Introduction: Make a Waterproof Fire Starter
Fire starters are just handy to have around while out camping. A good fire starter should be waterproof for good measure (though I still carry mine in a plastic bag) and fairly wind resistant. The ability to produce a large, hot flame for an extended period of time is also the mark of a quality fire starter.
You can buy fire starters online. Many companies make them but I have yet to find one that is inexpensive and lives up to my standards. The cheap Coghlan variety from Walmart aren’t wind resistant, barely produce a meaningful flame, and require far more than one stick to get a fire started. Many other manufacturers starters suffer from the same issue. I refuse to pay for quality made fire starters that would meet my expectations. Why should I pay $3+ per pack of starters for something that I can make out of stuff I have just lying around the house? This tutorial will teach you how to make a fire starter that is water resistant, decently wind resistant, and has a large flame that lasts up to 15 minutes! To make these DIY fire starters, you’ll need a paper egg carton, paraffin wax, and either dryer lint, wood shavings, or newspaper (I personally use all three at the same time).
(check out our campfire ribs to cook after you light your fire with these or support our Cub Scout !)
Step 1: Collect Your Wax
My wife has a ton of those scented wax warmers so I just ran around the house dumping the spent wax into a paper cup (an old jar works a bit better because it is heavier but I didn't want to have to clean out a jar). If you don’t have wax warmers, old candles also work well.
Old crayons MAY work in a pinch but I’m not certain as I haven’t tried it. Crayon wax melts between 120 and 140 degrees where paraffin melts at about 100 degrees. I’m not certain that a fire starter gets hot enough to melt the wax in the early stages of ignition. I suppose you could not fill your egg carton fully so there is more wax free fuel to initially start your fire starter.
Step 2: Melt Your Wax
I put the cup of hardened wax into an old pot with boiling water and let it melt for 10-15 minutes.
*note: use a pan that you don't care about. There is a good chance that you will get some wax in your pan and it can be a pain to clean out. I doubt small amounts will hurt your plumbing but I have old pipes and don't want to risk it.
Step 3: Prepare the Substrate, Pour in the Wax
Place lint, newspaper, and/or wood into the egg wells. Fill them up and lightly tamp them down. You want them to be firm but not rock hard, like the density of a rolled sock.
Pour your wax over over your substrate. I like to stir the substrate with the melted wax but it’s an unneeded step. I think it helps coat everything evenly and removes air bubbles.Then, tamp everything down to make a nice compact puck.
I have seen some variants of this style of fire starter fold the corners over so that the presentation aspect is better. I don't like to do that. If you leave the corners sticking up these are far easier to light, even in windy conditions.
Step 4: Let the Wax Solidify and Cut Your Egg Carton
Let the wax solidify and use tin snips to cut your egg carton into individual sections. You’re done! Store your fire starters in a cool location.
To light your fire starter, light each corner. expect your fire starter to last roughly 10-15 minutes or until the fire is fully started.
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4 years ago
Well done! These are quite good. Decades ago I first saw some fancy ones at a holiday craft fair, sold in bags of three dozen as little "bon-bon" fireplace starters: colored wax melted with wood shavings and dried potpourri, in mini-muffin papers. I've also seen them in pine cones instead of egg cartons. They made useful and unique little gifties, but I make mine simply, the same as you do. Paraffin (in my experience crayons do NOT work well), cotton dryer lint, wood shavings, cardboard egg cartons. One is enough to start a good fire with a handful of kindling.
Your Instructable is a good reminder that readily available materials and simple methods are well worth the small effort it takes to produce an excellent result! Thanks for sharing.
Reply 4 years ago
That's great to know about the crayons! We have little kids so crayon nubs are never in short supply. I had planned to do the next batch with them just as an experiment but I'll pass if they have too high of a melting point.
