Frequently in this space, we will consult a different entry in the 1987 book The Modern Man’s Guide to Life to see how the advice therein has aged. On Monday, we discussed shopping; today, we’ll discover how to make fires without matches.

There comes a time in every man’s life when he will have to build a fire outside of the comfort of his own home. Absent the necessary comforts of a gas starter and/or matches, he might think the logical way to make fire would be to rub two sticks together. He would most certainly be wrong.


And per The Modern Man’s Guide to Life, he’d look like a poor excuse for a caveman in the process anyway:

Forget the stuff about rubbing two sticks together. Diligent spinning of a small twig in a groove cut in a larger piece of wood will work, but only if you’re willing to twirl the twig until the sun comes up. Instead, use what’s around you. Flint against flint sparks nicely, of course, but so does metal against quartz or any other hard stone. The best tinder (upon which you should let the sparks fall) is straw or hay. If you manage to produce a faint glow in the tinder, fan it gently but steadily.

Resourceful. Timeless. Hopefully you never find yourself in a situation where you’re befriending volleyballs, but you never know. If that doesn’t work, or you aren’t near a hay bale, or you have no idea what quartz even looks like, the book suggests you use “dried grass or dried cowshit shredded into fine chunks.” And if you get really desperate, tear off a piece of your shirt. This is some useful stuff.

The last strategy is highly specific:

In a pinch, a telephoto lens will also work to start a fire. Open the lens to the maximum aperture and focus a tiny spot of sunlight on dry tinder by holding the lens at the optimum distance for the concentration of the light. Be patient; this method can take fifteen or twenty minutes.

It’s not that the technology is dated, it’s just that these days, I don’t know many people who travel with a camera in addition to their phone. And if you’re stranded enough to be needing to build a fire, why do you have a telephoto lens? Were you birdwatching or something? A question for the ages. The good news is, fire doesn’t change, so this info might come in handy one day. Let’s hope it doesn’t, though.