Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Lighting a fire is only half the battle. The way you builda fire - that is, how you arrange the wood - can affect how long the fire will last and the amount of heat it'll give off during that time. This article will provide an overview of "fire architecture" so you can build the perfect fire for your circumstances.



  1. 1
    Get an ignition source. The most obvious choice is a lighter or matches, but if you're in a pinch, here are some ideas:
  2. 2
    Gather tinder, which catches the initial spark or flame and flares up to transfer it to the kindling. If the kindling is damp or wet, the tinder must burn long enough to dry out the kindling.[1] You can turn dry sticks and pieces of bark into powdery tinder with a knife. You can also use:

    dead dry plants and grasses
    birch bark
    char cloth - See How to Create Charcloth
    wood shavings
    pine pitch
    dry needles from coniferous trees
    fire sticks
    fire starters (e.g. How to Make Fire Starters from Egg Cartons)
  3. 3
    Gather kindling. Kindling needs a large surface to volume ratio (about 1/8" to 1/2" diameter) and more bulk than tinder so it can ignite easily and then produce sustained concentrated heat and flame to light the main fuel.[1] Good sources: dry twigs and wood pieces, cardboard, large pieces of wood cut into small pieces, and fuzz sticks (sticks with shavings cut into them, but still attached). If you need to split small pieces of wood into smaller pieces for kindling, try these methods:

    • The best way to split the wood is to hold the stick or wood you want to split parallel to the ax, with the top of the stick touching the ax blade. Both your hands are near the bottom of the ax handle: one holding the ax, and the other holding the stick. With the stick touching the ax blade where you want it to split, swing both the stick & the ax together to hit the chopping block. When the ax splits the stick, give it a twist to finish splitting the stick into two pieces.
    • One way to split a small piece of wood is to hold the stick upright, either by sticking into the ground or holding it with your feet. Take a rock a little bigger then your fist, and smack the end of the stick with the rock until a crack has been created. Peel back with your fingers to split the wood into smaller pieces.
    • Both these methods keep your fingers out of the path of the ax blade, which is a very smart thing to do.
  4. 4
    Gather logs or other bulky "fuel". Fuel burns slowly and steadily for an extended period of time. Sources include dry wood, (1" to 5" in diameter) twisted dry grasses, peat, dried animal dung, and coal. Green or wet fuel can be used, but only once the fire is established; it'll be dried by the heat and burn more slowly than dry fuel.[1]

