Starting a Fire With a Flint & Steel

Every bushcraft basecamp should have a fire. You’ll use it for light at night, heat in cold weather, for cooking, comfort, and to deter wildlife. Everyone who does bushcraft should know how to start a fire. Starting a fire with a flint & steel is a popular method of getting fire at your bushcraft campsite. Here’s how to build a roaring fire:

1. Clear Debris from Fire Area

Fire safety is important when building a fire in nature. The last thing you want is to inadvertently start a wildfire. Before building a fire, plan where the campfire will be, and remove all grass, sticks, and other debris from the area. You’ll want a wide circle (at least 8-9 feet diameter) clear of all flammable items.

If you’re planning on building a semi-permanent fire pit, dig into the ground so that when you place the fire pit base stones in place, they’ll be level with the ground. You can also line the planned fire pit with stones to create a rock wall.

bushcraft basecamp fire
Rock-lined fire pit with fire shield.

2. Collect Kindling

After you know where your fire will be, it’s time to collect kindling for your fire. Kindling generally consists of dry brush or extremely thin sticks that will catch a spark easily. The key is to look for dry kindling – the drier it is, the easier it will be to start your fire. Collect a little extra kindling than you think you’ll need in case you need to stoke the flame before the fire gets going. Generally, two big handfuls of dry kindling should be enough to start a fire.

Take some of your driest kindling and make a tinder bundle – a nest-shaped bundle of very dry materials like dried grass or shredded bark. The larger materials should be on the outside of the “nest” while the finer, more flammable materials are on the inside. Make sure your bundle has a hollowed out center (like a nest) to protect your spark or ember from wind and rain.

3. Make a Spark

Once the kindling is ready, you need to make a spark. You’ll use your bushcraft knife and a flint stone. Gather a small pile of kindling and using the back of the knife blade (the non-sharp side) firmly strike across the flint stone in the direction of your tinder bundle. Aiming the flint towards the center of the bundle will help the sparks that you create to fall onto the kindling. It might take a few strikes before a spark catches and turns into fire, so multiple strikes may be required.

If you’re using a flint that has a block of magnesium, here’s an extra trip that will make fire-starting even easier. Simply use your knife to shave a few magnesium shavings and mix them in with your wood shavings before lighting with sparks. The magnesium catches much easier and will help you light even damp kindling.

Bushcraft Basecamp Method For Starting a Fire

4. Grow Your Fire

Once you have your spark, it’s almost ready to grow into a fire. First you need the ember to go from spark to flame. Once you have a spark in your tinder bundle, loosely fold the “nest” around it, being careful not to smother the spark, and gently blow through the tinder. When the tinder bundle ignites, you’re ready to move it to a larger pile of prepared kindling. As the kindling catches, gradually add on larger pieces of wood, being careful not to block airflow to the flame. Feed the fire until it’s the size you need.

Bushcraft Basecamp Method For Starting a Fire With a Flint & Steel

Alternate Bushcraft Basecamp Methods for Making Fire Without a Flint

Without a flint, there are still a few ways you can get a fire going at your basecamp. Here’s a brief overview of how you can start a fire using the bow drill method or the hand drill method.

Start a Bushcraft Fire with a Hand Drill

The hand drill is one of the most basic firecraft skills. It relies on friction between two pieces of wood to make fire. It’s important to choose the right wood when attempting to use a hand drill to start a fire. The spindle (the piece of wood you’ll be spinning between your hands) and the fire board (the board you’ll be spinning your spindle on), should be dry softwoods like aspen or willow. Bore a small depression into the fire board (using your knife) and then cut a small V-shaped notch next to it. Then, place the board above a piece of bark. You’re going to put the point of the spindle into the carved depression, then, while applying pressure, roll the spindle between your hands.

The idea is to create enough friction between the point of your spindle and the fire board to create an ember, which will fall from the V-notch you’ve carved, and onto the bark. Once you have an ember, carefully move it to a prepared tinder bundle. This should start your fire. (Note, you may need to GENTLY blow on the ember to help it light the kindling.)

Using a Bow Drill to Start a Fire

The bow drill is a modified version of the Hand Drill method. The bow drill method provides better grip and leverage but does require some additional construction and materials to make. A bow drill has a hand rest installed at the top of the drill and creates the friction using a bow to turn the drill. To make the bow, tie a piece of string to one end of a stick, wrap the string around the drill once, and then tie the other end of the string to the opposite end of the stick to form a bow shape. Turn the drill by holding the bow firmly and making a sawing motion. This will spin the drill and create friction between the drill tip and fire board. Follow the same steps of transferring to your tinder bundle once you have an ember.

Flint & steel, a hand drill or bow drill are three basic bushcraft basecamp methods for starting a fire for your bushcraft basecamp. There are a variety of bushcraft firestarters on the market that can make starting a fire easier. Of course, you could always use matches or a lighter, but many people enjoy starting a fire with a flint & steel.

Do you have any firecraft tips?

Bushcraft Charlie

As an avid outdoor enthusiast, Bushcraft Charlie first developed his wilderness and survival skills in the suburbs of Maryland. After relocating to Montana, he's continued to spend time outdoors - hiking the Rocky Mountains and practicing bushcraft skills like shelter building and fire making.

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