How To Start A Fire
The Science, The Art And The Easy Way
by Damien Andrews
In case you are reading this to find how to start a fire the easy way, I'll give you the answer right up front. Go to your local hardware store and purchase a BernzOmatic TS839 Trigger-Start Swivel Head Torch (TS839T) and a 14.1 bottle of propane. Read the brief instructions that come with the torch. Attach the torch to the propane bottle. Turn the propane on a tiny bit, pull the trigger, adjust and aim the flame at what you want to catch on fire. The replaceable propane bottle will start about 150 fires – or 100 really tough ones. Now you know how to start a fire the easy way.
How to start a fire – the three necessary elements
To start a fire, three things are required: ignition, fuel, oxygen (air). If you are missing any of these three things, you won't be able to start a fire. The quality of these three things, and their quantitative relationship to each other will determine how fast you can start a fire. Let's break this down a bit using some examples.
How to start a fire – ignition
Ignition is the beginning of starting a fire. Examples of ignition sources would include a flint and steel; two sticks rubbed together to create friction (heat); a match; an electric match; a propane torch and a cigarette lighter. As a basic rule of thumb, the hotter the ignition source, the easier it will be to start a fire.
How to start a fire – fuel
Fuel is what fire consumes to continue burning. The ignition source ignites the fuel. Examples of fuel would include paper; cardboard and wood. Dry fuel is better for starting a fire than wet fuel. An accelerant can be used to expedite starting a fire. The accelerant is used on the fuel to hasten the ignition process. Examples of accelerants would include charcoal starter fluid; diesel fuel; lighter fluid and gasoline. Since gasoline is explosive, it is not a preferred accelerant.
How to start a fire – oxygen
Oxygen is a gas. It is present, in varying amounts, everywhere on the planet. The higher the altitude, the less oxygen there is in the air. When you start a fire at an altitude of 15,000 feet, it will be more difficult than starting a fire at 500 feet above sea level.
How to start a fire – the quantitative relationship
A poor quantitative relationship between the three necessary elements of a fire is the biggest reason for failures when trying to start a fire. To start a fire efficiently, the proper amounts of each element are required. Too much air, or not enough air, no fire. Not enough fuel, no fire. Poor ignition source, no fire. Not enough air, no fire – and so on. Try igniting a 16" diameter piece of green oak firewood with a match (or even a box of matches), and you'll simply waste the matches. The term "green," when applied to firewood, indicates the wood has not seasoned or dried out yet. Conversely, hold up a facial tissue and a match will ignite it almost instantly.
Small pieces of fuel ignite most rapidly. They have the greatest surface area to fuel mass ratio and receive more air where it is needed. Small pieces of fuel ignite most rapidly – hence kindling is used as the starting fuel for a fire. The term "kindling" is usually used to describe small pieces of wood, but it also includes paper and cardboard. Fatwood, which is also called fat lighter, is the premiere kindling for starting a fire. Taken from the heart of pine trees, this fatwood is laden with a highly flammable resin that ignites quickly and burns very hot. Fatwood smells like turpentine.
How to start a fire – the art of the process
To start your fire, take some time at the beginning and you'll be very pleased with the resulting fire. Loosely stack your finest, smallest kindling at the base of where the fire is to be started, but don’t pack it tightly – it needs air. On top of that, add the next level of kindling – slightly larger pieces than the base layer. On top of that, put some small pieces of fuel – branches, for example, that are ½" or so in diameter. Again, be careful not to let your stack compress and become air-starved later. Your fuel is now ready.
Heat rises, so place your ignition source at the bottom center of the first layer of kindling – the finest layer. Once it catches fire, remove the ignition source.
Now you can coddle your infant fire. Protect it from harsh wind or breezes while the fuel ignites. Slowly feed it more, and larger pieces of fuel as the kindling fire gets larger and hotter – but always be mindful of the air and air flow. Don't let the flames blow around at this point, and don't let the flames disappear and become red coals yet. If the flames are blowing around, you're losing heat – protect the fire from wind. If the kindling is turning red, but no flames are present, add a gentle breeze by blowing lightly on the red coals. Add more kindling as necessary.
Once you have some red coals at the base of the fire, and some flames burning the fuel, add larger and larger pieces of fuel. Voila – you now have a nice fire to keep you warm, keep animals away or roast marshmallows over.
Here is a link to an informative, short video about how to start a fire.