    • Softwoods/conifers/evergreens have leaves in the shape of needles. They burn quickly and very hot, and they also contain flammable resins burn hotter and help with starting a fire. Because of this, they're often used for kindling as well, since they're easier to ignite than hardwoods. You will know if you are using a wood with resin, if it crackles and pops when being burned[1]
    • Hardwoods have broad flat leaves and they don't catch fire as easily as softwoods. Once they do, however, they burn for a longer period of time and give off more heat.[1]
    • Look for dry branches on the ground. Branches off trees will have too much moisture in them and it is bad stewardship to cut living trees for firewood use. If it has rained recently, just try to find the driest wood you can. you can also use dead limbs of trees. You will be able to identify dead limbs by an absence of leaves. Also dead limbs will have no flexibility when bent, they will crack and split easily and have no scent or green color inside of the wood.
    • It may be necessary to know How to Split Hardwood Firewood or How to Split Gnarly Firewood
    • You can also Make Logs from Newspapers.
    • Survivor Man said it best: "A good rule of thumb is: once you think you have enough wood, get at least five times that much." You can never have enough wood, especially before going to sleep. Having a fire is the difference between life and death. Fires cook food, create light that scares away animals and bugs, as well as provides warmth on a cold night.
  5. 5
    A wall made of wood to reflect heat
     A wall made of wood to reflect heat
    Clear a circular area about four feet in diameter.Build a ring of rocks or dig a fire pit that's several inches deep. Constructing a ring of stones will insulate the fire. Building a fire wall with logs or rocks will reflect the fire's heat, especially if you'll only be on one side of the fire (because otherwise the heat sent off in the other direction is wasted). If the ground is wet or covered with snow, build a platform out of green logs and cover them with a layer of earth or stones. Always have a bucket of water next to you in case the fire starts burning outside the base. You can also Build a Fire in a Hubcap.
  6. 6
    Understand fire. Fire is commonly defined as rapid oxidation accompanied by heat and light.[2] In order to build, maintain, or extinguish a fire, it's important to recognize how the sides of the "fire triangle" of heat, fuel and oxygen--or, more completely, the faces of the fire tetrahedron, which adds the processes by which they react--fit together[3].
    • Fire is a chain reaction. Most flammable materials will not oxidize readily unless they are exposed to oxygen (plentiful in air) and heated to high temperatures to jolt them and the oxygen from their otherwise stable states to react. The oxidation produces heat, which speeds the reaction of any neighboring material. But normal air flow, wind, and the bulk of the fuel mass can carry away heat. If there is much fuel well-exposed to heat and oxygen, the burn rate will increase. If there is little, the burn rate will decrease.
    • Fire only happens where the fuel and oxygen are in contact on a molecular level. Gases burn much more easily than solids. Volatile liquid fuels very easily vaporize and burn. Any given part of a chunk of wood is harder to burn. First, it has to dry out. Even dry wood has a significant amount of water. As long as the water is present, it will keep the wood much too cool to burn. Once the water has evaporated, it has to, while still losing heat to water and wood behind it, heat up enough to undergo pyrolysis, degradation of complex chemicals and their partial release as gas.[4] Many of these gases are flammable. They rise up and, if near enough something hot to light them initially, burn in the air. (If there is not enough heat, they rise as dense smoke. Blowing on the center of a smoldering fire will often heat it enough for them to catch fire.) The result is an ethereal yellow flame of suspended glowing soot.[5]. The flame is pretty, and radiates a lot of warmth, but doesn't produce very concentrated heat. Most of the heat from wood is produced from the surfaces of the pile of glowing embers that remains.[6] Because this heat is produced by a small burning surface rather than a large flame volume, it is also more effective in keeping a fire going.
    • Wood is hard to burn on an isolated surface, where new wood is exposed only to burning wood immediately beside it and a little flame or hot smoke passing by. A few small sticks or two logs barely touching will tend to die out or blow out. Two or three burning logs surfaces facing each other--and, to sustain a fire, a new log or two--can burn steadily. Sticks in an open pile of logs or a bundle of tinder or wad kindling reinforce one another's self-generated heat so well that internal drafts, wind gusts, or blowing on the fire much more to feed the fire oxygen than to cool it, making an intense, easily expanding fire.
    • Given the foregoing, you start a fire by igniting a spot on a bundle of many small things that sit close together with a little room for air, "tinder" and "kindling". You grow a fire by using its heat to bake and ignite bigger piles of bigger things. You sustain a fire by gradually adding items and rearranging them as necessary to keep burning surfaces reinforcing one another's heat and baking new items' unburned surfaces around and over a central area whose size determines the power and fuel consumption of the fire. (Recall that heat radiates and weakens outward and convects upward convects upward and cold flows in around and under.[7]) Knocking off charred wood and ash to increase the burning and burnable surface in a small space can help a small fire along.
      • To avoid an unwanted second fire, protect logs in the vicinity of your fire that you want to burn later from catching fire from errant sparks and embers by laying them separate from one another rather than stacking them.
      • Water absorbs lots of heat and its vapors exclude oxygen. Wet wood is hard to burn, but it does contain much more energy than it needs to dry and burn itself. It just needs to be arranged carefully to burn well.
      • You can shrink a fire, or let it die out to burn the remainder of its wood later, by raking it apart.
      • You can keep embers burning overnight or longer to rekindle later by raking the embers and ash together into a pile. The loose ash will reduce access to oxygen but retain heat very well to keep high temperature and slow burning. But don't do this except in a survival situation: let your fire die out or put it out to make sure it won't flare up or light something else unattended.
      • It's best to make sure a fire is out when there will be no one around to watch it. Poke the burning items away from each other so they cool, and soak the fire area with water to cool and smother them.
  7. 7
    Place the tinder in a pile of kindling that's spaced loosely enough to let air circulate, but close enough so a flame can spread through. Light the tinder and add kindling. Slowly blow on the igniting fire to build heat and intensity.
  8. 8
    As the fire grows, add firewood from smallest to biggest. The arrangement you choose will determine whether it stays burning (especially with green or dampened wood), how fast it burns, and conversely how long your wood lasts. Here's where your inner architect can shine through.
    • Tepee - Arrange tinder and a few sticks of kindling in the shape of a cone and light the center. The outside logs will fall inward and feed the fire. This is the most effective of all fire arrangements. Since a flame is hottest at the tip of the fire (where the oxygen combusts into fire to create Carbon dioxide) the top of the tepee is where the most intense heat will be, so if a stick is thicker at one end, be sure to place the thicker end at the top of the tepee. Because of the tepee arrangement, the fire burns well with wet wood and green wood, however since very intense heat is generated by the arrangement, the fire burns through wood rather quickly.[8]
    • Log cabin method - Stack layers alternating in direction, forming four walls in the shape of a square around a tepee. Air between sticks allows circulation of air. The "chimney effect" will suck air in through the bottom and let it exit through top as strong flame. If the fire seems like its not getting enough oxygen, dig small holes under the walls to allow for better air flow, or blow on the fire to reach optimal burning temperature. This arrangement is best for cooking food, because it creates uniform heat from its square shape. It can also serve as a rack to place food on, if you use larger, green pieces of wood at the top.
    • Pyramid - This is like the log cabin method, except the layers get smaller as they reach the top, and there is no tepee inside. Place two small logs or branches on the ground so that they're parallel to each other, then put a solid layer of small logs or branches on top of them in a perpendicular direction. Add three or four more layers, each time alternating the direction, and each layer being smaller than the one before. Light the top of the pyramid on fire, and it will burn downwards on its own.
    • Lean-to - Push a green stick into the ground at a 30 degree angle, pointing in the direction of the wind. Put tinder underneath and lean sticks of kindling against the main stick. Light the tinder and add more kindling as needed.
    • Cross-ditch - Scratch a cross in the ground that's 30cm or 12" in diameter. Make it 7.5cm or 3" deep and put a big wad of tinder in the middle. Build a pyramid out of kindling over the middle. The ditch will allow air to flow through and feed the fire.
    • Star - With this arrangement, you can push the logs inward to increase heat, and pull them out to decrease heat. It's particularly helpful if you're trying to conserve fuel.[8]
  9. 9
    Now that you have a fire you can cook food, boil water to make it safe to drink, create smoke to ward away bugs, create light to scare off animals, as well as stay warm at night.
  • To cook, basically, let the fire continue with little new material to avoid big flames which will heat unevenly and cover whatever they touch with soot. Set an expendable container such as an open can in, on or over the coals (something sealed could explode), or grill (on an expendable fork or wire stand or skillet) over and close to the coals and small flames. Because an open fire is inherently imprecise, and generally poorly-lit, use simple techniques like boiling, and avoid or err toward overcooking foods such as pork that are particularly important to cook thoroughly to avoid food poisoning.


