How to Start a Wood Fire with Vegetable Oil, Paper, and Matches

Updated on May 13, 2014
Paul Edmondson profile image

Paul is a barbecue enthusiast. He is currently grilling and smoking on a Komodo Kamado Ultimate 23.

Wood Fire Started with Newspaper Soaked in Vegetable Oil

How to Start a Fire with Wood, Vegetable Oil, Paper, and Matches

If you find yourself without a propane tank, lighter fluid, kindling, or a fire starter on hand, you can easily start a wood fire with vegetable oil and paper as your starter. This is how I light the oak wood I burn in my barbecue and fireplace. As always when dealing with fire, use common sense and be careful!

Step One: Make Sure You're Lighting Dry Wood

This technique for starting a fire will work for a campfire, fireplace fire, or barbecue, as long as the wood you are using is seasoned dry.

Dry, Seasoned Wood will Ignite Easier Than Wet Wood

Step Two: Roll Newspaper into Small Balls

Crumple up a dry newspaper, one sheet at a time, into little balls. These balls will be used to absorb the vegetable oil in the next step and act as your fire starter. If you don't have a newspaper, you can use paper towels, recycled paper, or any flammable paper item.

Step Three: Spray Newspaper with Oil

Spray or pour the vegetable oil on to the newspaper balls. Don't be afraid to apply it liberally; the newspaper will absorb the oil. When the newspaper is lit, the oil will help the paper burn longer which will assist in staring the fire. A piece of newspaper soaked in vegetable oil will burn for a longer time than paper alone; this gives the wood ample time to light and stay lit. You can use either vegetable oil in a liquid or spray form, e.g., Pam. To start a fire, it typically takes about 10 balls of newspaper with oil. It's better to error on the side of too many paper balls because if the fire doesn't light, the process needs to repeated. Using more will ensure the wood lights.

Step Four: Build Your Fire

Place the vegetable oil balls at the bottom of your fire and lay the wood over the top in the shape of a teepee. Leave enough space around the newspaper to allow oxygen to circulate; you don't want to smother the newspaper with the wood. The paper will need oxygen to burn.

Wood in Teepee Shape with Paper Balls at Bottom

Step Five: Light the Fire

Light several of the newspaper balls at the bottom of the fire using a match. The flames from the paper will climb, burning hotter and igniting the wood. As long as your wood is dry, your fire should light easily. I recommend using small pieces of wood at the beginning. Small pieces of kindling and bark light quicker than large chunks of hard wood.

Once the paper is lit, it takes the wood about twenty minutes to fully catch on fire. If the fire starts to go out, try blowing on it and gently rearranging the wood to allow oxygen to circulate.

Place the Newspaper Under the Wood When Lighting

Tips for Successfully Starting a Fire

  • Always use dry wood.
  • Create a teepee shape with your wood. Wood that has been laid flat will be difficult to ignite.
  • Fire needs oxygen to survive. Allowing airflow through the fire is imperative. However, too much wind will quickly put out your budding fire, so make sure that you block any incoming wind.
  • Use tinder or kindling to start your fire. You can always add the larger logs after the fire has started.
  • If you only have large logs, split them. Split wood lights faster than whole logs.
  • Start your fire at the base of the wood where you have your starter. Your fire is unlikely to start if you light it from the top of the teepee.


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    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 5 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      When I don't have propane, this is how I light my Kamado. Let me know how it works for you.

    • HomerMCho profile image

      HomerMCho 6 years ago

      Wow! Great ideas for camping!

    • rocco071 profile image

      rocco071 7 years ago from by the lake


      Looks to me like the Komodo bbq finally came home. What are the impressions?

    • Spirit Hugger profile image

      Spirit Hugger 7 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Hi Paul! I am new to HubPages... built my first "test" page yesterday - - and looking forward to writing about some interesting things and building lots more pages (as well as community). I joined your page last night and woke up to find this Hub listed in my in box. I love wood fires, and this is good advice for getting a good one going everytime. Nice layout too! Thanks for starting HubPages, & creating such a cool place to share info on the web.

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 7 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      I think I originally heard about using oil on paper to make it burn longer from America's Test Kitchen. I barbecue so much outside that I needed to find a more efficient way to light fires, so this is what I found works for me.

    • grillrepair profile image

      grillrepair 7 years ago from florida

      good idea for a hub! i custom build outdoor fireplaces and amy clients do not realize it is not easy to light a wood fire. I show them exactly what you wrote above but i use motor oil (never thought of pam) and I also use kindling as a middle-ground between the paper and wood chunks. Good public service hub.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Very good advice and gret hub as always. Thank you.

    • profile image

      WildIris 7 years ago

      Dear Mr. Edmondson,

      Better than paper, Pam, and matches, try using a propane map gas torch (plumber's torch) to directly light the kindling. Works every time. These are handy torches to have around the house.

    • profile image

      gredmondson 7 years ago

      Where did you learn about using Pam?

    • samsons1 profile image

      Sam 7 years ago from Tennessee

      rated up & useful--very nice Hub, I burned wood for over 30 years to heat my home, used the teepee method but never used Pam. Have a bad case of COPD now and must give up my wood stove. I'll miss it, but I've got to breathe. Your Hubs are always a joy to read. Keep it up.