With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in April 2008.
Whether for warmth, cooking, or signaling, fire is a survival essential. As is the knowledge of how to make one without matches. You never know when you’ll find yourself without those convenient little red-tipped tools. 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 needn’t even be something so dramatic — even extremely windy or wet conditions can render matches virtually useless.
Fortunately, if you need to make fire and don’t have matches, you’re not at all out of luck; a wide variety of other options remain for catalyzing a flame. Below, we go over nine of them, from those which utilize items you might scrounge in an urban environment to ones which only require the natural leavings of the wilderness.
Friction-Based Fire Making
Friction-based fire making is not for the faint of heart, and represents the most difficult of the non-match methods. There are different techniques you can use to make a fire with friction, but the most important aspect is the type of wood you use for the fireboard and spindle.
The spindle is the stick you’ll spin in order to create friction between it and the fireboard. If you create enough friction between the spindle and the fireboard, you can create an ember that can be used to create a fire. Cottonwood, juniper, aspen, willow, cedar, cypress, and walnut make the best fireboard and spindle sets.
Before you can use wood to start a friction-based fire, the wood must be bone dry. If the wood isn’t dry, you’ll have to dry it out first.
1. The Hand Drill
The hand drill method is the most primeval, and the most difficult to do. All you need is wood, tireless hands, and some gritty determination. Here’s how it’s done:
Build a tinder nest. Your tinder nest will be used to turn the ember you create into a flame. Make a tinder nest out of anything that catches fire easily, like dry grass, leaves, and bark.
Make your notch. Cut a v-shaped notch into your fireboard and make a small depression adjacent to it.
Place bark underneath the notch. The bark will be used to catch an ember from the friction between the spindle and fireboard.
Start spinning. Place the spindle into the depression on your fireboard. Your spindle should be about 2 feet long for this to work properly. Maintain pressure on the board and start rolling the spindle between your hands, running them quickly down the spindle. Keep doing this until an ember is formed on the fireboard.
Start a fire! Once you see a glowing ember, tap the fireboard to drop your ember onto the piece of bark. Transfer the bark to your nest of tinder. Gently