A Swedish Fire Torch Turns One Log Into a Complete Campfire

Enjoy hours of nighttime entertainment without the hassle of building and feeding a traditional campfire. Instead, get a nice blaze going with just a single log.
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Swedish Fire Torch
Photo: istockphoto.com

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What better way to celebrate the end of summer than with a good old-fashioned campfire, surrounded by friends and family, singing songs and roasting marshmallows? When you play host to a backyard bonfire, you take on plenty of responsibility, from chopping logs in the afternoon to using them to grow the fire all night long. Fortunately, there’s an easier alternative that will keep you from having to mess with all that kindling—and it requires only one log and some starter fuel.

A Brief History of Swedish Fire Torches

Swedish soldiers used this ingenious method for heating and cooking during the Thirty Years’ War, from 1618 to 1648. Now, nearly 400 years later, the single-log setup (sometimes called the Swedish fire torch) is easy to light and even easier to control. Unlike with the classic campfire, there’s no need to stack sticks or constantly feed the fire while worrying about keeping the flames contained. Here, the fire burns within the log, leaving much less work for you and much more time to serve up s’mores.

What to Consider When Choosing Wood for a Swedish Torch

To build a successful Swedish fire torch, sometimes also referred to as a Swedish torch or Swedish log candle, you’ll need a few key tools. You’ll also need to know how pick the right size log and type of wood.

Hardwood vs. Softwood

Swedish Fire Torch
Photo: istockphoto.com

Selecting the right wood species is key to creating an effective Swedish torch log. Softwoods (wood from coniferous trees such as pine and spruce) are often easier to find but hardwood, including deciduous trees such as oak and maple, tends to burn longer. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages.

Softwood is less dense than hardwood, which means it has more pockets of air through the structure of the wood. This allows it to burn more easily than hardwood, which has fewer open pockets in its structure.

Although denser hardwood is more difficult to light, once it is lit, it burns hotter and longer than softwood. It also has less moisture content, allowing it to burn cleaner with less smoke. In terms of expense, hardwood firewood costs more because it takes much longer to grow than softwood and requires twice as much time as softwood to adequately dry.

Size and Condition of the Log

In addition to choosing the right wood species, it’s also crucial to select wood that is properly dry. Use wood with 20 percent residual moisture or less. (It can take freshly cut logs anywhere from six months to two years to dry out this much.) The size of the log also matters: The larger the log’s diameter, the longer it will burn. If you’re assembling the torch from pre-split pieces, you’ll need eight or so vertical logs that are uniform in length with flat, level ends, unless you want your torch to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Tools And Safety

In addition to the wood logs, you’ll need a few important tools and supplies to construct your Swedish log fire. If you’re planning to create the torch out of a whole log, you’ll need a chainsaw. If you plan on using pre-split wood, you’ll need an old metal coat hanger or baling wire to hold the wood together near the base.

Lighting the logs requires a lighter, tinder such as dry grass, bark, or paper, and kindling in the form of dry sticks. The tinder will help get the fire started while the kindling will get it hot enough to ignite the surrounding logs. Though not necessary, if you have a hatchet handy, it’s a good idea to roughen the interior parts of the wood by chopping into it. The rough surface will catch fire more quickly, accelerating the fire-starting process.

Since building Swedish fire torches involves an open flame and the use of dangerous equipment such as a chainsaw or axe, it’s wise to wear a good pair of work gloves and a pair of safety glasses. If possible, have a fire extinguisher handy in case the fire gets out of hand.

Swedish Fire Torch
Photo: istockphoto.com

4 Easy Steps to Making a Swedish Torch

To make your own Swedish fire torch, follow these simple steps:

  1. Find a single seasoned log—the thicker, the better. The log will need to stand upright, so select one with flat ends, or use a chainsaw (or ax) to level both the top and bottom.
  2. When creating your Swedish torch log, you have the option to use a whole log or pre-split wood. If using a whole log, stand the log on one end then make two to three cuts across the top of the log, only part way through, creating four to six wedges as if you were slicing a pie. Make each cut from the top of the log down toward the bottom, leaving about 6 to 8 inches of uncut wood at the base. (Note: If the log splits completely or seems a little unstable, dig a small hole in the dirt and fit its base in there for extra support.) If you’re using pre-split wood, select wood pieces of approximately the same height with ends that are flat and level. Arrange the split wood on end in a circle so that it resembles a whole log. Bind the logs together at the base using an old metal coat hanger or baling wire.
  3. Place a bit of fuel—oil, tinder, paper, or kerosene—directly into the cuts. For safety reasons, avoid using gasoline due to its volatility.
  4. Ignite the fire. A small flame will shoot out of the top of the log then die down gradually. When it does, your log will continue burning from the inside and out through the top.
Swedish Fire Torch
Photo: Amazon.com

The Advantages of a Swedish Fire Torch

Swedish fire torches are low-maintenance and highly functional, making them one of the most efficient ways to build a fire. The positioning of the log creates a directional flame that slowly burns from the inside out. This design is self-feeding, burning from the top down, and is constantly ventilated through the gaps between the logs. As a result, a Swedish fire torch can burn for hours without the need for tending or additional fuel.

Cooking over a traditional campfire usually requires waiting until the wood has burned down to embers, which can take hours. With its single-directional flame, a Swedish torch stove is ready for cooking about 20 minutes after it’s lit. Its round top creates a broad, flat surface for cooking. Depending on the diameter of the fire torch, you can place a tea kettle or a large frying pan on top of it.

  • Uncomplicated build and maintenance
  • Self ventilating and self feeding
  • Flat surface for cooking

FAQs About Making Swedish Log Candles

Q: How long will a Swedish torch burn?

Depending on the type of wood and the size of the log, the fire will burn from two to four hours without any need for extra kindling. You can use the glow to illuminate the evening’s activities, or employ the one-log wonder as a compact, natural stove. (The log’s flat top is the perfect surface to hold a kettle or cast-iron skillet filled with your favorite campfire cuisine.) Whatever you do, above all, remember to take it easy.

Q: How do you light a Swedish fire torch?

Fill the torch with a mix of tinder and kindling, making sure not to stifle airflow by stuffing fuel too tightly into the hole. Light the tinder using a barbecue lighter. The tinder will catch first, then burn the kindling before igniting the surrounding logs.

Q: How do you extinguish a Swedish fire torch?

Extinguish a Swedish log fire by dumping a mix of water and dirt over the burning embers until it no longer smokes, which indicates that the fire is out. Once it is no longer smoking, give it another dousing with water and dirt for good measure.

Swedish Fire Torch
Photo: istockphoto.com

Final Thoughts

While there’s nothing wrong with an old-fashioned log cabin, star, or tepee campfire, it’s tough to beat the functionality and efficiency of a Swedish torch. Once built, there’s no need to constantly tend the fire or add fuel, freeing you up to tell campfire stories or simply relax and enjoy. And, unlike other campfire types, the Swedish torch provides a perfect spot for resting a frying pan or tea kettle, thanks to its flat, round top.