What’s the Difference Between Tinder and Kindling?

Tinder and kindling are two items that are essentials in most preppers fire building kit, and you hear both words used often.

There are all kinds of tinder and kidling out there from commercial products to homemade products, to items foraged from the woods.

However, what is the difference between tinder and kindling?

Tinder is a thin, dry, and lightweight material intended to catch the initial spark, and start a fire. Kindling is smaller items that are intended to catch fire from the tinder, and create slower-burning and larger flames, thereby allowing you to slowly add to and build up the fire as needed.

Do you need both tinder and kindling?

When starting a fire most people will use some sort of tinder even if the use a lighter. A crumpled piece of paper and a lighter is used to start more fires than any other method. However, tinder is much more important when starting a fire without using matches or a lighter.

If you are using a fire steel, ferrocerium rod, or any other “spark” method you need something that is going to “catch” the sparks and ignite with ease.

The same reasoning applies if you are using a coal or ember technique such as a bow drill or fire plow methods. Having a “bird’s nest” that will ignite easily is how you are able to blow a hot coal into the fire.

bundle of tinder

Tinder in a Nutshell

Tinder is typically a different material from the wood you are burning. There is natural tinder such as dry grass, twigs, leaves, etc that are used to make a “birds nest” and also things like dried moss, pine sap, or “fatwood.”

When choosing natural tinder a rule that the Scouts teach and use is that it should be no thicker than a pencil lead. You also need enough to make a generous handful.

There are also many man-made types of tinder, which include fire starters such as Wet Fire, Tinder-Quick, or Quik Fire. It also includes re-purposed items such as dryer lint, cotton balls with petroleum jelly, and paraffin wax dipped cloth or other flammable items.

If you are foraging for tinder, factors such as inclement weather can make finding dry material difficult. Searching sheltered areas such as under rocks, overhangs, and inside of hollowed-out logs can help, depending on the location.

Another option is to use a knife to shave away the outer layer of a piece of wood to get down to the dry material underneath. You can then shave the wood to make tinder, and then make larger shavings/splinters to use as kindling.

When you are gathering your tinder to start a fire it should be collected into a small bundle, but loosely. This allows oxygen to get into the bundle, which is essential to ensure a good burn.

Some popular tinder options:

  • Leaves
  • Dry Grass
  • Wood Shavings
  • Cattails
  • Paper
  • Steel Wool
  • Lint
  • Cotton Balls & Petroleum Jelly
  • Birch Bark
  • Down feathers
  • Char cloth
  • Magnesium
  • Sawdust & Paraffin Wax
  • Wax coated Cotton
pieces of char cloth
pieces of char cloth

Kindling in a Nutshell

Kindling is small and dry pieces of wood, either cut from your firewood or small sticks and twigs. The kindling is used after the tinder is on fire.

Its purpose is to catch fire quickly from the burning tinder and create larger, slower-burning flames so that you can build up the fire.

The most important factor with kindling is that it is dry. If it is wet or full of moisture it will not catch quickly enough before the tinder burns out.

The Scouts’ rule for kindling is that it should be no thicker than your thumb, and you need a generous armload. You want to make sure you have a good steady burning fire and plenty of hot ashes before you start adding your firewood.

When you do start adding the main wood, you want to use smaller pieces. To achieve the best rate of burn you should limit the size of your firewood. The Scouts’ rule here is about the thickness of your arm and as long as your shin, ankle to knee.

Some common kindling:

  • Small pieces of firewood
  • Small sticks and twigs
  • Cardboard
  • Fire stater logs
  • Tree bark
  • Fatwood
  • Pinecones
  • Dead leaves
  • Dried weeds


Regardless of what you choose to use for tinder and kindling, remember what job each serves and practice with what you choose. It’s also good to practice not only with what you carry with you, but also materials that you can forage from the area.

tinder vs. kindling Pinterest

3 thoughts on “What’s the Difference Between Tinder and Kindling?”

  1. good tips for various tinder / kindling materials…
    kind of sort of implied in a number of choices (‘fatwood’, which is more likely known as ‘lighter wood’ here in cracker florida, an old pine stump that is heavy on resin), is the difference between ‘softwood’ and ‘hardwood’…
    you may not have a choice, but while softwood/pines can be good to start a fire because they burn so readily, they are not so good to keep a fire going because they burn so readily… also smokily and an ooky resin particulate that can flavor cooking unpleasantly…
    for the fire itself, hardwoods -oaks, hickory, maple, etc- are MUCH better for both their BTU value compared to softwoods, as well as much better fires/coals for cooking… not to mention their smoky addition is a pleasant cooking feature…
    ‘seasoned’ firewood is best, but there simply may not be enough around, and green wood has to be used…
    needless to say, care must be taken when selecting kindling from weedy/woody brush not to pick something like poison sumac, etc, which will carry the itch-producing oils int he smoke… not fun…

  2. Thank you Steve. This was an excellent article. I’m a novice at starting fires. I needed a good way to remember which is what, and this really helps. I just gathered some sticks from my yard. Now I need to gather some tinder…


Leave a Comment