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How to Start a Fire with Sticks

It’s amazing to imagine that ancient people survived in the woods and outdoor wilderness without the plethora of knowledge we have in today’s day and age!

Yes, these were, indeed, very different times, but nowadays, people can also face difficulties that force them to use the old methods to survive.

For some of you, however, this will be your weekend fun, as it is ours here at TheSurvivalSpirit.com!

In this article, you will find helpful tips on starting a fire purely with your bare hands, sticks, and a curious mind that helped our species to withstand nature's wrath. Always remember, it is the fire that brings warmth and safety to wherever you are!

Fire Preparation Process

Almost every method of starting a fire shares a couple of essential things. A little effort, and soon enough you will see that magical spark that eludes so many beginner survivalists!

So, first and foremost, you should gather these things.

Fine and Dry Tinder

Tinder can be almost any highly flammable material. You’ll need it to make a tinder bundle that later will start a dazzling dance of fire!

You can use every fibrous material you can find as a tinder, such as bird feathers, plant fibers, pieces of cotton, clothing lent, parched grass, leaves, pine needles, small pieces of bark, or even dried dandelion.

This initial step is crucial in the fire-starting process, so ensure the tinder is as dry as possible before you begin.

Pro tip: if it's raining, try to find a dry wood piece and shred it as fine as you can to make a tinder bundle.

Small Sticks to Catch a Spark from the Tinder

After igniting the tinder (keep reading for this exciting part!), you will need something to act as a bridge between a tiny spark and fuelwood. Small and very dry sticks will keep a fire burning long enough to create an intense flame.


After you generate a decent flame, you will need medium-sized, large chunks of wood or a log chopped in sections.

Hardwood trees work best for fires as they give a lot of heat and burn longer. On the other hand, conifers burn a lot faster, but you will get an astonishing amount of heat from them.

Now you’ve got these essential items, let's move onto the methods of starting a fire with sticks!

Hand Drill Method

This method is believed to be one of the oldest known ways to start a fire with sticks. It is a pretty intuitive one, so we get why it was invented first. You will create embers by simply drilling a stick into the piece of wood.

Firstly, prepare your fireboard.

It should be a flat-ish block of wood about half of an inch thick. This is the optimal thickness of wood to absorb embers, without taking too much time.

Keep in mind that if your board is too thin, it will cause burning through the wood in no time at all and no fire as a result!

Feel free to use trees like willow, sotol, yucca, cypress, cottonwood or western red cedar as firewood. They are all great choices.

Next, find a thin and straight, soft-wood stick to be your spindle. The spindle should be as thick as your pinkie or smaller in order to be effective. The longer the stick, the easier it will be on your hands, but you will have to put a lot more effort into drilling.

Next, shape your drill’s end with a knife, or simply look for a pointy spindle. It will help your stick to create a lot more pressure in the drilling process.

Let's back to the fireboard.

Now you need to take your knife or any other sharp objects, like rocks, perhaps, to make a hole for your spindle. The hole should be the same diameter as your spindle or a little bigger. It should not slip out of it.

Pro tip: Prepare the tinder bundle, small sticks, and firewood to be on hand when you need them.

Then, carve a small notch on your firewood side to create space for your embers to exit.

The next stage to starting a fire with sticks is drilling.

Firstly, ensure you take the right pose.

Put your left foot on the fireboard and hold it tight.

Next, put your right knee on the ground, trying to keep your right thigh and left ankle as parallel as possible.

This pose will help you to get as much pressure as possible and fasten the fire-starting process. Take your fireboard and put some piece of wood or green leaf under the notch to easily move your ember to the tinder at a later point.

Put the spindle into the hole and start rotating it between your hands. Keep rotating the drill until you will see coal dust and smoking form the fireboard.

When you notice that the smoke continues to rise, even if you stop spinning the spindle, exciting things are happening as your coal is now formed!

Next, move the coal to the tinder drill, and you are good to go and start your fire!

The Bow Drill Method

Did you know that matches were invented after the first lighter?

But even before then, people learned how to start a fire with sticks using the bow drill method. This method is used by many survivalists, scouts, and indigenous people worldwide.

We find it very cool that it’s so accessible to beginners in particular, as you can even buy a pre-made kit for this method.

To start, we will need a standard tinder bundle, a spindle, a handle for your spindle, a fireboard, and something to move your newborn coals on to.

After creating an effective drill, a hole, and a notch in the fireboard you should make the handle.

Find a stick a little bit wider than your spindle and make a hollow in it. It should be wide enough for your drill to fit and quickly rotate in it.

The biggest difference between the bow drill and hand drill is, you guessed it: you will have to make a bow.

Find a cord or a string and a bendy green stick to make a bow. If you have no string at hand, we advise you to use your shoelace, assuming you have one!

