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. They weren’t 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).