Preparedness blog

How to Start a Fire Without Matches

By Ben from Ready Store
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If you find yourself in need a fire, but you don’t have a lighter or matches there are a number of options you can turn to in order to get a fire started. The most common match-free method used involves magnesium, flint and steel. Lens-based options are common, too. Fires can also be started using friction, steel wool and certain batteries, or even by using a soda can and a chocolate bar. In any of these methods it’s best to have dried tinder in order to build the fire and keep it going. Tinder is any dry substance that readily takes fire from a spark, such as dried leaves, plants, or pieces of wood.

Flint, Magnesium, and Steel
This is a more familiar backup for most campers, and a Magnesium Fire Starter is ideal for any 72-hr kit as well. In this method you shave off a little pile of magnesium from your block and then strike your bit of steel against the flint which creates sparks. The sparks should be directed toward your pile of tinder, which will catch fire from the flames. You can get the fire going a little stronger by lightly blowing on the small flames, and then adding larger pieces of wood.

Lens based Methods
For this method all you need is some sort of lens in order to focus sunlight on a specific spot. Using lenses only works when the sun is out; it cannot be used at night or anytime when the sun can’t directly reach you.

A magnifying glass, eyeglasses, or binocular lenses will each work the same. Adding water to the lens can intensify the beam. Angle the lens towards the sun in order to focus the beam into as small an area as possible. Position the tinder under the beam and it will start a fire. One can also start a fire using this type of method with a variety of different objects.

• A water balloon full of water, (however, a balloon has a shorter focal length than one of the lenses previously listed. You should hold these 1-2 inches from your tinder pile.)
• Using ice. The ice must be clear, shaped into a lens (by chipping at it), and polished.
A Coke can and a chocolate bar.

Cell Phone/9 Volt Battery and Steel Wool
The first step for this method is stretching out the steel wool to about 6 inches long and about 1/2 an inch wide. Rub the battery on the steel wool while holding the steel wool in one hand and the battery in the other. For this method you could use a cell phone, cordless phone, 6 volt, or 9 volt battery. (I’ve read that any battery would work, but these are the only ones I’ve seen used.)

Rub the side of the battery with “contacts” on the wool. When the wool begins to burn, gently blow on it and place it under your tinder.

Last, but not least, this method requires a bit of strength and a lot of patience in order to start a fire. Place the point of a straight stick into a groove in a piece of bark or flat wood. Make sure neither of these pieces of wood contains sap or moisture.

Rub the stick firmly between your hands, while the point creates friction against the other piece of wood. Eventually the wood will heat until it creates a small ember which you can drop in your pile of tinder.

Your ideas
What ideas do you have? Comment below to help others.

15 years ago
15 years ago at 11:49 PM
One of the easiest to ignite forms of tinder that I have found to date is dryer lint. I save the lint when I clean the lint trap on my clothes dryer and store it in zip lock baggies. I always keep a flint and a couple bags of dryer lint in the emergency kit in the trunk of my car. It only takes one or two strikes of the flint directed at a small ball of dryer lint to create a flame
Alan Satow
10 years ago at 6:37 AM
Okay, Flint and the Magnesium bar is easy to use. Just, most people are not train to use it properly. Shave, not scrape of the bar on a piece of Aluminum foil, place foil and shavings on top of tinder. Always, have some aluminum foil wrapped around the bar. Now try to light it, easy.
10 years ago at 2:54 PM
dryer lint stuffed into cardboard egg carton, then fill each cavity abut 2/3 up with wax and top off with more lint. cut them up and u have easy to catch tinder on the top, and a fire starter on the bottom. flint and steel will fire these up every time
Mary Ellen
10 years ago at 6:24 PM
Folks, your knife needs to be CARBON steel, not stainless steel. Try it. It works great.
Vicci T.
10 years ago at 11:44 AM
I heard cotton balls with a smear of Vaseline was a good fire starter.
9 years ago at 6:54 AM
Carbon steel is only necessary with a natural flint, not with a ferrocerium flint bar. With carbon steel and natural flint, good luck if you don't have some charred cloth to work with as the sparks you get are tiny. With the ferrocerium flints like those attached to the magnesium bars dried grass works very well.
9 years ago at 12:34 PM
best tinder is dry dryer lint I carry a zip lock bag of lint and a flint and steel in Alaska has never failed to light a fire
9 years ago at 8:58 PM
Pack your dryer lint into.......toilet paper cardboard tubes! We keep our tubes down at the dryer. Every time you clean screen, pack that stuff into the tube. It hold a lot! Also you have the tube itself to burn! Maybe better yet, put a pack of matches or a lighter in each packed tube! When you need it just pull some lint out and fluff it up. burns great and is light not heavy.
9 years ago at 1:38 PM
someone already covered the cotton balls wit Vaseline and someone else mentioned the bic lighters. flint and steel is good but it takes time to get that to work. you do not just sit down and start strike big sheets of sparks from a chunk of rock and a knife blade. Save the old bic lighters that have run out of fuel and use those with the cotton balls and Vaseline. the striker still puts out plenty of sparks even though it is out of fuel. This should also work with any other "spark" required fire starter. wouldn't hurt to go ahead and practice with the flint and steel though.
Northwoods Cheryl
9 years ago at 6:19 AM
I learned to use a standard shard of flint and a striker that was made from an old metal file bent to shape to be easily held in the hand. The sparks are NOT "tiny" and I use the scraped-till-wooley bark from a birch tree for starting, though char cloth is ok. I find the birch "wool" lights faster from the high sugar content. (You can tap a white birch the same way you tap a maple to make syrup) Just as a side note, if you have a standard "BIC" type lighter and it's out of fuel, the top STILL makes good usable sparks. Don't discard it.
Jim Daniel
8 years ago at 5:55 AM
I have had great success with a little piece of very find Steel Wool and a dab of Vaseline on the bottom. The Flint and Steel sparks will get it going, and the Vaseline holds it in place as you blow on it and keeps some small tinder right there. The steel wool will burn nicely, the Vaseline is an accelerant and I thought "This is too easy!" I like to find a straw or short reed to focus the air when I blow on it, but warning, start very gently. AGREED, The Bic Lighters are cheap and I have them everywhere in all my packs and every cache.
Michael K. Hendricks
4 years ago at 7:34 AM
TRY THIS! Take a cotton ball, stick the nozzle extension tube inside of it a short way and give it one short "squirt" of WD-40. Now turn it 180 degrees and do the same on the OTHER side / end of the same cotton ball. When you need to start a fire, get all your small tender and fuel together and place it in the appropriate order of ignition (WD-40 cotton ball, tender, small fuel and have the larger fuel ready to feed once you are in business). First PULL the cotton ball APART and "fuzz" it some to give it less density and more surface area. Next, take your ferro rod or magnesium bar and give it a GOOD SHOWER of sparks. The cotton ball will immediately burst into flames and burn for two to three minutes; certainly long enough to get your tinder pile started as you feed it to the burning cotton ball. You can pack thirteen (13) of these WD-40 soaked cotton balls inside of a cheap waterproof match carrier (like the orange ones at WalMart in the camping section) and they will be ready for ANY fires you need to start from scratch. With the cotton balls SEALED inside of the waterproof match safe, they seem to last for months (all summer long...) and they are easy to make, CHEAP, and very effective! Give 'em a try! :)