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What Is a Stump Fire and How to Build One

Have you used a chainsaw to create a Swedish torch? This can be a fun way to spend an evening. The stump fire that you can create this way is great for cooking over, roasting marshmallows, or just sitting around and enjoying an evening with some fire cracking and popping.

However, if you do not have a chainsaw and you are trying to keep warm in the woods, you can still turn to tree stumps to keep you warm. Dense wood stumps are great to burn and they alleviate the need to process firewood if you have minimal gear in a survival situation.

tree stump fire

Let’s talk about making a stump fire and how you can do it.

What is a Stump Fire

In a survival situation, the stump fire can present a serious opportunity. While it is not always easy to find the right stump to make a stump fire if you happen upon a large dry cross-cut section of a tree or even a dry standing dead stump, you have the base of a great fire.

You may have seen the Swedish torch or a tree trunk that has had its top cut into with a chainsaw to create what looks like a sliced-up pie. This is a great way to start a stump fire. However, I don’t carry a chainsaw with me around the woods.

The good news is that you can still start a stump fire without a chainsaw.

All About Airflow

One of the biggest struggles with the stump fire is airflow. This is because your fire is going to burn down and could wind up burning itself down into a hole in the stump and even burn itself out. The good news is that you can do some things to assure that your stump fire stays lit.

If you build a nice fire with plenty of tinder and kindling on the stump then you are going to be able to assure that the fire is well spread out over the stump and does not wind up burning itself out.

If you are considering building a really big fire then you can actually surround the stump with tinder, kindling and lean smaller fuel against the stump, and create something like a stump bonfire. I wouldn’t recommend this in dry woods because a big fire like this can be dangerous.

No matter what solution you choose, you can cut angles into the side of the stump with your survival ax, just make sure your stump fire gets plenty of air.

Tree stump in wilderness

Finding a Good Stump

Some landowners create stump fires, not for survival or even to relax around them. Sometimes you burn up a stump just to get it out of the yard or off the property! Tree stumps can be a pain to remove.

A good stump is going to be one that has not spent the last six months rotting in a shady wet area. A stump like this is going to be aging, moist, and just too much of a pain to really take advantage of. I have pushed over large standing deadwood trees and found wonderfully dry stumps at the break.

A fresh-cut stump can be a bit of a pain, too! That is because the wood is still alive and holds lots of moisture.

You are after a nice dry stump that hasn’t started rotting too much. Look at the stump the way you would any other kind of firewood.

Making a Stump Fire

Creating your own stump fire pit all starts with finding the right stump. After that, it comes down to how you prep the stump and the fire.

Prepping the Stump

If the stump is flat on top then you may want to use your woodsman’s ax, hatchet, or even a folding saw to cut some V section around the top of the stump. They don’t have to be huge but cut maybe 5-6 all around the top of the stump. You could even cut one into the middle of the stump and build your fire there.

These cuts will help with that airflow issue we talk about earlier.

Tree stump with an ax in it

Building the Fire

At this point, you are going to start to gather your tinder and kindling. The stump fire is unique because it burns down into the stump so have extra wood and extra kindling, too.

I find it best to do a log cabin or build on top of your stump. This gives your fire plenty of fuel to get started.

Stack some larger kindling up on top of the stump like you are building a log cabin with two sticks running parallel and then turn your next two sticks 90 degrees to set on top of that. Do this for a few levels to assure that you have at least 4-5 layers.

Place your kindling in the center of your log cabin fire build and light it. Add kindling to the center and nurse that fire as it begins.

Feed this fire with plenty of kindling as it begins to burn down into the stump. As the fire begins to burn down into the stump your fire will be taking off.

I keep feeding the fire kindling and even some larger chunks of wood as the stump fire burns. It seems to help but I also just like playing in the fire, too!

From Tree Stump to Stump Fire

Stump on fire

If you understand kindling and tinder then you can set almost anything on fire! A tree stump is just another kind of fuel source that is laid out there for you to take advantage of.

The tree stump fire can be a huge benefit if you are in the woods and do not have an ax or tool to cut real firewood that will sustain a fire, then finding a good stump can be the answer for boiling water, cooking food, keeping warm, and maybe even signaling for rescue.

The stump fire is yet another tool in your fire craft kit.

For more fire building information, check out our page on Fire.