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Fire Starters: Pine Kindling, Shingles, & Inner Tubes (Rubber)

Updated on February 10, 2012

“Take What You Have and Make What You Want” --Charlton

Pine Trunk
Pine Trunk | Source
Pine Tree
Pine Tree | Source

As I grew up in southern woods some decades back, I patterned one of my life's practices after Mother’s favorite proverb: “Take what you have, and make what you want.” My siblings and I learned quickly to use every resource we could find to do our part to help our family survive times that demanded a great amount of creativity. One skill we all grasped without much difficulty was fire starting. We learned from trial and error to find the best-burning kindling and hard wood, preferably pine and oak, to make a good fire to warm the house, cook food, boil water, and perform other necessities. Although there were fire starters we merely tried, and some we gathered from reading, the ones we often used were pine kindling, pieces of old shingles, and strips of old rubber inner tubing salvaged from Daddy’s car tires.

Reading about Fire Starting

One day while at school in one of my elementary reading classes during the fall of the '60's, our teacher guided us students through reading stories to learn Native American lore. One particular story was about two Native American boys who were working hard to make a fire by rubbing sticks together. I do not remember all of the details, but these boys were apparently a distance from home, maybe lost in the woods, and needed either warmth or food. However, they were successful after putting forth rigorous effort. I tried this at home several times, but the closest I got to a stick fire was warmth caused by the friction. I counted that as a step toward making a fire, but not a success.

Another time our teacher introduced an additional Native American story about a Hopi mother teaching her daughter values and ways of their people. As the girl listened to her mother and helped her with the chores around the adobe home, she began to twist straw to make a fire. At times, when the girl erred, the mom would say, “That is not the Hopi way.” [My personal experience of braiding straw worked well enough for longer burning.]

Our teacher asked, “Why did the child twist the straw?”

I quickly raised my hand and answered with confidence, “Because she wanted the straw to burn slower and last longer.”

I felt so proud and smart because no one else knew the answer, I had hoped. I did not realize at the time that I was probably the hillbilly of the class and should have known because of so many crude experiences surrounding my family's way of life. That method was essential to ensuring a successful fire for anyone who needed a quick start. I had certainly seen Mother use it many times when making a simple outdoor fire to burn discarded junk. A garbage truck had never rolled where I lived.

Fire Starting Using Wood and Friction
Fire Starting Using Wood and Friction | Source
Twisting Straw for Slow Burning
Twisting Straw for Slow Burning | Source

Pine Kindling

I learned to value fat pine that Mom and Daddy taught us children to cut with an axe from the core of old pine stumps in the woods. We children rarely pulled up a whole stump, except an occasional small one, but the men always uprooted the stumps to retrieve all of the fat pine. The best pine kindling seemed to be that of once large trees that were several years cut to ensure proper curing. The older the trees were before cutting, the better the chance of getting plenty of kindling when it was harvested. Their stumps often produced the best, and most, kindling because they were huge, dry, seasoned, and likely rich in resin, which earned them the name fat wood. The smaller pine stumps were not a waste; they usually had a nice enough core of fat wood buried deeply into the ground like the larger stumps. Searching pine stumps for fat pine a few years after loggers had cut a grove of pine for paper wood was like coming upon the mother lode of a gold mine.

Poor pine kindling, less resinous, was sometimes found in trunks and limbs, although they sometimes produced richer kindling. The poorer was not as colorful and brilliant when flaming, and it burned slower, but showed promise. When prospecting for pine kindling, we never knew how rich or poor it would be until we harvested it, but we usually kept all that we found. Both were useful.

Cutting pine trees usually took place during the cooler months when the sap was in the roots. We thought that this ensured plenty of resin when the stumps dried and the outer parts rotted leaving a fat core just right for combustible burning. The felled logs, very scarce, provided good-burning pine wood, but nothing like the fat core of the roots. Most of the logs were hauled off to the mill and sold as paper wood.

The scent of the good pine was similar to store-bought pine oil, but more natural and pleasant like the fragrance of freshly cut pine tops at Christmastime. When the fat kinding was blazing, the fire was often reddish-orange and yellow like the wood itself. I could not think of anything nicer than a happy fireplace in the dead-cold winter, except a cozy patchwork quilt and a good book. Having all three was the better choice.