Reply 4 years ago
You might find this interesting for using those crayon nubs if not in fire starters: I just saw a "liquid crayon" maker on Crayola's web page. It's a kid-safe, low heat tube with a coloring tip on the end, used for melting crayon nibs and then applying the melted wax like paint directly from the tool's tip. Very smooth coloring! Another use is to make new crayon sticks by melting the nubs and letting them cool (in the tube I imagine). I've seen videos where people put the nubs in a glue gun and made a big mess doing it, but the Crayola device probably is lower temp than a glue gun, so the liquid crayon flows smoothly instead of spattering all over. Also, it's designed to fit the diameter of crayons, while a glue gun is smaller.
The main reason I don't use crayon nubs in my fire starters for a wood stove is the possibility of fumes when burned (not just melted) indoors. I don't know what's in crayon wax. Crayons have a distinct smell that's not just paraffin. It may be safe to burn them at high temps, or maybe not. But apparently it's reasonably safe to melt crayons at a LOW temp, and I'm sure some children put them in their mouths on occasion. I hope some of this is helpful. I still like your fire starter Instructable!
Reply 4 years ago
No problem to mix in some crayon! Crayons alone or large proportion just didn't work well for me (messy and smelly when melted, so I didn't want to use them in my wood stove, but in a fireplace or outdoors could be OK). I'd suggest making just one or two fire starters with your crayon nubs to see how well they work. If only so-so, maybe mix in just a few with mostly candle ends or plain paraffin. Some crayon brands may work better than others; the ones I tried were old, shared among school & neighbor kids, labels gone ... As always, YMMV.
(Another use for crayon nubs is to make multi-color crayons: Melt the nubs slowly in layers or adjacent blobs in a disposable pie tin that can sit securely on top of a pan of boiling water. Then if desired, stir or swirl the melted colors together lightly with a nail or skewer to create colorful streaks, or leave alone for bigger areas of each color. Let cool until safe to handle but still a little soft, then put on some disposable gloves and roll with hands into fat sticks or a ball.)
4 years ago
I have made dozens of these for students in my (state) Dept of Natural Resources classes; each student gets 2 or 3 in a Ziplock snack bag, along with some other freebies.
I have to admit that the DRYER LINT caught my eye the first time I saw it mentioned, but I found out a few things about it: It must be from drying cotton fabric, like towels.Synthetic lint does not light as easily. Dryer lint is also composed of very short (broken) fibers, so picking at the edge to get some "fuzz" to light is difficult. Cotton balls are actually a much better filler for the egg cartons than drier lint, sawdust, or anything else. I put two in each egg carton 'cup', side by side, with the coils of cotton vertical. This makes it easier to light them (read on).
The COTTON BALLS work better than drier lint because it's actually the fibers of the cotton that start the fire going, and the wax melts from the heat of the burning cotton, turning the cotton fibers into a wick. For this reason, it is essential not to completely saturate the cotton balls with wax. In warm weather, you may still be able to pry some fibers loose to get the fire started, but in cold weather the wax is like a rock, and is equally hard to light without a wax-free wick of cotton. So I pour the wax down the center of each half of the egg carton, let it soak in for a couple of minutes (that's plenty) and then add a second layer of wax. But the cotton on two sides of each 'cup' remains wax-free, so you can tease up strands of cotton to start with sparks or matches, etc. Try lighting one without these loose dry fibers and you'll seen understand why they are so important.
I usually buy candles at Salvation Army or Goodwill. Broken or unattractive doesn't matter, but I avoid ones with glitter or other stuff in or on them. If I can't find candles, I'll buy canning wax at the grocery or hardware store.
Crayons can be used to tint the candle wax, but is harder and a different formula than candle wax, so it doesn't burn nearly as well. Use it for color only.
In the photos, I used a dark green Christmas candle, hence the color. Note that cotton on the outer edges of each "cup" is free of wax, so it will be easier to light. This is a variation I tried because I came across some cotton squares really cheap when I was shopping for cotton balls. In this case I put in two cotton balls, as previously described, and the first dose of wax, then laid one the 2x2" cotton squares on top of each "cup" before adding a second dose of wax.
