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14 Helpful Tips For How To Light Outdoor Fire Pits

how to light outdoor fire pit

Nothing beats sitting around a fire pit with friends at the end of the day. Fire pits have been a great social gathering spot since the age of cavemen. Lighting a fire pit can be a bit intimidating if you are not sure what you are doing. Nothing is worse than trying to light a fire in front of a bunch of friends and getting nothing but a little smoke. Lighting an outdoor fire pit can be quick and easy with a little help and some practice. Here are some great tips for how to light out outdoor fire pits.

How to light outdoor fire pits

Lighting your outdoor fire pit will be very different if you have a wood burning fire pit or a gas fire pit. Both types of fire pits are easy to light and put out. With a little practice, you should not be intimidated by how to light outdoor fire pits. Let’s talk about both kinds of outdoor fire pits below. We’ll discuss how to light them, what supplies do you need, what should you have nearby for putting them out, and more.

Tips for how to light wood burning outdoor fire pits

1 – Select good firewood

Choosing the correct firewood can increase your chances of success lighting fires. Kiln dried Hickory and Oak are the easiest firewoods to light. Other good firewoods to consider are hardwoods such as Ash, Beech and Maple.

Hardwoods have a higher density so they tend to burn hotter and longer than softwoods. Examples of softwoods include Pine, Birch, and Cedar.

Kiln dried wood has been dried out so it’s moisture is below 25%. The easiest burning wood will still be difficult to light if it’s saturated with water. If you are not sure where to get kiln dried firewood, you can order it online from Amazon or several other places online.

If you can’t find kiln dried wood, you at least want to use firewood that has been seasoned. Seasoned firewood is wood that been split, and stacked and left to dry. Kiln dried wood is not easy to get in many places. Seasoned wood is the next best thing.

The hardest thing to burn in your firepit will be wet unsplit logs. Wet wood tends to smell and won’t be as pleasant to sit around.

2 – Gather tinder and kindling

To successfully start a fire we need to gather tinder and kindling. The best, most dry kiln dried hickory or oak will still be difficult to directly light with a match by itself. That is where the tinder and kindling come in. Tinder is material that will light and burn really easily. Kindling is small sticks and twigs that will burn and create enough heat to ignite your firewood.

Many things can be used for tinder. My dad used to love using rolled up newspaper. Not many people get a paper delivered anymore so it’s not always available. Fortunately other ads still show up that are printed in newsprint. You can also use paper shredder shreddings. For more natural substances you can use pine needles, birch and cedar bark shavings. Other things that will also work include cotton balls, dryer lint, cardboard, sawdust. Anything that will light really easily with a match.

For kindling, you want to find small sticks and twigs. Find sticks that are up to 1/2inch thick and 1 to 2 feet long. Again, try to find dry wood if possible. Find yourself a nice pile of tinder so you have enough to light your fire and some extra.

3 – Have a plan for putting out the fire

Before you light the fire in your fire pit, you should have some idea of how you are going to pit it out at the end. What will you do if the fire spreads out of the fire pit by accident? Can you hose water into your fire pit? Is there a water supply nearby? What else can you use to put out the fire such as a fire extinguisher, dirt, or sand? You don’t want to turn your backyard fire pit fun into a forest fire or blaze that burns down the neighborhood. See this article from Nationwide for more fire pit safety tips.

4 – Set up the tinder

Set up your tinder in a small pile in the center of your fire pit. Make it fairly dense. You want to light the tinder and burn it to generate enough heat to ignite the tinder. If the tinder is too spaced apart it won’t generate enough heat. It will burn itself out without igniting the tinder. You’ll be starting over again.

5 – Set up the kindling

There are several ways to build a fire. The most common way to start the fire is to stack the kindling over top of the tinder like a log cabin. Set the tinder sticks and twigs above your tinder so that when the tinder burns it will ignite the kindling. You should have some extra kindling on standby. Sometimes you need to add more kindling to keep the heat going if you haven’t ignited your main firewood yet. If your firewood is wet, you may need the heat from the kindling to dry it before it will ignite.