  • If it's a small branch that is still attached to the tree, but has no bark, it will be an excellent intermediate between your tinder and kindling.
  • All the fuel should be dry; a good test is to see how easily things snap instead of bend, especially for the twigs. If it bends, it's safe to say it's damp.
  • If you will be at a campsite or other area for multiple days, store some fuel in a dry area just in case it rains. This way, you will have enough dry fuel should you want to start or continue a fire later on in your trip/event.
  • The log cabin method is the best especially if you need lot of heat as it is the best in terms of air flow, heat, and you can stack the wood much higher than with other methods since it is a tower instead of a tee pee which eventually converges into one spot.
  • If you want to move the fuel around in the fire, dunk the end of a long sturdy stick into a bucket of water (or just use a "green" stick) as a "poker" to move things around. Sometimes, moving logs around may greatly improve the fire.
  • The best way to be great at building fires is to practice. Offer to help an experienced person build and watch a fire.
  • An open fire is fun, but very inefficient because it heats much more air than it needs to burn its fuel and allows most to escape without doing anything useful. A stove controls airflow, so it's much more efficient.


  • Before starting the fire, make sure that you are allowed to make one. Most campsites and some area governments may allow gas or liquid-fueled stoves only - or no fires at all - depending on how hot and dry a particular day is. Sometimes fires are not allowed during the day. These advisories may change from day to day, so be prepared to put out your fire even if you were allowed to have it the day before.
  • Fire and the hot coals it produces are dangerous. Don't wear anything fluffy around them. Know how to React if You Get Burned.
  • Put out your fires, or the forest may burn down... and it'll be your fault
     Put out your fires, or the forest may burn down... and it'll be your fault
    Prevent forest fires. Contain your fire in a safe fire pit , clear out nearby burnable stuff, and make sure your fire is out cold before leaving it, even to sleep. If you can place your hand in the place where the fire was, it is cold enough.
  • Keep a pair of water-filled buckets near before starting your fire. If the fire goes out of control, then you will have something nearby to put it out. If there is little water in your area, fill the buckets with sand or soil instead. For larger fires, prepare more buckets.
  • Make sure at least one responsible person is tending the fire at all times.
  • Avoid using stones from in or near water to line your fire pit. Rocks store water inside their structures and if rapidly heated they can crack and explode.
  • Axes and hatchets can be very dangerous. A handsaw, more time spent looking for kindling and more patience igniting big logs, or even a bag of charcoal or a ready-made artificial "firelog" is much safer.
  • Fires on the ground kill beneficial bacteria, insects, and roots in nearby dirt. Confine your fire to an area established for the purpose.
  • Don't move firewood. Buy it locally to prevent moving invasive insects and their eggs and larvae. If firewood has been moved from another area, it should all be burned immediately, and if it can't be burned, at least not removed from the car.

No comments:

Post a Comment