Getting a fire burning can be tricky enough for beginners without adding in the factor of damp wood, especially in the modern world where people aren’t very well-practiced in starting fires anymore. But there are some best practices worth remembering that can let you overcome this challenge. Keep these tips on how to start a fire with wet wood in mind the next time you’re in an emergency situation or camping trip.
Bring reliable fire starters
First things first, you need something that can produce a spark or small flame, since rubbing sticks is not exactly a viable option in damp conditions.
A lighter or a fire starter stick pack would be ideal, but matches can serve just as well. It’s best to have a backup method, in case one fails for some specific reason, so bring two or three of your own fire starters.
Flint and steel or a ferro rod are dependable and non-exhaustible fire starters and thus well worth bringing along if you have them, even if they can be less effective than other tools.
If you’ve been caught outdoors without one of these, search for flint or similar rocks, such as jasper, chert, and others that are hard and glassy.
Prepare effective tinder
Good, dry tinder can make or break your chances of starting a fire in wet conditions. If you know ahead of time that you will need to start a fire with wet wood, and you have certain materials at home, you can prepare a potent fire starter without much effort.
For example, you can dip cotton balls, jute, or other medium in petroleum jelly or paraffin wax. These bundles can go up instantaneously and burn brightly for up to four minutes. Pouring cooking oil and other flammable liquids on your tinder pile will also increase its effectiveness. The same applies to the fire as a whole.
If these materials aren’t available, wood shavings and chips are also widely known to make great tinder materials. Otherwise, some fine-grade steel wool or other bone dry material would suffice as a standalone tinder bundle.
If you don’t have any of these at home, you will have to search outdoors. If you want to start a fire somewhere that has just experienced wet weather, look in sheltered places like the undersides of large branches or inside tree hollows.
In here, you can shave off dry pieces of tree bark, dry grass and small twigs used to build nests, pine needles, and fungi like tinder fungus. With enough tinder, you can mitigate the fire-suppressing effects of dampness in the wood, so make sure to bring plenty.
Set up an ideal fire site
Find an area ideal for making fire. If you’re already somewhat experienced in building campfires, you would know that this is a flat area clear of foliage or brush, so nothing around you can catch fire if a stray spark flies off. It’s less likely that this will happen in damp conditions, but you can never be too safe. The best wood-burning stoves are popular for their versatility.
Fire ring vs fire pit
You want a place that can accommodate an elevated fire ring that will keep it off of the wet ground. This can cost more time and resources to build, however.
Alternatively, you can also build a fire pit to avoid moisture, both in the air and on the ground. This is particularly effective in winter, when the lower layers of the soil remain relatively dry. But after rain, make sure you dig the pit somewhere that isn’t likely to let much water seep through. If you never want to face we wood problems again, get yourself the best fire pits today.
Dakota fire hole
In wet conditions, a certain type of fire pit called a Dakota fire hole can be remarkably effective . This method involves digging a secondary intake hole to optimize air flow. What results is a smokeless fire that burns much hotter and is easier to cook over than campfires made through other methods.
Thanks to the plentiful oxygen flowing into the fire from the intake hole, the Dakota fire hole is much more efficient at turning fuel wood into heat, minimizing the damping effect of wet wood.
Gather the driest wood you can find
Now that you’ve prepared your tools and chosen a site, it’s time to pick out the driest pieces of wood you can find. Start looking only after you’ve made every other preparation. Wood can saturate quickly if the air is moist enough, whether it’s dead wood or green wood.
Rather than gathering freshly cut green wood, search for some fully dead wood. These have likely lost all of their internal moisture, and thus can produce more heat and burn more easily. Even after a heavy rain, you can still find some surprisingly dry kindling and fuel hidden away in a decently sheltered spot.
Keep an eye out for dead branches that have snapped off but got caught in other branches, or otherwise still suspended above-ground. Look for dead trees as well, as they can offer you much more wood in one place if you can snap off good-sized pieces of them. Make sure to get both small branches and logs to serve as kindling and fuel, respectively.
Preparing wet wood for the fire
Chances are, most of the driest wood you could find would still be fairly wet. Hence, you should try to dry them as much as you can, and prepare them for optimal burning. Wet kindling can be shaken and wiped dry fairly easily, but for logs, it’s better to carve off the wet outer layer to get at the dry center.
If you’ve got skill with a knife, you can try to carve a fuzz stick from the tree branches you’ve collected. Simply carve thin curls from the branch, going in a spiral pattern for extra fuzz. This exposes the dry wood inside the branch, and presents more surface area to be consumed as fuel, making it great for prolonging the initial fire produced by kindling.
Start building your fire
Once everything is in place, it’s time to assemble your fire. Your fire lay will be crucial to your success.
Experienced campers recommend a tepee lay for warmth, as it enables the fire to rise more quickly and get rid of excess moisture more readily.
However, if you mean to cook directly on top of the fire, a setup of lincoln logs may be more appropriate. Lay the fuel out in a log cabin style stack, so they can support a cook pot even as the wood gets consumed.
If you’ve followed all of these guidelines, it’s highly likely that you’ve already gotten a roaring fire started. As the fire grows, remember to lay out the wetter pieces of wood you’ve collected around the fire to help dry them.