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Steels, sparks, and snacks

Learn how to make fire with a fire steel and cook a tasty snack.
Plan a session with this activity

You will need

  • Fire steel
  • Cotton wool pads or balls
  • Fire bucket, filled with water
  • Jar lids or small foil trays
  • Materials to make fire lighters
  • Newspaper
  • Kindling and fire wood
  • Ingredients and utensils to cook (optional)

Before you begin

  • Make sure you’ve risk assessed your meeting, and also have a COVID-19 safe risk assessment that’s been agreed by your line manager. You can check out more detailed guidance here
  • Depending on how long your face-to-face meetings are, you could run this activity over two sessions. Use the first session to practice ‘Catch a spark’ and ‘Make some firelighters’; next time you meet, you’ll be ready to use them to ‘Build a fire’ and cook a quick campfire snack.
  • If you’re running a blended programme, you could prepare your firelighters in an online session before you meet face-to-face.
  • You could also run this session as two bases – this may be helpful if you don’t have a lot of space or equipment. At one base, people could use fire steels to light a small fire. At the second base, people could prepare a quick snack to cook on a fire (or barbecue) that the leaders have prepared. If you do this, make sure you have a system to remember whose food is whose so it doesn’t get mixed up.
  • Make a circle of spread-out piles that contain a fire steel, foil tray or jar lid, and cotton wool ball or two. Make sure the piles are at least two metres apart.
  • Prepare the materials people will need to make firelighters – we’ve included some suggestions below. It’s up to you whether everyone makes the same one or whether the group tries a few different types.

Safety checklist

Use the Safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity.  Additional coronavirus-related controls to think about may include: 

  • Set up a hand washing station that you can use throughout the session. Make sure everyone washes their hands before handing any food.
  • Encourage everyone to work individually, at a safe distance from others.
  • Think about how you’ll hand out equipment or ingredients – it won’t work for everyone to help themselves from a big pile. The same applies to communal wood piles.
  • Clean any equipment, including the fire steels, at the start and end of the session and between different users.
  • Make sure that you have enough helpers to supervise everyone lighting their fires – people won’t be able to work in groups close to each other.

Catch a spark

  1. Everyone should go to their own pile of fire lighting equipment. Everyone should end up in a large circle – they should be two metres from everyone else and able to see the person leading the activity.
  2. The person leading the activity should show everyone how to use the fire steel.
  3. Everyone should pull their cotton wool apart so that it’s really fluffy and place it into the foil tray.
  4. Everyone should kneel down with their back facing the wind and their knees together to eliminate any draughts.
  5. The person leading the activity should explain that the fire steel has two parts, the rod and the striker. People can hold them in either hand, depending on whether they’re right or left-handed.
  6. Everyone should grip their steel rod with their thumb on top and the side of their index finger below. They should hold the striker the same way and hold it above the rod at a 90 degree angle.
  1. Everyone should put the tip of their rod onto their cotton wool ball.
  1. Everyone should hold the striker at a 45 degree angle and scrape down the rod slowly with pressure to create sparks. Always move in a direction away from the body.
  2. Everyone should keep trying until the sparks catch the cotton wool on fire – it should burn out in a couple of seconds.
  3. Everyone should practise again with another cotton wool ball until everyone has managed to light at least one fire.

Make some fire lighters

  1. The person leading the activity should give everyone the equipment they need to make a firelighter. They should put it down on the floor, then move backward at least two metres so they stay distanced from everyone.
  2. The person leading the activity should explain how to make the firelighters, and everyone should follow the instructions.


Build a fire

  1. Everyone should find a space to build their fire. It’s best for people to work individually – it’ll be easier to stay distanced and it’s a great chance for everyone to develop their fire lighting skills.
  1. Everyone should collect some kindling.
  1. Everyone should put the firelighter they made earlier into the centre of their space and use the kindling to build a fire structure around it.
  2. Like before, everyone should kneel by their fire with their back to wind and knees together. They should use the fire steel to light their fire by placing the rod next to the fire lighter and striking like they practised.
  1. Once the sparks have caught, everyone should gently blow on the flame or spark. This will provide more oxygen to grow the flame.
  2. Everyone should begin to slowly add bigger and bigger pieces of kindling, and then pieces of wood, to establish the fire.
  3. Everyone should let the wood burn for a few minutes. This would be the perfect time to prepare a snack: glowing coals are the best for cooking on.
  1. Once everyone’s cooked their snack, safely and fully extinguish the fires.


This activity gave everyone a chance to practise their skills and keep on going when things got tricky. Do people usually light fires on their own. People may be used to working in groups – how did it feel to go it alone? Did people’s fires work perfectly first time? It’s OK if it took a little while to get the hang of the fire steel or to make the perfect firelighter. What helped people to stick at it when things went wrong? How did it feel? 



Teach young people how to use cooking equipment safely. Supervise them appropriately throughout. Make sure it’s safe to use and follow manufacturers’ guidelines for use.

Fires and stoves

Make sure anyone using fires and stoves is doing so safely. Check that the equipment and area are suitable and have plenty of ventilation. Follow the gas safety guidance. Have a safe way to extinguish the fire in an emergency.


Check for allergies before you begin. Make sure you have suitable areas for storing and preparing food and avoid cross contamination of different foods.

Flammable items

Always take care when using flammable items (especially if you’re near fire). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

All activities must be safely managed. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.