Uncle and Daddy would use timber and bow saws to fell oak trees, divide them into short logs, split some with axes and wedges driven with a sledgehammer, and leave some whole—the smaller ones for front logs and the larger ones for backlogs for the fireplace. Daddy called the big ones “back sticks.” He always placed a back stick of green oak at the rear of the fireplace on the dog irons for long-time burning. Fresh, green oak was flame retardant until the fire burned out the sap and eventually started eating the dried wood. Once the logs started blazing and died down to a perfect red-hot heat source, the house got warmer, and it was not an uncommon treat for the family to enjoy ash-parched peanuts and baked potatoes, hickory nuts, black walnuts, or sweet ribbon cane by the warm, friendly fire.

Pine and Oak
Pine and Oak | Source

Whenever I made a fire using pine chips, I first crisscrossed small, dry twigs at the pit of the fireplace. Next, I placed the resin-rich pine chips, fillet cut, among this stack and piled on a few pieces of dry wood. A few sticks of split oak upgraded the promise of a medium fire. If a long-burning fire was needed, larger oak logs were added. Last, I lit the kindling and watched with excitement as the fat pine burst into hot yellow and crimson flames that gave our small front room a sunny-yellow glow that took away the gray, rainy gloom of a cold, winter’s day. After sufficient exposure to the climbing fire, the oak began to burn, and the roaring flames settled down to a toasty, peaceful fire. The time would soon come to stack on more wood and enjoy a rocking chair slumber at the fireside.

Later, I would get the poking iron and stab at the half-burned logs. I didn't quite know why, but daddy did it, and I enjoyed seeing the hot coals popping and shooting like red stars when I struck them. The logs cast much heat once the burning started. They produced cleaner fire—often with tongues of blue and yellow—and lasted longer because they were green. As I grew older, I reasoned that Daddy poked the logs to knock away some of the coals that were nearly burned through to expose fresher dry wood ready to be fired. Standing proudly, I spread my fingers before the fire and smiled at my finished work.

Oak Stump
Oak Stump | Source
Old Shingles
Old Shingles | Source


The second fire starter I learned to use was pieces of shingles that my brothers managed to retrieve from an old abandoned house in the woods. I stacked the wood about the same way I did for the pine fire and placed about four pieces of shingles, the size of a man’s hand, among the first stack of dry twigs and wood. Usually, the first few pieces were enough, but, if not, I would add more and a few narrow wedges of oak. The pieces began burning rapidly as soon as I touched them with fire. They produced stacks of black smoke and a smell resembling hot asphalt, but they soon disappeared into ashes and left the wood burning and crackling nicely. To keep a fire going, more wood had to be added before it began to burn out. To get good and fast burning, green oak had to be heated by intense flames a longer period of time than dry oak. Dry oak burned well and greedily, but Daddy always preferred the long-burning green oak because it would not disappear as fast or need to be cut so often. Because of the unpleasant smell of the burning shingles and the tarring smoke, this was not the best choice for inside fire starting.

Cutting an Old Inner Tube
Cutting an Old Inner Tube | Source

Rubber Inner Tube

My third fire starter began with strips of old inner tubing from daddy’s car tires after they were exhausted of patching and ready for other uses, but mostly for building fires. We used Mom’s patchwork quilt cutting scissors to cut the black rubber tube into strips about an inch wide and probably six inches long. These measurements were never exact and did not need to be. Because the strips were flimsy, I could not hold them in my hand while they were burning, and, at the same time, lay them among the sticks. They always had to be laid before lighting, unlike the pine chips and shingles. So, it was a must for me to first place a few pieces among the bottom sticks of the usual stack. I twisted a piece of brown paper sack, lit it on one end, and set the strips afire. They grew into slow, but steady, snacking flames that were not as gay as the burning pine; nevertheless, flames were sure. More wood was added, my smoky fire was started, and soon it burned out to cleaner flames and lighter smoke. That was good enough. Burning rubber was not as beautiful, fragrant, and colorful as pine, but it got the job done.

