How To Start A Fire With Sticks

Old-timey cartoon characters start fires twirling two sticks together in less than ten seconds. Of course, seasoned survivalists know it is never that simple, and scouts across America have the blisters to prove it. Nevertheless, knowing how to start a fire with sticks is the life-saving party trick to have.

How to start a fire with sticks in 13 steps:

  1. Start Working When The Sun Is Out
  2. Find Two Dry Sticks Made Of Soft Wood
  3. Gather Tinder: Dry Leaves, Coconut Fibers
  4. Gather Dry Kindling: Dry Sticks And Bark
  5. Gather Dry Wood
  6. Use A Knife To create A Groove In The Bigger Stick
  7. Sharpen Smaller Stick To A 45-Degree Angle
  8. Secure Bigger Stick
  9. Firmly Rub Smaller Stick In The Groove
  10. Increase Pressure And Quicken Strokes
  11. Once Coals Are Reliably Smoking, Transfer To Tinder
  12. Get Tinder To Flame
  13. Transfer Flames To Kindling

1. Start Working When The Sun Is Out

Get to work during the day before evening mist has rolled in. When starting a fire with sticks, it is essential to have all materials drier than a dragon’s breath. Unfortunately, unlike starting a campfire, you don’t have any matches or lighter fuel that can help you overcome mild dampness.  

If you can’t find completely dry materials, lay everything out in the full sun, turning them over periodically. You need everything to be moisture free.

2. Find Two Dry Sticks Made Of Soft Wood

You’ll need two “fire starting” sticks made of identical softwood. Ideally, your “bigger” stick should be flatter than the other.

3. Gather Tinder: Dry Leaves, Coconut Fibers

Tinder is your “box of matches” that will light your kindling. You want dry leaves, grasses, coconut fibers (like from the husk), or dried moss. All materials should be so burnable that you might not even bother with them if you actually had a box of matches.

4. Gather Dry Kindling: Dry Sticks And Bark

You also need to gather your kindling, ideally made up of dry sticks, bark, and other easy-to-burn material. Dried horse or cow poo is another (smelly) option that works well.

5. Gather Dry Wood

Lastly, you need the bigger chunks of wood to burn once your fire is going. These should be constructed in a teepee with your dry kindling in the center. You want this construction to be on dry ground, protected from wind, but with plenty of air circulation.

Ensure you have a spare pile of logs to feed the fire through the evening. You don’t want to be stomping around at night trying to find more fuel. Also, if you have a tarp or an extra coat, cover your pile, so it doesn’t get damp as temperatures cool.

6. Use A Knife To create A Groove In The Bigger Stick

Using a knife, stone, nail, or a solid, sharp piece of wood, create an 8-inch groove in your flat, long, softwood stick. You will need it to be wide enough that the other stick will fit, like the breadth of a pinkie fingernail.

7. Sharpen Smaller Stick To A 45-Degree Angle

Take your smaller softwood stick and whittle its point into a 45-degree angle that will fit in your groove.

8. Secure Bigger Stick

Secure the flatter, more substantial stick on the ground in front of you. You want it to remain still, not wiggling side to side or be able to be pushed away from you.

Also, be sure to do this on dry, cleared ground. A field of brown grass is a bad idea. You want to build a small campfire, not a tragic and destructive blaze.

9. Firmly Rub Smaller Stick In The Groove

Grip the smaller stick with two hands and fit it into the groover. You want to be positioned over it so you can use your body weight to help maintain pressure.

10. Increase Pressure And Quicken Strokes

Do not stop at the first sign of smoke. Instead, as smoke develops, the pressure increases and goes faster. You want the smoke to really get going until you have pearl-sized coals growing in your flat piece of wood.

11. Once Coals Are Reliably Smoking, Transfer To Tinder

Once you have some pearl-sized coals going, you need to transfer them to your tinder carefully. Some people gently arrange them around the coal and keep rubbing. Others tip them into their tinder bundle.

