Campfire Building 101

Although many people think it’s easy to start a fire, there is definitely an art and science to it. In order to start a fire effectively, one needs to know about the fuel, some of the science behind fires, and how to lay out the logs.

The first thing to gather before starting the fire is the fuel. It is good to have three sizes of wood: tinder, kindling, and logs. The tinder is the smallest and is smaller in diameter then your pinky. Kindling is smaller then your wrist, while fuel is bigger then your wrist. It is good to gather ample tinder as it is the key to a strong fire starting. Try not to gather anything that is wet or green. Some newer woods actually do have a green color. Also, it is not preferable to pull off fresh tree branches as it tends to also contain a lot of moisture and does very little good starting an actual fire. Some people when choosing tinder may try to bring old household scraps from trims and such. Be careful doing this, much of this wood is treated with chemicals or finishes that release toxic chemicals and fumes when released into the air, which can make people sick and is not good for the environment.

When dealing with fuel logs, not all wood burns the same. Some wood such as oaks burn very hot and very long, this is because it is a denser wood. Birches are very good for starting fires. The papery bark helps to ignite the wood faster, but the wood also tends to burn faster. It’s also good to note that certain pines actually have flame resistant barks. Although they will catch on fire eventually, it is generally good to use this wood once the fire is already started, and even then it won’t burn very well. One last wood choosing tip, is don’t go with freshly chopped wood. Like fresh branches, non-aged wood does not burn as well.

It is also good to have good smaller starting material. I prefer to use paper, however one can use laundry lint, dried plants or leaves in a pinch. It is good not to use too many leaves because they often contain leftover moisture when they were alive and have a tendency to squelch the fire.

First place an ample amount of starting material on the ground in a fire ring. If you are making your own fire area, surround it with rocks and make sure the ground is clear of debris so you only start your fire area on fire and not the forest! If you are using paper make sure to scrunch or twist the paper. This makes it burn longer. The starting materials are there only to start the tinder on fire, which you now put over the top of your starting materials. Try to put the tinder loosely around it making sure there are holing in between it and you aren’t completely burying it. After all you do need to reach in and light your starting materials on fire, and for the purpose of oxygen.

This brings me to my next point, fires need to breath just like we do. If there is no oxygen the fire will not burn. This is why its important to leave gaps here and there so air can get in. This is why the tipi shaped fire setup is so popular, it gets a lot of air in but also makes the wood touch. I’ve noticed where wood is touching is where flames tend to burn more. I’ll get more into fire setups later, but during all stages a breathing fire is important.

After laying out your starting material and tinder, lay some pieces of kindling gently over. These you want going over the tinder and try to set it against rocks or the side of the pit so it doesn’t squash the other stuff for oxygen purposes.

Light your starting materials. Watch it closely, adjusting tinder carefully over the flames and the kindling as necessary. This part takes practice and manipulation. Sometimes you have to start again, but if you have ample starting materials and tinder it is often not a problem.

Once you have some kindling started, gently put some fuel logs on top of the fire. Some people like to use a tipi formation that I mentioned earlier. This is where all points of the wood lean in to the center and touch there. Although I have seen this used successfully when starting fire, I dislike it because as the fuel burns the wood tends to collapse and it is impossible to maintain the tipi the entire burning time.Otherwise I tend to have one log laying down with several running perpendicular to it. This way the fire gets plenty of oxygen, but has many pieces of fuel touching each other.

Yet another method of fire building is to build what is called the log cabin. This method you lay down two pieces of would parallel to each other. Then you set the next to pieces across the two you just laid down parallel to each other so the four pieces of wood make a square shape. You alternate directions that you lay these pieces out so you have a tall square of wood. This method allows a fire to be built so that a pot can be placed directly over the burning pieces of wood and are supported.

One fire building safety tip, is to gently lay the pieces of wood in the fire, don’t throw it. If you throw the wood in, it can make your formations break apart; or worse, you can end up creating a bunch of sparks that end up melting or burning holes in clothing or hurting someone.

So with all of these tips, you should be armed to make a wonderful fire. After you know these easy tips, building your next campfire should be a lot easier.

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