Methods of Ignition Bushcraft for kids and Fire

Cramp Balls, King Alfred's Cakes

Methods of Ignition – Bushcraft for Kids and Young at Heart

There are various methods of ignition for a fire all of varying degrees of complexity. Being able to light a fire is an essential skill when learning Bushcraft.

When learning a skill for yourself or teaching a skill to a bushcraft kids it is important that you put safety first followed by having fun. As you will have read in previous posts, I believe that young children can learn to light a fire and use various methods of ignition. The important thing to remember is to keep it within their ability. For example friction fire can be challenging for an adult. Trying to get a bushcraft kids to use friction to start a fire will make them frustrated due to failure and that will lead to boredom. It is often good to show them other methods as a demonstration, but remember only ask a child to do something they are capable of being successful at when teaching methods of Ignition for a fire.


Methods of Ignition.

  1. Friction Fire
  2. Sparks
  3. Electrical
  4. Compression
  5. Solar
  6. Chemical


Before going into this list let’s look at the most popular of all methods of ignition when lighting a fire, matches. (With matches I also mean lighters.)

Some people will argue that if you are practicing bushcraft you should be using methods of ignition other than matches. Firstly I would say learn the basics of lighting a fire and practice, practice and practice. There is no point in learning various methods of ignition if you can’t build a fire using a match. Once you are competent at that and teaching a bushcraft kids to do the same you can move on to other methods of ignition.

Even when you have become competent at collecting tinder and kindling you don’t need to learn other methods of ignition. If when you go out you have matches with you it is okay to use them. There are no rules saying you must know six different ways of starting a fire. On some occasions you may be short of time and using matches will be the logical way to go. However I am sure once you have got to grips with the basics you will want to learn more. If you have bushcraft kids to teach they will want to learn other methods and be shown them.


Friction is one of the earliest methods of ignition that has been used to light fire. This is usually pieces of wood or bamboo being rubbed together. This is a method that needs an article of its own. There are various methods that all take practice to master the technique needed to light a fire.


In recent years there seems to have been an increase in this method. There are two methods of ignition usually recognised with this section.

  • Ferro-rods
  • Flint and Steel.


These are the most common method and often seem on survival programs. The sparks from this method of ignition are more intense and hotter than the traditional flint and steel. This is relatively easy to use and from my experience bushcraft kids love using them. A word of warning when children get hold of one of these they naturally start striking it making sparks. Depending where you are this could be dangerous and a fire risk. I usually set a rule. No making sparks until you are instructed to.

The tinder that can be used with the Ferro-rods is wade and varied. Most fine fluffy or fibrous materials will ignite with this method. Remember to have enough tinder to nurture the small flame to a flame that will burn the kindling you have collected.

Flint and Steel.

This technique is a very traditional method of ignition that most people have heard of. Ferro-rods and flint and steel are often confused as one method. They are two separate methods and the flint and steel takes much more practice. The sparks are much smaller and the heat produced is much less. The tinder available in the field is much less than there is to use with a Ferro-rod. You are limited to things like Cramp balls, King Alfred’s Cakes. These also need to be very dry.

Cramp Balls, King Alfred's Cakes methods of ignition

Fire tinder Cramp Balls also known as King Alfred’s Cakes


You will usually find Cramp Balls on dead Birch trees.

To check if these are dry they should feel light as if they are polystyrene.

Other than that you are best carrying some charcloth. You can find how to make this on ànother post. Charcloth is basically what it says. It is dry partly burned natural fibres.


This is one of the methods of ignition that bushcraft kids love to see and learn. Here are two methods I teach.

You need a 9volt battery and a thin conducted.  There are two readily available things first fine wire wool and the other is the paper chewing gum used to be wrapped in. I say used to because a lot isn’t wrapped in this now. It is usually the traditional flat pieces of gum. The paper is foil on one side and paper on the other. First let’s look at the paper.

Flatten the paper out then you want to tear it so it is wide at the ends and as this as possible in the middle. A similar shape to a hour glass. Then you just hold the wide ends on the battery terminals. Be prepared the paper will ignite very quickly.

The wire wool works in the same principal. Take a small amount, experiment to find the amount that works best for you. Thin the wire wool out a bit and hold the ends over the terminals of the battery. You will see this start to glow and burn very quickly. So you need to have your tinder and everything else ready to light your fire.


The wire wool can get hot and there is a risk of burns. The wire can also burn very quickly. As with any situation when fire and children are involve take care and take all the necessary precautions.


This is one of the methods of ignition that can be difficult. It uses a compression pistol. I have seen these made but usually you would purchase a purpose built one. It is basically a tube which is in two parts. You put a piece of charcloth inside then you push the tubes together as quickly as possible causing as much pressure as possible. This action causes a small spark, this will then ignite the charcloth.


Solar methods can have the obvious limitations, those being you need sun. There is the obvious method most schoolboys have tried using a magnifying glass or similar lens. The other item is a special piece of kit which is inexpensive. It is a shiny concave plate which has a piece of wire set in the middle to hold some tinder. The tinder is held at the focal point off the concave plate. The plate is the held or placed so the sun shines directly onto it. The sun’s rays are then focused onto the tinder setting it a fire or creating an ember. This is then nurtured to ignite a tinder nest and then kindling.


This is one of the interesting methods of ignition. It fascinates children. The method I explain here is also mention in the article about Potassium Permanganate. By mixing this with various other chemicals you get oxidisation. This causes fire. It is probably one of the most commonly mistaught method. It is often said that mixing glycerine with potassium permanganate with cause the reaction. Then you try and wonder why it doesn’t work.

The reason is the reaction only takes place over 70 degrees Celsius. So in some countries you don’t stand a chance. The easiest way to correct this is to use brake fluid instead. Just a small amount on the purple powder will do the trick. Ensure the Bushcraft Kids are stood well back. Initially it looks like all you have done is make a dark coloured mess. Give it a little time and it will start to smoke the burst into flames. There are other tricks you can use to ensure you get enough heat and flame. Mix some magnesium with the potassium permanganate.

Practice making the reaction, then start putting the powder on a tinder nest. To do this you are best putting a small piece of cloth, paper or similar piece of flamable material so the powder doesn’t just fall through the bundle and be wasted.

All methods of ignition should be practiced until you understand them and can perform them. Then start teaching your Bushcraft kids. Remember fire can be dangerous, but if done safetly can be taught to bushcraft kids. It is a good way to teach responsibility, respect, patience and confidence in a way often shied away from

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