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i made… firestarters

January 18, 2012

The first successful thing i made this year were firestarters. Not like homemade matches or sparker things. They are little lumps of wax, lint and paper you light to help get a bonfire or campfire going. They burn with a flame long enough to start your firewood or charcoal burning well. I decided that for me it should burn for at least ten minutes and 15 is better. It’s like wrapping up the tinder and kindling stages into one and much less fuss.

The inspiration was a set on sale on Etsy which I was about to buy when I realized they would be very easy to make myself. Last November I made three test types with different filler mixtures for a BBQ with the Southbay Cruisers. With the help of input from fellow Cruisers the longest burning mixture was decided on and used for the batches I made for New Year’s and last week. BTW for you experimenters out there the other mixes I tried were saw dust, and 50/50 sawdust with lint, sawdust just burned up too quickly so I went with pure lint. Someday I will try torn up egg carton scraps as well.

The Felis catus was not allowed to interfere help with this project.

Everything you need is

  • molds (used plastic cups this time)
  • dryer lint
  • wax (this can be any wax, even leftover scented candle wax – but don’t use anythings scented or petroleum based i you plan to cook over the fire)
  • scrap paper
  • a saucepan and pot OR double boiler (make sure it’s a saucepan you will never use to cook food with again)
  • a stirring spoon or stick (again, that you won’t use for food after)

A quick note on the amount of wax – a small firestarter takes about 4-6 ounces of wax, a large one 8-10 or more ounces.

First setup the molds. They can be anything that won’t spill the hot liquid wax (and won’t let it soak through!). The first time I lined some paper and plastic cups with brown paper from a charcoal bag, the hot wax soaked through the paper. This time I just used the plastic cups alone (in hindsight I should have sprayed some veggie or olive oil on the sides to help it slide out). I also put the molds into a low-sided metal bin to catch any accidental spills. Put a good sized clump of dryer lint into the molds but don’t pack it too tightly, you want wax to be able to soak into it. Optional: I also added little wax pellets to the two larger firestarters, they were leftover from candle making supplies sitting around forever. I don’t know if they are petroleum based or not so I am only using them to help fill firestarters that will be used for non-cooking fires.

Then setup the double boiler (this is just like what you’d do if you were making candle or soap by the way). Fill the larger pot about a third with water and set on the stove to boil. Put the smaller saucepan inside it with the wax you are going to melt. It melts faster if you stir it a bit with a spoon or stick. This setup transfers the heat in a way that will melt the wax thoroughly without risking it spontaneously combusting. Seriously. Don’t put it in a pan and try to melt it directly over a burner, it could heat up enough to start burning and you don’t want that.

You can be really green and use leftover candle stubs or melt down those giant decorative candles you were gifted and will never use BUT if you don’t know what kind of wax it is assume it’s petroleum based and probably has chemical dyes and fragrance. It’s still fine to use just don’t use it to start any fire you will cook over (including s’mores). Beeswax and soy-based wax are perfect for all-purpose and cooking fires.

When the wax is melted all the way pour it into the mold enough to cover the lint clump and then put the wax pan back in the water pot. Be careful. Let the wax you just poured soak into the lint and settle for thirty second to a minute. You will see the wax level go down and some of the lint will become exposed at the top, that’s fine. Pour more wax into the molds and just cover the lint again. You can keep doing as many times as you need to. It’s not necessary to embed the lint all the way, it is going to act as both a wick and a fuel source so you want it to start burning sort of easily. Also, the liquid wax may cool before it soaks all the way through the lint to the bottom of the mold. That’s not ideal but it’s fine as long as the entire bottom isn’t exposed bare lint (that sounds so wrong). In the pics you can see I had this problem. If I wasn’t lazy I could have waited till they were cooled and put them upside down in another mold and poured wax over them again… but yeah I’m lazy. Just make sure exposed parts like that are at the bottom when you wrap it in paper and use it.

After you’re done filling the molds with wax, turn off the stove burner and let the water and wax cool. If you have leftover wax just leave it to solidify again in the pan, you can use it for your next batch of firestarters. Set the molds aside to cool and solidify for hours and hours.

The next day when the lint and wax are cool solid lumps, remove them from the mold. I didn’t pay attention and the plastic cups I used had an indentation that ringed the bottom and prevented the lumps from falling out – so I cut the cups open. Next time I will use wax paper cups and spray the inside with oil. Wrap each wax & lint clump with scrap paper (preferably thick paper, non-glossy).  The idea is use a paper that will take time to burn up so after it’s lit the wax has time to start melting and the lint to catch fire. I used the brown paper bag from some BBQ charcoal. You could used several layers of newspaper or phone book pages if you had to, but text it out after you make them and before you actually need them to make sure it works. Twist the ends of the paper wrapper together like a Hershey kiss. You can tie it closed with twine also.

Ta-da you’re done. It’s hard to tell because I didn’t scale the two comparison pictures but the small firestarter is about 1 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch tall and the large one is about 2 inches wide and tall. The small ones will be used in my little 14″ BBQ to start the charcoal and the larger ones when I go to a bonfire or use my fire pit.

Enjoy,
Mary C.
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