tinder-for-building-a-fire
SURVIVAL SKILLS

Tinder For Building A Fire | A List Of Source Materials

To build a fire, you start with a source – a spark or flame which is applied to ‘tinder’.

The purpose of tinder is to catch the flame and burn long enough to ignite larger pieces of ‘kindling’. First tinder, then kindling, followed by progressively larger pieces of firewood.

The quality of your tinder is important and often necessary to successfully build a fire.

Tinder should be the lightest, driest, and most combustible materials.

Regardless of your choice of tinder material, fluff it up or shred it so that more surface area is available for the flame to grab hold.

Tip: Keep your tinder dry! (in weather proof container)

Tip: When preparing a fire, consider gathering wood in this order: large, medium, then small (kindling), and lastly the tinder.

The reason for this seemingly ‘backwards’ order: if you prepare or expose the tinder first, and then go out and start gathering firewood – by the time you get back to the tinder, it may be wet or damp (depends on weather conditions).

So, gathering or preparing the tinder should be the last step, just before starting the fire.

TINDER SOURCES

(in no particular order)

Cotton Balls & Petroleum Jelly

Mix some cotton balls with some Vaseline and store them in a container. Vaseline (petroleum jelly) is flammable and will enable the cotton ball to burn much longer.

Paraffin Candle

I keep a small candle in each of my kits! I count it as tinder…

Tree Bark

First look for fallen trees in the area but avoid rotten bark. The inside of most bark will remain fairly dry even in wet weather. Shave it. Peel bark from a limb. Cedar is particularly good. Birch bark is uniquely thin and easy to peel off and burn.

Pine needles (brown/dried/dead)

These can be found in plenty. Be wary of damp needles though.

Very Small Twigs

From dead branches, snap off very small twigs and then shave them with a knife into shredded pieces. The key here is small shavings.

Feather Stick

A length of wood which is shaved to produce a cluster of thin curls protruding from the wood. It allows damp wood to be used to start a fire when dry tinder is hard to find.

Recommended by Dave Canterbury:
Morakniv Full Tang Fixed Blade Knife

Morakniv full tang knife for batoning wood

Leaves

They must be completely dry to burn well. Crumple into small pieces.

Dried Grass

Burns fast, but needs to be very dry.

Paper

All sorts of paper including newspaper, paper bags, etc., except glossy papers from magazines which do not burn well.

Shavings From Firewood

Use axe or knife to shave off small dry pieces which can be further shredded or chipped.

Cattails

Best in the fall and found near water. Look for the brown sausage shape piece. Take this off and break it open for the fluffy stuff inside.

Fine Steel Wool

Yes the fine steel wool which you might be using to scour your pots and pans is flammable.

Char Cloth

Make this ahead of time. Cut small squares / strips of 100% cotton cloth and insert in a metal container which can seal air-tight (e.g. metal water bottle). Place container on fire or hot coals for about 5 minutes. Remove and let cool off. Unseal the lid and check that the cloth has turned black. These pieces will accept a spark nicely and flame. Store in a weatherproof container.

Dryer Lint

Collect some of this and stuff it in a small weatherproof container. Try it yourself – gather up a ball of dryer lint and try lighting it outside – it works – varied results.

Gauze Bandages

You can raid your first aid kit for gauze.

Tampons & Pads

It will burn. Mix with petroleum jelly for longer lasting flame.

Cigarette Filters

Pull apart to form a ‘nest’. With enough of them, this can make for an effective tinder bundle.

Dried Organic Plant Material

Just about any dead dry plant material will burn. Break it into very small pieces and fluff it up.

“Fatwood”

This resin-impregnated heartwood becomes hard and rot-resistant. The stump (and tap root) left in the ground after a tree has fallen or has been cut is an excellent source of fatwood.

String

Cut off several feet, spread out the fibers, and form into a bird’s nest.

Rubber Bicycle Tire Inner Tubes

Cut in to strips. The high density rubber is extremely flammable and long burning.

Steel Wool

Size 0000 steel wool and a nine volt battery works every time.

Road Flare

Don’t laugh! Talk about starting a fire! It will emit sparkling hot flame for many minutes. It will strike easier (the friction cap) than trying to use a lighter on other tinder with very cold hands/fingers.

