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The Art of Ignition: Essential Fire-Making Techniques Every Survivalist Should Know

Fire has been a critical tool for humankind’s survival for centuries, serving as a source of warmth, a means of cooking food, and a protector against potential threats. Whether you find yourself in a wilderness survival situation or just want to master the basic skills for your next camping trip, knowing how to create a fire is invaluable.

Essential Fire-Making Techniques Every Survivalist Should Know

In this guide, we’ll dive deep into the key fire-making techniques.

Friction-Based Methods: Going Old-School

The oldest and most primal of fire-starting techniques revolve around the principle of generating heat through friction. The Hand Drill method involves selecting a softwood baseboard and a hardwood spindle. Carve a small indentation in the baseboard for the spindle to rest. Spin the spindle rapidly between your hands, moving along its length, pressing it into the baseboard. The friction generates heat, turning the wood dust into an ember. Transfer this ember to tinder, and gently blow to create a flame.

The Bow Drill is a modification of the hand drill technique, allowing for more efficient spinning. Using a bow-shaped branch and a string (or cord) to spin a spindle against a wooden base, this method requires practice but can be more effective and less tiring than the hand drill.

Flint & Steel: Sparks Fly

When struck together, flint and steel produce sparks due to the hardness of flint and the carbon content of the steel. Position your tinder closely, and when you strike the flint with the steel, aim the resulting sparks onto the tinder. Once a spark catches and the tinder begins to smolder, gently blow to nurture the ember into a flame.

Sun’s Power: Harnessing Nature’s Spotlight

The art of using a magnifying glass to create fire dates back centuries. On a sunny day, position your tinder on a flat surface. Angle your magnifying glass (or any convex lens) to focus the sun’s rays into the smallest point on the tinder. Hold steady until the concentrated heat ignites the tinder.

Battery & Steel Wool: Modern Techniques

In our tech-driven world, even batteries can be survival tools. Stretch out a piece of fine steel wool. Then, rub the battery terminals across the steel wool. The electrical current will cause the steel wool to ignite. Place this ignited wool into your tinder, and you’ve got fire.

Can this shock or injure you when holding the steel wool and battery?

Yes, there is a potential risk when using steel wool and a battery to start a fire, especially if you’re not cautious. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Heat: When steel wool ignites, it gets very hot very quickly. If you’re holding it too close, you could get burned.
  2. Sparks: The process can produce small sparks, which might cause minor burns if they come into contact with your skin.
  3. Short-circuiting: Batteries release energy when they’re short-circuited. Depending on the battery, this can cause the battery to become very hot, leak, or even explode. A common 9V battery is often used with this method because its terminals are close together, making it easy to touch the steel wool to both terminals. However, even other batteries can be dangerous if shorted for extended periods.
  4. Battery type: Not all batteries are created equal. While a typical AA or AAA battery might not deliver enough current to pose a significant risk (though they can still ignite steel wool), larger batteries or those with higher voltages can deliver a much stronger current.
  5. Steel wool grade: Very fine steel wool ignites more easily than coarser grades. It’s essential to use the right type for this method.

If you plan to use this method, always exercise caution:

  • Use it in a controlled environment, away from flammable materials.
  • Hold the steel wool with something non-conductive, like a pair of wooden or plastic tweezers, if possible.
  • Don’t short the battery for longer than necessary to ignite the steel wool.
  • Always be aware of the risks and be prepared to deal with any potential issues.

Chemical Reaction: When Fire Meets Chemistry

Using chemicals to start fires is a more advanced technique but can come in handy when traditional methods fail. By mixing a small amount of potassium permanganate with glycerin, a chemical reaction occurs, producing heat and flame. This method can be hazardous, so it’s essential to handle these chemicals with care and only use them in well-ventilated areas.

Where do you buy potassium permanganate?

Potassium permanganate is a chemical compound that has various uses, including as a disinfectant, in water treatment, and in certain survival situations to create fire (when combined with glycerin). If you’re looking to purchase potassium permanganate, here are some potential sources:

  1. Local pharmacies: It’s sometimes available in small quantities as an antiseptic solution. It may be sold in crystal form or as a pre-made solution.
  2. Water treatment suppliers: Because of its use in water treatment, suppliers specializing in these products might carry it.
  3. Aquarium stores: It’s used as a treatment for certain fish diseases.
  4. Online retailers: Websites like Amazon, eBay, and other specialized chemical suppliers often have potassium permanganate available in various quantities.
  5. Pool and spa stores: Potassium permanganate can be used in some pool/spa treatments.
  6. Chemical supply companies: These are more for industrial or lab-grade purposes, but they often carry potassium permanganate.

Where do you buy glycerin?

Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is a versatile compound used in a wide range of applications, from skincare products to food to pharmaceuticals. If you’re looking to purchase glycerin, here are some potential sources:

  1. Pharmacies: Glycerin is often available over-the-counter in pharmacies as it’s used as a skin moisturizer and in various other products.
  2. Beauty supply stores: Given its use in skincare and cosmetic products, many beauty supply stores carry glycerin.
  3. Grocery stores: In the baking or health section, you might find food-grade glycerin, as it’s used in some culinary applications to retain moisture or add sweetness.
  4. Online retailers: Websites like Amazon, eBay, and other online marketplaces often have glycerin available in various quantities and purities.
  5. Craft stores: Glycerin is used in making homemade soaps, so stores that sell soap-making supplies might carry it.
  6. Health food stores: Some health food stores offer glycerin, especially if they cater to the DIY crowd making their own lotions, tinctures, or other products.
  7. Chemical suppliers: For more industrial or lab-grade purposes, specialized chemical suppliers often offer glycerin.


Mastering the art of fire-making is not just a survival skill; it’s a rite of passage for many outdoor enthusiasts. From the primal feeling of igniting a flame through friction to the marvel of harnessing the sun’s rays, these techniques connect us with our ancestors and nature. Equip yourself with this knowledge, and you’ll not only be prepared for any situation but also carry with you the warmth of human innovation and adaptability.