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Starting a Fire Without Matches

Written by Stuart Wickes

Lake District Bushcraft: Friction Fire Lighting

What better way to learn about bushcraft and fire than an expedition into the Lake District? We met with Ben McNutt, owner of Cumbrian Bushcraft experts Woodsmoke in the hills above Windermere to learn how to light fire without matches, despite the damp weather. This post is part of our Family Adventure Capital Season ..  

How to light a fire without matches

Wilderness expert Ben McNutt did an apprenticeship with Ray Mears. He has spent much of his life learning bush-craft from indigenous people around the world. And he was listed as one of CN’s top 50 travellers in the world. Put it this way if I were to be stranded in the jungle, desert, on an icecap or even on a Cumbrian fell, this is the guy I’d want to have around. Most Woodsmoke courses last a week or more; we only had an hour. But in that small amount of time he showed us a core bush-craft skill – how to light a fire using only the natural materials around you. This method of starting a fire without matches is called the bow drill friction fire lighting technique.

Range Rover and knife on fells in Cumbria

Somewhere up in a clearing in the woodlands, we are offered a lesson in bushcraft

We couldn’t wait to share some pictures of this magic. One word of warning, please don’t try this in your local woods, forest or at home unless you are absolutely sure fire-lighting is permitted and know what you are doing.

Or have Ben with you.

First gather and prepared your materials

Preparing a drill for firelighting

First comes the drill 

Bow drill methods of firelighting

Then the bow, socket and fireboard are assembled

Friction firelighting

To light fire successfully you need to get organised and be ready to generate some heat

Now for the hard work starting a fire without matches

Starting a fire without matches

The friction produced drawing the bow drill back and forth soon generates heat and smoke

No smoke without fire

And where there’s smoke, there’s the possibility of fire, but not just yet…

You’re aiming to make smoking embers

Embers for firelighting

The first stage produces hot embers, from which you can hopefully light your tinder

Tinder ball

The embers are carefully placed in the centre of your dry tinder ball

Now for the magic…

Blowing on a tinder ball

And with gentle blowing to feed oxygen ….

No smoke without fire

You soon have smoke, and everyone knows there’s no smoke without….

There’s no smoke without…

Tinder ball on fire



Tinder ball on fire Woodsmoke

With your tinder ball alight who needs a match? You’re ready to light your fire

Cool eh? Fire without matches!

Friction firelighting Bushcraft Lake District

Now that’s what I call a fire-starter. Who knew it was so easy to light fire.


About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!


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We're Kirstie & Stuart. We share an adventurous spirit, a passion for indie travel and 3 kids. The Family Adventure Project is our long term experiment in doing active, adventurous things together. Find out more...


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