To start a campfire, you need to:
1)Clear the ground of flammable materials (dry grasses, sticks, leaves). Use your hands, feet, a shovel, rake, or whatever you have on hand. The ground should ideally be flat and level.
2)Collect your three different combustable materials– tinder, kindling and your main fuel. It is important to have all three at arms reach when you start the fire.
-The tinder is the thing that catches the initial heat source. It should be be easy to burn and/or have lots of surface area (so something ‘furry’). Natural sources of tinder include: dried grass, tinder fungus, bird’s nests, shaved bits of coconut/corn/other husks, and cottony materials such as cotton, dandelion seeds or anything similar. Use your imagination. However, some of the best tinders are the ones you buy/prepare yourself. there are many – lighter fluid, magnesium shavings (see the fire starting section below), char cloth (cotton cooked in restricted oxygen), fatwood, trioxane, tissue paper, etc. One of my favorite things to use is cotton balls soaked in an oil, like petroleum jelly. The cotton catches fire really easily, and the oil keeps it burning long enough. This fuel, along with fatwood, trioxane magnesium and char cloth, are good because they work when damp.
Often, you will need to tease out the tinder a bit, as clumps would not catch heat very well. If you’re using something like birds nests, tissue paper, or cotton balls, just tear them apart slightly.
Finally, you can also use steel wool. This is special in the sense that it can be ignited if you use it to complete a circuit. the wool will short out, causing it to burn. It also works with regular fire starting methods.
-The kindling is the thing that feeds the fire after the tinder burns. Tinder normally doesn’t burn for more than a few seconds, and so you need something that will burn long enough for the main fuel to catch fire. Thin sticks, between the sizes of toothpicks to pencils, are pretty good for this. It is important that your kindling is dry. If you live in the Australian outback, the desert, the Midwest badlands or any place dry, you can probably just get sticks straight off the ground. Anywhere else, and you should let them dry in the sun (or another fire) for a few hours if possible. otherwise, you should look for wood from dead trees that are elevated off the ground. They sound hollow when you tap them. Just the smaller sticks off. You can also split thicker sticks down the middle with a knife. Use a larger stick to hammer the blade down through the fibers. The good thing about such processed wood is that the edges are sharper than sticks, and therefore catch fire easily.
Another thing you can do is use a larger stick and using your knife, shave splinters on it, such that it looks like a little Christmas tree. The extra surface area should be good for catching heat.
-The final thing is the wood. It should be obvious what this is. Good sizes for these are about 35mm/1.5” to 100mm/4” in diameter, but use what you have. If possible, cut larger pieces down to this size. Again, dry wood is the best.
3) The next thing you need is a heat source. Most of them which make a flame (matches, lighters) are really good, and often you can skip the process of finding tinder and go straight to kindling. You should already know how to use them. However, on an outdoor adventure, it is important to not rely on such a device, as they often will not work when wet.
The next thing you can (and should) use is a ferrocerium rod aka a firesteel. this should not be confused with flint and steel (which no one uses anymore). With flint and steel, the flint breaks of bits of steel, which ignites, creating a spark. with ferrocerium, it is the steel that breaks off pieces of the firesteel. Usually you can get the ferrocerium and steel together. If you dont have the steel bit, use the back edge of your knife, or a file from a multitool or something. To use it, place the point of the ferrocerium rod on your tinder, and with the steel scrap the entire length of the firesteel with great strength. This should throw sparks on the tinder, hopefully it would ignite. Alternatively, pull the ferrocerium up and away from the tinder while keeping the steel stationary. This prevents your hand from knocking the tinder away, but is harder to apply more force. some firesteels come stuck to a piece of magnesium. This is basically emergency tinder that can be used wet. Use the steel to scrap off bits of magnesium. Push them into a pile. When the pile is about 8mm/0.5” wide, throw sparks on it. This burns really hot, but it burns fast, so you have to be quick.
In addition, some new firesteels come with magnesium embedded inside it already, so you can softly scrape off bits of the firesteel with the steel, then strike it hard to throw sparks on it.
You can alternatively do things the really old way and rub sticks together, use a firebow and all that, but i dont know how to do them well. Perhaps there is an expert here.
When your tinder has a bit of an ember, blow on it gently, and hopefully it will ignite.
4) Once it has ignited, place a small amount of kindling over it, being careful not to smother the flame. If you find the flame dying out, blow on it gently. Then add more and more of the kindling until you get a decent flame happening. Then you can feed it your main fuels, starting with the thinnest sticks, then working your way up.
Thats the gist of firebuilding, but there are a few advanced techniques. One of them is the arrangement of your wood. When building a heat for warmth only, it is good to try to arrange your wood in a teepee fashion before starting, and building the fire underneath. This is really good for letting oxygen flow through, resulting in a hot, roaring fire. If youre using it for cooking with pots and pans, however, you might want to build a tower by placing two sticks horizontally, then arranging two sticks on top of them, perpedicularly, then repeating this process such that you have a square pipe sort of thing that you can rest a skillet on, then build a fire underneath that. However, usually, i dont bother with that. As long as there is good air flow, it should be fine.
Another thing to note is the placement of your fire. Sometimes, you might want to build it next to a rock face. This allows the heat to be reflected back on you, so you can use less fuel it is pretty important to block any strong winds, lest you be left cold if the wind is blowing in one direction, and roasted when it is blowing in the other. You can build your own fire wall by sticking four sticks in this arrangement:
Where * is a stick on the ground, then slotting sticks and leaves between them, forming a wall. This is good, as it can dry any green sticks for you such that it can be used for the next night.
Also, it is good to practice fire building techniques if you have time. A cheap chinese made fire steel, which works just as well as any expensive one usually has magnesium in it already, and will cost about $US4 on ebay.