6 – Set up firewood

Set a few pieces of firewood up in a larger teepee above the kindling. What you have is a teepee of fire wood built over top of your tinder stack. You just need a few firewood pieces, to begin with. You don’t need to burn it all at once at the start. Adding more won’t make it any easier to light. If you stack too much on top of your kindling and tinder you might smother those. You need good airflow into your kindling and tinder to feed oxygen into the fire to get it burning.

For more tips on building a fire in your fire pit, see this video from REI. It shows a few different ways to build up your fire.

7 – Matches, lighters, torches and firestarters

To light your tinder you can use several things. Matches are good standby. Butane lighters or butane grill lighters work well too. None of those work great if it’s really windy out. If you are somewhere that tends to be windy and your firepit isn’t out of the wind, nothing beats a small butane torch. Small butane torches will burn in a decent breeze and you can easily direct the flame into your tinder.

There are many fire starting products available that work well. You can light them with a match and they will burn long enough to light your fire. They are made of shaved wood, sawdust, pinecones, or fatwood. Fatwood is made from pine tree stumps. It is pieces of pinewood with shavings cut into it. Sap from the tree is naturally in the wood and will help it burn.

Some people like to use lighter fluid or gasoline for lighting their fires. I recommend you don’t. It will leave your fire smelling like gas. Gasoline is extremely flammable and there are many things that can go wrong trying to use it on a fire.

8 – Light the tinder

Now that you have your fire built and have a fire starter your ready to go. Light the tinder and let it burn. You can blow on it to help it burn faster and generate more heat. Your tinder will burn and ignite your kindling wood.

9 – Let the kindling burn and add more as needed

Now that your kindling is burning, you need to keep it burning until your firewood ignites. You may need to keep adding more kindling to get your firewood to burn especially if it is wet. Make as big and hot a fire as you can with the kindling. The goal here is heat. You need enough flame and heat to ignite your larger firewood. If you stacked your firewood up in a teepee, then keep adding kindling under it. Heat and flame rise so you need your kindling fire under your firewood to get it burning.

10 – Add more firewood

Now that your firewood is burning you want to keep it burning. Your firewood will burn hot. Keep adding more firewood pieces to the fire to keep it going. As your existing wood burns down, add more to keep a steady fire going. It will take a while to burn out all the wood after you stop adding it.

11 – Putting out fire

Now that your fire is going, the next thing you’ll need to do is put out the fire. The easiest way to do this is to stop adding firewood to it and let it burn itself out. You may not have time to just let it burn itself out and cool down. The first thing to do is to break the coals apart and spread out any wood and burning material left so it can’t feed itself. Spreading ash and dirt on top of the burning coals will starve it of oxygen and help put it out.

Once you have spread out your hot coals as much as you can, the next thing to do is use water to cool it down. It may be really hot. You don’t want to dump a huge amount of water on it that may instantly turn to steam and burn you. The best thing to do is spray water onto the fire. If you can’t spray then you should poor water onto it slowly. Do this until there are no more hot coals and the fire is cool enough to touch.

Tips for how to light gas burning outdoor fire pits

1 – Open the valve on the gas can before opening the burner gas

If you have a gas fire pit, then you have a much easier task to light it.

On most gas fire pits, you have a gas valve on your propane tank. You have another gas valve to control the burner. It is important to open the propane tank valve first. Propane tank valves have a safety feature built into them. If you open the propane tank valve and there is no pressure buildup in the gas line, the valve won’t fully open. If the burner valve is open when you open the tank valve there will be no pressure build up in the line.

To reset the safety feature you need to close the tank valve. Close the burner valve. Then fully open the tank valve. Then you can open the burner valve and light your fire pit.

This frustrated me one day for about an hour. I lit my fire pit but couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the flame was so small with a burner set to max.

2 – Light the match or lighter before turning on gas

The important thing to remember is to have your lighter lit before turning on the gas to the burner. Light your lighter such as a match or butane lighter or light stick and hold it up to your fire pit burner. Once you are set to light the burner, open the gas to the burner. The burner will light and you’ll be good to go.