FireSteel

One very good source that will produce copious amounts of sparks to ignite your tinder is from a U.S. based company, FireSteel.com where the U.S. Military buys their ‘FireSteel’ rods. Check them out! I keep one of their rods in each of my kits.

What are some of your additional suggestions for tinder?

Continue reading:

Best Knife For Batoning Wood (Recommendation by Dave Canterbury)

Advantages of the Dakota Fire Hole – Smokeless Fire Pit

Candle & Road Flare for Fire Starter Kit

A Fire Starter Kit (List)

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29 Comments

  1. I make fire starters with corrugated card board. Peel one side of the paper off to expose the ribs inside, this allows it to roll much better. Roll up enough to make a ‘stick’ about 1-2 inches in diameter and 4-6 inches long. Stick some strike anywhere matches in the end then soak in melted wax. They are water proof and burn long and hot enough to start a good fire. They are also very cheap to make.

  2. This may sound silly, but once when we had a power outage and I was lighting candles with book matches, I had trouble reaching the wicks of the jar candles with the short book matches. So I used spaghetti. I lit the end of the spaghetti from one candle and used that to transfer the flame to the next candle.

      1. Those spaghetti strands burn well and the flame lasts. I am not sure how long because I would blow it out after lighting a candle to save it for next time.

        I think you could break one up into pieces and make a little pile that would catch on fire right away and stay lit until your kindling caught.

        (There doesn’t seem to be a place to put in your email anymore.)

    1. – Along that same line, corn chips burn great! Puts new meaning to “light a shuck” (Corn shucks were commonly used as a means of transferring flame, back in the day).

      – Papa S.

    2. DaisyK— sounds good …one has to use what is at hand.

      — along those lines (long and skinny), shish kebob sticks/skewers would work good too. Cheap at the dollar store too.

      1. If im to the point of having to light a fire with dryer lint,
        I think the last thing i will be worried about is if the smoke is toxic or not,,, especially since its most likely such a low concentration it really is of no consequence.
        Just sayin is alll, at a certain point, some stuff doesnt matter

        1. Tommyboy;
          Very best fire started I have ever seen, C4 yes C4, not as a boom, but take a small piece and roll it into a 1/8inch string and lite the end, it will burn nice and hot….

          1. NRP
            C 4 is what ACDH used in Nam to heat his coffee. You are correct no boooom, just a good rolling boil, or a very hot breakfast made with plantain(like the banana-but not)rice and caramel his cambod bodyguard made for him.

            Of course you know that is not sold in the corner outlet store. 😮🤐

          2. – One of the funniest things I ever saw was a young man who had used a small cube of C4 (maybe ¾”) to heat some coffee. After the coffee was hot, he stood up, and without thinking, he stomped the last little bit (maybe pea-sized), intending to put it out. The result was, it flipped him upside down and tore the heel off of his boot! Not something to play with! Spilled his coffee, too.

            – Papa S.

  3. Along the lines of petroleum jelly on cotton balls and wax on rolled cardboard, I soak paper in accelerant. I usually always start an outdoor fire with paper doused with diesel. Holds the flame well while damp wood is catching.

  4. I actually practiced using only natural materials to start the fire in the stove this past winter. I found that dry grass would catch the quickest but also burn up quicker. One top of that I would add shredded bark which starts to catch as the grass burns out. Paper may not always be around. It was a good skill to practice.

  5. I carry homemade fire starter made from egg cartons,wax and sawdust. Also always keep a couple of tea candles in the get home bag

    1. Poorman,
      I make fire starters the same way you do. I use them mostly to start our wood stove , but also carry some in the get home bag as well.I shop the bargain stores for old candles.

      1. Bluesman. Starting the fire in the stove is my main reason also. I can do without them but the wife can’t get a fire going to save her life 😀. Anything that makes it easier for her is a good thing.

  6. Since we wear natural fibers, I use dryer lint in egg cartons that I cover in wax from old candles and broken crayons…works great!
    Lol….the dog and cat hair burns really well too (often mixed in the dryer lint)

    1. Pioneer woman
      I’ve been doing the same….
      And using the pet hair, too.
      Lots of shedding pets in this household.

      I usually gather up the fallen branches from our black locust trees. Break them up and save them in the tinderbox. Everything from an inch down. The dead, dried wood is easy to ignite and burns hot.

