39 Best Ways to Start a Fire Without Matches

September 12, 2016

Survival Skills

starting a fire without matches, how to make fire, best ways to start a fire

We’ve all heard how important it is to be able to build a fire in an emergency situation. It could mean the difference between life or death, right? In the bush you need fire to stay warm, to cook food, to boil water.  I always keep a pack of waterproof matches in the car, and there’s a magnesium fire starter rolling around somewhere in our emergency kit. But if it really came down to it, how many of us really know the best way to start a fire without matches or a lighter handy?

It’s a skill worth practicing. And mastering.

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Not only should you know how to use flint and steel, a magnesium striker, a ferro rod, etc., but you should also have more unconventional fire starting tricks up your sleeve.

Lucky for you, I’ve gorged myself on a YouTube marathon to find as many of these tricks as possible to help us all find the best way to start a fire when it seems like you have nothing to start a fire with.

With all of these methods you’ll also need to know how to build a fire from wild tinder once you have that initial spark. A smoldering ember won’t do you much good if you don’t know what to do with it next. You’ll also want to know how to keep a campfire burning for up to 48 hours without adding more wood.

First, let’s explore a few ways to create a spark, and thus a flame, using simple batteries found around the home or taken out of the gear you already have on you. You should also keep these ideas in mind for when you’re in the field and you come across trash that can be used to create a fire.


1. Fire from a Battery and Gum Wrapper

By touching the positive and negative ends of a AA battery with a piece of strategically cut foil gum wrapper you can create a small flame. You could also use a piece of tin foil or the foil lining from a cigarette pack instead of a gum wrapper.


2. Fire from Steel Wool and Two AA Batteries

You can also create a flame by taping together two AA batteries in series, then touching the positive and negative ends with a thin strand of wire pulled from a steel wool pad. You might not get it the first time, but have patience and keep trying. Sometimes it takes practice.


3. Steel Wool and a 9 Volt Battery

Even easier is starting a fire with steel wool and a nine volt battery. Just touch the positive and negative ends of the battery to the steel wool and watch it light up!


4. Start a Fire with Your Cell Phone

Your cell phone battery can also be used to start a fire when touched to steel wool. Maybe we should all keep some steel wool in our BOBs?


5. Start a Fire with a Car Battery and Jumper Cables

Don’t forget about that huge battery under the hood of your car! With the aide of a good pair of jumper cables you can very quickly and effectively set stuff on fire.


6. Start a Fire Using an E-Cig

Screw off the end of an electric cigarette to expose the battery, touch it to a steel wool pad, and you’ve got a fire! It’s probably trickier than it looks.


Fire can also be created by directing the sun’s rays through a convex or concave transparent or reflective surface. The only downside to using this method is that it requires a sunny day to work. Lots of clouds or darkness means you’re out of luck.

Here are a few examples of creating a flame by using random objects to focus the sun’s heat onto combustible materials…

7. Start a Fire with a Water Bottle

Use the convex edge of a clear water bottle (with some water in it) to direct the sun’s rays onto a piece of dark paper to start a small fire. Black ink ignites much more quickly than white paper. If you don’t have a dark piece of paper to use, try rubbing some dirt onto the paper to make it hold heat better.


8. Start a Fire with Urine in a Bag

No water… no bottle? No problem! This video shows you how to use your urine and a plastic bag to start a fire on any kind of dark colored paper. You could use saran wrap to make a bag, or a ziploc baggie if you have one. Of course, you don’t have to use urine. Any clear liquid will do.


9. Fire using a Magnifying Glass

This is the same basic concept as using a water bottle to create a fire, but is a little easier to make work. Store a lightweight magnifying glass in a soft case to protect the lens in your bug out bag.


10. Start a Fire with a Soda Can

If you polish the metal bottom of an aluminum soda can with toothpaste or even clay, you can use that shiny, concave edge to reflect the sun’s rays onto a piece of charcloth or dark paper to create embers for starting a fire. Be sure to have a nest of dry materials close by to build your flame.


11. Start a Fire with an Old TV Lens

Old big screen TVs have what’s called a fresnel lens in them, which can be used as an extremely strong magnifier of the sun’s rays. Set it up in a position to direct the sun’s rays onto combustible materials and watch out! You can start a fire very quickly with this powerful lens!


