When it comes to starting a fire, few elements are more vital than good tinder.

Many novice fire builders skip tinder altogether, focusing instead on small and medium-sized sticks. The result is a fussy fire that struggles to ignite.

The sole purpose of tinder is to create an ignition chain reaction. Think of tinder as an extension of the match, a way to make a small flame bigger and hotter.

Consider for a moment the differences between a cotton ball and a small stick. If held to a match, a cotton ball ignites immediately.  A stick, on the other hand, takes a few seconds to ignite.  Sticks light, but cotton balls light quicker. Tinder is anything that burns like a cotton ball.

cattails make excellent tinder

"Think of tinder as an extension of the match, a way to make a small flame bigger and hotter."

Cattail fluff, dandelion clock, pine needles, and dry grass make excellent tinder and can usually be found in the woods. A torn apart cattail tucked into a nest of dry grass is an ideal foundation for a strong fire.

If you don’t have easy access to dry tinder, you can process your own tinder by “fuzzing” a stick. To “fuzz” a stick, use a knife to shave off the bark. Next, create thin curls of wood all around the stick by repeatedly running the knife to the stick’s end. You can also use a knife to generate a nest of wood shavings and use that as tinder.

carving a fuzz stick

Fire building is one the most fundamental outdoor skills. Yes, it’s easy enough to drench a pile of logs with lighter fluid or gasoline and skip tinder altogether, but where’s the craft in that?

Ultimately, a successful fire begins with proper preparation--first tinder, then kindling, and finally fuel logs.  If you skip a step you may lose your flame, and there’s nothing more depressing then a failed fire. . . but a good fire, well, that's something to be proud of.




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