Through observation, trial, and error, the earliest humans learned how to use the world’s four essential elements: earth, water, air, and fire. The first three elements occur naturally, but the fire must be made by an active force, like electricity. Perhaps the first fires that ancient humans observed were those started by lightning strikes, says an article from the American Council on Science and Health.

Discovery of Fire

The source explains that early humans probably studied the aftermath of wildfires and tasted some of the burned vegetation and animals the fires left. Although these primal ancestors noticed the power destruction fire brought from the heavens, they also found that it provided light, warmth, and protection from the dangerous predators.

Soon, humans learned how to harness the power of fire and to use it for their advantage. They discovered methods of creating a fire that can still be used today. The next time you build a campfire, try some of these ancient proven methods as shown here.

Friction-based Fire Starters

Are you ready to use some of the survival skills you learned in scouting? Using friction to ignite a flame is one of the earliest forms of starting a fire. Did you know that there are different techniques that you can use for friction-based fires?

It is based on hardwoods that can stand up to the friction. These techniques use a spindle and a fireboard, both of which you can find in the woods. The spindle is a simple stick that you’ll use to make friction by spinning it rapidly between your hands on the fireboard, which is a flat piece of wood.

What Kind of Wood to Use

Your choice for wood is important, says an article from the US Scouting Service Project. The source recommends hardwoods like walnut, cottonwood, slippery elm, cypress, cedar, blue beach, or preferably yucca to make your spindle.

To make your fireboard (also called a thunderhead), pick a slightly softer wood like pine or another type of fir tree since its natural resins in fir wood provides lubrication to make the spindle rub smoother on the fireboard, explains the source.

Whatever you use, be sure that it is completely dry. Any trace of dampness will make your fire- starting efforts useless. Lay your spindle and fireboard out in the sun to dry. You can also leave it on a window seal indoors.

Methods To Start A Fire Without Matches Or Lighter

1. Primitive Drill

This method probably takes the most energy to start a fire, so get ready to work. Primitive drills were some of the earliest fire-starting tools ever used. You can find all you need for this method in any wooded area where you are camping.

What You Need:

Tinder- This is the raw material you need to start a flame from the heat of the friction. Use any natural things around you that will readily ignite, like dry bark, leaves, or grass. They must be completely dry, or they will not burn.

Fireboard - Choose a piece of wood that’s approximately ¼ inches thick and about two feet long. Use a sharp knife to cut a V-shaped notch into the wood carefully, then use the blade's point to carve a small indentation across from the notch.

Spindle - Find a hardwood stick that is straight and about ¾ inches in diameter. Use your knife or hatchet to carve away the outside of the spindle, so it has eight sides and is pointed at both ends.

How To:

i. Find some dry bark and place it under the fireboard’s notch.

ii. Put your spindle into the indentation on the fireboard and start rolling it rapidly between your hands. Keep steady pressure on the fireboard and keep rolling up and down the spindle until you create a burning ember.

iii. As soon as you see the ember, give the fireboard a little tap until the burning spark lands on the bark and starts to burn. Move the bark to your small tender pile and blow on it gently to get a flame started.

2. The Bow

The first friction-based fire starter can wear down your hands before you see the first spark. If you use the bow method, it will be much easier to keep enough pressure to start a flame. The only additional tools you will need are a homemade bow and a socket.

How To:

i. Prepare your spindle, fireboard, bark, and tender as you would for the primitive drill.

ii. You need a socket to maintain pressure on the top of the spindle as the bow is spinning it. The ideal socket would be a flat stone or another flat piece of resinous wood.

iii. Make a homemade bow using a flexible piece of wood with a little bit of a curve, like a small sapling. It should be about three feet long. Use a sturdy piece of rope or even one of your shoelaces to tie on each end of the bow.

iv. Make a small loop in the center of the bowstring then place one end of the spindle in the fireboard’s indention. Place your socket on top of the spindle.

v. Move the bow rapidly in a sawing motion to create a heated ember to tap onto the bark. Transfer the smoldering bark to your tender pile and gently blow on the ember to ignite the tender.

3. Striking Flint

Your ancient ancestors had to use what was available around them to survive. Areas around the first civilizations had ample flint deposits, which became the raw material for the first human tools. Flint is soft enough to be carved by harder stones into tools and weapon heads.

During the Age of Iron, humans discovered how to make steel and noticed that it produced a spark when it was struck by flint. Another fire starter was born.

Using a Flint and Steel Fire Starter

Some people say that starting a flame with flint and steel is easier than using the friction-based method, says the Mineral Education Coalition. If you don’t have matches or they get wet, having a flint & steel fire starter set will do the trick. Here’s how to do it.

What You Need:

Small piece of flint
Small piece of steel, or even the back of your penknife blade.
Small piece of char cloth, or a small amount of birch bark
Small tender pile, or a small piece of steel wool

How To:

i. Place the char or bark around the flint and hold it between your forefinger and thumb, like a pencil. You need at least three inches of the edge of the flint hanging out from your grip. Hold the steel piece or pen knife in your other hand.

ii. Now, hit the steel or the back of your knife blade against the flint in quick strikes until you see sparks. The sparks will land on the char or the bark, creating a glowing ember.

iii. Quickly place the char or bark into your tender pile and blow gently on the ember into the tinder ignites.

4. Steel Wool and Battery Fire Starter

It pays you to keep a bit of plain steel wool in your survival gear because you never know when it will come in handy. Did you know that steel wool was highly flammable? A source from the University of Buffalo explains that the thin threads of steel provide an excellent combustion source. You can ignite aflame with a little steel wool and a spare battery.

What You Need:

Small piece of plain steel wool (not the steel wool pads filled with detergent)
9-volt battery
Small tender pile

How To:

i. Gently rub the steel wool across the positive and negative terminals of the battery. The charge of the battery will heat the steel wool and create burning embers in it. Gently blow on the embers to start a flame.

ii. Place the burning steel wool quickly on the tender pile to start a fire.

5. Fire Starting with a Magnifying Lens

It makes sense that you can harness the power of our most significant source of light, heat, and energy to help create a fire. All you need is a small magnifying lens, which concentrates the sun's rays into a burning heat source. The only disadvantage is that you can only use this method on a sunny day, and you’re out of luck at night.

What You Need:

A magnifying glass
Small tender pile

How To:

i. Arrange your tinder pile in a dry place where you intend to build a fire.

ii. Hold your magnifying glass about three to four inches from the tender and try to catch some sun rays through the glass. The light will concentrate on a spot on the tinder, and you should see a puff of smoke and embers within seconds. Gently blow the embers to get the flame started, then build your fire.

Bottom Line

If you ever find yourself without a lighter or a match, don’t despair. Do as your prehistoric ancestors did and make a fire with simple tools around you.

Remember never to have a campfire unattended and extinguish it well before you leave.