12. Start a Fire with a Flashlight

Stuck in the bush with a flashlight but no matches? If it’s a sunny day you’re still in luck. Take your flashlight apart and use the reflector inside to direct sunlight onto a piece of dark paper or charcloth (if you’re savvy enough to have some on hand). Carefully transfer the smoldering paper onto a nest of dry materials to nurse the embers into a blazing fire.


13. Fire using a Mirror

Using the same idea as the above methods, you can use a mirror to direct sunlight onto a combustible material to start a fire. You can also use a mirror as a signal- so keep one in your go-bag at all times.


14. Fire with Binoculars

In an emergency, you can take the lens out of a pair of binoculars and use it to direct strong sunlight onto a piece of charcloth or paper (preferably dark paper) to create just enough smoldering material to build a large fire with the use of other dry tinder.


15. Fire From a Glass Beer Bottle

This is basically the same concept as using a water bottle to start a fire, only a different option if all you have is a glass beer bottle. You’ll need to use clear glass, not the brown or green tinted kind.


16. Build a Fire Using Reading Glasses

Here is another example of how to use a lens to direct the sun’s rays onto something that will easily catch fire.


17. Make Fire From Dome Camera

CCTV and other security type cameras have a round dome lens in them which can be used to concentrate sunlight onto combustible material.


18. Fire from Ice

Now this is pretty stinking awesome. This guy shows you how to create a lens out of a block of ice to create a fire. He sprinkled a little black powder onto a pile of dry grass to start the fire more quickly, but you could also use charcloth, black paper, or even just dry materials to get the fire going.


A third type of fire you can start without the use of a lighter or matches is a friction fire. The basic concept is that friction creates heat, which will eventually begin to smolder and create embers. There are many different primitive ways to build a friction fire.


19. Hand Drill Friction Fire

The hand drill has been used by tribal people for centuries to start a friction fire. It’s the basic “rubbing two sticks together” concept, with some very specific requirements to get it just right. Creating a friction fires definitely take lots of practice to master, but being able to do it is an invaluable survival skill to have.


20. Bow Drill Friction Fire

The bow drill is a twist on the hand drill method of creating a friction fire, often using man-made string to help build a more durable drill.


21. Eskimo Strap Drill Friction Fire

This is another really cool primitive way to create fire by rubbing sticks together just the right way.


22. Pump Drill Friction Fire

The pump drill is another stick-to-stick design using friction to build a fire. I think this method looks easiest of all to use, if you can build the drill just right.


23. Bamboo Fire Straw Friction Fire

If you happen to be in an area where bamboo is growing, here’s a great way to use it to build a fire without the use of anything else but a knife to carve it.


24. Chaga Fungus Friction Fire

Chaga is a fungus, or parasite, that grows on birch and other types of trees. It’s tough enough that if you rub it very quickly against a piece of wood it will begin to smolder and burn.


25. Fire Thong

Yet another ingenious method of rubbing sticks together to make a friction fire. People are pretty darned inventive.


26. Fire Plough

The key to being successful with a fire plough is lots of practice with different types of wood so that no matter where you find yourself you’ll be able to make a fire plough with whatever trees you have around you. Remember, friction makes heat, heat makes embers, embers make fire.

27. Using a Fire Piston

This handy gadget is designed so that when you hit one end of the piston, the friction created within the cylinder ignites a small piece of charcloth or other flamable material packed into the end of the rod and creates a nice little ember to build a fire with.

28. Firesteel (or Ferro Rod)

Strike firesteel just right and you’ll create a spark that can be thrown onto dried materials to build a nice, warm fire.

29. Magnesium Fire Starter

These can take a little practice to get right, so if you plan on using a magnesium fire starter get lots of practice before you depend on it for a fire.


30. Primitive Fire From Stones

Or, you could just do like the cavemen and bang two rocks together.


A more dangerous, yet viable option for creating a flame without matches is to start a chemical fire. For heaven’s sakes be careful if you try any of the following methods. I feel I should also warn you that eye protection would be a good idea, and do try to avoid inhaling the chemicals or smoke.

I know. Chances are you probably won’t have potassium permanganate (KMnO₄) on hand at any given moment. But you’ve got to admit, it’s still cool to know how to use certain chemicals to start a fire if needed.

