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  As July is soon coming to a close here in the North East, my favorite time to go camping has finally arrived: late summer-early fall. The temperature starts to cool, the humidity drops, and the fire flies light up the evening sky. One of my most cherished camping memories is sitting around the fire, talking with friends and family, and simply enjoying the outdoors.

  I'm sure most of you can agree that a solid campfire can make or break any camping or backpacking trip. It cooks your food, and keeps you warm at night. Logically, one of the most important things to pack is an ample supply of fire starter! A good fire starter can get you a blazing fire in a matter of minutes.  But instead of shelling out a bunch of money for the chemical-stuffed factory-made fire log, or even worse carrying highly flammable lighter fluid in your pack, why not make your own fire starter with materials you already have? 

  Hopefully, this Instructable will help you help do just that! I'll show you 3 common methods for making fire starter out of everyday household items.  This way you can customize it for your own needs, you know exactly what's in it, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that what you make is just as good (if not better) than what's on the shelf. Not only will this be really cheap (if not free), but the whole process can be done in less than a weekend!

MATERIALS NEEDED:
  • cotton balls
  • vaseline (petroleum jelly)
  • hemp or jute (any kind of fibrous natural cordage)
  • paraffin wax (old candles work just as well)
  • wood shavings and/or sawdust
  • waxed paper
  • baking tray (optional)
  • cup cake tray
  • cup cake wrappers
  • glass jar (make sure it's ok to boil)
  • knife
  • ziploc bag

  

Step 1: COTTON JELLY

 The easiest method for making fire starter is using cotton balls and petroleum jelly. Step 1, put cotton ball in your hand. Step 2, rub cotton ball in the vaseline. Step 3, repeat.

 That's all there is to it! I made sure to cover the cotton ball pretty well and then stuck it right into a ziploc bag and you're all set. Make as many as you like, i ended up making about 10 or so.

Step 2: WAX DIPPED CORDAGE

  Next up on the list is my favorite: wax dipped jute cordage. It's the easiest to carry, takes up the least amount of space, and yields the most fire starter per piece.

 To make this you first have to scrape/shave your wax into flakes (this helps it melt faster). Fill your jar about 2/3 of the way (but make sure you have plenty more, as this stuff will melt down to about 1/2" worth of liquid), and set it into a pot with about 1 1/2" of water. Set the stove to med-high and let it sit until the wax is completely liquid (stir it every few minutes to break up any big pieces).

  While your wax is melting, cut your cordage into about 4-6" pieces, or whatever size will fit into your storage container. I use plastic tube vaults. They're cheap, tamper proof, water proof, and small enough to fit just about anywhere. 

Once your cordage is cut and wax has liquefied, simply take your pieces and stir them around in the jar for a few minutes to soak up the wax. I use a bamboo skewer to mix, stir, and fish out the jute. After they soak, pull them out and place them flat onto a piece of waxed paper or baking tray to dry for about a half hour or until they feel dry and stiff to the touch.

Step 3: WOOD-WAX FIRE PUCK

  While you've got your wax cookin' preload the muffin tray with as many wrappers as you want to fill. Take some of the wood shavings (about a big pinch per cup) and place it in the wrapper. You may have to push the shavings down tight so they're not sticking up too high above the edge of the tray.

  Once the cups are all full and your fresh batch of wax has melted, carefully take the jar out and place a bamboo skewer, or a chopstick, or pencil....something thin and pointy across the opening of the jar to help you decant the hot wax without spilling any.

Slowly pour the wax over each cup. Try to cover as much of the wood as possible. You don't have to fill it to the top as long as the majority of the wood is submerged or at least covered in wax.

 After you've filled all the cups, just let it sit for about 4 hours (overnight is probably best), and once they dry you've got pre-wrapped fire pucks ready to go!

Step 4: FIELD TEST!

  Essentially, all fire starters are composed of just two things: easily ignitable material and a fire inhibitor to prolong the burning process long enough for you to light larger kindling. Obviously, there are tons of different ways to achieve this but not all methods are made equal.

 In order to see just how useful a good fire starter can be, and to determine how well each of these three methods perform, I decided to test them and see how they compare to each other using what i consider to be the three most important criteria for an excellent fire starter. 

Judging Criteria:

1. It needs to ignite easily. This kind of goes without saying, but you simply can't have a fire if your fire starter won't light! Now, assuming all of mine will ignite, i'll judge them on how easily they take a spark. 

2.  It needs to maintain a flame. It doesn't matter if you can get your fire starter to burn hotter than the surface of the sun...if it can't sustain a flame for more than a few seconds, you might as well call it quits. The longer my fire starter stays lit, the better.

3. It needs to be easy to use. Nobody wants to be fumbling around trying to hold onto a fire starter or keep it from falling apart in the middle of a downpour, as the sun is setting, or when you need to get cooking. How easily and quickly i can deploy and use my fire starter will determine it's usefulness.

As an added test i compared each fire starter material by itself and with Vaseline or wax to demonstrate the difference. I also did a wet/dry test to simulate rainy or wet conditions

Results:

COTTON/JELLY
  • quick to light
  • not as good wet, but still usable 
  • very messy
CORDAGE/WAX
  • moderately easy to light
  • almost no change wet or dry
  • very compact
  • a little difficult to prep
WOOD SHAVINGS/WAX
  • difficult to light
  • no real change wet or dry (the difference was so minimal i omitted it from the video)
  • moderately compact
  • very difficult to prep (i would consider altering the "recipe" for better results)


I'm sure there's plenty i didn't cover here, and if you have any helpful hints or tips please share in the comments below. 
Hope you enjoyed, thanks!
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<p>I've used the cotton balls trick for years. They are extremely easy and work great. A 50/50 Vaseline/candle wax mix works very well. You can keep 8-10 cotton balls in a Celestial Seasonings tea tin, and keep it closed with a broccoli gum band. Perfect size and easy to clean.<br><br>A stick of butter and it's waxy paper can work well in an emergency situation too. Put it in a small can (like a tuna can) with a bit of paper sticking up, and it will melt the butter, creating a wick. It burns very much like a big buttery tea light.</p>
<p>Nice! Way to be creative with common items. I'd hate to give up a stick of butter, but it's good to know that in an emergency it will work!</p>
<p>What about cotton balls covered with wax instead of petroleum? I heard this will last 10 minutes instead of the 3 when used with petroleum. I see someone asked about combining with wood shavings but I was wondering if it lasts longer.</p>
<p>AC10, using wax would probably increase the burn time. Essentially, all you're doing is making a small candle, so I would play around with different types of wax and use different wax-cotton ratios to see if you can get the hottest burning firestarter that also lasts the longest!</p>
<p>Have you ever combined the petroleum jelly covered cotton and the wood shaving pucks? I was thinking about taking the cotton wrapping it in jute then dipping the bundle in melted wax. As the puck is setting, but still pliable pressing the cotton bundle into the puck with the jute forming a wick. the petroleum laden cotton will burn more slowly and all the wax to melt while igniting the wood shavings. </p>
<p>That's not a bad idea! There are endless combinations of firestarters you can make, but i've never heard of that one...very creative</p>
I just keep my dryer lint in a baggie. Keeps it dry and it burns easily. Plus, if you do your own laundry it's more or less free.
However, we used to do IIRC saw dust and jelly in a paper egg carton with a wick/fuse in Boy Scouts. Curious how it stacks up here. Nice ible!

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Bio: Check out my website (link in bio) or my IG feed at www.instagram.com/Escamilla_woodworking for all of my wood crafting adventures
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