Top 9 Ways to Start Fire and Without Matches: From Grill to Bonfire

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Use a lighter! Just kidding. Everybody should know how to start a fire because you never know where you’ll find yourself: maybe your plane will fall in some wilderness, somewhere in Alaska. Or you will go into the woods and lose your backpack in a fight with a bear!

After all, you may end up in very windy or wet weather where matches are useless. A real man knows exactly how to make fire without matches, and this is necessary for survival.

By the way, if you do survive in the fight with a bear and return back home, you can use these tips to make a fire for your outdoor grill as well! It doesn’t matter if you ever need these skills or not, it’s cool to know how to make fire, whatever the conditions.


According to, It’s not a method for the faint of heart and, probably, the most difficult one of the “non-match” methods of fire-making. There are different ways to make fire with friction, but the most important thing here is which tree to use as a hearth board and a spindle.

A spindle is a stick that you have to twist back and forth around its axis to create strong friction between it and the board to produce sparks. If you create enough friction, you can get smoldering coals and use them to ignite the fire.

A poplar, juniper, aspen, willow, cedar, cypress and walnut are best suited for making a fire in this way. The important thing is that the wood must be dry.

Hand Drill

  • The hand drill method is the most primitive, simple and, at the same time, the heaviest. All you need is wood, strong hands, and steady nerves. Applying this method, you will feel like a real caveman. This is how you do it:
  • Get some tinder in a compact, reminiscent of a bird’s nest, pile. The “nest” will be used to ignite the flame from sparks we are about to extract. It should be made of materials that can easily ignite, e.g. dried grass, leaves or bark.
  • Make a small recess in the “nest”. Carve the V-shaped hole in the board and make a small recess next to it.
  • Place the bark piece underneath this recess. It will get smoldering coals from the friction of the spindle against the board which will give the fire a chance to ignite.
  • Start spinning the spindle. Place it into the recess on the board. In order for everything to work properly, the length of the spindle must be at least 24″. Press it down against the board, rubbing it between your palms, quickly moving them up and down the spindle. Proceed until you see smoldering coals in the board’s hole.
  • Inflate the fire! As soon as you see red charcoal, knock on the board so that it falls on the piece of bark underneath the hole. Move the piece to your tinder “nest”. Blow gently on the coals to start the fire.

Fire Plow

Prepare a wooden board. Cut a recess in it for a spindle.

Rub! Take the spindle and stick its end in the recess on the board. Start rubbing the end of the spindle against the walls of the recess in the board, moving it up and down.

Start a fire. Place the “nest” of the tinder so that the embers from friction fall into it. As soon as you catch a piece of coal, gently blow on it and get a small living flame.

Bow Drill

Using bow for making fire is probably the most effective method of friction because it makes it easier to maintain high pressure and the speed of the spindle rotation. For making fire, strong friction is required. Apart from the spindle and board, this method will require a weighting agent to hold the spindle and bow.

Make a weighing device. It is used to press the upper end of the spindle which is set in motion with the help of the bow and, due to this, becomes unstable. To hold the spindle, you can use a stone or a piece of wood. If you use the latter, it should be harder than the spindle. Using water or oil as lubricants to boost the process is a great idea.

Make a bow. It should be the same length as your hand. Use a flexible, slightly curved wooden vine. A bowstring can be made of anything, e.g. a lace, rope or rawhide strips. But it must be a durable material for sure. Stretch the bowstring and you are ready to go!

Prepare the board. Cut a v-shaped hole, put tinder under it.

Wrap the spindle with the bowstring. Place the spindle in the bow loop. One end of the rod should be in the hole that you made in the board, and the other end should be pressed with a stone or a piece of wood.

Start moving the bow. Move the bow back and forth horizontally, just like you saw something. In fact, you have now assembled an elementary mechanical system. The spindle should be rotating fast. Keep moving the bow until you get coals.

Make it burn. Throw ember in tinder and gently blow on them. Done!

Flint and Firesteel

One of the oldest methods. Having a solid flint and firesteel with you is always a good idea. Matches can get wet, and then there’s no sense in them, but then you can still count on your flint and firesteel. If they are not at hand, no one forbids you to improvise, using quartzite and a steel blade of a pocket knife.

You will also need some materials for ignition. This is usually cloth or moss. They catch a spark well and smolder for a long time without burning. If you do not have any special materials, then a piece of mushroom or bark is quite suitable.