31. Sugar and Potassium Permanganate

Mix sugar and potassium permanganate in a 50/50 ratio, using a stick to mix it together well. You might need to crush the crystals together a little with the stick to cause the reaction to occur. Within seconds it will ignite into a quick flame.


32. Potassium Permanganate and Glycerin

Pour about a tablespoon of potassium permanganate onto a dry surface where you want to build your fire. Cover it with a handful of dry wood shavings or other tinder. Make a volcano-like hole in the center of the pile with the end of a stick or utensil, and pour in about a teaspoon of glycerin (found in the pharmacy aisle). Mix it around a little bit and watch it begin to smoke. The tinder will burst into flames, which you can quickly add more kindling to to keep the fire going.


33. Antifreeze and Flower Food

I thought this was an interesting episode of Dude, You’re Screwed. The survival expert uses some creative chemicals to start a fire in the bush: Antifreeze and flower food.

Antifreeze has glycerin in it, and some flower food (like what comes in a bouquet of flowers from the store) contains potassium permanganate- which, as you learned in the previous video, can be used to create a chemical fire. Pretty awesome.


34. Potassium Chlorate, Sugar, and Sulfuric Acid

Pour about 15 grams (or 1 Tbsp) of potassium chlorate where you want to build a fire. Add an equal amount of sugar. Very carefully add a few drops of concentrated sulfuric acid… and stand back! A fire will quickly shoot up and burn violently. Be ready with some tinder and kindling to keep it going.


35. Potassium Permanganate and Sulfuric Acid

This video replicates some of the other chemical reactions we’ve already covered, but it also demonstrates how to create a fire by mixing potassium permanganate and sulfuric acid with a little bit of acetone (found in nail polish remover) to cause ignition.


36. Zinc, Ammonium nitrate and Sodium chloride

Mix about 3 tsp of ammonium nitrate and 1/8th tsp of sodium chloride (table salt). Grind together with a mortar and pestal. Add about 8 tsp. of zinc powder to this mixture. Mix everything together well. To start the reaction, add a few drops of water and stand back. High humidity or other accidental moisture can cause spontaneous ignition, so be aware of that.


37. Pool Shock and Brake Fluid

Pour some pool chlorine in a safe place to start a fire (not close to a building, like this dude did). Next, pour brake fluid over the pool shock to moisten. If you don’t see smoke pretty quickly you might need to add more pool shock, then more brake fluid, until you see a reaction beginning to occur. Make sure you stay out of the smoke. Flames will happen pretty quickly, so be ready to feed the fire with dry materials to keep it going.


38. Linseed Oil Spontaneous Combustion

Rags, newspaper, and paper towels soaked in linseed oil have been known to spontaneously combust causing raging fires, even when dried and stored in a dark garage. Store linseed oil soaked rags in a metal can with a lid on it to keep it from bursting into flames unprovoked. Otherwise, use this chemical reaction to your advantage to build a fire in emergencies.


39. Make Fire with a Lemon

To produce a flame using a lemon, you’ll need one lemon, six copper clips (brads) or coins, six zinc nails or zinc coins, a piece of wire, steel wool, and a little bit of flammable material (such as toilet paper). When wired together like a battery, it should produce around 5 volts of electricity which you can then use to build a fire.

starting a fire without matches, how to make fire, best ways to start a fireWho knew there were so many ways to start a fire without a match?

Surely I haven’t discovered every single way to make it happen. If you know of another ingenious way to build a fire please tell us in the comments below! And remember, practice makes perfect.

Check out this great post by one of our guest writers for more ideas on how to start a fire in the wilderness: https://stayhunting.com/how-to-start-a-fire-in-the-wilderness/

And for more information on survival skills, click here.




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About Kendra Lynne

Kendra shares all of her homesteading adventures on her website, New Life on a Homestead. Also be sure to check out her popular Canning DVD: At Home Canning For Beginners and Beyond!

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One Response to “39 Best Ways to Start a Fire Without Matches”

  1. Adrian Says:

    Attn: Chad/ Chet brothers: I wanted to make a topic suggestion: How about a ‘how to’ on how to add a back up car ignition rig if you have a car with keyless ignition that would work post EMP.


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