With summer coming soon, our thoughts turn to bonfires, campfires and firepits. So how do you build a fire? It seems easy enough, right? Throw some stuff in a pile and light it up. But it can be an art, depending on the type of fire you are making and what you want it for. Do you need it to burn awhile? Is it for cooking? These things can have an impact on how you build the fire because how hot it burns and for how long depends on how you build it.


Types of fires

The size and thickness of the wood has a lot to do with how long the fire will burn. An open fire of smaller sticks and twigs will burn hot but not for very long. For cooking, you would want it to burn both hot and long and we have found success using an even mix of heavier fuel wood, good solid tinder and smaller sticks (kindling) that can be fed into the fire regularly if needed. The most economical thing you can use to start your fire is paper, so if you are prepping for your homestead, don’t throw away your junk mail! Junk mail is perfect for starting a fire.


I make them a little thicker but these are great.

Start by twisting your junk mail, newspaper or whatever you are using into 2 small “logs” and placing them in your firepit. Make sure at least two ends are sticking out on opposite sides of the firepit so the fire can be lit at more than one place. (Paper is great tinder but it can burn out fast, so we usually use some additional tinder items also to be sure the big wood catches well. If you find you don’t need either the paper or the additional tinder, you can eliminate it.) Place your tinder on top of the paper, arranging it so that it covers most of the paper. You can use bark, small twigs, sawdust, straw, wood shavings… anything that burns fast and hot. You want dry, dry, dry and no green. Green items don’t burn. Wet items don’t burn well. Both just sort of smoke or don’t catch at all.

Place the heavier fuel logs on top of your tinder. Putting them in a crosswise pattern like you see above in the pyramid diagram gives your fire a good strong foundation to burn hot and long, so think about what you want to use the fire for while you’re making it. You can follow this pattern even for a small fire, just using fewer logs that are smaller than those in the picture. A fire built like this will burn a long time if the fuel logs are of any good thickness, so keep that in mind, too. This type of fire would be great for cooking over or for heating because it will create sustained heat for a period of time. If you just want it to roast marshmallows, this is probably more fire than you’ll need. The “teepee” design above is great for that.

After you arrange your fuel logs, you might notice there are “holes” created by the positioning of the logs. This allows air to circulate and keep the fire burning good and strong. You can put some of your smaller sticks in these holes or pile them on top of your fuel logs; this will help the fire burn hotter if needed. Fanning or blowing on the fire helps it catch well.

Light the “tails” of paper sticking out on either side of the fire structure and stand back!


You have made fire!

A few things to remember:

  • fire needs oxygen to burn, so don’t smother it
  • light your fire in more than one place to get it started evenly
  • always build your fire away from things that could catch
  • building your fire on top of kitty litter, sand or dirt keeps it safer
  • always put your fire out before you leave the area