Starting a Fire Without Matches or a Lighter: 7 Ways to Make a Fire

March 01, 2022 8 min read

how to start fire without matches

Fire is a vital component of everyday life—and equally essential, if not more so, in SHTF survival scenarios. That's why many preppers, survivalists, and homesteaders keep lighters and matches around the house and pack them into their bug-out bags. 

However, what would happen if you didn’t have access to modern fire-making tools? Or if they got wet? Would you know how to start a fire with a lighter or matches? How can you fulfil the survival rule of three without fire?

 Keep reading to learn seven ways to make a fire without matches or a lighter. 

The Importance of Fire

The importance of fire cannot be understated. Nonetheless, we often take it for granted in everyday life; for example, the water heater works without us doing anything, and the oven and stove top click on instantly. 

Similarly, fire is vital for securing the top three survival priorities in a survival scenario.  

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Fire Creates Warmth 

In cold survival scenarios, prolonged exposure to the elements could be deadly, so adequate survival shelter is your top priority. Starting a fire without matches is another essential way to create warmth—if you can have both shelter and fire, your chances of survival increase exponentially. Staying warm can even reduce your minimum calories per day to survive.

Fire Purifies Water 

Finding a reliable water source is your second priority in survival scenarios where you lose access to potable water. One of the most effective ways to purify water in the wild (but not filter) is boiling it. Fire is even used in desalinating water.

Fire Cooks and Bakes Food 

After securing a viable water source, food becomes the next priority. Rehydrating the contents of survival food buckets, making campfire bread, and cooking wild game all become possible with fire.

7 Ways to Start a Fire Without Matches or a Lighter

We all know that being able to make fire is a classic survival skill, yet we tend to put all our eggs in one basket and trust that we’ll always have access to matches or a lighter. As a result, we sometimes lack the knowledge to start a fire without matches or lighter.  

Well, no more faith-based survival. It’s time to ante up and learn new fire-making skills so that you know, without a doubt, how to make a fire without matches or a lighter. 

Using Friction to Start a Fire Without Matches

prepping for how to start fire without matches

Friction causes the molecules of surfaces to move faster and create more thermal energy. Thus, with sufficient friction and heat, you can create fire.  

Hand Drill

Using a hand drill is one of the most basic ways to start a fire without a lighter or matches. All you need is a tinder bundle and two very dry sticks. That being said, creating a fire with a hand drill can be a lot of work.

  1. Start by collecting tinder and kindling—the drier, the better. Using your tinder, create a small bird’s nest-shaped bundle and set it aside. 

  2. Next, find two very dry sticks. One will function as your drill and the other as your fireboard.

  3. Using a knife, create a small indentation in the fireboard where you will position your drill. This will become your burn hole. 

  4. Next to the burn hole, create a small notch. You will use this notch to collect the fire dust and coal you create.

  5. Position the drill into the burn hole, and sandwich the drill between your palms. 

  6. While applying downward pressure, spin the drill back and forth between your hands. When you reach the bottom of the drill, reposition your hands at the top and repeat.

  7. As you create smoke and fire dust through friction, collect the dust to form a tiny live coal.

  8. Carefully transfer the coal to your tinder bundle when it is sufficiently hot.

  9. Blow directly on the smoking heat source in the center of the tinder bundle to provide oxygen and create a flame. This is easiest to do by holding the tender bundle while you blow into it.

  10. Once you have created flame and your tinder bundle ignites, transfer it to your fire pit.   

Fire Plow

Starting a fire using a fire plow is similar to the hand drill method. All you need is two sticks and a lot of patience—but not matches.
  1. Start by collecting tinder. The drier, the better. Using your tinder, create a small bird’s nest-shaped bundle and set it aside.

  2. Next, set up a small fire area using very dry kindling. The smaller, the better.   

  3. Then, find two very dry sticks. One will function as your plow, and the other will function as your fireboard. For your fireboard, the flatter, the better. 

  4. Using a knife, carve a 6–8 inch groove into the fireboard.

  5. With the same knife, whittle your fire plow to create an angled head that fits into the groove you carved into the fireboard.

  6. Hold the plow at a 45-degree angle on the fireboard and move it back and forth while applying downward pressure. 

  7. As you create smoke and fire dust through friction, collect the dust to form a tiny lump of coal.

  8. When the coal is sufficiently hot, carefully transfer it to your tinder bundle.

  9. Blow directly on the smoking heat source in the center of the tinder bundle to provide oxygen and create a flame. 

  10. Once you have created flame and your tinder bundle ignites, transfer it to your fire pit. 

Bow Drill

Creating a fire using a bow drill


Creating a fire using a bow drill
is the evolved version of the hand drill. The process is nearly identical, except with a bow drill, you use a bow to spin the drill instead of your hands. The setup for a bow drill is more involved, but it's easier to manage (still not easy, though).

  1. Start by collecting tinder. The drier, the better. Using your tinder, create a small bird’s nest-shaped bundle and set it aside.

