At one point or another you may have found yourself trying to start a campfire or getting ready to ignite your first cozy fall evening by the hearth, only to find that no matter how much crumpled newspaper or liters of gasoline you throw into the pit… the fire just won’t catch. There are a few reasons you might be having a tough time:
- Too much large wood. It takes a lot of energy to burn thick wood, so try starting your fire with twigs, working your way up to branches, and finally chopped logs.
- Too much wood. Period. We all learned (hopefully) at a young age not to “blow out” a kitchen fire, because air fuels the flames. If your pile of wood is too tightly packed, air can’t make it’s way to the flame, and it suffocates. Remove some wood and “fluff up” the stack to allow for more air pockets.
- Wet, rotten, or green wood. In either case, it needs to dry out before it’ll really catch. That’s what this blog covers.
Chances are you don’t have much time to wait around for the wood to dry out, because you need that fire to stay warm or cook your meal… and all the gasoline you dump on the pile simply won’t burn long enough to generate the heat needed to dry it out. (Just another reason that using gasoline is a bad idea, anyway!) This is when having a fire starter helps.
You can always buy fire starters, but why shell out the money when you most likely have all the ingredients at home? My all-time favorite type of fire starters is made from dryer lint, old candle wax, and some matches. If you have about 30 minutes to spare, you can make about 25+ fire starters!
- Dryer Lint
- Cardboard egg carton (optional, but really handy)
- Old candles (don’t have any? Buy some for $1 or less at any thrift store, like Goodwill!)
- Box of matches
- Old ceramic soup/coffee mug (also can be purchased at Goodwill)
- Pot of water
- Paper towel
- Chopstick or twig from the yard
Fold the paper towel in half (or quarters) and place in the bottom of the pot. Fill the pot halfway full of water, and place the soup/coffee mug in the water. Break up your candles into smaller pieces (they’ll melt faster that way), and boil the water.
Egg Carton Instructions
If you’re going the cardboard egg carton route, stuff each carton with as much dryer lint as you can fit.
Once the candle wax has melted completely, pour the wax (generously) over the dryer lint and add a match to the middle of each one. You want to soak the lint with plenty of wax without drowning it. The key is to have a nearly 50/50 ratio of wax to lint.
Why? Candle wax melts, but it’s the wick that actually burns. The wax only slows down the burning process, so the wick can last longer. Once the wick is gone, the wax is useless. That’s where the lint comes in. Lint burns easily on its own. Coating it generously with candle wax allows it to burn longer, which in turn provides enough time and heat to dry out that damp/rotting wood you’re stuck with.
Once the lint is coated in wax, use a chopstick or twig to press the lint further into the melted wax, and make sure there’s no dry lint remaining. Use the chopstick to also make a hole in the middle of the wax bundle, and add your match.
The match serves the dual purpose of a wick (until the lint catches fire), and can be an emergency strike-to-light option if needed. Wait for the wax to dry, cut apart your individual fire starters, and you’re done! The longest time commitment in this entire process is waiting for the wax to melt.
I tested one of my fire starters on concrete (with no additional fuel source), to see how long it would burn on its own. It lasted nearly 15 and a half minutes! That’s 15 minutes of self-sustaining heat to dry out your wet/rotten wood, and allow it to catch fire, too.
What if you don’t buy eggs in cardboard cartons? There’s no need to change your ways just to make these home-made fire starters. You can use the same instructions above, but make fire starter balls instead. The downside? It involves molding hot wax in your hand, which could burn your skin (or at least make you a little uncomfortable).
In this case, you will add the dryer lint into the soup/coffee mug of melted wax until you think you’ve hit the 50/50 ratio. Dump the mostly-coated dryer lint into your hand, and tear off chunks to mold into balls. As you squeeze the lint into balls, wax will ooze out (this is where the hand-burning will likely happen). Stick a match in the lint ball, then mold the wax around the base of the match to make sure it stays securely in place. Cracks may appear in the ball. Just squeeze the lint ball near the crack to force wet wax into the crack. This way your fire starter will dry solid, and not crumble apart.
This version of the fire starter also burns for about 15 minutes, depending on the size you make them.
If you’re looking for opportunities to try out your brand new home-made fire starters, Team Green Adventures posts approximately 2-3 backpacking trips a month during the fall and winter. Our next trip is Beginner Backpacking to Hobbs Cabin October 25-26th. Be on the lookout for additional beginner and intermediate trips in November and December, or invite your friends and family to the Fireplace Pavilions at Edwin Warner Park (the first few pavilions when you drive in) for a toasty evening together under the stars!
Also check out our various Adventure Checklists, like our Backpacking Checklist, at www.TeamGreenAdventures.com/Resources (in the left column), for additional helpful tips!
-Keeley (Team Green’s Director)
Photos also by Keeley Puncochar