Other Fire Starters

I learned from textbooks and teachers that a fire could be started many other ways, one being the use of striking together flint and steel. Although this was an old method, we never had it where I lived. Reading experiences led me to try making fires with a magnifier that I bought for a nickel at the ten cents store in town seven miles away. I held the glass at an angle that allowed the sun to somehow penetrate it and burn some dry leaves that I had heaped. Suddenly smoke ascended, and Bingo! This was great for outdoor fires, but necessity never called for it where I lived. Matches were easier. In addition to this method, it was not a difficult task to light knots of straw, a pile of leaves mixed with small twigs, or a few pine cones, and watch them burn slowly under dry wood that was soon ablaze. Your methods of fire starting may be different from all of mine, and that is acceptable, because “There is more than one way to skin a cat,” Mom always said. All in all, it was truly amazing to have observed and experience how urgency brought about creativity.

I learned more sophistication at school, and in our general budding society, as the years passed by. I did not know it at the time, but I was gradually being taken away from the old ways of life and ushered into the use of newer technology and other ways of doing things. Many country homeowners closed their fireplaces and installed gas heaters and stoves to replace the wood burners. Many changes were not quickly welcomed by the elders, especially, but we all eventually put behind us the old ways of fire starting.


Growing up in a country setting with few resources afforded my siblings and me many opportunities to learn the crude, but very useful, ways of life. Certainly, the lessons of fire starting were ones that I could never forget. Starting a fire with fat pine was the most useful method at the time. This was followed by the use of shingles that was not as good, but effective enough to get the job done. Using rubber tubing, which came later, was another method of fire starting that ranked alongside shingles; nevertheless, it also proved to be quite useful around home.

As I gradually transitioned into a new time with new changes, I learned more but never forgot those simple fire-starting methods that helped to make life more comfortable and enjoyable while growing up in my neck of the woods. The crude lessons learned about survival in a simple, rural setting were valuable and useful in the life of a country girl who was taught to take what she had to make what she wanted.

Caution: It is not advisable to use pieces of inner tubing or shingles as inside fire starters. They emit a very sickening smell, and the smoke from them is very heavy and sooty. It should not be inhaled. In cases of necessity, these easy-to-burn items should be used for outside fires. It is better to use the all-natural fat wood for inside and outside uses when possible. Some fire builders do not like to use fatwood inside because it, too, produces much oily smoke that leaves much gunky residue in heaters and chimneys. However, if you clean your wood-burning systems as needed, and they breathe well--draw off the smoke and send it up the chimney-- you should not have a problem with burning fatwood inside to start a fire. Fireplaces, heaters, pipes, and chimneys should be maintenanced as needed to avoid hazards. Also, remember to protect your family, home, and air space by practicing "Safety First!"


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    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 3 years ago from Southern Clime

      1. We gathered our own kindling and firewood. There was plenty in the forest.

      2. We made and maintained a wonderful fire each day. Oak leaves and twigs made great kindling!

      3. We wrapped potatoes in foil and baked them in the hot ashes. We also enjoyed roasted peanuts, hot dogs, and marshmallows.

      4. We collected and roasted a few acorns. They had no bitter taste of tannin but tasted similarly to almonds.

      5. The grandchildren had a ball, and I enjoyed watching them as I secretly relived some of my own childhood memories of similar experiences around the cowboy house the old gang and I frequented over 50 years ago.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 3 years ago from Southern Clime

      I enjoyed camping out with the family last week. instead of the usual tents, we decided to use a cabin. That was pure cheating! We had all of the conveniences of fine living--cable TV, full kitchen, 4 queens, plumbing, fireplace, living room, the works. Pure cheating, I tell you!

      Before you say, "That's not real camping," listen:

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 3 years ago from Southern Clime

      You bet, Jcckie!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Look forward to some writing soon!

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

      Yes, tirelesstraveler, the old ways were marvelous teachers. Thanks for taking time to read about my experiences as a dreaming cowgirl.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 4 years ago from California

      The old ways taught you much about life. Thanks you for sharing.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

      I did not like trying to get a fire started, but when the flames finally caught and started licking the logs, I always felt the excitement of finally getting it going.

      Thanks, DDE, for stopping by my woods and leaving your thoughts!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great hub on Fire Starters: Pine Kindling, Shingles, & Inner Tubes (Rubber) I learned how to start fires awhile back and is not my favorite part about enjoying the fire. A well shared hub thanks

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime


      I am trying my hand at writing stories for children, but they are not all complete. I am also in the process of putting together an autobiofraphical fiction. Hopefully, one day . . . !

