Thursday, April 16, 2015

MOP April 16--Fire Starter Tutorial

[Reminder: April is our Month of Posting.  You can read Emily's posts at The Girl in the Red Rubber Boots and Jenny's at Dreaming of Dragonflies.]

Years ago, when we lived in the Cold North and relied on a wood stove to keep us alive, little Matthew once asked something profound like, "Why is it that the fire starts for the dad but not for the mom?"

He had good reason for asking.  I had a hard enough time resurrecting a fire that had burned too low, but starting one from scratch required clouds of wadded newspapers, multiple matches, even more prayers, soot on my forehead, and many Lamaze-type puffs on the reluctant flame.

Paul of course had that Man Magic that also made the car start the first time and that drove it right to the top of the icy hill without spinning out.

Yes.  Well.

If only I would have known about Fire Starters back then.  Granted, I couldn't have made them with dryer lint in the years we didn't have a dryer, but I'm guessing shredded paper or cotton rags would have worked as well.

These little lovelies work.  They ignite with one match, even when it's windy.  Then they burn, igniting all the kindling and bark and eventually the big chunks of driftwood that you've piled carefully around them.

This is how you make them.

1. Save your dryer lint for a while.  I had an ice cream bucket pressed down, shaken together, and running over for this batch, and it was way too much.

2. Gather up:
the dryer lint
old newspapers
cardboard egg cartons
disposable rubber gloves
a skewer for stirring
a tin can
a small pan of water
old candles and stubs

A word on the old candles: Last year I found some pretty egg-shaped candles at a garage sale.  I put them in the attic in my box of Easter decorations.

We had a long hot summer.

I got out the Easter decorations right before Easter this year, and behold, the beautiful candles.

3. To melt the wax, put some chunks of wax in the tin can.  Put the tin can in the pan of water.  Heat the water on the stove.

DO NOT EVER heat the can directly on the burner.  At a critical point the wax will erupt in flames.

We pause here for Story Time with Aunt Dorcas:

I once bought a large bag of old candles at a church rummage sale.  An older lady asked me what I plan to do with them.  I said they're for an art project for my husband's students.
She got a look on her face that spoke of terrible memories.  "Please please don't let them heat the container of wax directly on the stove," she said.  "When I was about ten, my mother was making jelly and back them we would put melted paraffin on the jar to seal it.  We had the pan of wax on the wood cookstove and I was supposed to watch it.  Then I needed to get something in the pantry, and we would save our newspapers in a stack in the pantry, and when I walked by, the comics were on top, so I stopped to read them and lost track of time.  Suddenly I remembered the wax.  Just as I came back to the kitchen the wax exploded and the flames shot up to the ceiling.  I was frozen to the spot.  I couldn't move.  Someone grabbed me and pulled me outside, and in minutes the house went up in flames.  My eyebrows were singed but I was alive.  But we lost everything.  So PLEASE be careful."

I promised I would, and now I've warned you too.

4. Stir the wax now and then with the skewer.  I don't know if this hurries it up or not, but some of us like to poke around in soft wax.

5. When the wax is melted, turn the burner off and pull on the rubber gloves.
A picture, in case you don't know how to put on rubber gloves.

6. Take a big handful of lint and put it on the newspaper.

7. Pour on a circle of wax.  Glop it around with your hands.  Repeat until you can pick up a wad of it and it mostly holds together.  It doesn't have to be saturated.

8. Press an egg-size glob into each cup of the egg carton.

 9. Cut or tear the egg carton apart.  Keep the individual fire starters in a Ziploc bag with your camping supplies. Use one little cup to start your fire.

You will love these.

I was going to demonstrate with a lit match, etc. but it's hard to do this safely while taking the picture yourself.

When we go camping now, Paul uses these things all the time.  Which means they're even better than Man Magic.
At Bible Memory Camp last fall.  Paul builds the breakfast fire while Tanner watches.
Just make sure you pack matches too.  We will refrain from telling that story those stories, but when I am an old woman I will also have my share of cautionary tales to tell.


  1. We make these but use sawdust instead of dryer lint. We fill the egg cups about 3/4 full of sawdust then pour some melted wax in each cup and stir with a wooden skewer. Add more wax if needed to hold the sawdust together. They work great to get a fire started.

    However, I don't need them as much as I used to. My fire starting abilities dramatically increased after someone told me that the secret to starting a fire to make sure there is a clear path for the air to feed into the fire and draw upward--i.e. starting a fire is more about the air than the wood. It's really true.--Ann

  2. Hi Dorcas, I was at first surprised to see the gloves in use til I scrolled down and saw the kneading of the wax into the lint. That is an interesting way to do it. We do it in an even easier way, with less mess. We fill our egg cartons with sawdust, then simply pour the melted wax over the saw dust and let it all sit til dry. Then add another layer of wax to make sure the saw dust is completely contained. It probably uses a good bit more wax than your method though. I simply look for sources of cheap or free wax. Easy peasy. - Jori

  3. Wow! I am definitely going to have to do this! Thank you for sharing in your (always) humorous way.

    So is the tin can of wax just fine sitting flat on the bottom of the pot of water? I imagine a double-burner setup would work just fine, as well. I don't have one, but I want to be sure I don't burn the house down if I try this. :)

  4. This is perfect timing! We are going camping in a few weeks on a church campout, and we also recently got a fire pit. Plenty of opportunities to practice starting fires... :-)

  5. Ann and Jori, several people have mentioned filling the cups first and pouring in the wax. Makes sense.
    Mary Anne--I've never had trouble with the tin can in the pan of water. A real double boiler would be ideal though.