A campfire is often an important part of the outdoor experience. It provides warmth, light, and a way to cook your food. How to properly build a campfire is highly debated among outdoor enthusiasts, but there is one thing they all agree on…dry wood works best.
So what do you do if you only have wet firewood? Building a fire with wet wood involves a great deal of tinder and kindling, adding and preheating logs, and patience. It is not ideal, but it can be done.
Whether your wood was soaked by the rain, or you have to go foraging and can only find damp logs, we will tell you everything you need to know about starting a fire with soggy wood.
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Seasoned Wood, Wet Wood, and Green-Wood
Seasoned wood makes the ideal campfire logs. Seasoned is the termed used to describe wood that is dead and dry. Seasoning happens when the wood has been cut, stacked, and left to dry; a process that usually takes at least six months.
Logs that you find lying on the ground may be seasoned, depending on the climate and weather. However, in some cases, fallen logs or stacked logs left unprotected may still be damp. If your wood is not covered to keep it from the elements than rain, frost, and even snow can make it soggy.
Chances are, if you are reading this article, you do not have access to dry seasoned wood. However, wet wood is still usable, greenwood is not.
Greenwood is freshly cut wood and will not burn as well, often producing a lot of smoke. This is because of the water content of the wood, as they are usually saturated. Greenwood has a much higher water content than seasoned wood.
A fire built with greenwood will not burn as hot either. Most of the energy from the flames is used to burn off the water and sap, hence the smoke and steam, resulting in a lackluster campfire.
Wet wood can be used to build a decent fire if you follow the proper procedures, greenwood will almost always result in nothing but smoke.
Setting Up For a Wet Wood Fire
Wet wood will have a very difficult time beginning to burn on its own. Much like greenwood, most of the fire’s energy will go towards burning off the water. Therefore, you will need to gather a few things prior to building your fire to ensure success.
First, you will need to find some tinder and kindling. Usually, these are not hard to come by. If you are stuck in a downpour or a very wet environment, you may have to resort to some man-made types of fire starters.
You will need more tinder and kindling than usual because of your wet wood. In order to ignite and continue to burn, the damp logs will require more heat than dry wood. Therefore, you will need a surplus of tinder and kindling to get your initial flames big enough and hot enough.
Tinder is small, less dense, dry pieces of material that will start on fire quickly and burn easily. They will not last long so you will need more than just a few pieces of tinder. This is what helps your larger pieces of wood, or logs, catch fire.
Dry grass is another form of tinder that is usually readily available in nature. The same goes for dry leaves, though they can be smoky. If you are camping during rainy weather however, these items may be in short supply.
Wood shavings make excellent tinder as well. If you can find a log that can be split, you can shave off the inside drier area. Birch bark is similar in composition to shavings and can also be used as tinder.
When no natural forms of tinder can be found, some campers turn to commercial products. Newspaper, dryer lint, or cotton balls can all be used as tinder.
There are plenty of other man-made items that will burn. However, you should be careful that whatever you are lighting on fire will not release harmful chemicals when burning.
Next is kindling. Kindling is a bit bigger than tinder but still not log sized. It will help feed the flames after your tinder gets the fire going.
Twigs can be an excellent form of kindling. You will want to find twigs that are small in diameter and dry. They can be long or short; longer twigs may be beneficial if you are building a “log cabin” style fire.
Once you have an adequate amount of kindling and tinder, typically handfuls, you can grab your logs.
Preparing the Wood
If your wet logs are large enough to be split, then you are in luck. Splitting the firewood will help you access the dry wood inside which will burn easier and light quicker.
Smaller logs can be split with the blade of a knife and another log. You will want to place the blade in the center of the log and use another piece of wood to hammer it downwards until the log splits.
Larger logs, typically those greater than six inches in diameter, will need to be split using traditional methods. This involves a wedge, axe, and maul. You will need to begin the split using the axe, then drive a wedge into the opening using the maul until the log is split into two.
Splitting the logs will hopefully reveal wood inside that is less damp than that found on the exterior. Another method is hacking away the wet outside exterior, however, this is usually more difficult.
Once you have your tinder, kindling, and split logs you can build your fire.
Building the Fire
There are a few well-known ways to build a fire, the best way is hotly contested. All fires start with a ball of tinder surrounded by kindling. The logs are then placed on top few by few as the fire grows.
You will want to make sure that the spot you are building your fire on is dry. A dry foundation is essential when using wet wood.
First is the log cabin style fire. Place your tinder ball in the middle of your fire ring followed by your kindling arranged in rows over the top to form a square. Lay another layer tinder and kindling perpendicular to the previous layer.
You will add your logs in much the same fashion once you have your tinder and kindling burning. Keep the logs spaced with wide gaps to ensure airflow.
The TeePee is another style of a campfire. It similarly involves a ball of tinder at the center of your fire ring. Then prop the kindling up around the tinder so that they are standing on end with one end on the ground and the other end leaning in towards the others. This looks like a cone of twigs and unsurprisingly resembles the shape of a TeePee.
Once your tinder and kindling are burning, you can add larger logs to the TeePee shape. As above, be sure to space them wide enough to allow airflow.
The final method is the lean-to. This involves laying down a large log, placing your tinder ball on the ground in the center of the log, and then laying your kindling over the tinder to rest on the log. The shape should resemble the tinder being protected by a lean-to shelter.
Once burning, you can lay logs on top of the original build. This method is preferred by those who don’t want to keep adding wood in a particular fashion but just want to throw some logs on the fire.
Lighting the Fire
To get your tinder and kindling burning you will need to light them. When it is raining, this can be hard to do. Most traditional methods of lighting a fire, such as matches, will not perform well when wet.
Waterproof matches can come in handy. Some other common fire starters include chemical starters like duraflame firestarter, fire-starting logs, and magnesium rods. Of course, you could also use a lighter.
Gasoline and liquid charcoal fire starters are not advised for open fires. Their use could result in harmful burns.
Once you have your lighting source, light the tinder bundle. It is best to light it in a few spots on all different sides. You can gently blow on it to provide extra oxygen if necessary. As it burns it should catch your kindling on fire which in turn should catch your logs on fire.
As your flames grow and your logs burn down, continue feeding the fire with your split logs.
- Take steps to ensure your foundation is completely dry. A wet ground coupled with wet logs will not result in a campfire.
- Don’t add damp logs too quickly to the fire. You don’t want the moisture from the wood to smother the flames you have built and put the fire out.
- Wet logs typically require extra tinder and kindling so prepare more than you think is necessary.
- Wet logs that you will likely use later can be placed outside of the fire ring, just close enough to the flames so that they can begin to dry.
- Logs that are wet on the outside can lead to a decent fire, especially if you split them to expose the dry core. Logs that are thoroughly soaked through often will not burn or yield a fire at all.
Don’t let wet weather dampen your camping spirit or your campfire. With the proper steps building a campfire with wet wood is possible!