Starting A Fire With Just A Knife And What You Have On You

This is a continuation of the survival posts that I’ve been writing.  In today’s article I’d like to talk a little about survival and fire.  Fire is important for several reasons in a survival situation:  first because of the warmth it can provide if it’s cold.  It can dry clothes, purify water, cook food, boost morale, keep animals away, and provide a bright signal for anybody looking for you.  Although not always critical to have it is certainly worth investing a little time in trying to find alternate ways of lighting a fire if you find yourself in the woods without matches or a lighter.

Small survival kit

There are different ways to carry survival gear and it doesn’t always have to be in a pack the size of a Volkswagon.  I have a small Altoids tin survival kit that I carry with me.  I keep wire, matches, and a few other small items in it just in case something happens out there. Check out this link to Field and Stream where they have ideas on how to make different types of kits.

Fire Steel

Ok, the above link was kind of cheating because you do have matches, but what happens when you don’t?  There are different ways to make a fire without matches or lighter and the easiest is probably by using a fire steel.  I prefer the Gobspark Fire steel myself.  The good thing about a fire steel is that it always throws a spark.  You can fall in a river, leave it in a damp pack for months, pull it out of the ice, it’ll always throw a nice spark. Matches get damp and don’t work and sometimes lighters won’t work when it gets too cold and that’s why I always use fire steels to light a fire when I’m in the woods.  My son is a little over 2 1/2 years old and he’s never seen me light a fire with a match!  He probably doesn’t even know what a match is, but he’ll be using a fire steel by the time he’s five years old.  (Under my close supervision of course.)

Friction Fire

The hardest type of fire to make is a friction fire.  If you’ve watched any of the survival shows on TV no doubt you’ve watched guys twirl a stick between the palms of their hands or use a fire bow to create a fire.  It’s very possible to do this, but it also takes a lot of practice and knowledge.  You don’t even necessarily need a knife in order to make one of these fire bow kits, but it sure is a lot easier with one.

There are several parts to a fire bow and they need to be made properly if you’re going to make a fire.  I was going to make a diagram showing all the parts, but I found this excellent primer over to Nature Skills about making a fire bow. Check out the link and then swing back over here.

Now, how do you put it all together?  Here’s a video I found that explains how to use all the parts in the above post.  It is far better than most of the other videos I’ve seen out there.  This guy doesn’t even use a knife – just a rock that he knaps into a knife on the spot.

A thought about the video.  In it he uses natural cordage on his bow, which can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing.  I like to replace my boot laces with paracord (like lots of survivalists), so that if I do get caught out there it’s one less thing I have to worry about.

Final Thoughts

In order to get good at these things you need to practice them.  And once you get them figured out you need to keep practicing so you don’t lose your edge.  Practice practice practice!

This skill combined with the ability to make a natural shelter will give you the ability to survive in nearly any situation.

As some readers commented in the last post if you have these skills and can survive with just a few items, imagine what you can do with a small pack full of basic gear.

Would you survive if you got stuck in the woods for a couple of nights with little or no gear?


-Jarhead Survivor

14 comments… add one
  • No ME Preppy November 25, 2011, 8:43 am

    A friend of mine has paracord bootlaces. In the end of one of them, he’s tucked a mini fire steel. With that and a knife, he’s good to go.

  • Spook45 November 25, 2011, 9:48 am

    This is a good one. Takes me back to the first season of “survivor”. The group was huddled around a fire pit trying desparitly to start a fire to no availe. All the while, one of the players wearing a FLINT ARROWHEAD on a leather thong around her neck and too STUPID to realize she waswearing a fire starter. EDC is everything here as well as redundancy. I carry a surefire in my pocket everyday. I always have at least one knife and wear a 550 cord braclet all the time. My wallet is packed with goodies as well and I hv two different bags in my truck at all time a small one that rides were I ride and a large one packed in the back, I always have a cell phone and sometimes a pager to boot. Batteries, metal, heat = FIRE. And yes, I can do the friction method if itsrequired but its a whole lot harder and I prefer to work smarter.

    • Anonymous January 11, 2015, 11:48 pm

      Flint is very poor compared to a factory made fire starter but it would have worked

    • lance January 11, 2015, 11:52 pm

      Flint is very poor compared to a factory made fire starter but it would have worked

  • Jason November 25, 2011, 12:11 pm

    Years ago I bought a food vacuum sealer at a garage sale. I have used it to seal items I want to stay dry & for emergency use such as matches. I’ve sealed many items independently & keep them in a small BOB in my trunk. It works really well & the bags are vey thick.

    I like Spooks bracelet idea – very smart.

  • CZ223 November 25, 2011, 10:39 pm

    Living in Maine, cold weather is of great concern to me. Earlier this year I made up emergency bags for all three of my vehicles with basic survival items in all of them. A small fanny pack contains everything from Bandaids and Tylenol to a knife, flashlight, Multi-tool, matches, lighter, cordage and, toilet paper, which can also be used as tinder. I feel better just knowing that my wife and daughter have some basic things with them should they need them. Also, since I put these things in a fanny pack, it is small enough that it can be taken with us should we ever leave the vehicle.
    I also have a blast match and a fire-steel that I keep in my pack. My BOB stays in my vehicle with me at all times. I will be picking up a small fire-steel to carry around my neck along with my neck knife so that I will have it with me at all times. While I would like to know some primitive fire making techniques, I would just prefer to be prepared with more convenient items.

