Ready to get that fire burning? No, not yet! You have a site selected and have your water to put it out, but you first need to gather your fuel. There's a lot more to this than throwing a couple sticks in a pile and tossing on a lit match.
Keeping with our theme of 3 from the fire triangle, you need to gather three different things to burn - tinder, kindling, and fuelwood. If you want a good fire, you need to carefully select each of these items.
Before we get into tinder, kindling, and fuelwood, I want to mention that its a really, really good idea to make yourself a personal fire kit as well as a personal first aid kit. A fire kit contains everything you need to get a fire started and there's more about that on the fire starters page.
Dry and fluffy - that's the key. Your fire starts from tinder - without tinder, no fire. In modern times, a match serves the purpose of spark and tinder. So, you could possibly skip tinder if you have a good supply of matches. But, starting with a small pile of tinder will make things so much easier for you. Tinder is about as big around as a needle or a string.
Tinder can be any dry, easily lit, shredded material. Some good examples include cedar bark, grass, pine needles, wood shavings, pitch, milk weed fluff, char cloth, clothes dryer lint, or wax. Finding tinder can be a challenge in damp weather, but that is when it is most important. You can always create wood shaving tinder from inside a split log if all the grass and bark is damp or keep some char cloth in your fire kit.
Once tinder has caught fire, it's heat can get larger pieces burning. These larger pieces are called kindling and they are not really all that big. Kindling is usually little splinters of wood, small twigs, or fuzz sticks. A greenhorn mistake once tinder catches is: too much, too big, too fast. Many fires have been smothered from dropping big sticks onto a small flame. Take your time and build from miniscule to tiny to small to healthy flames.
Just as with tinder, it is important to have dry kindling. If its damp, split wood and collect the dry inner bits. Even split small sticks and twigs to expose the dry inner surfaces. Use a knife to whittle away the damp bark before using sticks if necessary.
Pine makes better kindling than the hardwoods because it is easier to split down and catches faster. Kindling typically has the diameter of a match up to the size of a pencil. You should be able to snap kindling with your hands.
I bet you are thinking of using big logs like are used in cozy log cabin fireplaces. Not out here! Fuelwood in a campfire doesn't need to be bigger around than your wrist. For big, entertaining campfires, your forearm is a good size estimate but there's no need to burn anything larger than that.
Fuelwood is the life of the campfire. There is a heart of hot coals now and as long as you continue to feed fuel, the fire will continue to live. Fuelwood can be damp because the heat of the fire will dry it and then it will combust. But, don't be tempted to stack damp wood close to your fire in the hopes of drying it out - that is just asking for trouble.
Different woods have different burn qualities. Hardwoods such as oak and maple burn hot and long while pine burns fast with more soot. Depending on the environment, you may not have much choice in your wood selection.
Even though there are three main categories of fuel - tinder, kindling, and fuelwood - use your brain and understand that there are really fuzzy lines between the categories. A particular stick could be kindling or fuelwood, depending on the current size of the fire and how big it needs to be.
If your tinder has just produced a flame, don't put pencil-sized kindling on it - use match-size pieces instead and work up to the pencil-sized pieces. I sort out all my wood before starting a fire. I have the wood piled in increasingly large pieces so I can start from one end and work my way up and that works well for me.
See Laying A Fire Next!
And now that you know what you need to start a fire, lets see all the ways to arrange your wood to get a nice blaze going!