  2. Next, premake a small fire spot using very dry kindling. The smaller, the better. 

  3. Then, create a bow using a sturdy piece of wood that has a slight bend. Fit the bow with a piece of paracord.

  4. Create a socket to hold the drill instead of using your hand. You can use a piece of wood, rock, or anything that fits comfortably in your hand.

  5. Using a knife, create a fireboard by adding a small indentation in a relatively flat piece of wood where you will position your drill. This will become your burn hole. 

  6. Next to the burn hole, create a small notch. You will use this notch to collect the fire dust and coal you create.

  7. Wrap the bowstring around the drill. Apply downward pressure on the socket and move the bow back and forth to spin the drill.

  8. As you create smoke and fire dust through friction, collect the dust to form a tiny lump of coal. Carefully transfer the coal to your tinder bundle when it is sufficiently hot.

  9. Blow directly on the smoking heat source in the center of the tinder bundle to provide oxygen and create a flame. 

  10. Once you have created flame and your tinder bundle ignites, transfer it to your fire pit.   

Using a Lens and the Sun to Start a Fire Without Matches

You can harness the sun’s power to start a fire without matches or a lighter. You can heat up the area by concentrating or magnifying the sun’s rays onto a small area. Over time, the surface will ignite, and you can use it to build a fire. 

Magnifying Glass

  1. Start by collecting tinder. The drier, the better. Using your tinder, create a small bird’s nest-shaped bundle and set it aside.

  2. Next, premake a small fire using very dry kindling. The smaller, the better.

  3. Angle the magnifying glass towards the sun to focus the beam into the smallest possible area in the center of your tinder bundle. 

  4. Eventually, the sun’s concentrated rays will heat the tinder and create smoke. This could take anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes depending on your lens, the sun, and the ambient temperature.

  5. Blow directly on the smoking heat source in the center of the tinder bundle to provide oxygen and create a flame.

  6. Once you have created flame and your tinder bundle ignites, transfer it to your fire pit.    

Water-Filled Plastic Sphere

By filling a plastic sandwich bag, clear water balloon, or even a condom with water, you can transform the items into a lens that can focus the sun’s rays to create fire. For simplicity, we’ll explain how to start a fire using a sandwich bag.

  1. Start by collecting tinder. The drier, the better. Using your tinder, create a small bird’s nest-shaped bundle and set it aside.

  2. Next, premake a small fire using very dry kindling. The smaller, the better.

  3. Fill your zip-lock bag with water.

  4. Twist the item to move the water and concentrate it to form a sphere. Be careful not to break the bag.

  5. Angle the sphere towards the sun to focus the beam into the smallest possible area in the center of your tinder bundle. 

  6. Over time, the sun’s concentrated rays will heat the tinder and create smoke.

  7. Blow directly on the smoking heat source in the center of the tinder bundle to provide oxygen and create a flame.

  8. Once you have created flame and your tinder bundle ignites, transfer it to your fire pit.  

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Using Sparks to Start a Fire Without Matches

You can also start a fire by creating sparks. Sparks are small fiery particles that you can use to create flames and ignite a fire without matches. The classic example is making a fire using flint and steel.  

Flint Rod and Steel

  1. Start by collecting tinder. The drier, the better. Using your tinder, create a small bird’s nest-shaped bundle and set it aside.

  2. Next, premake a small fire using very dry kindling. The smaller, the better.

  3. With the flint rod in one hand and the steel in the other, strike down at a 30-degree angle above the tinder bundle. 

  4. The sparks will land on the tinder bundle and begin to smolder.

  5. Blow directly on the smoking heat source in the center of the tinder bundle to provide oxygen and create a flame.

  6. Once you have created flame and your tinder bundle ignites, transfer it to your fire pit.  

Battery and Steel Wool

battery steel wool

  1. Start by collecting tinder. The drier, the better. Using your tinder, create a small bird’s nest-shaped bundle and set it aside.

  2. Next, premake a small fire using very dry kindling. The smaller, the better.

  3. Then, tear off a small section of steel wool and position it in the center of your tinder bundle. The finer the wool, the better. 

  4. Using a 9-volt battery, rub the steel wool to create sparks. The sparks will land on the tinder bundle and begin to smolder.

  5. The wool will eventually begin to glow and burn.

  6. Blow directly on the smoking heat source in the center of the tinder bundle to provide oxygen and create a flame.

  7. Once you have created flame and your tinder bundle ignites, transfer it to your fire pit.   

Final Thoughts on How To Make a Fire Without Matches

Fire is a top priority for any survival situation. With fire, you can take care of the top three most important survival priorities. You can stay warm, boil water, and cook food.

Packing matches and lighters into your emergency supplies, along with your 72-hour kit, is a good idea. But an even better idea is knowing how to make a fire without matches or a lighter—just in case. But here’s the most important takeaway: Practice these survival techniques before you need them! When you’re most in need of starting that fire and your matches and lighter are nowhere to be found, that’s not the moment to try to learn to use a bow drill. 

We hope you found this article helpful. For more survival tips, like how to open a can without a can opener, visit our Practical Prepper Blog. To start prepping with a 7-day survival food supply, visit our website.