The 6 Best Ways to Start a Fire without Matches

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First off, I want to point out that you should probably never find yourself in this situation.

Matches (or a match-less fire starter) are one of the things you should always carry with you when going into nature.

Heck, matches are one of those things you should carry with you every day.  I’ve got a fire starter in an “Everyday Carry” survival kit that I always keep with me.

But I get it.  Things do happen and you could find yourself needing to start a fire without matches, a lighter, a Ferro rod…  So, you’ll be glad to know these 6 ways to start a fire.

1. Hand Drill

Most of the ways to make a fire without matches rely on friction, and the Hand Drill is the most basic of the fraction methods.

Making a hand drill is really simple, but it is the most labor-intensive method of starting a fire.  You’ve probably seen it done in movies and TV.   To make it work, you will need a base board, such as a larger branch or even the top of a tree stump.  And you will also need an arm-length stick.   Here is what you do:

  • Make a notch in your base board. The notch should be just big enough to fit your stick.
  • Squeeze the stick into the notch.
  • Put your tinder next to the notch.
  • Using your hands and a lot of downward force, spin the stick back and forth in the notch.
  • Sparks should start to appear, and these sparks will light your tinder.
  • Blow on the tinder to get the sparks to form a flame.

hand drill fire starter

2. String or Bow Drill

This method of starting a fire works in the same way as the hand drill.  The difference is that you use a piece of string or rope (like your shoelace or a piece of paracord) to rotate the stick.   There are a couple ways to make your drill.  One is to make a “bow” and twist the stick into it.  Then, when you pull the bow, it will cause the stick to rotate.   Here are a few pictures of how it can be done.

string drill fire starter

bow drill fire starter

3.  Flint and Steel Method of Fire Starting

We all know that a flint and steel can be used to start a fire, but few actually know why this works.  Even though it is the flint you see breaking off, it isn’t the flint which actually lights the fire.  It is the steel.

When you bang the flint against the steel, tiny pieces of iron from within the steel will curl off.  The friction and exposure to the oxygen will cause the pieces of iron to light on fire.  These are the sparks that you see.  Not all types of steel are the same.  The best steel for fire starting is high-carbon that has been treated to get to an ideal hardness.  A good steal will give off millions of sparks when it is hit.

If you don’t have a flint, you can use another hard, glassy stone.  Quartz is the second best option, but jasper and agate will also work.  I’ve even seen concrete used to start a fire with a flint.

Your flint and steel can be producing a million sparks, but these sparks won’t do you any good if you don’t have a char cloth to catch on fire.  If you don’t have char cloth, you can also use a dry, lightweight fungus.

strike fire starter

4. Using the Sun

This method of starting a fire without matches only works during the day and when the sun is very strong.  You will also need to have some sort of lens to focus the sun’s light.  Here are some of the things you can use to focus the sun’s light to make your fire:

  • Eyeglasses
  • A magnifying glass
  • A mirror
  • The reflector from a flashlight
  • The bottom of a soda can, polished with toothpaste or something similar
  • A transparent bottle filled with water (not the best option, but can work in a pinch)

The trick is to focus the sunlight on the same spot.  You want the beam to be as concentrated as possible, so you’ll have to move the lens around until it gets just right.  Then you’ll have to (patiently) hold the lens there until you spark your tinder.

5. Using a Battery to Start a Fire

One really cool trick that you can do is use a battery to start a fire.  Note that doing this will drain the battery, so don’t do this if you actually need your battery!

You will need a battery and something which is metal but can ignite, such as steel wool or even a gum wrapper.  You’ll also need some tinder, of course.

Take your steel wool (or metal gum wrapper cut into a thin strip) and touch it to both ends of the battery.  A spark will form instantly and ignite the steel wool.  Quickly use this to light your tinder.

If the steel wool doesn’t light right away for some reason (like your battery juice is low), you can create sparks by rubbing the steel wool on the battery ends.  It will cause current to go through the wires and heat them up until they ignite.  You can also take a piece of metal, like a paperclip, and rub it against both ends of a battery at the same time. Sparks will form and these sparks can be used to light tinder.

battery steel wool fire starter

6. Chemical Reactions

If you are good at chemistry, then there are a lot of ways to start a fire without matches using common household items.  The most common ones involve using chlorine pool tablets mixed with things like motor oil.  You can also use battery acid (which is just diluted sulfuric acid) or potassium permangenate for lighting fires.  Be warned that these can cause explosions or toxic fumes, so I’m not going to get into them here.  If you are really serious about it, then you can read more about chemical fire starters here.

Have you ever had to light a fire without matches?  How did it go?

+ Image credits:
Bushmen in Deception Valley, Ian Sewell Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic
Fire Drilling, Wellcome Images, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
Bow Drill, Hirsutism, CC BY 3.0
Magnesium Sparks, Hiroaki Nakamura, CC BY-SA 3.0

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  1. Hand drill materials must rub off enough soft powder to accumulate around the drill head so that the frictional heat will form a coal or ember.Only appropriate materials will do this.

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