Lighting a bonfire isn’t all that difficult as long as you have the right materials and tools. Start small by gathering dry tinder - very small twigs, leaves, newspaper, and other small material that will easily catch fire. Then gather your kindling - larger sticks and thin pieces of wood to add on top of the burning tinder.
Finally, you’ll need your fuel wood. Larger branches, logs, and pieces of wood that will burn slow and keep your fire going.
Get all the material on hand before you light anything or else you risk burning your tinder and kindling and having no fire to show for it.
However, for everyone else that doesn’t have a tree in their backyard or a wooded area to gather these materials, lighting a fire can be a bit more difficult. Regardless of how you start the fire, you’ll need some kindling to help catch the larger pieces of wood.
If all you have are larger pieces of wood, you can use an axe, hatchet, or even the Kindling Cracker, below, to help break small pieces off of the split logs. Throw these pieces on top of the ideas we’re going to walk through below.
6 Foolproof Ways to Light a Bonfire
Inexpensive, readily available, and slow burning, charcoal is great for not only grilling, but getting a fire going too. Pick it up at any gas station, grocery store, or campground with a bottle of lighter fluid and you’re ready to go!
Lighter fluid helps get the charcoal going, but a charcoal chimney will save you money in the long run since it makes it easier to light the fire.
If you choose to use lighter fluid, make sure you let the lighter fluid soak into the charcoal for a minute or two before lighting.
An added benefit of using a charcoal chimney is that if you choose to grill over your fire, you won’t get the lighter fluid taste cooked into your food.
Cooking Oil and Paper Towel Waste
Next time you have leftover cooking oil, throw it into a large mason jar. Anytime you have paper towels that are still semi-dry, add those to the mason jar as well. These paper towels will soak up the used cooking oil and are great for lighting directly under kindling.
Bacon Grease, Toilet Paper Rolls, and Dryer Lint
If you grew up with a mason jar of bacon grease in the fridge, most of your meals were probably pretty tasty, even if they leaned towards the ‘unhealthy’ side of the spectrum. While you might not cook with bacon grease like your parents once did, that doesn’t mean you need to throw it out after a Saturday morning breakfast.
Keep your extra bacon grease in a mason jar and start saving your empty toilet paper/paper towel rolls along with any dryer lint. Lightly stuff the empty cardboard tubes with dryler lint and add in some bacon grease after it’s been heated up.
These are great fire starters you can put into a ziplock bag and take on the go. If you prefer working with something a little cleaner, the coffee ground option we mention in this list is the better option.
Sawdust and Paper Briquettes
This option requires quite a lot more effort than the previously mentioned ideas. If you do any sort of DIY projects where you’re cutting wood, you know it creates a lot of sawdust. Combine this sawdust with all the junk mail and amazon boxes that come to your house and you have a ton of burnable wood/paper products.
With some water and elbow grease, you can turn these wood by-products into burnable ‘logs’ or briquettes. A few videos are included below on how to do this, but the idea is simple.
- Create a paper/sawdust slushy - Add shredded paper, shredded cardboard, and sawdust to a water mixture.
- Push the slushy mixture into forms - whether bricks, bucket-shaped, etc.
- Squeeze the water out, then allow the ‘logs’ to dry in the sun
You don’t need a fancy rig or setup like many of the people below have. You can get started doing this with just 2x 5-gallon buckets and a piece of wood.
Coffee Ground Candles
If you prefer a more portable option you can take on the road with you, these DIY-coffee ground candles are one of the cleaner options. Coffee grounds help the candle to last longer by burning slower. The coffee grounds can be new or used.
Gather some small dixie cups, egg cartons, or other small containers. Melt the wax and create thin alternating layers of coffee grounds and candle wax. These are perfect for lighting wet wood, since they’ll burn for a long time, depending on the size of the candle.
While going the DIY route is easy and fun, it is time consuming. For those strapped on time, below are our suggestions for pre-made fire starters.
Tips for Lighting your Bonfire
Use only dry firewood
Even if the wood appears dry, it might not be. A good way to determine if it’s fully dry is to drop it on concrete. If you hear a firm ‘thud’, rather than a hollow echo, then there’s still some moisture in it and you may have trouble lighting it.
If this wood is still a little damp, it will burn. If you’re in a pinch to get a fire going, buy some kiln-dried firewood to get the fire going, then add your slightly damp wood on top. It will smoke a bit more than fully-seasoned wood, but it’ll usually burn.
Feed the embers oxygen
After you’ve added your kindling and it’s begun burning well, start feeding it oxygen. You can use a piece of cardboard to fan it, or if you have an air inflator or leaf blower, those will work much better.
The oxygen helps to raise the temperature of the fire and help it burn more efficiently. This helps the wood you’re adding catch faster.
Don’t suffocate the fire with paper
If you have a large stack of paper or other documents you’re trying to get rid of, feed them to the fire slowly - preferably in crumpled balls. It’s easy to drop a large pile of papers and wait for them to catch, but you’ll risk suffocating the fire.
Buy a blow torch
If you have enough bonfires, using a stick lighter or matches gets old after a while. A blow torch head is under $20 and the refill tanks are only $3 or so a piece and last quite a while. Your thumbs and fingers will thank you.
How to Light a Beach Bonfire
Lighting a beach bonfire isn’t all that different from a backyard fire. There are only a few different precautions you’ll want to take to make the fire safe and enjoyable for everyone.
For starters, you’ll want to have a small shovel with you. The Glock E-tool is perfect for this and if your car is ever stuck in the mud or snow, this tool is a lifesaver for that too.
Dig a shallow hole in the sand and build a small berm around the perimeter of the hole. If there are some larger rocks you can move next to the berm, even better.
Make sure you know where high tide comes in and stay well away from that area. Water can pool up in the bottom of your fire pit and cut your night short.
Pat down the bottom of the hole so you have a firm surface to work with. If you have additional rocks, these can be added to the bottom of the hole for a hard dry surface for the wood to sit on. The irregularities in the shapes of the rocks will also allow more air to flow to the fire.
Now you can gather all of your tinder, kindling, and fuel materials to get the fire going. Typically, it’s better to use a tee-pee structure for a beach bonfire, since that will encourage more air to flow to the embers.
After the party is over, be sure to extinguish the fire with plenty of water and then bury the embers and ashes.
Check local laws to ensure it is legal for you to have a bonfire on the beach. Some areas will require you to request a permit.
Avoid using accelerants - Do NOT use gasoline
Apart from being a poor bonfire starter, using gas is dangerous and can be explosive. The vapors coming off of gasoline are what catch fire before the liquid itself does. Gasoline tends to ‘flash’ and can flash large enough to catch you and anything around you on fire before you even know it.
Charcoal and lighter fluid are much safer alternatives as long as you follow the directions on their packaging.
Don’t burn pressure treated wood or anything else chemically treated
Pressure treated wood is most easily recognized by its green-ish tint. Avoid burning this wood at all costs. Pressure treated wood has been injected with chemicals to prevent it from decaying when in contact with the ground or moisture.
It goes without saying that burning this wood releases these chemicals into the air, which are known to cause cancer. Always wash your hands after handling pressure treated wood.