Starting A Fire with Sticks: Wilderness 101

“I survived because the FIRE inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.” -Anonymous

Importance of Fire in The Wilderness

Fire is extremely vital when it comes to its application in the wilderness. Cooking food, boiling water, physical safety, or psychological strength; making fire with sticks helps provide overall comfort in all of those aspects.

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You might be carrying a stroke of bad luck with you before you set out on your wilderness trip by forgetting to carry along a set of matchsticks. What do you do then?

Do you eat the food raw? Consume water without purification? There are tons of such questions that will begin to appear and it is then you will realize the importance of fire in the isolation of the woods.

Importance of Fire in The Wilderness

Starting a fire is a very key skill that essentially determines your survival during challenging times in the wilderness. There is a handful of fire starting techniques that you may learn to help you start a fire with sticks.

See also: How to Start a Campfire: Basic Knowledge That Can Save Your Life

Not only will you be able to survive through your adventure but you will also feel proud of having learnt this ‘cool’ yet key skill that not too many are well acquainted with. It may take a while before you get the hang of it. So you better star preparing if your adventure date is approaching soon.

Why Learn to Start A Fire?

The big question, why should we learn to start a fire with sticks?

What is the first survival skill that comes to your mind when you decide to experience the variance of the wilderness? Most of the time, people pay more importance to shelter building skills, water spotting skills or navigation skills. However, they often miss out on the very critical fire starting skill. Fire starting skill is perhaps the single most important skill amongst the rest.

Why is that?

Fire starting skill is important because of the vast amounts of application that fire has during wilderness situations. Signalling, protection, warmth, cooking, and hope can be received by starting a fire. When it comes to survival situations, fire and safety go hand in hand. Even the ancient humans knew the critical importance of fire back in the day as well.

Learn to start a fire

If you find yourself stranded on a lonely and deserted island; lighting up a fire can provide you the much-needed confidence booster that you require to keep moving on. In fact, I’m willing to go a step ahead and say that “if you can start a fire, you can survive the wilderness no matter what may come.”

Now that we have agreed on the fact that fire is useful, the question becomes, is fire easy to start?

Well, technically, yes it is easy to start. All you need is a matchstick or a lighter to do so. Simply hold the flame against a dry wood and voila! You’ve made fire. The problem begins when you don’t have a matchstick or a lighter and you begin to lose hope. There are a lot of reasons as to why you may not have a matchstick with you.

  • You could have forgotten to pack one.
  • Lighter ran out of gas
  • Matchstick gets wet in water.
  • Confiscated at the airport and so on so forth.

Why to rely on something that could easily render you helpless when you can make fire yourself. Sticks can be found everywhere around you. There are plenty of sticks to start a fire with. You simply need to learn how to use them. It is not a skill that you will always use, but certainly a skill if mastered will prove to be the reason for your well-being in the wilderness. Why not read our piece on how to make a smokeless fire to give you more options.

Fire starting skills aren’t just meant for survivalists. Even if you go camping, trekking or hiking, you can still use these techniques to make your outdoor adventure all the more exciting.

Preparing The Fire Starting Materials

Starting a fire with sticks pretty much is based on the concept of friction. Physics, people!

Fire Starting Materials

All of the methods enlisted below work on friction.

Friction creates fire.


Let us understand the general working of how a fire is created by rubbing sticks together.

Materials needed:

  • Straight and dry stick
  • Flat and dry wood board
  • Dry tinder bundle
  • Kindling
  • Having drier and straight sticks

The one thing to keep in mind here is that all the sticks and boards must be dry. Moist wood won’t park fire. If anything is to be held responsible for an unsuccessful attempt to start a fire with sticks; it probably was the wet wood. So once again, the trick lies in gathering straight, sturdy, rigid and dry sticks. Any wood will do the job as long as it is thoroughly dried.


Have your bundle of tinder wood and kindling somewhere close to you such that, the fire catches up pretty fast. Now you basically are ready to work a fire up the ladder.

