How To Start A Fire With Sticks: Survival 101

How to Start A Fire With Sticks: Survival 101

One of the most common questions in the world of camping and sportsmanship is how to start a fire with sticks. It’s a professional maneuver—any miscalculation or deviation from the correct process makes it nearly impossible to do.

There are three basic formulas, which I’ll explain later. Each of the steps takes time, and it took me almost an entire summer of trying before I even got one fire started. But with patience, comes reward. Keep that in mind.

How to Start a Fire With Sticks

Here are the three methods for how to start a fire with sticks.

1. Hand Drill Method

For this technique, make sure you have a large quantity of tinder—the friction depends on it to keep the ember alive and turn it into a flame.

Gather some grass, pieces of shrubbery, cattails, small bits of wood,  or anything that burns easily.

Pile them all together into a nice mass of burnable material.

You’ll need what’s called a spindle, basically a thin, round, but sturdy piece of wood, and a baseboard as well. Here we go:

  • Cut a divot into the side of the baseboard, running its height. You can start with a V-shaped notch and then make it slightly deeper with a knife. Put a piece of tinder, like a wood shaving or leaf, underneath the notch to catch ember.
  • Firmly put the spindle piece into the notch. Roll it between your hands without letting it move out of the notch. You’ll want to apply as much downward pressure as you can while moving the spindle between your palms.
  • The goal is to get the tip of the spindle to ember itself by turning into a glowing red color. When this happens, try to spread the ember onto the piece of tinder you’ve placed underneath the baseboard.
  • Move the ember to your tinder pile, and employ a good deal of blowing in an attempt to produce a flame. Here is a great video tutorial:

2. Bow Drill Method

With this method, you’re going to start with the same expansive pile of tinder and employ the exact techniques we discussed in the previous section. The bow drill method is a little more advanced and requires better ‘on-the-fly’ woodworking skill— it also has a slightly higher success rate.

  • Start the same way as with the hand drill method, by cutting the notch into your baseboard of wood.
  • You’ll need a crossbar or ‘bow’ shaped piece of wood to connect it to your spindle by using rope other pieces of thin wood to tie it together.
  • Attach a small, solid piece of wood on top of the spindle to act as a handle for downward pressure.
  • Place your knee or another heavy object on the baseboard to weigh it down so that it won’t shift during the fire-starting process.
  • Apply pressure to the handle, forcing the spindle down into the notch in the baseboard.
  • Simultaneously pull the bow back and forth to create friction. The goal here is to create the same amount of friction as you would in the hand drill method of how to start a fire with sticks. This technique doesn’t wear your hands out—hence the bow.
  • Keep going until you’ve got an ember on the bottom of the spindle, then transfer that ember to your small piece of tinder underneath. Next, add it to the large pile of tinder. Once you’ve got the mound of tinder at an ember, blow on it to birth a flame.

This video walks you through the steps.

3. Fire Plow Method

This is the most basic way to start a fire with sticks, but also the most complicated. The fire plow method is essentially just rubbing two sticks together until you get an ember. Let’s outline the best approach for using this method (with the hope that it won’t be a last-ditch effort!)

  • Widdle one stick down to a dull point using the smaller of the two pieces of wood.
  • The other piece should be larger and more sturdy. it serves as the base— in other words, it’s the matchbox. Cut a groove vertically down the log near the top to near the bottom.
  • The goal is to ‘plow’ the smaller piece of wood repeatedly in the groove of the larger piece, creating an ember which will then be transferred to your tinder pile. You’ll want to make sure that the widdled piece is as hot as possible. The transfer to the tinder pile is direct from the wood, and there is no intermediary when using this technique. Here is a great video on the fire plow method:

How to Start a Fire with Sticks: Best Practices

Knowing how to start a fire with sticks is hopefully something you won’t have to stress about anymore. All three of these techniques require patience, an immense amount of practice, and repetition. I recommend working on them in your yard or on a camping trip several times. That way, you’ll have the techniques down pat if you find yourself stranded in the wilderness.

