Easy Firestarters: Dixie Cups + Wax + Sawdust




Introduction: Easy Firestarters: Dixie Cups + Wax + Sawdust

We make batches of Dixie Cup firestarters a few times a year. We use them to start fires in our Chiminea and we put a few in our backpacks in case we need to start a fire while camping. Here are the tools and ingredients we use:

1. Large (12 quart?) cheap stockpot purchased from a dollar store. 
2. A kitchen skimmer. I think ours was originally intended for removing food from a stir fryer. Anything that will let you skim off old candle wicks, bugs, etc., will work.
3. A tall plastic cup.
Note: these tools are permanently dedicated to this project.

1. Candle stubs. My wife loves to burn candles. When they have been burned to the point that she can no longer use them, she throws what's left of them into my stockpot which I keep in the garage when not in use. 
2. Saw dust. Several years ago I walked into the wood shop of one of my local lumber yards and asked if I could have a plastic grocery bag of sawdust. They were happy to indulge me. After making over 500 firestarters, I am still using the original bag of sawdust. 
3. Dixie cups. Dixie makes these in 3 oz. and 5 oz. sizes. Either will work. I prefer 3 oz., since they cost less and work just as well. However, what you see in the photos that follow are 5 oz. cups (purchased by mistake). 
4. Aluminum foil (preferably the wide size).

Step 1: Arrange Cups

Place a sheet of aluminum foil on your work surface. Fold up the edges to prevent spilled wax from escaping.

Arrange the Dixie Cups on the aluminum foil in beehive honeycomb fashion (to minimize gaps between cups, which will reduce spills). 

Step 2: Pour Sawdust

Pour about one inch of sawdust in each Dixie Cup.

Step 3: Melt Candle Stubs in Stockpot

Melt your candle stubs (and wax left over from last time you did this project) in stockpot.

Note: you will find Instructables that instruct always to melt using a double-boiler. That is certainly safer, as the wax can never be hotter than 212 deg. F. if you use this method. I am comfortable using a tall-sided stockpot, using low heat, being patient and never leaving it untended .And I keep a fire extinguisher about 10 feet away just in case. 

Step 4: Pour Wax

I use a tall (about 20 oz.) plastic cup that was a giveaway at a burger joint. Any plastic cup that won't break when you bend it (e.g. Solo cup) will work. The taller it is, the easier it is to use. 

Pour just enough wax to almost cover the sawdust. Because sawdust will float on molten wax, it's sometimes hard to judge how much to add. 

Step 5: Add More Sawdust As Needed

Sometimes I accidentally pour too much wax in a Dixie Cup. You have too much if the top is all wax.  For those, I add a bit more sawdust to the top. Add slowly like you were salting food. 

Step 6: Cool and Store

I leave these out on the counter for a few hours. Once they are hard, I shake any loose sawdust back into my sawdust bag. If you wish, you can crush down the sides for more compact storage. 

TO LIGHT:  make a tear in the side of the cup above the wax/sawdust. Light the exposed edge. 

After the stockpot is completely cooled and the wax hardened, I put the leftover sawdust, plastic cup and skimmer in the stockpot and store in the garage until I need them again. 

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    4 years ago

    I like the dixie cup part, seems a lot more effective than some other mediums I've seen. I've wondered if it would work to pour saw dust into the whole pot of molten wax and stir it until its the right mix of saw dust and wax then pouring that whole think into a long cardboard tube and once dry slicing discs out of that? just don't know how well mixing up the whole batch in the pot would work out.


    Reply 4 years ago


    I cannot think of a good reason not to do as you suggest (mixing the wax and sawdust in your stockpot). However, since I've never done that, I would imagine that it's challenge to keep the most desirable ratio. Also... you'll probably want to stir up the mix before you pour (maybe not every dixie cup, but probably more often than every batch) as the sawdust will tend to float to the top of the molten wax. But that is easily dealt with by just having a big spoon to stir the mix from time to time.

    By the way... I failed to mention in the original article that the bigger the sawdust the better, I believe. In the photos the sawdust is fairly fine (not exactly from sanding fine grain oak, but fine-ish). I have also done this with chainsaw sawdust/chips and I think that the result is better with bigger sawdust. But either works well.

    Thank you for your feedback. It's nice to know that writing this wasn't a complete waste.


    Reply 4 years ago

    I try to make a habit of asking my questions, I used to read thousands of these and then rush off to make or do what ever it was that got my attention. :D

    I'm glad you did do this because I'm familiar with the concept but never seen it with the cups, I think that's the best way I've seen so far.