Starting a Fire
Grade Level: 5th -8th; Type: Physics
Learn about starting fires without the use of matches or lighters.
The purpose of this experiment is to find out how difficult it is to start a fire from scratch.
- When did human beings first learn how to harness the power of fire?
- How did ancient cultures start fires?
- How are fires started now?
- What does a fire need in order to survive?
- How hot does a piece of wood need to get in order to burn?
- What are the benefits to a society that knows how to start a fire?
The ability to harness the power of fire was probably the single greatest accomplishment our ancestors made. From this ability, we learned how to take control of our environments, keep warm in cold weather, and protect ourselves from predators. Nowadays, we start fires with matches or lighters, which makes creating them fast and easy. Things weren’t so simple for our ancestors, though. They had to either keep a fire going round the clock or start a new one using the heat generated from friction. The practice of rubbing two sticks together has been used by many cultures throughout history to start a fire. Knowing how to start a fire in this manner was important because a fire could be started anywhere out of materials gathered from the ground.
- A handful of pine needles or dried brown grasses
- A stick about 1 foot long with a pointed end
- A log about 2 or three feet long
- A fire pit
- Small sticks
- Medium sized sticks and logs
- A cloth
- A sharp rock (not as sharp as a knife, but it helps if it has a wedge on one side)
- Make a loose tee-pee like structure out of small sticks in a fire pit. You will use this later.
- Using the rock and the log, create a grove in the top of the log about 6 inches long and one inch deep. Continue scraping the surface of the log until there is a groove.
- Place the sharp end of the stick into the grove and apply firm pressure, rubbing the stick back and forth in the grove.
- When the stick moves easily without slipping, you are ready to start a fire.
- Hold the pine needles over a cloth with one end of the needles in one hand and the other end in your other hand.
- Twist the needles or grasses back and forth a few times, like you are wringing out a towel.
- Collect the dust that falls off of the needles and place it on one side of the groove in the log.
- Sit so that the side of the groove with the dust in it is away from you.
- Hold the stick with the sharp side in the groove.
- Press down firmly and quickly rub the stick back and forth, towards and away from the dust in the groove.
- When the dust begins to smoke, stop rubbing and blow gently on the dust.
- Hold the pine needles or grasses with one hand, near the dust.
- Eventually you will see a spark. Try to catch the spark with the pine needles or grasses.
- If the smoking stops, go back to step 9 and start over from there.
- If the grasses catch, quickly slide them under the tee-pee of small sticks in the fire pit.
- Pile larger sticks and logs up around the small sticks, making sure that there is enough empty space around the fire so that it gets enough oxygen.
- If the fire dies before the logs catch, go back to step 9.
- If you run out of dust, go back to step 5.
- This is not an easy way to start a fire. Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t able to get it to work the first time, it takes practice to get a fire to start out of the heat of friction.
Terms/Concepts: Friction; Heat; Spark; Flame
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