Secure the ignition material and stone. Grab the stone with your thumb and forefinger. Make sure that the distance from your fingers to the edge of the stone is about 2-3”. The material for ignition should be between your thumb and flint.

Hit it! Take a steel bar or use the knife handle. Hit the steel with the flint a few times. Sparks will fly away from the steel and fall on the material for ignition, causing smoldering combustion.

Light a fire. Put the ignition material in the tinder “nest” and blow it gently to get the flames.

Magnifying Glass

It’s easy to light a fire with a lens. Anyone who used to melt plastic toy soldiers, playing with a magnifying glass, knows how to do it. If you’ve never done anything like that, here’s your manual.

Ordinary Lenses

All you need is a lens to concentrate sunlight at a specific spot. A magnifying glass, glasses or binocular lenses are perfect. If you add some water to the surface of the lens, you can strengthen the ray. Turn the lens at an angle to focus the sunray on a small area.

The smaller, the better. Place the “nest” under the ray, and the fire will ignite soon. The only drawback to this method is that it only works when there is sunlight. So if it happens in the evening or on a cloudy day, the lens will be useless.

But there are a few additional methods as well.


By filling a balloon (or condom) with water, you can make a lens too. Fill the balloon with water and tie up its tip. Do not inflate it too much as this will distort the focus of the sunlight. Give it the most spherical shape possible. Squeeze the balloon into a shape that will allow the ray to focus.

Try to squeeze the middle to form two smaller lenses. Condoms and balloons have a shorter focal length than conventional lenses, so they should be placed 1-2″ away from the tinder pile.

Starting a fire with ice

Ice and flames are not only a series of epic fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, which you have probably read/heard of a lot. You can also make fire with a piece of ice. All you have to do is put a piece of ice into a lens shape and use it just like any other lens. This method is especially good for tourists in winter.

Get clean water. It must be transparent. If the ice is cloudy or contains any impurities, then, no matter how hard you fight, you won’t get fire with it. The best way to get a transparent piece of ice is to fill a ball or cup with clear water from a lake, pond or melted snow and let the water freeze. A piece of ice should be approximately 2″ thick.

Use a knife to form a lens out of a piece of ice. Remember that the lens is thicker in the middle and narrower near the edges.

Once you have the lens in rough shape, polish it with your hands. The warmth of your hands will melt the ice enough to make a good smooth surface.

Start making fire. Place the ice lens at an angle to the sun just as if it were a normal glass lens. Focus the ray on the pile of tinder and witness magic!

Coke and Chocolate

I saw this on YouTube quite a long ago. That was surprisingly interesting. All we need is a can of Coke, chocolate bar, and sunny day. Open the chocolate bar and start rubbing it against the bottom of the can. This polishing will make its bottom shine like a mirror. If you don’t have chocolate with you, toothpaste works the same way.

Light a fire. After polishing, you have got yourself a parabolic mirror. Sunlight will reflect off the bottom and focus on one spot. This kind of reminds of the way telescope mirrors work.

Turn the polished bottom to the sun. This way you will create a perfectly focused sunray aimed directly at the tinder pile. Place the latter at a distance of approximately 1-2″ from the focus of sunlight.

A few seconds later, the flame should appear. I can’t actually imagine myself somewhere at the edge of the world with a can of Coke and chocolate bar, but this method really works.

Batteries and Wool

As in the previous case, it’s hard to imagine a situation where you can find yourself in extreme conditions without matches but with batteries and a piece of wool in your pocket. But you just never know how life will turn out. This method is very simple and funny, so you can try it at home.

Stretch out a piece of wool. It should be a strip of wool that is about 6″ long and 0.4″ wide. Wipe the battery with a piece of wool. Hold the strip in one hand and the battery in the other. Any battery will do, but the optimal power is 9 W. Rub the battery “contact” side against the wool. It shall then ignite. Blow on it gently. Put the burning wool on the tinder pile. Keep in mind that it will not burn for long, so hurry up!

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Richard Remick

Richard is the founder and the chief editor of Outside Pursuits. Passionate about the great outdoors, Richard spends much of his time in Colorado enjoying skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, cycling, hiking, and camping. When at home in Florida, he is most often found in the water. He loves water sports such as paddle boarding, kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving. He is a certified scuba diver. Because of his wealth of knowledge and experience, Richard has been invited to contribute articles to many outdoor-focused websites, such as Florida Rambler, and has been profiled on travel websites such as JohnnyJet.

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