Fire starting 101:

  • You need to begin creating sufficient amount of friction to generate heat using the methods listed below.
  • The friction will help transfer the heat from the wood into the fine and dry ember.
  • You then need to transfer all of the hot ember content to the bundle of tinder as soon as possible. The tinder bundle will go in flames.
  • The kindling then comes into play. Ignite the kindling using the firing tinder.
  • Finish the process by adding dry sticks to the flame.

The aforementioned steps are the standard procedure to start a fire with friction.

Kindling is the process of lighting up a dried up wood stick. You can even make use of other flammable materials such as pine shavings, cedar bark or even needles for kindling. Basically, anything that is dry, soft and catches up fire pretty quickly can be used for the kindling. Once you have the fire, slowly begin to add the other dried woods that burn slowly to keep the flame going on for longer.

**Note: Do not skip any of the steps detailed below as it may cause you to not being able to start a fire. It is very important that you follow the steps carefully.

Popular Methods to Start Fire

Apart from the obvious matchstick and lighter route to lighting fire, there is three distinct fire starting methods. These methods help start a fire with a stick. The methods are:

  1. Hand Drill Method
  2. Bow Drill Method
  3. Fire Plow Method

I won’t sugar coat anything and so quite truthfully all of these methods are slightly hard to master. All of the methods have their own merits and demerits. In order to be successful, it is recommended that one begins to learn these fire starting techniques well in advance so as to avoid any last minute ignorance.

Fire starting guide

Once learnt, these fire starting methods could prove to be more than just a life saviour. All of the fire starting methods are described in detail below along with the right steps, materials, and actions needed to make it happen. Simply adhere to the steps, practice a few times and you should be good to go.

Hand Drill

The best way to create fire is with the help of a drill called the fire drill. As the name suggests, the fire drill uses a drill made out of sticks and wood much like a general drilling machine found in workshops. It is a very simple technique and makes use of one very long, dry, straight and sturdy stick, sharpened at one end along with a flat wood board also known as the fireboard.

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The sharpened end of the straight stick is pointed downward perpendicularly and placed on top of the fireboard.

To recollect, you have to really ensure that the wood and the stick is all entirely dry as stated above. The success of the method relies on the dryness of the stick.  Once you have the materials and the items in place, you then need to divert your attention on creating as much friction as possible.

Time to make fire!

You place both your palms flat open around the stick with the stick between your palms. You then need to begin rubbing both your palms as fast as possible such the stick twirls as quickly as it can. The rotational energy generated by the fast twirling action will help generate friction between the sharpened end of the stick and the fireboard placed beneath it.

**TIP: Whilst in the middle of the twirling action, it is recommended to hold the firewood below steadily with your foot.

So, in this method to start a fire, the stick is twirled as fast as possible with pressure being applied downward onto the fireboard. It is a very standard method and works almost every single time if done correctly. The combo of pressure along with the rotation causes the friction generated to spark up a much-needed fire.

Hand drill fire starting

**TIP: Before you begin to start rotating, ensure to cut a tiny notch or a hole in the wood base. It will hold the sharp end of the stick firmly. Otherwise, the stick may not rotate in the same place as it should. It avoids the stick from wobbling on top of the board.

**TIP: It is also suggested to create a small hole or a notch on the side of the wood board too. It helps supply oxygen and also acts as a place for the fire to build up too which is not the case without any presence notch.

Bow Drill

This is yet another way to make fire when stranded in the wilderness without warmth, safety or food. The fire bow or the bow drill is another fire starting technique deploying sticks and wood in the process. It is so fascinating that even Hollywood couldn’t resist showing it in several of their adventure sequences.

You might have seen survivalists or heroes in many movies make a bow out of a twine or something and light up a fire after a few moments. It may look very easy but it isn’t all that simple. The fire catching up looks beautiful and easy but that was only after a few hours of trying and many many edits done to the video.

Unlike the first fire starting method, you need to look for a slightly moist branch in the shape of a ‘C’ to make a ‘BOW’ out of it. The moisture in the stick keeps it from breaking during the drilling action. You could possibly buy a bow drill set from an adventure store and practice it to get good at it. But I rather recommend you to go the hard way as to learn to make one yourself.

