How to make fire starters out of recycled egg cartons and candle stubs. We tested using paper, cardboard, and wood pellets. Find out what worked the best!
We love going to our little shabin in the winter. However, at 100 sq. ft. there’s really not a lot of space to hang out inside. So it’s really important for us to have a fire going outside for most of the day in order to stay warm.
Lighting a fire when everything is cold and wet isn’t particularly easy. Even with cardboard, newspaper, dry tinder, and kindling, getting everything warm enough to light the logs takes a really long time. That’s why a few really good fire starters can make all the difference.
Max is our fire-building demon. Maybe it’s because he’s twelve and getting to play with fire is pretty amazing, but he just loves it. So when I brought up the idea of making fire starters, he was pretty keen to help out.
A Homemade Fire Starter Experiment
I remembered making fire starters as a Girl Guide. We used egg cartons, dryer lint, and wax. But that was the 90s, and I now realize that burning dryer lint is not a good idea. Most of us wear at least some clothes made from synthetic fibers… and burning polyester, rayon, or acrylic lint isn’t a very healthy thing to do.
But I wasn’t sure what the best alternative would be. So Max and I created an experiment using stuff we had around the house:
- Crumpled newspaper
- Ripped up pieces of cardboard
- Cardboard rolled into a tight cylinder and stuffed into the egg carton
- Wood pellets (from our composting toilet and kitty litter)
- We didn’t have any sawdust to try… but it would have been a good option as well.
Results of the experiment
After making 2 dozen fire starters, Max decided to test them in a snowy, cold, January fire pit. We might not have noticed as much of a difference if it had been July… but the elements were against us. We literally had to shovel snow out of our fire pit!
The results were pretty clear…
- The paper-filled starters burned really quickly. But they weren’t hot enough to really get our fire going.
- Wood pellets were the best. They offered a long hot burn that was able to warm up our fire pit. Sawdust would probably have had a similar effect.
- Ripped-up cardboard was a clear second-place winner. The density of a bunch of small pieces of ripped-up cardboard burned better than the rolled cardboard starters.
- Plain paper egg cartons.
- Kindling (Either cardboard, wood pellets, or sawdust)
- Wax (We used the stubs of old candles. However, paraffin wax, beeswax or soy wax will all work fine).
- Tin can (I find that melting wax is easiest in a large tin can, with one end pinched to make a spout).
- Fill the egg cartons with whatever you are going to use for the kindling. Just fill to the bridging point between the two cups. They don’t need to be overstuffed.
- Melt the wax in the tin can by setting it inside a small pot of boiling water. (The setup is similar to a double boiler). Keep an eye on it, because the wax just needs to melt… you don’t want to overheat it which is a fire risk. Also, it’s easier to handle the tin can if it’s not too hot.
- Pour the wax into the egg cups, just filling them up about halfway. Allow the fire starters to cool before moving them.
- When you’re ready to use your homemade fire starters, rip the cups apart so you have 12 individual fire starters. Lay the fire, placing 4 to 6 of the fire starters in the base of the tinder. (The log cabin fire is my favorite method).