Don’t let a little bit of rain prevent you from having a campfire. You can easily light up a fire with wet wood by following a few simple tips. How do you light a fire with wet wood?
You need some kind of accelerant to aid the spread of your fire when trying to light wet wood. I recommend using either a propane torch or paraffin wax fire-starters. Using gasoline is another popular option, but it’s very dangerous so I don’t recommend it.
Unless you’re a boy scout, you’ve probably struggled to light a fire at some point in your life. Keep reading to find out a few easy ways to light a fire using wet wood.
How To Make a Fire When Everything Is Wet
By wet wood I mean fully dead wood that’s went through the seasoning process(dead for like a year). I’m talking about wood that’s suffered some type of soaking like from rain or snow. Freshly cut green wood shouldn’t be used for a fire (it will cause lots of smoke), unless that’s all you have.
Green wood is really hard to light, smolders at a low temperature, smokes excessively, and constantly goes out. These tips will work to light green wood, but the fires going to be terrible and cause trouble.
So what type of fuel do you need to start a fire using wet wood? There are a few different things depending on your sensibilities and whether or not you want to act like a boy scout. You can use some type of fire-starter stick made out of paraffin wax and compressed wood fibers.
Or you can do what I do and build a fire using a propane torch so you don’t have to mess around. A propane torch is so much safer than using gasoline (I’ve seen horrible burns). You light up the torch and have a user controlled flame to slowly light your fire over the course of a minute or two.
Don’t even bother with kindling! The torch is your kindling. Set it down at the bottom of your wood pile and it will light full sized logs in less than 2 minutes. Dry and damp wood will take like 1-2 minutes. Soaking wet wood might take upwards of 5 minutes. One full sized tank of propane will give you 4-5 hours of burntime. So your $20 propane tank can light like 100 fires. It’s so much cheaper than buying fire-starters.
I understand that most people don’t have access to a propane torch, though you should buy one (my favorite). There’s also the convenience factor that you probably won’t be lugging a full sized propane tank and torch back into the woods (car campers might).
So I’ll start off teaching you how to light wet wood the old fashioned way using cheap fire-starters. The lower section will teach you how to use the propane torch.
Can You Start a Fire After It Has Rained?
You don’t want to get caught in a second downpour, but you should be able to light a fire right after it rains. That’s assuming that your wood was dry/seasoned before it got soaked. It will be really hard to light green wood that just got rained on. Green wood is hard enough to light on its own without adding rain on top of it.
The rain shouldn’t have soaked that far down into the wood, so it shouldn’t be that hard to light. All you’re trying to do is dry out a small portion of the log until it’s hot enough to burn. With some type of fire-starter or accelerant that should be easy.
How Do You Start a Fire After It Has Rained?
Hopefully you have a fire-starter or torch so you can have a prolonged flame on a single spot in the fire. Lighting up a fire with wet wood will be a serious challenge without some kind of accelerant. I’ll go into detail on lighting fires in the following sections.
If all you have is traditional kindling and timber it will be much harder. You will have to use lots of tinder and a big pile of kindling. Plan on lighting 1-2 logs at a time and slowly work your way up to a bigger fire. Whether or not you’re successful will depend entirely on how much dry-ish kindling you can find. It’s gonna be hit or miss and probably take a while.
Burning a Wet Wood Pile With Wet Kindling and Sticks
Get ready to go back to your old boy/girl scout roots and build a fire the old fashioned way. Make sure you have matches or a lighter ready and some type of fire-starter to speed up the process. You can either make your own fire-starters using wax and wood shavings or buy commercial ones.
A box of like 50 firestarters is less than $20 so why bother making your own (check them out on Amazon). If you don’t have firestarters on hand you can soak cotton or lint in petroleum jelly or cooking oil. Petroleum jelly will make the cotton balls last longer than oil.
- Start off by placing your tinder (aka fire-starter) in the center of your fire ring. With wet wood you might want to use more than one fire-starter. Don’t Be Cheap!
