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From our friends at Survival Cave Food:

Ways to start a fire without matches!

survival fire

Fire is the difference between life and death! Stay alive with these tools!

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.

1 – Hand Drill

The hand drill method is by far the most difficult of the friction based methods. It works best in an extremely dry environment with the proper woods and tinder. Generating enough speed with the spindle is usually most people’s problem.

Step 1 – Cut a v-shaped notch into your fireboard then place a small notch next to for your spindle to rest in. Underneath your notch place a piece of bark to catch the ember. Your goal is to create an ember from the friction of the spindle and the fire board. The spindle should be roughly two feet long. TIP: Your spindle should be no more than 1/2″ thick. The thicker the spindle the less speed you will be able to spin it at which means not enough friction and a cold night.

Step 2 –   Place your spindle in the notch on the fire board and begin to roll the spindle in between your palms working your hands down the spindle while keeping a light pressure. Continue to repeat this until you see some smoke. When you see smoke take your fire board and tap it on to the bark and transfer the ember to the tinder bundle while gently blow into a flame.

hand drill to mke a fire

2 – Two-Man Friction Drill

The two man friction drill is a little easier than the hand drill as two people are able to generate more friction.

Step 1 – You will use the same materials as a hand drill but you will also need a rope, shoe lace or even a thin flexible branch from a small tree can work. Wrap the rope around your drill and have one person apply downward pressure on the drill with a rock or another piece of wood. The second person will rotate the spindle by pulling back and forth on the shoe lace.

Step 2 – Once again, when you see smoke remove the drill and knock the ember from the fire board into your tinder bundle and blow to life.

two-man friction drill

3 – Fire Plough

The fire plow is another primitive fire starting method that uses a fire board and spindle.  This method also requires a very dry climate and the proper wood to work.  I have found a lot of success with cedar with this method due to the fact that cedar creates its own natural tinder from the friction ahead of the spindle.

Step 1 – Cut a groove down the middle of your fireboard from one end to the other.  Rub the spindle up and down the groove while applying light pressure until the dusty particles ignite into an ember.  Place in your tinder and blow to life.

TIP: Go to slow and you won’t create enough heat but go to fast and you will burn out.  A steady medium pace works best with this method.

fire plough

4 – Bow Drill

Of all the friction based fire starting methods the bow drill is the most efficient.  Once again success usually comes down to the type of wood you are using.

Step 1 – Notch your fire board and place an indentation next to the notch to place the spindle, sames as a hand drill. Attach a string to the ends of a stick forming a bow.

Step 2 – Apply a light pressure on top of your spindle with a socket. A socket is simply a piece of wood with an indentation for the top of the spindle to rotate in. Wrap the bow around your spindle once and begin to pull back and forth.

Step 3 – As you begin to see smoke tap your fire board until all of you embers are on your piece of bark. Take your embers and put them in your tinder bundle and blow till you see a flame.

bow drill

5 – Magnifying Glass

This is a very effective method when the conditions are right. You will need a sunny day, so you must plan appropriately and start your fire when you may not need it.

Step 1 – Gather up a tinder pile and begin to focus the magnifying glass by tilting it until you direct the suns light into the smallest beam possible.  Generally if the sun is strong enough you will have a fire within a minute.  Once your tinder flames up apply some small branches to get your fire going.

magnifying glass

6 – Soda Can and Chocolate Fire

This method is not nearly as effective as using a magnifying glass but in a true survival situation it does work.

Step 1 – Polish the bottom of a can with a cloth and chocolate if you have it. You can substitute the chocolate with some clay, wet sand or damp dirt. Just like the magnifying glass, use the bottom of the can to create the smallest beam of light possible directing the suns energy onto your tinder.

soda can and chocolate

7 – Flint and Steel

Striking a softer flint against a piece of steal will create sparks to start a fire. This works best if you have a piece of char cloth but if you don’t you will need some very dry and fine tinder.  Generally an older piece of rusted steel works best. Trying this will your stainless steel knife won’t be effective. You can also substitute a piece of quartzite instead of flint.

Step 1 – Strike your piece of steal against your flint to generate a spark directly into your tinder bundle. You will have to repeat this several times until you get a large enough spark to create an ember in your tinder pile. As always, when you have a large enough ember blow it into a flame and apply to your kindling.

flint and steel

8 – Magnesium Stick

Using a magnesium stick is hands down the most effective way to start a fire in the wilderness. A magnesium stick will produce a flame source of over 5000 degrees Fahrenheit.  A few degrees hotter than our bow drill.  :) The advantages of a magnesium stick in a true survival situation are it will start dozens of fires, can get wet and only take a few seconds.

Step 1 – Use your knife to shave off a few small pieces of magnesium into your tinder bundle. Take your knife or a rock and strike it down the side of the fire steel to create a spark into your tinder pile. Some of the sparks will hit the magnesium igniting a 5000 degree inferno which will get your tinder lit. It’s that easy.

All the ways to start a fire without a match I taught in this class will work with a little practice and the right tools. You can do some searches and find some kits online for each of the methods we discussed. As always make sure to use caution and common sense when starting a fire. Help save our forests and use responsibility and make sure to never leave a fire until it’s fully extinguished. Enjoy!

magnessuim striker


Friction fire starting techniques are some of the most primitive and difficult ways to start a fire. The type of wood you use and tinder when using this process will determine a warm night by the fire or shivering in the cold. Without the right wood you won’t get a coal and with poor tinder you won’t get a fire going even with matches.

The best tinder is always the driest and most flammable/finest tinder. Some good examples include: dry tall grass, cotton tails, cedar tree shavings or dried leaves.  The preferred woods are dry soft woods including juniper, aspen, willow and cottonwood. The friction of a spindle into a fireboard will produce a coal when the surface temperature reaches 800 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you have an ember it is transferred to your tinder bundle and gently blown to life.

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