Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Let's Get This Fire Started! -- UPDATE: Easier Storing Method

The main heat source for our house is a wood stove in the kitchen.  We have electric baseboard heaters to supplement, but we hardly use them.  I had seen a few different types of homemade fire starters on pinterest and decided to give making some a try to see if it would help facilitate that first-fire making in the mornings.  I decided on the paraffin-wax-in-paper-egg-crate style.  I can't take credit for the idea, but I did fine tune the measurements and methods myself over 2-3 making sessions.

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Those handy dandy fire starters burn bright and hot to get the kindling going.

These things work so much faster than news paper, take up less space and are cheaper since we don't get the paper (I don't know if they even deliver since no one else will come up the road after the snows start).  They also diminish the time and effort that goes into making the extra small kindling so we've decided that these are going to be our go-to method.  We don't eat enough eggs to provide our at-least-once-daily need, so I went online and ordered egg cartons from an egg carton manufacturer.  This one offered free (but not quick) shipping.  We had to get 125 cartons, but Eric really wants to get chickens in the spring, so we'll probably need cartons for that, too.

 homemade_fire_starters DIY_fire_starters

Here's what you'll need:
Paper egg cartons (any size),
Paraffin wax (found in the canning section of the grocery or hardware store)
A thrift store pot you can use just for melting wax and the like (to use as a double boiler)
A thrift store spoon you can dedicate to waxy endeavers
Dryer lint

You'll also need a pot for the bottom part of the double boiler, wax paper, cookie sheets (optional), range.

CAUTION: Both paraffin wax and dryer lint are super flammable.  Never melt the wax directly over the heating element or leave it unattended while it's melting.  Dryer lint catching fire in dryers and ducts is a leading cause of house fires so keep it away from your hot stove and other sources of heat.

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In Missoula and up the Bitterroot there is a big spread in the price for a box of Gulf Wax brand paraffin.  I'm glad I shopped around, because it's about half the price at my local IGA as it was at the big Ace Hardware where we by the Beastie Grrrlz's food.

1.  Once you have collected your materials, set up your double-boiler and cut your paraffin into chunks that will fit well in your pot.  My pot is small, so I cut my brand of paraffin wax in half with a dough knife/scraper-thingy; 3 halves fit nicely.

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My jury-rigged double boiler will melt 3 halves in about 12 minutes once the water in the bottom half is boiling.  Hint: don't let your metal spoon sit in there while you're waiting: ouch, it gets hot!  (duh, Tara) 

2.  While you're waiting for your wax to melt, tear or cut the top and the tabs off of your egg cartons.  Then stuff about a cotton ball-sized bit of lint into each cell.  The lint is not as dense as a cotton ball, so just the physical size is enough.  Once the carton cells are filled compress the lint a little.

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What lint doesn't go to fire starters will be put out for nesting birds in the spring.  Luckily, the birds also like using dog hair in their nests, because our dryer lint has plenty of that.

3. Set your egg cartons on waxed paper or other protective layer, because some of the melted paraffin will leak through the carton paper.  I set mine on on cookie sheets, because our counter space next to the stove is limited and I like to make 4-6 dozen at a time. This allows me to stack them or move them out of the way for the next batches.

4.  Once your paraffin is completely melted, spoon it into the cells of the be-linted egg cartons.  I find that 2 spoonfuls saturates the lint and soaks into the bottom of the cell and allows my 1.5 bars of paraffin to make about two dozen fire starters.

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I tried pouring, but my cheap thrift store pot doesn't pour neatly so couldn't control how much or where my paraffin poured/dribbled.  Even if I upgrade my double boiler set up, I think I'll still use the spoon just so I can maximize consistency.

5.  Let filled cartons cool and harden.  I do this in the mudroom which is quite a bit cooler than the rest of the house.

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They're not pretty, but if they were I may not want them sacrificed by fire to the mundane task of home heating.

6. Tear the cells apart and store them somewhere away from open flame, etc.  They're designed to catch fire, after all.

homemade_fire_starters DIY_fire_starters
They don't store especially compactly, so I also tear off the bigger "flags" left behind when separating the cells just so I can get them into a 1-gallon pail.

Recycling is not as easy or even as available here as it was in Portland and we don't have any friends here with chickens to save our cartons for, so it feels good to reuse them and "reduce" them.  It's also nice to turn the natural byproduct of the clothes dryer into something useful and keep it out of the landfill.  And in the long run, we probably save money, too:

Carton:    2.33 cents/starter.
Paraffin:    .07 cents/starter 
Total:      2.4 cents/starter

Obviously this doesn't include the cost of electricity to heat the stove burner and run the well pump to fill the bottom of the double-boiler, the cost of wax paper or the time.  I didn't really track the time, but once the materials were all procured, I bet it took me less than an hour to set up, make 6 dozen starters, and clean up.  Next time I'll probably make even more and it won't add much time.

NOTES ON MISERLINESS: Once hardened, I peel the spilled paraffin off the wax paper and drop it into my pot, I have a lot less of that since I narrowed my amount down to two spoonfuls/cell.  I have dedicated the pot and the spoon to this purpose, so I don't use my time or resources to clean the paraffin residue off of them.  It's not like it's going to rot, right?  I just keep them away from the other pots and spoons so they aren't mistaken for those used for food.  Also, I  roll up the wax paper and store it with the pot and spoon to use again next time.

Who knew you could use a skin flint to start fires?

UPDATE: Jan 2014 I made about ten dozen more of these to get us through the winter (I hope) and realized that if I left them in pairs (or threes with the 1.5 dozen crates) that they would stack neatly several deep.  In the bucket, they stack even higher and I got ALL of them in there.

This does mean that first thing in the morning whomever makes the fire will have to break one off some of the time, so we'll see how it goes.  My guess is the slight inconvenience of doing that is better than the inconvenience of the falling out of the bucket when it's over full.  Plus this means making them is that much faster!


  1. Awww, I remember making these as kid, a year's worth at a time, for Girl Scouts. :) These really are the best. We would add things to them to make colors and smells, but then, we were using them to start campfires, not heating fire.

  2. I had some embroidery floss clippings in some I made before, just because I was keeping them for the birds along with the lint. ;) I made some pretty-ish pine cone fire starters with paraffin I scented with candle scenting stuff: cinnamon, so some of these smell faintly of cinnamon from the residue left in the pot!

  3. Such a cool idea! Might have to try my hand at it.

    Love your Responsible Citizen warning about lint fires in dryers. It's true!

  4. Whoever came up with it was brilliant AND generous for sharing.

    A few years ago a woman I knew lost her assistant and her assistant's mother in a house fire that started in the dryer. She left a husband and a couple three kids. It really stuck with me.

  5. I know this comment is wayyyy late, but i am just now reading this post (i was lead here from Craftster). Anyhow, you may want to try asking a couple local restaurants if they will give you egg cartons for free. We own a small BBQ and we go through a TON of eggs. we always have cartons floating around and would be glad to hand them over if someone asked. So i will definitely be trying this project this weekend and making extra for family! Thanks!

  6. Thanks for popping over and for the suggestion! We're SO set for egg cartons right now, but I will definitely keep this idea filed away for future use. I just made another 11-12 dozen of these over the last few weeks. We're good through the new year!


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