- Build a small teepee shaped stack over top of the fire-starter. Use smaller sticks on the bottom and larger sticks on the top. Break the sticks into small pieces, because you’ll need room for the regular sized lumber on top.
- Build up your fires base structure using full sized logs. Start with a row of 2 logs next to each other on both sides of the kindling/tinder pile. Space them out about 6 inches apart from each other so you get decent airflow. The first row should be a little taller than the kindling in the center. Stack another row perpindicular to the first row making a box around the kindling if it’s too short.
- Place two pieces of wood, kind of like a roof, directly over the flames in the center of the wood pile. Leave a small space in the center to work like a chimney and drop additional kindling if you’re having lighting difficulties. This is the wood that you’re trying to funnel flames up towards to light on fire.
- As the kindling fire grows the wet wood around it should slowly dry out. Keep feeding the flame until the surrounding wood stays lit on its own. It won’t take long for the wood to catch fire.
- Keep building up the logs repeating the log cabin style stack of wood. As the fire grows keep positioning new logs over the center so they keep feeding the fire below.
- Your structure will eventually collapse. Don’t Worry! You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s completely normal. When it collapses the fire will start to smoke so use a long stick or fireplace poker to rearrange the woods creating gaps to allow air in. The fire should stop smoking once airflow is restored and the fire heats back up.
This method might take a little while to perform, but it’s a time tested method and capable of lighting wet wood on fire. I used the above method for years, until I switched over to the dark side and bought a propane torch. Now I’m too lazy to build a fire the old fashioned way.
Hopefully You Have a Propane Torch
I’ve been told so many times that using a propane torch to light my fires is cheating. The old boy scout in me says that using a torch is a smart and safe use of an accelerant. I can easily build a fire with traditional tinder (fire-starter), kindling, and fuel wood, but why bother when a torch is so much easier?
I guarantee you’ll sit around more campfires when you can build a fire in under 5 minutes with minimal effort. Why waste your time screwing around building a fire when it can be done so much easier. Take the time you would have been using to light the fire and drink a cold beer with your friends/family.
Nowadays I build all of my fires using some kind of propane torch. The outdoor fires use a cheap $30 harbor freight torch, but I’ve been eyeing this Flame King Torch with an ignitor (don’t need a lighter). It’s basically a safe to use mini flamethrower that will light up just about anything in less than a minute. I use a small benzomatic handheld torch in my fireplace.
Just toss in the wood anyway you like. I like to stack 2 pieces of wood parallel to each other and then two more piece running sideways across perpendicular to the first row. It looks almost like an H from the top with an additional crossbar. Make sure there’s a gap between the logs to promote airflow. The teepee method is also popular, but that’s harder to do and unnecessary with a torch.
Set the propane torch in the center of the bottom logs and let it burn for 2-3 minutes. I like to set my torch on a low-medium setting so it doesn’t sound like a jet plane taken off. The first time I used the torch my neighbors came running over thinking something blew up(the fire lit up in like 15 seconds). Now I restrain myself a bit and take the slow approach to avoid pissing them off.
I always set the torch down and keep an eye on it while the fires lighting. It’s probably safer to to hold the torch at a distance and burn it at a higher temperature. Once the bottom logs are burning on their own you can remove the flame. You have about 5 hours worth of burn time in a typical tank so feel free to leave it in longer than you think is necessary. At this point you should have a roaring fire and on your way to a fun filled night.
Can I Use Gasoline?
Using gasoline on a fire is extremely dangerous. I’ve personally seen 2 men get seriously injured by gas blowing back into their body. Years ago, my pants caught on fire because somebody decided to recklessly toss a cup of gas on a bonfire. Luckily, I wasn’t injured, but that could have ended badly. Lighting a fire with gas isn’t worth the risk for a 2 minute burn.
Personally, I’ve never been able to get wet wood to light using gasoline. You get the initial strong burning flame and then 2 the fire goes out a few minutes later. Maybe it would work if you’d use more kindling, but at that point you might as well build a regular old fire.