12. Get Tinder To Flame

Getting tinder to flame is an art in itself. First, you need to protect it from the wind. However, you also need enough oxygen circulating, so the tinder doesn’t smother the coal.

To successfully do this, you might have to cradle the whole smoking mass in your hands, shielding it with your body while gently blowing into it. Yes, you can burn yourself and still end up with no fire. Be careful.

13. Transfer Flames To Kindling

Once you have flickers of flames and not just smoke, you need to gently transfer your tinder to your kindling. Nestle it close enough that it can light the kindling, but not so tight you snuff it out.

Keep babying your kindling, even after it catches alight. Be sure to shield it all from the wind, despite the fact you might have to help the process with encouraging blows. Protect and nurture it until it is roaring enough that the fire begins burning your primary wood.

Starting A Fire With Sticks And Bow

The bowing technique causes less damage to a person’s hand. It is essentially the same method that can be used with a drill, but you are doing it manually. The bow technique is easier to do with two people, one holding the top of your spinning stick and the other “sawing.”

Also, like the directions above, you will need to have obtained dry tinder, kindling, and your main firewood.

1. Find Two Sticks Of Soft Wood

You need two sticks of soft wood. Ideally, one is flattish and about a foot long. The other should be round, like an easy-grip, preschooler’s pencil: at least 8-inches high and about as thick as your thumbprint. 

2. Make A Bow

If you don’t have a bow, find a curved stick and attach a thick string to each end, wrapping the string once around the smaller stick. A shoelace makes an excellent “string.”

The wrap should be a single loop, taunt, but not so tight that movement is impossible.

3. Make A Hole In The Flat Piece Of Wood

Using a rock or knife, make a notch so that your pencil-like stick can fit into it in an upright position. You want it big enough that the stick can spin but not so roomy it wobbles and skips.

4. Secure Bigger Stick And Fit Smaller One

Secure your flat stick, so it will remain in place as you work. Using your foot and a spare board should suffice. Then fit your smaller stick into the notch.

5. Saw Your Smaller Stick

Gently hold the smaller stick upright with one hand and begin to “saw” your bow with the other hand, causing the stick to spin. Begin with slow and steady back-and-forth strokes and increase speed as it begins to smoke.

A common issue is the bow’s string becomes loose as you saw away. Stopping to retighten it can frustrate progress. One trick is to wrap one end around your finger on the side you are holding the bow. Then you can use your finger to maintain the necessary tension. Admittedly, this is hard on your finger.

6. Transfer Coals To Tinder

Once you have sufficient smoking coals, transfer them to your tinder and proceed as you would with the above method. Some people find it is easier to “nest” the dry moss and leaves around the notch as you spin rather than trying to “tip” the coals into the mass.

How To Make A Fire With Sticks And Rocks

Rocks are a useful tool when trying to make a fire. They help carve notches into the wood and sharpen the edges of sticks. If you have difficulty finding a sharp roc, try to locate some quartz, as you can often strike it against another rock to form an ideal “tool” edge.

However, rubbing a sharp rock against wood will not provide enough friction to start a fire.

People have started fires using two rocks and tinder (dried grass or moss). It is challenging and requires specific types of rocks. Two “flints” struck together can work. Other methods are carbon steel striking quartz.

The tinder bundle must be held under the thumb holding the quartz or the tinder. First, you want to find an edge with a tiny piece of the tinder hanging by it. Then, using carbon steel or flint, use hard and fast downward strikes against the edge of the quartz.

Striking two rocks takes practice, as they need speed and force that continues onwards. Simply “smashing” two stones together won’t work. The carbon steel or flint needs to “pass by” like running a match, but quicker.

Also, the edges of your quartz or flint might keep dulling, and you’ll have to adjust the angle to keep it sharp.

Why Does Rubbing Sticks Together Make Fire?

Rubbing two sticks will create fire for the same reason running your car without oil will cause the engine to overheat: friction. The energy from all your hard work creates heat that sparks if conditions are right. However, crucial to success is that all materials are as dry as an armadillo in space.

Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.