**TIP: Try to find a bow that has a slightly larger curvature as it will offer more grip and larger area to the string to operate on the twirling stick.

Once you’ve gathered yourself a C-shaped bow, you then need to get yourself a few other items to complete the task. The second item is a string. It can be any string whether it is a paracord, shoestring or even twine; it should be good enough for the task. Paracord is actually very apt for this job. Besides, in the checklist of survival items, paracord is definitely one of the very important things to carry.

You can even try any sort of vine that is flexible in nature or perhaps a strip of a cloth you’re wearing. These aren’t ideal options but it works. Just ensure that the length of the cord or the string is at least one and a half times the length of the C-shaped stick.

Now, the other staging is very similar to the first hand and stick method of starting a fire. In this case, unlike the previous one, you will be using only one had to twirl the stick using the bow while the other hand can stably hold the wooden base.

You need to loop the string once around the stick and then moved forward and backward so as to make the stick rotate. When the stick rotates, it creates friction leading to fire much like in the previous method.

Bow drill

The advantages of this method are:

  1. Less strain on hands
  2. Maintaining a standard twirling rate.
  3. More downward pressure

The bow drill is a very efficient and an easy to apply method for starting a fire. You can test and try other variations of it also. Whether it is changing the size of the bow, the curvature of the stick or the length of the string makes it significantly different as well.

Sometimes it helps start a fire much faster while the other times it doesn’t even work. Practice several times before your scheduled date of departure in order to be ready for whatever may come.

Fire Plow

This is as simple as it gets. The fire plow method too like the earlier techniques is based on the concept of friction creating fire although in a slightly variant way. You know how they say, rubbing sticks creates fire? Well, this is literally it.

Instead of going after rotational energy changing causing friction, this method goes after sliding energy causing friction. It is an extremely simple method to start a fire with sticks and requires a dry fireboard along with a stick.

You need to create a trough in the fireboard. The trough will help accommodate the stick which has to be slid back and forth at an angle of 45 degrees. The vigorous sliding action causes all the friction to generate the fire you were hoping to get. Every other thing required for staging this process is the same as the previously mentioned methods.

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Now go ahead and master your fire starting skills and fire up all that you want because when you’re out and alone, the wilderness can get to you. The only thing that will keep you tough is a fire. Practice as much as you can so that you don’t mess it up when you’re up for it.


The above-mentioned fire starting techniques with sticks are supposed to be mastered by survivalists, adventurers, hikers and trekkers. We never know what Mother Nature has in store for us and hence we need to always be equipped with the right set of skills, knowledge, and tools to face those situations comfortably.

Fire plow method

Fire starting isn’t just another skill you learn but an art that you practice. You have all the time now to practice that art of starting a fire with sticks. Learn it now before you get caught in the wilderness with nothing but a regret of not having learnt this skill.

Read the article as many times as you want and put all those sticks in your backyard to use at last. I’ve given you with half of the equation; it is your turn now to complete the second half.

To know how to keep safe and protected on your next camping trip, check out our piece on this important topic.


Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.


  • All that is required for the fire — the lens, which is needed to focus sunlight on a specific location. Magnifier, eyeglasses, or binocular lenses are perfect. If you add to the lens surface of your water, this way you can intensify the beam. Turn the lens angle to the sun to focus the beam into a smaller area. So, make a “nest” of tinder to that spot, and soon you will spread the fire. The only minus of this method is that it only works with a sunny weather. So if it happens in the evening or on an overcast day, the lens will be useless.

    • Above all of these items that you have identified, it is also important to keep safety in mind at all times. We may tend to become overeager with the goal of starting a fire, we can compromise safety.

  • It’s the sense of achievement. It feels better when you start a fire using sticks than being able to to start a fire using easier and advanced methods. Besides, there are a lot of resources in the wilderness which can be used to produce fire using sticks. The secret there is patience.

    • Believe it or not, starting a fire is one of the most basic yet most difficult to achieve wilderness skills. I think everyone can do it, but the problem is not everyone got the patience to do it to the point that the fire has been successfully started.