Set Up Your Campfire or Bonfire
How to Build Different Kinds of Fires
We use fire every day to cook, heat our homes, and do so much more.
That doesn't make a campfire or bonfire any less enjoyable, or a survival fire any less crucial.
You know that fire is useful, but did you know that there are various ways to build a fire?
Once you've split a nice supply of firewood with your log splitter, take a look at our guide below for tips and instructions for building different types of fires.
Getting Ready to Start Your Fire
Before anything else, you need to prepare for your campfire. This includes choosing a proper site for it and gathering your supplies.
Pick a site that's far away from any natural material that could catch fire and burn uncontrollably:
- Tall grasses
- Tree branches
- Dry foliage
Make sure your site has a flat surface that's either blanketed in sand and dirt or circled with large stones. This will help prevent your flames from spreading. Remove any small rocks or debris from the area.
Once you have your site set up, you'll need your supplies. These include firestarters (matches, a lighter, or a flint) as well as a pan or bucket of water for extinguishing your fire when you're done.
It also includes the material your fire will burn:
- Tinder: small, dry, lightweight material that catches fire easily. Wood shavings, newspaper, birch bark, cattail fluff, and dry grass are all good choices for tinder.
- Kindling: thin pieces of wood no longer than your forearm that can transfer flames from tinder to firewood. Light softwoods like cedar and pine make good kindling.
- Firewood: larger logs that serve as fuel to sustain your fire. Different kinds of firewood work better for fires.
With your site and supplies ready, you're set to build any of the types of fires below:
- Cone fire
- Star fire
- Log cabin fire
- Platform or upside-down fire
- Lean-to fire
How to Build a Cone Fire
Also called a tipi fire in the past, the cone fire is one of the most common kinds of fires, likely because it's also one of the easiest to build:
- Stick a forked branch in the ground, centered in the middle of your fire bed
- Lean several slightly larger logs against it
- Place tinder and kindling inside the cone shape around the branch in the center
- Light your tinder
As the fire picks up, the wood will fall inward. You can place more wood on top to keep the fire burning as long as you like.
Because of all the air circulating through the open base, the cone fire burns hot and fast.
How to Build a Star Fire
Whereas the cone fire burns quickly, the star fire is a slow-burning fire that's a great choice if you don't have many logs to use. However, it starts with a cone fire!
- Build a small cone with tinder, kindling, and twigs
- Place four to six medium-sized logs around the cone with their ends pointing into the center, just barely touching the kindling
- Light the tinder
- Move your logs into the flame slowly, a little at a time, to keep them burning
Throughout the night, you can use larger and larger pieces of firewood to reduce the amount of maintenance needed to sustain the fire.
For a smaller fire that uses less wood, you can make a three-point star. Continue to push the wood inward, but don't increase the size of the logs.
How to Build a Log Cabin Fire
For those of us who remember playing with Lincoln Logs, building a log cabin fire will feel familiar. However, even those who haven't played with the classic toy can enjoy this easy, long-burning fire.
- Lay your two largest logs parallel to one another, but space them out about six inches to a foot apart
- Build a cone with kindling and tinder in between them
- Lay another set of parallel logs on top of the first pair, perpendicular to the first pair so that it looks like you've made a pound sign or hashtag symbol
- Continue stacking alternating sets of parallel logs until you've reached your desired height
- Light the tinder in the center
The cabin structure will help to block wind while also fueling the burn. It's excellent when you want a long-lasting fire that you don't want to actively maintain.
How to Build a Platform or Upside-Down Fire
When building the other types of fires, you'll lay the tinder and kindling early if not in the first steps. When building a platform fire, the tinder and kindling come last!
- Lay three or four large pieces of firewood on the ground parallel to one another, but with no gaps
- Lay an equal number of slightly smaller pieces perpendicular across the first layer
- Continue stacking and crisscrossing evenly sized layers of firewood until you've reached the desired height
- Build a medium-sized pile of tinder and kindling on the top layer
- Light the tinder
- Continue to add small kindling to the pile until the logs beneath begin burning strong
The platform fire might take some time to set up and start burning, but it will last a long time with minimal upkeep from you.
How to Build a Lean-To Fire
Building a lean-to fire can be as easy as leaning several small pieces of firewood against a large log and lighting tinder underneath them. However, there's another way that provides even more fuel for your fire.
- Prop a long, narrow, green branch against a large piece of firewood
- Lean thin pieces of firewood against the green branch on both sides in a crisscross pattern to create a frame
- Lean larger pieces of firewood in the same fashion over them to create a barrier that will block the wind
- Build a small pile of tinder and kindling inside the lean-to and light it
If you're outside in windy, drizzly weather, the lean-to fire stands a good chance of getting started even in less-than-ideal conditions.
Tips for Enjoying Your Fire
These are some of the easiest types of fires to build; you also can enjoy building other kinds of fires that require more effort and equipment, such as the Dakota fire hole or the Swedish torch.
No matter which style of fire you choose to create, be sure to keep your fire a manageable size, and don't leave it unattended. When you're done, pour water over all of your embers (not just the glowing ones!) until they stop hissing. Dirt or sand can be used to extinguish your fire if you don't have enough water.
It takes only a few simple steps to create a great fire and a few steps more to keep the site safe for everyone to enjoy.