Easy-To-Make Frugal Firestarters

Winter’s coming! Do you have quick, clean, efficient way to start your wood fires? Check out this nifty family-centered project from earlier this year. –Editor

This is a a project you’ll use in cold weather, but you’re going to need to save up some of the supplies for this type of firestarter, so start now! You need lint. Yes, dryer lint, and lots of it.

At the Johnson household, we’re always trying to find ways to make the budget stretch just a bit further. One new way (new to us, at least) is using homemade firestarters instead of store-bought ones.

I’ve always had my doubts about some store-bought ones, especially the ones that look slimy and smell oily (unlike these at Lehman’s) and I always wonder if there’s danger from these stinky things for the pets and people in my home. (I wouldn’t refuse a basket of the pine cone starters either–they’re cute and hugely useful as kindling!)

When my friend Barb, a Cub Scout leader and an art teacher said, “You know, you can make firestarters,” I was all over the idea. She explained how the Cub Scouts learned how to make them every spring before camping season. And then she generously gave me a giant stack of egg trays (the three dozen size), bags of candles, and also saved some of her dryer lint for me, so I’d have enough to try this project. (Art teachers apparently always have stocks of egg cartons and old candles lying around.)

The firestarters shown here are super simple. You need:

  • wax
  • paper egg cartons
  • lint

I used Barb’s old candles. Gulfwax or other paraffin-based waxes are fine too.

Let’s talk about dryer lint for a minute. If you make your own laundry soap, collecting lots of lint can be easier said than done. I’ve noticed a lot less lint since I started making my own laundry soap. So start early in the year, so you’ll have plenty of lint to make the starters in time for cold weather.

Grocery bag of lint and paper egg cartons. At right you can just see more bags of lint.

Essentially, one stuffs the empty egg cartons with lint (see pictures at right), pours melted wax over the lint, and then lets the whole thing cool. When the wax is set, you can cut the egg cartons apart with a utility knife or kitchen shears into sections of two or four. I’ve found I need at least two to get a wood burner or cook stove going.

If handling the lint creeps you out, use plastic grocery bags or sandwich bags over your hands so you don’t have to touch it with your bare hands as you pack the egg cartons.

When melting the wax, use an old metal coffeepot or metal pan. That way, you can just add more wax or candles for future firestarters. (I used a large, non-stick cooking pan, but then I had to clean the wax out and then sterilize the pan. That’s a huge pain, and I don’t recommend it.)

Candles in pan, melting slowly on wood cookstove.

Use something that you can cool and store leftover wax in, and you’ll find the process goes much more smoothly. And really, do you want to cook food in that pan again? I know I don’t want to do it in mine. I’m hoping to replace the wax pan with one of these.

Melt the wax on low temperature on a standard cooktop, or on a cooler part of your wood cookstove. The wax should be fluid, but not screaming hot, and definitely not boiling.

Use a soup ladle to portion the wax into the egg cartons. You don’t want the lint to be completely soaked by the wax. A ratio of about 40% wax to lint for each ‘egg’ of lint is sufficient.

Pack lint tightly into the egg carton voids.

Should you choose to melt down old candles, use a pair of tongs to fish out the wicks before ladling the hot wax on the lint. If your old candles are scented, be prepared for a ‘unique atmosphere’ if the scents are different!

Place the wicks on a heat-safe plate or lay them in a 9″x13″ pan to dry and cool. If separated into clumps before cooling, the wicks can also be used as part of your firestarter. Just lay the wicks over the lint-packed egg cartons. Add the wax, cut apart when cool.

Keep the firestarters far from heat sources, as they will melt and ignite easily. (That is  the point, but you’d be amazed how many people keep these things too close to their woodstoves.)

Be aware that the wax is extremely warm as you portion it onto the lint-filled egg cartons! Don’t touch it with your bare hands, don’t get it on your skin or clothes–it will burn you. Wait until your finished firestarters are cool and dry before you move them to a storage area. If the kids help you with the project, remind them that pouring the hot wax is an adult job.

A finished ‘carton’ of firestarters.

Store firestarters in as cool and dry an area as possible, and never store them against your wood stove or fireplace.

When you build a fire, remember to use dry, small kindling to get things going. Slip your firestarter into the center of your kindling, being sure to have a few pieces of wood touching the firestarter. Use a long-nosed barbecue-type lighter to light the firestarter.

Be patient with your fire until things catch! Build your fire up slowly, with small branches and logs. Once it is established, start adding the full-sized firewood.

I think you’ll find these firestarters easy to make, handy and cost-effective. (They also travel well! I moved six trays to our new place in North Carolina, and they’re just fine.)

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