp firewood?

With a hatchet or knife, remove most of the bark from wet wood. If the wood pieces, you can split them using a hatchet to form kindling. This way, you’ll expose the inner drier layers. Start a small fire with your stripped kindling and use it to heat and dry the larger wood pieces.

How can you make a fire when it’s raining?

Starting a fire when it’s raining can be a difficult task. However, with prior preparations, you can manage with ease. You want to have a good supply of dry kindling, tinder, and fuel wood stored safely in a dry place.

It’s also important to learn and improve your fire-making skills during friendly weather conditions. This way, you’ll be better placed to beat the challenges that come with making a fire when it’s raining. You’ll also need a camping hatchet and knife in your survival backpack. These are ideal for quick fixes such as making kindling from feather sticks and thin wood shavings.

How do I choose the right fire stick?

Some of the great fire stick options to choose from include:

  • Bamboo
  • Willow
  • Yucca
  • Sycamore
  • Cottonwood
  • Mullein stalks, and
  • Dogwood

Ensure your fire stick is dry enough and not too thick. Your fireboard should also be dry. Your goal should be to ensure that the stick and fireboard have similar softness. Alternatively, you can choose a fire stick that’s harder than the board.

One way of succeeding when rolling your fire stick is by developing momentum slowly. Be sure to maintain pressure on the fireboard. This will enable the wood to warm up. You can speed up the drilling once you notice smoke coming out of your fireboard.

Start practicing today

One thing you’ll notice about these fire starting methods is they all rely on materials that are easily available near you. Start practicing today so you won’t make newbie mistakes on a camping weekend with your friends.

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