Every great fire has four requirements: wood, tinder, kindling and a firestarter. The logs you buy from vendors like Lumberjacks are a great start, but they’re not enough. If you want to build a fire outside, you’ll have to create a pit and extinguish the fire thoroughly when you’re done. Below, you’ll find all the most essential information you need for this task.
Of course, high-quality firewood logs may not be the only thing you need, but they are the most important! We highly suggest kiln-dried firewood for all your fires, whether outside or in your home’s fireplace. You can learn more about why kiln-dried wood, like what we sell at Lumberjacks, is the best option by clicking the button below.
Prepare Your Firepit
You can always make a fire at a public camping site’s designated fire area. These areas are the safest places to start fires, and many already have firepits. Before you begin, ensure the area around the firepit is dry and that any borders (often made of rock) are still solid.
However, if a pre-made firepit isn’t an option, making your own is straightforward enough. Start by picking a spot away from trees, bushes or buildings. If necessary, clear any plant matter in the area you hope to build your fire – including grass. Grass and other small plant matter are highly flammable and can cause your fire to spread out of control.
You’ll also want to create a border around your firepit. Some people use rocks, which are an excellent choice if you have them on hand. However, never use river rocks! These rocks, found along rivers, lakes and streams, hold a lot of water inside them. When they get too hot, they’ll explode and can cause shrapnel to fly through the area.
If no rocks are on hand, you can wet the area around your firepit to create a fire break. We recommend digging out the firepit instead of burning it at ground level. A few inches are usually enough.
How to Build a Campfire
After building your firepit, you can start gathering materials. You’ll need firewood, a firestarter and tinder.
Most likely, you’ve already brought your firewood and firestarter. A firestarter is a tool that starts a fire, like a match or a lighter.
Anything small and highly combustible is tinder, including pine needles and dry leaves. Tinder is distinct from kindling, small pieces of wood that burn long enough to make firewood catch. Once you have everything you need, you can use one of the effective campfire techniques below.
Novice builders might find this triangular structure intuitive. Arranging wood into a teepee shape is a widespread technique among scouts across the U.S. The building process is straightforward and effective.
To do this:
- Place your tinder in the center of the firepit
- Arrange kindling into a “teepee”
- Create a windward opening in the teepee
- Reinforce structure with as much kindling as possible
- Create an outermost teepee shape from your firewood
When construction is complete, remember to light the tinder (unless you brought your flamethrower). The tinder catches easily and ignites the kindling. Then, the kindling makes the flame big enough to burn the firewood. You’re done until you have to leave! Sit with your back to the wind.
Building a wooden lean-to isn’t much more complex than building a teepee. Again, you’ll spread tinder across the floor, while kindling and firewood will inform the rest of the structure. Your firewood will form the wall, and your kindling will create the ceiling.
To do this:
- Position a large log along the pit’s edge
- Place tinder in the center of the log
- Add extra kindling parallel to the log
- Light the tinder
- Add other logs to the roof of kindling as your fire grows
Since using multiple logs is optional, this is a great way to limit firewood usage. Both lean-tos and teepees are especially good for cooking. Whether you want to make a rustic stew or crisp up some marshmallows, these two techniques are your best bet.
Log Cabin Fires
Arranging logs into a “log cabin” creates the longest and hottest fires. An illustration of a fire might show a giant blazing flame above a pile of disorganized sticks and debris, but campfires don’t behave this way. While it may not seem intuitive, arranging wood into a log cabin is most effective for generating durable fires.
To do this:
- Lay a uniform bed of tinder
- Build a miniature teepee from kindling
- Stack firewood around the kindling by laying two one way and then two, creating a bridge around them
- Continue adding layers until the fire has reached the size you need
Make sure you use the biggest logs for the foundation. While this type of fire can blacken marshmallows, it’s better for comfort and longevity than anything else, especially compared to its ephemeral cousins.
How to Stay Safe
You needn’t be a rocket scientist to discern the dangers of fire, especially unattended fire. A campfire is like a dog: It can be great, but you must care for it properly. Here are a few ways to keep yourself from becoming an accidental arsonist.
- Double-check that the fire is as far from flammable debris as possible.
- Have a bucket of water with you before you light the fire.
- Extinguish the fire before leaving the area.
- If you’re building a fire on a windy day, ensure the wind isn’t blowing the fire into flammable materials or your friends.
- Always check the fire safety rating in your area before starting any burn.
- Never leave a fire unattended for any amount of time for any
- Sit with your firepit after putting out a fire until no heat or smoke remains.
Distinguishing Campfires from Bonfires
The critical difference between campfires and bonfires is size. Small groups use campfires for heat, light and cooking, while larger groups might build a bonfire for a celebration. Celebrants construct these burning behemoths in open areas, like beaches or meadows. As bonfires are potentially more dangerous, you may need a permit before building one.
Now that you’ve read about how to build a fire outside, you’ll find that making one inside is a lot easier. The wind works neither for you nor against you, but you need to exercise more caution inside your home. While you may not need to build a workspace, you’ll have to maintain one. Keep your chimney clean and scoop up the ash when fires burn out.
How to Build a Fire in a Fireplace
A great way to build a fire in a fireplace is to make one “upside-down:” Criss-cross logs upon the grate. Be sure to use only the best wood for an optimal experience! Place kindling on top of the “log cabin” and spread tinder all over the kindling. When you’re ready to start the fire, light the tinder.
How to Build a Fire in a Wood Stove
A wood stove fire owes its simplicity to the stove’s small size. Lay a uniform bed of tinder. Lay a uniform bed of kindling on the tinder. Lay your logs on the kindling. Whenever you buy firewood for a wood stove, make sure it’s small enough to fit. Light the tinder, and you’re all done. Just give it a minute.
Extinguishing Your Fire
Don’t wait until the end of the event to put out the fire. Leave up to 20 minutes of breathing room because you can’t abandon your fire until the ash is cold. Don’t immediately pour your entire bucket of water over the fire, as this will flood the pit and preclude future use. Splash the fire with water conservatively until the fire’s gone. Stir the ashes as you pour water over them to guarantee that everything gets wet.
If light has left the ashes, touch them carefully. Rest the back of your hand against them to see how hot they are. If they present the slightest suggestion of heat, they’re too hot for you to leave. If they’re nice and cool, disperse them around the campsite. Finally, replace the dirt you used for the bed. You’re all done!
Getting Out There Yourself
We hope this article gives you the confidence to brave the elements. Whether you want to use firewood from vendors like Lumberjacks or search for some yourself, you have a few options for building strong, durable fires. Remember to follow the best fire safety practices as you enjoy the outdoors.
If you’d like to start building great fires, please contact us at 815-337-1451. We can deliver your order, or you can pick it up from either of our locations.
Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in December of 2022 and updated in February of 2024.