      Although I have never tried it, I believe eyeglasses can be used to start a fir. At least I saw it done accidentally on LITTLE HOUSE.

      Thanks for stopping by the woods and sharing!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Very interesting. If you haven't told any childhood stories I hope you will. I know everyone would love to read them. I did a few and they did pretty well. I am from the south too and I like a magnifying glass better than rubbing sticks and stone. I was never able to do that but a mag glass wouldn't do much good on a cloudy day. lol

      I never built fires with them I just experimented lighting leaves or paper because it was so interesting to do.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

      I have seen videos/movies, magazine pictures, etc. of women of other lands carrying things from water to baskets of food on their heads, but that has never been a cultural practice in my part of the world, Southern USA. It is interesting that you carried wood on your head. Mom taught me and my siblings to "take what we have and make what we want," so, I have no doubt that we would have used dried banana leaves and chopped coconut husks if we could have accessed them. Banana trees are somewhat rare in my area, but some people have them more for greenery than fruit. The problem is that they often produce very immature bananas due to our climate. Perhaps a greenhouse could help them to produce better, but few people show an interest since the fruit is sold at very reasonable prices at the markets.

      I enjoyed this hub.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

      Hi Levertissteele! This hub brought me back to my childhood when I accompanied my mother and siblings to the forest collecting firewoods out of coconut branches that were on the ground. My mother cut the woods into pieces and we carried the bundle of woods on our heads in going home for making fire for cooking our meals. We used the dry leaves of bananas and finely chopped coconut husks as our fire starter before putting logs of dried coconut branches on top of the fire.

      Thanks for bringing me back to my memory lane. Have a nice weekend!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago from Texas

      You are welcome, let us hear some more good adventures, you have had.

      I did not know when, I started writing on here that I had adventures, then I found my own life was not so dull after all.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime


      I did not think that I was contributing enough to think that I was not retired, but your compliment certainly does give me a lift. When I first retired, I "threw" a big pity party. I felt so cast aside and useless for over a year. I must say that HubPages and friends have helped me to feel useful again. That means a lot to me.

      Thanks for your visit to my woods and leaving such an energizing compliment!

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime


      While I was growing up, I did not always consider myself fortunate. I felt isolated and lost from the world. I did not realize until adulthood that country life was part of the world, and beautiful. I later found it ironic that people who flocked to the city often took a vacation to campsites in a forest, mountain, or pasture land. City life certainly has its advantages, but there is something magical about life away from the "hustle and bustle."

      Thanks for stopping by my woods and leaving such a kind compliment!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago from Texas

      Levertis, you have not retired, by writing you are giving your knowledge to the rest of us and sharing how you learned to do things to survive.

      Wonderful hub. Voted up-UAI and shared

    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 4 years ago from Texas

      You are so fortunate to have grown up learning how to do practical, useful things. These days so few people know how to do anything at all! LOL! Voted up, awesome, tweeted, pinned and shared! :)

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime


      I appreciate your remarks about my hub and the sharing of your own experience with the thin chips that must have burned as readily as cardboard. You brought back another memory. We used woodcutting chips to start fires, but they were thick and not easily lit, although they burned quicker when dried.

      This was not my intention: "I do think you do yourself a disfavor by looking down on your early knowledge of building fires."

      Surely we have more modern methods of firebuilding, but I love to reflect on the old ways and even try them outside, not inside, every now and then. I live in rural South USA and do not have a problem with outside burning like most cities that do not allow it. I occasionally go camping with my family in one of the forests in my region, but sometimes we just camp out back and enjoy all of the traditional fun with the grandchildren.

      Thanks for your visit!

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 4 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      A most interesting and useful hub - thank you.

      I do think you do yourself a disfavor by looking down on your early knowledge of building fires. So many people today are flat incapable of taking care of daily necessities; that you learned early is to your credit. That it was to build a fire to stay warm by rather than turning the thermostat up does nothing to discredit the honor of learning to care for yourself.

      Fire starter - I recently had occasion to drill several large holes through 7" diameter posts. Using a spade bit worked well and when through I began to sweep up the large pile of chips when inspiration struck - those chips from the spade bit were as much as 2" across and paper thin. No resin as kiln dried wood doesn't usually have much, but a handful of those chips makes the best campfire starter I've ever seen. The large bag I collected will likely last me several years.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 5 years ago from Southern Clime

      The populations are exploding everywhere, even here in Southern USA where we once enjoyed more serenity in the wild. Now, a forest is no longer where we live, but miles up the highway. I am thankful that we still have about 1/4 mile of oak and pine out back. The raccoons and armadillos are a bit invasive, but we accept them.