Tie your shoelace or a cord around the bendy stick’s corners, and next, wrap your spindle with it.

Important note: the string should not come into contact with itself when it is wrapped around the drill. You must take precautions to prevent this from happening because the string can break. Trust us on that – you’ll thank us!

Your next step will be to get into the right position, which we mentioned earlier.

Take your wrapped drill with a handle, put it into the fireboard hole, take a bow, and prepare to rotate.

You should hold the handle and bow firmly and start to create friction back and forth, keeping the bow perpendicular to the drill, and handle parallel to the fireboard.

Then, wait until little embers are formed and move them to your tinder.

That's it!

This method of starting a fire with sticks requires a little more preparation, but it is a bit more accessible and little easier for beginners in particular.

The Fire Plow Method

This method will work best if you have a large knife or ax at hand. You can also use a sharp rock, but it will prove much more effective with steel tools.

So, in order to execute this method, you will need two very dry sticks: one large one to split it in half and one small to create pressure.

Also, as we’ve previously mentioned, don`t forget to prepare the tinder! It is always better to keep it right next to you.

Now you need to split the big stick into two halves and choose one. In your chosen half, you need to make a narrow channel.

Take the smaller stick and make its end nice and pointy: as thin as the channel.

Your preparations now are done, so lets move on to starting the fire!

Place your fireboard under your knee and keep it still. We also recommend you put some piece of cloth between your knee and the fireboard to make the process a lot more comfortable.

Next, place the pointy stick into the fireboard`s channel – the desired angle is about forty-five degrees. At this point, you will want to adjust the pointy stick to make it more comfortable to use.

After that, begin to move the stick back and forth with as much pressure as you can until coal dust and embers form. Now you can move your embers to the tinder and do the rest!

We find that the fire plow method can give very rapid results if you have enough arm strength. However, if you are not sure, just use hand or bow drill one.

Survival is of paramount importance, so to preserve your energy, choose the method you have the most confidence in.

The Pump Drill Method

Speaking of easy methods. The pump drill method takes a lot of preparation, but you will find that the fire-starting process will take you very little time once you have everything to hand.

So, without further ado, here's what you will need:


You should make it pointy on one side to make it work as a drill and make a hole on the other side for the string. The drill also needs to be thinner at the top and thicker near the pointy side to keep the counterweight in place.

Handle with a cord or string tied to its ends

You also should make a hole in the middle of the handle to put the spindle in it.


This is the most difficult part of the pump drill to prepare.

Take two relatively similar boards and two similar rocks. Make holes in the middle of the boards for the spindle. Place the rocks between the boards on their ends and tie them down. Now you have your counterweight.

It’s time to assemble the device!

Place a counterweight and bow on the spindle. Put the pointy end of the spindle into the fireboard. Wind the spindle up with the bow`s string, and your device is complete.

After you've built your pump drill, you can start pushing down the handle. The counterweight will force the handle to go up and spin the spindle.

Watch how little embers appear under your spindle.

That’s all there is to it!

Conclusion and Final Tips

Now you have a full picture of the fire-starting process, and how you can start an effective fire with sticks.

To sum up and help you with any problems that may appear, here are some frequently asked questions we often receive from readers.

“I try to create friction for a long time, but nothing happens. What should I do?”

Firstly, make sure that your drill and fireboard are dry enough. Maybe they hold enough moisture to keep the wood from burning.

Secondly, perhaps you’re not creating enough pressure, or you chose a tough wood. Remember that oak, for example, will be nearly impossible to ignite, but pine trees or maple trees are perfect for that matter.

Well, the dust is here, but there is no smoke!”

Great job, as you are on the right path! However, you are probably aren’t moving your drill fast enough and need to apply more pressure. Increase the speed and soon enough you will see the result of your hard work!

“I chose a hand drill method, and it hurts my hands!”

Try to use the smoothest stick for a drill you can find. Also, use all the surfaces of your hands, not just your palm for the rotation motion. This way, you will reduce the overall impact of the friction

We hope you’ve enjoyed our article of how to start a fire with sticks. Now, we believe that you can survive in every place where wood is available!

Our guide will help you to make a fire in a matter of minutes and keep you warm in any conditions, so get on out there and start practicing!

About Tom Bell

Hi - I'm Tom, the owner and founder of TheSurvivalSpirit.com! I'm a passionate outdoors enthusiast and am dedicated to bringing you the hottest online survival advice.  


The Survival Spirit is an independent review business. I am not affiliated with any manufacturers and do not accept paid reviews. When you buy through my links, I may earn a commission which helps me to invest in this website and keep producing great content!

About The Survival Spirit

TheSurvivalSpirit.com is run by survival enthusiast, Tom Bell! This website features all of the latest hints and tips on survival, prepping and the great outdoors.

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