Tools and techniques for a great campfire

By Greg Illes

Everyone loves a crackling fire. The Africans of the 13th century had a Swahili phrase for “dreaming the fire,” an exquisite encapsulation of the mood around a campfire. Here are some tips for making your own flickering camp delight.

A quality fire needs dry wood and ventilation. Make up a stockpile of multiple wood sizes from pencil-thick through finger size, broomstick, axe-handle, and 4x4s.

Always stack the smallest sizes first, into either a teepee or tic-tac-toe arrangement. Allow lots of air around the wood for good combustion.

Anyone can get a blaze going with a splash of charcoal-starter — but where’s the art in that? Dream-like satisfaction comes with primitive methods. Some folks will insist that they start their fire with only a match and shaved wood; others might fall back to a Bic lighter and a wax/wood starter pellet. I’ve seen purists use flint and steel! You choose.

Big wood needs big heat to burn with a good flame. A 4×4 won’t burn over the heat from pencils — it will only smoke up the campsite. Don’t put the big logs on until you have real heat and coals.

A very handy tool is the “Fireside Friend” by Estwing (Home Depot, Amazon, Sears). This combination maul/hatchet is fantastic for splitting wood into smaller diameters. For very large wood, use a regular splitting wedge.

Typically, a poker of some kind is very useful in managing a fire. A pair of very long tongs works for repositioning a log or coals.

Common sense but worth repeating:
·    Use safety glasses and gloves when chopping or splitting.
·    NEVER pour any kind of fuel onto a burning fire.
·    Don’t leave fire burning or smoldering when you go to bed.
·    Put it out, really OUT. Push your fingers into the dead coals to be sure.

Happy dreaming ….

Greg Illes is a retired systems engineer who loves thinking up RV upgrades and modifications. When he’s not working on his motorhome, he’s traveling in it. You can follow his blog at