How to Start a Camp Fire
*(also helpful advice for starting a fire in an open hearth)

The following fire-making tips are for the benefit of those who are not born pyromaniacs or have not been scouts (trained pyromaniacs).

One way to reduce the impact of a campfire is to use a fire pit. With a shovel cut a square of sod approximately 1 foot wide and 2 feet long. Work the shovel underneath the soil and carefully remove it in large pieces. Lay the pieces aside and, if the weather is dry, sprinkle the, the sod with water to refresh the plant life. Next, remove earth from the pit until you are in mineral soil, piling the extra dirt where it will not be trampled. When you are done with the campfire, crush the log ashes and mix in the soil from the pit’s edge. Then replace the sod, mounding slightly so that over time it will settle into its original position.


Once the fire-pit is in place, gather a sufficient quantity of wood. You will need three types; Tinder, Kindling and Fuel.

Tinder is fine, dry material that will burst into flame at the touch of a match, Pine needles, the inner bark of dead branches, weed fluff, dry grasses, abandoned rodent nests, and shavings whittled from a stick all are good sources of tinder. One of the best types of tinder commonly available at reenactments is hay or straw. The inside of a bale of hay will still be dry even after a soaking rain (verified personally at Franklin 1995). Gather a double handful. Store another double handful. You can carefully shave a few pieces of pitch that has oozed from the bark of a conifer The pitch will flare instantly at the touch of a flame and helps ignite your tinder.

(editor's note: for an indoor fire, tightly twisted knots of scrap paper work nicely too)

Kindling is material that will burn with a little encouragement. Twigs are the easiest to find. In damp weather you can often find dead twigs that are dry. You can also split open wet logs and cut off pencil-thick lengths of the dry inner wood. You will need a small armload.

Fuel is the firewood you will use to keep your blaze burning. Dry branches lying on the ground are a fine source of fuel. Stack year firewood neatly near the fire-pit and, if bad weather threatens, protect it with a ground cloth or fly.

Everyone has favorites when it comes to kinds of firewood Hardwoods such as oak, maple, hickory, ash, and apple will burn a long time and make shot, even bed of coals. Pine, spruce, fir, and other softwoods, burn quickly, produce lots of fast heat, and throw off a good deal of smoke and sparks. As a general rule, the heavier a piece of wood, the longer will burn and the more coals it will produce.

To start your fire, loosely arrange your tinder and a handful of kindling in the center of the fire-pit. Light the tinder and, as it begins to burn, add kindling one piece at a time, taking care not to smother the flames. When the kindling is burning brightly, add larger pieces of fuel wood. That's really all there is to starting a fire, though there are dozens of ways to add tinder kindling, and fuel. Here are two.

The Teepee

Arrange several pieces of kindling over the tinder in the shape of a teepee. Add larger pieces of fuel as the flames rise. When a good supply of glowing coals can be seen, use a stick to collapse the burning and push the embers into a compact bed.

The Lean-to

Push a small stick at a 45° angle into the fire-pit, the upper end of the stick pointing into the wind. Place tinder beneath the stick, tight it, and lean kindling against both sides of the stick. When the kindling is burning well, lean sticks of fuel against it. Air blowing into the lean-to will keep the flames growing.