What is a camp without a campfire? Typically cold, dark and not nearly as much fun.
Building a campfire can be tricky. But with a few tips, even a caveman can do it.
Fire needs three things: heat, oxygen and fuel. Heat will become abundant once you get your campfire going. Your first concern is fuel: wood.
Where to find wood? Right on the ground, under trees. But if the weather has been wet, sticks off the ground are for later. Get some drier ones. Trees naturally “prune” themselves as they grow by letting their lower branches die. Break those off. If a branch doesn’t break, it’s still green. Leave it.
There are three stages of your campfire and three types of fuel: early, middle, and late. Your early fire will want some very thin sticks and even wood shavings (if it has been raining, the dry center of a stick or log is your best bet). Get or make pencil-sized sticks for your early fire, too. Your middle fire stage will take sticks about the diameter of your wrist. A mature fire will burn logs.
You can burn green wood once you have a roaring fire, but it will sizzle and steam. You are much better off with dry or “seasoned” wood. Dead branches and whole dead trees are seasoned.
A lighter, or Flint Striker can get fine material started.
Paper or cardboard make fire starting much easier. With enough newspaper you can start just about any dry wood.
Purists use dry wood shavings and carefully selected twigs. Here’s how. Find a dry surface, cleared down to soil for several feet in all directions. Using a sharp knife, whittle a pile of shavings about the size of your fist. Light the pile of shavings at the bottom, and quickly start arranging dry twigs into a tiny “teepee” or /\ shape over the flame.
In campfire building, your purpose is always to create a draft
A properly constructed campfire draws in air from the bottom and guides it upward in a predictable stream of heated air. The teepee shape creates that draft, very much like a chimney. You will notice the flame “prefers” to come up at certain spots. Without blocking those flames completely, place twigs over them so that the flame is required to flow around and heat the twigs to their kindling point.
This is the critical stage of campfire building.
This is going to sound mystical but here goes.
Be the fire.
You will intuit your fire’s needs for air and fuel. This is your birthright as a human. Your ancestors got you here through mastery of fire.
Your young campfire is fragile. Treat it like a tiny home where your flame lives. Don’t throw on sticks. Place them. And watch.
As Yogi Berra said, “You can see a lot by observing.”
After you have a small teepee fire, simply add slightly larger, pencil-sized sticks. Don’t rush it, but don’t let your fire burn out either.
You can feed a fire pencil-sized sticks all night. But it’s easier to get some bigger branches going. If wood is scarce, intentionally keep your fire small.
If you have logs, you can build a box or log cabin around and over your fire. Even easier is to arrange two logs on both sides of your fire, as close as possible and put a third log on top running in the same direction. Again, always make sure the fire can draw air. When flame is licking around the top log in spots, the draft is happening. If it isn’t, gently adjust the logs to make the fire draw.
Photo credit: d3designs
After that it’s just a matter of placing another log on the fire as needed. If your goal is cooking, once you have a bed of hot coals, pull most of the unburned logs out of the fire to reduce flame and smoke.
How to “bank” a fire
When it’s time for bed and if you want hot coals to start the fire in the morning, bury a pile of coals and partly burned wood with ashes. This is called “banking” a fire. The ashes nearly smother the coals but let them smolder all night. Just make sure the layer of ashes is thick enough to keep out oxygen.
Photo credit: matthewbridges
There’s nothing quite like waking up to a “banked” fire. You just blow off the ashes, get the coals glowing again, and add some fuel to re-kindle your fire in a few seconds.
This article was kindled at an amazing site called Jiffy Articles. Jiffy Articles lets you create articles in a few minutes with topics, each with an editable introduction and a story outline. Jiffy Articles really works! The site is currently in beta test and you can try it for free!
This article, How to Build a Campfire started with the Jiffy Article “How to Start and Maintain the Perfect Campfire.”
You might want to see other ways to make your campsite more comfortable.