  7. Duct Tape wrapped around a Bic Lighter a few times and then torn off in 2+” lengths (as needed) and then torn into 3-4 strips (now you have 3 to 4 1/2″w x 2+”L pieces) rolled into little balls that will light with very little effort. Works Great with both lighter and spark / birdnest, along with all the other tinders mentioned…

    As far as the dryer lint, cotton vs. synthetic. A) I’m not going to sit there and inhale it… the concern about using ONLY natural fiber lint is, not to be insulting but just plain silly.
    We do the lint to include natural/syn and dog hair all mixed as it comes straight out of the lint trap, egg carton’s sectioned into about 3 pieces (4 egg nest each section) with old candle wax poured over the lint for starting the fires in our 1943 Montgomery Wards furnace in the basement of our 1875 farm house… it too works great, even if the wood is damp or slightly wet.

    1. Rucksack Rob;

      The point of not using synthetics for fire starter is not as you said “just plain silly”; the reasoning is, most synthetics are treated to be more “fire resistant” than cottons.

      1. Good point NRP
        Some polyesters and nylons are quite flammable though, but i have noticed the flame retardent trait a few times.

  8. I make my own charcloth as well as practice making it from cedar bark strips. The cedar bark is brittle and doesn’t transport as well.
    I store my fireplace fire starter in toilet paper tubes which is filled with my dryer lint.
    Toilet paper ain’t a bad spark catcher either. Just pull it apart and fluff it.
    If you collect material after the rain collect the weed heads up high. They dry quicker in the breeze than lower materials.
    Firesteel is a great company. I love their large, for my wife, because it’s easy to hold with frozen or arthritis.
    My EDC is an Exotac and a keychain pill container with dryer lint and Charcloth.
    My bag kit contains a tablet of storebought fire starter, charcloth, dryer lint enclosed in short plastic straws melted on the ends for waterproofing, firesteel rod and a small lighter in an altoids tin ( to make more charcloth)

  9. We have trees near us, silver leafed maple? I’ve also heard them called, silver leafed poplar? Either way, they often have dead small branches, well up into the tree. They may stay up there for years before blowing down. The bark is long gone and they have a linear split, running the length of the branch. I’m talking small branches here, maybe 2″ at the large end.

    You can light that stuff with a book match. Surely that’s not “fat wood.” I don’t understand the why of it, I just know it lights very easily. I gather them for tinder/kindling anytime I see a fallen branch. With two wood stoves, lighting fires in spring and fall is a normal part of life.

    I carry the lint in the toilet paper tube, with a little vasoline, in by bag(s). The wife is great about gathering the lint and making the little fire packs. Good tips, all you guys. I’m always learning.

  10. – Some of you may have heard of a “prisoners’ match”. This is made by taking a sheet of toilet paper (one ply of two-ply paper if that’s what you have) start rolling it tightly at one end, and stuff the other end with cotton fluff (pulled from socks, old cotton whatever). Strike a spark into the fluffy stuff, and use the resulting flame as a match. It’s time consuming, but it does work and when you really need a match it will serve for thingslike reaching into a lantern, a candle in a jar, etc.
    – Papa S.

  11. Once I have a flame going, I have found that Doritos and Fritos work well in producing an even bigger flame in short order.

    This trick seems to be popular here in the rainy Pacific Northwest because much of the wood is wet until split and just about every car or truck venturing into the wild has at least 2 bags of chips for every occupant.

    You may have trouble taking said bag of Doritos from your kids though…

  12. – Something I failed to mention so long ago, and I don’t really know why, is the common tumbleweed, also known as Russian thistle. These are very good tinder (I have been told they have a natural latex in them) that will take and catch a spark very easily. The things, even in the rain, will burn like they have been doused in kerosene. They are a good argument for good boots, though; they are tough, scratchy and brittle. To use one, catch it if it is moving, pin it down, and stomp it into splinters. Scrape the bits into a bird’s nest, and even in the rain, they will start easily and build into a good fire very quickly.
    – Papa S.

    1. Papa Smurf
      Anyone needs a supply of this thistle are welcome to it. One section of our pasture is covered with this, but getting rid of it has been royal pain in the arse. Came in with a batch of hay and has shallow roots spreads like crab grass.

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