If you hold the lighter too far away from the burner, you may get a bit of gas build up before it ignites. Don’t be surprised if you get a sudden flame when starting it. If you open the gas before you have a lighter near the burner, you will have a lot of gas buildup. You’ll get a big flame as it lights.

3 – Putting out your gas fire pit fire

Putting out your gas fire pit is easy. You just turn off the gas to the burner. Some people like to turn off the gas at the propane tank first to empty the gas out of line. If you turn off the propane tank first before the burner, the gas left in the lines after closing the valve will burn. The lines will be empty. If you close the burner valve first the line between the tank valve and burner valve will still be full of gas.

After putting out the flame, your lava rocks, lava glass, ceramic bricks, etc.. will still be hot. Don’t hose down lava rocks to cool them off. You may end up with a bunch of exploding rocks in the process. Let them cool off on their own. Don’t leave the fire pit unattended until it’s cooled down enough to where you can safely touch it.

You should have a fire extinguisher nearby when using a gas fire pit just in case. These are simple devices and not that much can go wrong. We’ve all seen the occasional gas grill turn into an inferno.

small wood burning outdoor fire pit

How to light fire pit FAQ

Q: What is the best way to light a fire pit?

The best way to light a fire pit is to use tinder and kindling under the firewood. Light the tinder and kindling and use it to light your firewood. Tinder should be small very easy to burn material such as rolled up paper or pine needles. Kindling should be small sticks and twigs up to 1/2 inch in diameter.

Q: What do you put in the bottom of an outdoor fire pit?

Rocks and gravel can spark and explode if they get too hot. They are not good substances to put in your fire pit. The best thing to use is lava rocks, lava glass or ceramic bricks or logs. These will work best with your gas fire pit. Dry lava rocks and glass can safely get hot without risk of exploding. To learn more, see our article on how to stop exploding lava rocks.

You can put sand at the bottom of a wood fired fire pit to protect the metal from the heat of the fire. Many fire pit manufacturers recommend you put 1 to 2 inches of sand in the bottom before using them.

Q: Can you leave a fire pit outside?

Yes, you can leave most fire pits outdoors all the time. A gas fire pit is made to be outdoors and will not need any maintenance. If you have lava rocks in your gas fire pit you should cover them so they don’t get wet when it rains.
For your wood burning firepit, you can leave it outdoors too. You do need to do more maintenance. After burning wood in your fire pit you need to clean out the ash and dispose of it.

Q: Should you put sand in bottom of firepit?

Sand can protect the metal floor of your fire pit from heat. This can help it last longer and avoid rust. Many fire pit manufacturers recommend that you put 1 to 2 inches of sand in the bottom of your fire pit.

Q: Can I put fire pit on grass?

Yes, you can put your fire pit on grass. If you are using a gas fire pit, the don’t throw off sparks or embers so there is little risk they will catch the grass on fire. You should read the manual for your fire pit and see if it says it is safe to set it on top of combustible materials. If it’s not you may want to use a fire pad under your fire pit.

If you are using a wood burning fire pit you need to use more caution. If it is dry outside and your grass is brown and parched, you need to be very cautious. Any wood fire will throw off sparks and embers that may light your grass on fire. You should always have some water or fire extinguisher on hand. If something outside the fire pit starts burning you need to be able to stop it.

Q: Are pavers safe for fire pit?

It depends on the paver. You need to check with the manufacture of the brick paver to see if they are fire safe or not. Fire safe bricks and pavers have been kiln fired to high temperatures to remove all the moisture inside. These bricks and pavers won’t explode from moisture inside expanding. If they aren’t fire safe, there is a chance that they will crack and explode when they get heated up by the fire.

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About the author

My name is Doug Ryan. I am an adventure sports fan and an avid skier, sailor, mountain biker who also enjoys paddle boarding, kayaking, wakeboarding, waterskiing, and travel. I take any chance I can get to get out in the snow or water.  I actively run an adventure sports meetup where I get asked many questions.  I decided to start this Gear Craver as a way to share my knowledge and enthusiasm for adventure sports their gear.

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