While there are only three ingredients required to start a fire, how those ingredients are used provides a world of variety. In fact, how two of those ingredients are used provides the world of opportunity, as the first one, oxygen, is already there; assuming you’re not going to have to start a survival fire on the moon.
Again, getting a wood fire to start burning is a little more complicated than just providing heat to wood. If you hold a match up to a log, you’re not going to accomplish much, other than a slight singe of its bark.
Of course, you could solve that problem if you had a flamethrower, but those are a little hard to come by, and not very practical to carry around in your survival kit. The basic problem here is that most fire starting methods don’t provide enough heat to raise the temperature of the fuel high enough to start and sustain combustion.
Think about it for a minute. You’ve got a bathtub full of ice cold water and want to take a bath, so you pour your cup of hot coffee in it. How much warmer is that one cup of coffee going to make the bath water? All you’ve really accomplished is wasting your cup of coffee. The same thing happens when you hold a match up to a log. That little flame coming off the end of the match doesn’t provide enough heat to bring the log up to a high enough temperature to start burning. On the other hand, if you hold that match up to a small twig, it will almost immediately burst into flames. The only real difference between the two is the size. To be successful in starting a fire, you have to start out by burning fuel that is small enough to catch fire. Once that is burning, it can be used to start larger fuel burning.
This is a standard fire starting technique.
Basically, there are three levels of materials used in starting most fires:
Tinder is material that will catch fire quickly and easily. This is essentially the heart of your fire. You need to start your tinder bundle before anything else becomes an option. Provided that the tinder bundle is completely dry, it should take a spark relatively easily and will be quick to ignite, but, it won’t stay burning for long, as it is consumed quickly by the fire. Therefore, all that tinder does is to pass the fire on to larger types of fuel. We’ll talk more about different types of tinder later.
Kindling is the first real fuel that is burnt in a fire. It consists of sticks and small branches, generally no bigger around than your thumb. You need to be able to get your kindling to burn before your tinder runs out. While it provides a good fire, once again, it burns quickly due to the small size.
Fuel logs logs are the backbone of your fire, these are the larger branches and stumps that are used to keep the fire burning for a prolonged period of time. The bigger the log, the longer it will burn. For that matter, the type of log it is will also make a difference, as different types of wood burn at different rates. If you really want a good fire that will last for a long time, use hardwoods.