All fire requires three basic components: heat, fuel, and oxygen. Without any one of these things, the fire dies. However, our goal is not to put a fire out. Instead we want to start a fire. The heat will come from a match, a lighter, or some other fire starting device. Fuel will come from the area around you, typically this is logs, branches, kindling, and tinder. Oxygen, thankfully, is in abundance around us so you won’t have to work hard to acquire it.
The first step in starting a fire is collecting the fuel. In most cases, this is going to be wood from the area around you. There are three types of fuel that you need to have ready to make sure that your fire is successful.
Your tinder is the fuel source that is the most easily set on fire. Its job is to catch fire quickly and burn long enough to set fire to the kindling. Tinder is typically something small, light, and dry with a lot of surface area to absorb the heat of the spark or flame. It should burn quickly so you’ll need at least a softball sized bundle to catch the kindling on fire.
Your collected tinder should be arranged into roughly the shape of a bird’s nest. Once you have collected and arranged the other types of fuel, this is what you will ignite first and will require a great deal of care and attention to succeed.
Pieces of kindling are sticks that are roughly the size and thickness of a pen or pencil. Collect as much as you can as this is what will feed your fire and get it to transition from a small spark to a roaring fire. Kindling will catch fire after a short exposure to the flame created by the tinder and should be able to burn long enough to set the fuel logs on fire.
Your collected kindling should be arranged so that it can be quickly added to the tinder once it has sparked a flame. Lay out some kindling in the center of the fire ring to form something of a floor onto which you can place the lit tinder bundle. As the tinder begins to burn, add more kindling to the tinder bundle to form a pyramid or cone shape with the tinder in the middle.
These are the larger branches and logs that will require a long exposure to the flame before they ignite, but will also burn for a longer time. They are typically about the size of your forearm or lower leg. Once these start burning, you will have a good base of flame that should be able to continue burning with minimal attention.
The arrangement of the fuel logs is a source of much discussion. Some people recommend stacking about three layers of logs perpendicular to each other to form something that looks like a log cabin. Other people recommend a pyramid arrangement with one end of each log in the center.
The important principals of both techniques is good airflow and a vertical arrangement. Heat goes up and in order to catch fuel logs on fire, you need to have them exposed to heat for an extended period. Arranging your fuel logs so that they are exposed to the rising heat created by your tinder and kindling while still allowing for oxygen to easily feed the flames will greatly assist in starting your fire.
Once you’ve arranged all your fuel logs, it’s time to spark and care for the flame.
Whether you use a match or a lighter or some other fire starting device, your goal is to catch your tinder bundle on fire and keep it going long enough to set fire to the kindling. The best way to do this is to be close to your fire ring with all the fuel logs arranged and the kindling ready. Have the kindling bundle on the ground next to the arrangement and spark the bundle.
Once the bundle catches the spark and starts smoking, blow gently on it to nurture the spark to become a flame. Notice how the spark behaves immediately when you start and stop blowing. With enough tinder and patience, the spark will jump up and become a flame.
Once you have a small flame in your tinder bundle, quickly place it on the tinder floor in the center of your fire ring underneath your arrangement of fuel logs. Lean a few small pieces of kindling vertically along the side of the bundle and continue blowing to feed oxygen into the bundle. When the kindling catches fire, start slowly adding more and larger pieces to nurture your flame.
The heat created by your burning kindling will rise up and transfer into the fuel logs which will make it much easier for them to catch on fire as well. Stay focused on caring for your small flame and keep feeding it and blowing it until your fuel logs start burning.
Once the fuel logs are ablaze, you’ve started your fire, but you’re not done yet. Keep a close eye on your fire to make sure that the fire doesn’t burn out. If you notice that the fuel logs are starting to die out, add more kindling to the fire to add to the heat and encourage your fuel logs to keep burning.
If your fire dies altogether, you can build it back up again by following the same process as you did initially to start it. Add more tinder and kindling, blow gently to nurture the flame, and keep at it. Once you get your fire going strong, you’ll only have to keep an eye on it to know when you need to add a new fuel log.