      Thanks, unknown spy, for dropping by and sharing your experience!

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      I used to do this way back..kindlings used to start fires. it was fun way back but due to rapid population, our beautiful backyard turned into a mess of houses.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 5 years ago from Southern Clime


      "Where there's smoke, there's fire"? I would think that you nearly had a fire. You were close. It does take patience and concentration. A magnifying glass and a nice hot sun works in a minute or two if that fails. I like lighters. If you can't get a fire in any way, you can always forage. Survival camping is so much fun when it is not a necessity.

      Confession: I do like foraging, but the last time my family and I went camping, we ate supper at McDonald's five miles down a nearby highway, but the next day brought on the marshmallows, roasting ears, hotdogs, potatoes, parched peanuts, and burned burgers. There was a grill at the site, but we tried to make it a fun experience for the grandchildren. We leveled a skillet on stones over the campfire. Nice enough!

      Thanks for stopping by my woods and sharing your camping experience!

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      My husband and I both are horrible at starting fires. Once we went camping and all we got was a little smoke... no real flame. Manage our dinner that night that we planned on cooking over the fire.. sheesh! :) Great hub! very interesting!

    • profile image

      Belle Harris 5 years ago

      Great read. Your own version of country life. Have you considered writing a book?

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 6 years ago from Southern Clime

      writer 20:

      When my family and I make a fire now, we do it in memory of old times and on our camping trips. We always enjoy them.

      Thanks for visiting and reading my hub.

    • writer20 profile image

      Joyce Haragsim 6 years ago from Southern Nevada

      I really enjoyed reading this hub, although I do know how to start a fire. Not that many people do especially the city people. We had a small hotel with fireplaces you wouldn't believe the way these people expect logs with nothing else expect to burn.

      Voted up useful and interesting, Joyce.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 6 years ago from Southern Clime

      Thanks, Dolores, for visiting and leaving your fine comments. Yes, scrap inner tube rubber and shingles emit strong, unpleasant smells and thick, dark smoke; but they were great firestarters during a time of necessity. Pine kindling was preferred for inside and outside firestarting, and the rubber and shingles serves better outside due to the need for much ventillation. During the early years of my life, it was not uncommon to see families in my neck of the woods firing up large, cast-iron wash pots for frying the fat out of skins of freshly killed hogs.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      I enjoyed this lesson in fire starting - it's been quite some time since I enjoyed a nice outdoor fire. But using rubber - yuck - never would have thought of that due to the stink and the smoke. Wonderful hub! (And cute kids)

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 6 years ago from Southern Clime


      You certainly are a city person all the way to the top! If you google "fat pine" you will find some for sale. If it is really fat, it will flare up like wood-soaked gaseline when fire touches it. My aunt had some pines cut a while back. I plan to examine a few of the stumps and hope to find some fat pine. The weather is still chilly in my neck of the South.

      Thanks for stopping by my woods!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      You have introduced me to much that I did not know in this hub. I had never heard the term "fat pine" but now know what it is thanks to you. When you were writing about burning the tires and wood shingles...nice that you added that this is really for outdoor use because of the fumes. Welcome to HubPages! Looking forward to learning more from you. Voted up and useful as well as interesting.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 6 years ago from Southern Clime

      When My children were young members of the Pathfinder's Club, I always camped out with them. Once we were in the deep forested woods when a master guide had a problem starting a fire to make breakfast. I found an old pine stump and cut out some fat pine. We soon had a fire going. That was the only time that I used fat pine since my childhood.

      Thank you very much!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

      Here you are! I had been waiting for you to publish some Hubs. Your first Hub is most excellent. I think it good not to forget the old ways. One never knows for sure when you might need them, when the old ways might become the only ways through some unforeseen occurrence.

      Your article is perfectly written. Congratulations on a great start. Welcome to the HubPages Community of Writers. :-)

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 6 years ago from Southern Clime

      Moonlake, I thank you!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 6 years ago from America

      Enjoyed this story also. Voted up.


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