You might be smarter than a 5th grader...
But Are You Smarter Than A Caveman?
There's obviously something primal about wondering -- if my life (or at least my dinner) depended on it -- if I could summon the spirit of McGyver and jimmy up a primitive fire out of twigs and leaves (and some random found object) like we've all seen on TV.
It's like a basic human curiosity.
If I had to... Could I do it? Could I start a fire from scratch?
Interestingly, I posted the Pump Fire Drill graphic (below) to Tumblr on a new account with only a handful of followers. Within 20 hours, it was reblogged more than 50 times and was "liked" over 200 times. Obviously, something about conjuring fire from our bare hands hits us deep. Like an instinct-level insecurity about our fitness as a human being. It's probably why Survivor has survived on TV for so long!
So How Do You Light A Fire Without Matches?
Field & Stream has a nice slideshow of illustrations describing Seven Ways To Light A Fire Without A Match. They are:
- Hand Drill
- Two Man Drill
- Fire Plough
- Pump Fire Drill
- Bow Drill
- Flint & Steel Sparking
- Spark Catching Tinder
So there's a start -- Six primitive ways to start a fire by either drilling with a stick or hitting the sharp edge of a piece of flint against the sharp edge of a piece of high-carbon steel, like a knife. Plus some extra tips about ensuring that you've got some highly "flammable" material to catch a spark.
(It's weird that I should put quotes around "flammable" -- Did you know that the correct word is INFLAMMABLE? But when you say that, too many people think you mean it won't burn. It actually means that it's "capable of becoming inflamed".)
If you're most interested in primitive methods of making fire from nothing but a stick and soft wood, there's at least one other really cool and efficient method I found a YouTube video for. It's really similar to the pump drill method, but slightly less complicated and works like a combination of a yo-yo and a top. Despite being totally primitive, nobody has seen it before -- it seems to be brand new!
But lest you think matchless fire-making is limited to "primitive" ways, let's mention that there are lots of other really cool ways to light fires without matches.
You're probably familiar with one of them from childhood: Using a magnifying glass!
Works great, but unless you're out in the wilderness to study insects, you probably aren't carrying a magnifying glass on you. Or are you?
You could in fact easily carry a small flat Fresnel Lens to use as a magnifying glass. But chances are, you're already carrying around something that can readily substitute: An ordinary water bottle!
If the sun is intense enough and you can get the bottle at just the right angle, you may able to focus it enough to light some tinder, especially if you've got some ready-tinder, like some char-cloth or vaseline-soaked cotton swabs.
I've even seen a pretty surprising video where someone shows you how to light a fire using your own urine!
Have you thought of lighting a fire with a battery?
Nowadays, there's a good chance that in an emergency situation, you actually have a battery or two lying around or stuffed into the bottom of your backpack. If you have a 9V, you're in luck, but even with an ordinary AA or AAA, you can McGyver a small match-free fire. All you need in addition is some thin conductive material, like foil from a gum wrapper, steel wool, or your foil emergency blanket, and some kindling, and you're set. The idea is to send some current through the conductive material, but with just enough resistance to make it heat up the way a light bulb does and apply it to some kindling.