Gather a bunch of loose wood and burn-ables, and keep them on-hand for practice. You’ll need several trial runs to learn what works best for the tinder and what you should keep out. I also recommend practicing your blowing techniques; even if it’s just on your wood-burning fireplace in the living room.

If you become a master at any of these techniques, you should consider teaching lessons to everyone you know – you may end up saving their life!

Reasons Why You Should Know How To Start A Fire With Sticks

It might be a little challenging to learn how to start a fire with sticks, but don’t throw in the towel. It might seem as if you’d never have to put the skill to use, but that’s not true. You never know what situation you’ll find yourself in— you might decide to be a contestant on Survivor. However, even if you never find yourself running through the wilderness with cameras filming—you still need to know how to start a fire. Here are a few examples of why:

Purifying Water

When you’re out in nature, there’s obviously no water purifier. If you run out of water, you’ll need a backup plan; the last thing you want is to be out in the wild and be sick. The best way to purify water is to boil it—which requires a fire.

Emergency Signals

This one is a biggie because if you ever find yourself stranded, you’ll need to signal for help. Not only that but if there’s an injury or other dire emergencies, the fire will attract attention. Furthermore, smoke rises high which provides a better chance of others spotting your location.

Cooking Food

No stove doesn’t have to mean no food, and when you’re in the wild sustenance is key. Sure, you can grab a few canned goods and eat that, but even that would taste better warmed. You’ll need plenty your strength out in the wild, so the better quality of food that you eat, the better. If you put a few fish or other meats over the fire, you’ll have more energy.

Cleaning and Drying Clothes

It’s inevitable that you’ll get dirty and wet while in Mother Nature. If you have to clean your clothes, you can always place in them in hot water and then hang them over the fire to dry. Not to mention, you’ll need to wash body as well. Putting a bucket of water over a fire provides hot water to wash your face, hair, and hands.

Ward Off Insects and Animals

Lighting a fire is a good way to prevent insects and animals from invading your space. The wild is their territory, so they move about as they please— but of course, that’s bad news for you. Fire serves as a security barrier because it keeps pests from coming too close, and it provides light so you can see if there’s a threat nearby.


When the temperature is frosty outside, your survival skills will kick in quickly. Sleeping under the stars in freezing weather is a recipe for illness, hypothermia, and even frostbite. A warm, toasty fire is your best defense against unbearable conditions.


Last but not least, building a fire helps to sterilize blades, utensils, and other equipment. Also, injuries are very common in the wild, and you don’t want to get an infection from dirty tools. If you have to sterilize cut, place the equipment into boiling water or into open flames.

How to Make a Tinder Bundle

One of the primary ingredients to creating a successful fire is a tinder bundle. Basically, it’s a group of small, flammable fibers that are easy to ignite. If natural materials are scarce, you can use a rope to create to your nest—make sure it’s made of twine. It’s important to use the proper materials, so if you don’t have twine fibers, gather some jute, cotton, hemp, sisal, or other natural fibers. Here’s how to make a tinder bundle nest:

  • Cut off a little piece of rope about six inches long.
  • Hold each end of the piece, and twist it backwards until it starts to create individual fibers.
  • Gently form them into a ball.
  • Place your source of fire into the middle of the tinder bundle and blow it into a flame.

If you happen to have a form of moisturizer like Vaseline or Chapstick, rub it on the fibers so they become more flammable and last longer.

Final Thoughts On How To Start A Fire With Sticks

Starting a fire with sticks is one life skill that definitely is good to master before you have to put it to the test. If you have any tips on how these methods have worked for you, please share in the comments so that others can learn them and employ them in their fire starting. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and just recently feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Sadly, most people don’t know how to start a fire with sticks, so please share this on social media so that we can grow awareness. Good luck!

Featured Image by Lance Fisher

Daily Shooting Team

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