  • gat31 November 26, 2011, 7:59 pm

    just a side note to carrying a BOB today l’ve been carrying my laptop all over town and l’ll tell ya l now know why even though round is a shape, it’s not neccesarily the shape you want to be in. So the less you can carry and get away with the better.

  • Lumberjok November 27, 2011, 12:45 pm

    You reviewed the Gobspark some months ago and got me curious…so I ordered one. Way exceeded my expectaions, and if you find this model too big, go to firesteel dot com. They have models to fit every need from the sublime (2 inches long) to the ridiculous (over 1 pound). I ordered 4 more to give away as Christmas gifts.

    I had to zip on over and show the new toy to my buddy Joe. I should mention that Joe is ex special forces. He’s like “Nah….you’re doing that all wrong. Let me show you the right way”. He then ran the scraper against the firesteel not enough to create sparks but enough to flake off a bunch of tiny particles onto the picnic table. when he hit that with the sparks…WHOOSH…mini volcano. When I tried it I may have got just a tad carried away…when I hit the particles with a spark shower I set the plastic table cloth on fire. Mrs. special forces who had been watching us pointed sternly at my pickup…the unspoken message was very clear….you 2 bozos better show up with a new table cloth…or you 2 are dead meat.

  • Chef Bear58 November 27, 2011, 7:06 pm

    I count myself lucky, almost every day, when I see/hear about folks with no clue walking around with little-to-no sense of how to get by without technology, and the modern infrastructure we have become acustomed to (God forbid they someday have the need to feed themselves without a fast-food joint nearby!). I learned how to use a flint & steel when I was just a bit older than your son Jarhead. Ever since I can remeber I have always walked around with a fire-starter, P-38, pocket knife, multi-tool and flashlight… Even when I was in school, before kids starting killing eachother over shoes in grade-school of course. Actually, the last time I had to go to the ER I got some weird looks by some of the nurses because I had everything on my person from a .45M1911 & 32 rounds in mags, to a disposable poncho and enough chordage to make it into a make-shift shelter. Though I did have an Iraq-Vet, a former combat medic with the Special Forces, tell me that he had never seen a civilian carry everything that might be needed in an emergency, which I took as a compliment.

    It never hurts to be prepared, but get caught without something that you need in an emergency and your screwed… unless you know how to do without of course!

    • Prepared N.D. November 28, 2011, 8:41 am

      I had a similar incident when I went to the ER with my Glock. They didn’t want me to touch it so a security officer had to remove it and put it in my personal belongings bag. I let him take it and told him that there was a round in the chamber. Then the moron proceeds to take it out of the holster and put his finger on the trigger while trying to remove the round (he also pointed it toward two nurses in the process).

      I went to the ER for a few stitches, but thought I was going to end up being admitted for having a heart attack after seeing that unfold.

      • Chef Bear58 November 29, 2011, 2:19 pm

        They made me give my pistol to a police officer that was there… Luckily he was a friend from high school (and oddly enough I pulled him out of his wrecked cruiser in a weird “twist of fate” while he was in persuit of an armed robbery suspect). He just went and put it in the lock-box I have bolted into my JEEP, then brought me back my keys.

        I don’t know about where you are, but around here *most* hospital security guards are armed because crack-heads have come in a couple of times waving firearms/knives/box-cutters/a tire-iron demanding narcotics. I would probably just ask for my pistol back and walk out the door if the guy I had to give it to didn’t know how to handle it! It’s kinda hard to imagine someone allowed to carry a firearm for their profession not understanding firearm safety!

  • Sugel November 28, 2011, 9:21 am

    You know I am always reading these bizarre and unpractical ways of starting fires in the wilderness. I say unpractical because even if you decide to go hunting with a pocket full of dryer lint, and you burn your thermals thats really only two days of warmth if your actually trying to find your way back to civilization when a lot of the time you may run the risk of being lost for multiple days. A good alternative to burning your cold weather gear or wasting your light source batteries is to just go to the outdoor section of your local Wallmart or most outdoor and hunting suppliers and get your self a magnesium stick. They are extreamly light weight with an approximate size of three inches long by an inch and a half wide and a eighth inch thick, and they usually come with a ball chain (similar to those on your short chain dog tag) that you can clip onto your belt loop and stick in your pocket for security and sound suppression. You just use your field knife to scrape a tiny pile of magnesium and flip over and scrape the flint on the other side to create spark. Once you’ve lit the magnesium you have approximately two seconds to ignite your kindling, plus if you don’t succeed you have almost unlimited use you will almost never run out of this handy little gadget. The best part of the whole thing is besides it being light weight and almost impossible to lose it will usually run you about a whole dollar.

  • Anonymous January 26, 2016, 12:47 pm


  • Anonymous January 26, 2016, 12:47 pm

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