Keep in mind that the fire-starters I make could be lit with a spark under good conditions, or matches, etc. under less favorable conditions, as you might find when camping or - heaven forbid - lost in the woods during deer season.
4 years ago
Must use the old style paper-crushed egg cartons. The new styrofoam cartons may not work well. Good i'ble. Well written, clear. Thinking about making these for my wood stove this season.
4 years ago
I teach Outdoor Education, and every year one or more of the students decide to make these for our bush camp. I have a BIG tip for them that will help anyone here as well.
When harvesting dryer lint, you want lint from blue jeans, terry cloth towels, flannel/cotton sheets, or anything made of cotton. Although you may get more lint from a load of fleece hoodies, the fleece lint will melt into plastic blobs before it burns. Fleece clothing is made of fibers spun from recycled plastic, and so it melts before it burns. An additional note, wool lint also melts somewhat before it burns, and it has an odd smell (singed hair) while burning.
One more: No lint? No problem!! Just cut 2-inch wide strips of corrugated cardboard so that the corrugations run across the strip (the width, not the length). Roll these strips tight, place into the egg carton cup, and allow to unroll/expand a little bit (you may have to trim for the correct length of strip). Now, fill each cup by pouring the wax down the little holes in the cardboard roll. These light easily and last a long time as well as the sawdust or lint cups.
Ok, last tip, I promise, cotton/hemp/jute string or twine can be balled-up or cut-up and placed in the egg cups instead or lint. Try to leave some wax soaked string sticking up out of the wax so you can light it easier.
Reply 4 years ago
The dryer lint comment is spot on. I run a scout pack where I teach fire starting with the sparking magnesium fire starters. A kid brought lint that was from a load of synthetic blends (probably) and it just wouldn't light. The pour kid (7 or 8) was frustrated to tears because his sparks were great but he just couldn't get it lit because of the lint variety.
4 years ago
I know of a person who used metal bottle caps to create small fire-starters decades ago. He reused the bottle caps that were accessible after the fire. He was engaged in historical re-enactments, and camping. These save the day when all is wet and drizzly, cold and windy.
4 years ago
Very nice instructable, great photos; thanks. When I was teaching in inner city study skills classes I taught a comprehensive unit on winter outdoor survival because so many of my students flew to the bush every few months (hundreds of miles away, off the road system) and planes have a sad way of falling out of the sky sometimes. Snowgos break down. People get lost. Being able to make a reliable fire can make the difference in survival! We made fire starters similar to yours, but included pill bottles with cosmetic cotton balls that had been rubbed in a little petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline). Those can be packed into the pill bottle, then spread out a little by hand. Then the challenge was to start their fires with magnesium strikers! They're waterproof, inexpensive, and easy to carry in a parka pocket. (Interestingly, no male teachers were ever brave enough to go with us!)
I took small groups of city kids winter camping and had them start fires without matches, etc., then cook dinner and breakfast on their own fires. They returned home and to school with a new sense of capability, and at least a couple of them testified that they had only been able to return from later trips because they had mastered these fire building and survival skills.
Thank you for reminding us of this important project!
4 years ago on Step 4
Not disdaraging your instructable just sharing my method to make the same item, I go to Hpme Depot, actually anyplace that custom cuts wood stock will work, where I fill a bag with sawdust for free. Most of the sawdust is pine so it is resinious. I melt my wax in a metal cup that I got at a thrift store but a clean can from the trash works well. I fill with the egg carton sawdus, tpour in the wax and let it soak the egg carton which makes them easier to light. Side note for some reason they ones on hand seem to disappear when my partner comes over, guess she finds a use for them at her house.
4 years ago
This is an old Girl Scout technique :-) I am lazier about the wax, tho. I light old candles & hold them over the egg cartons & let the wax drip into the compartments. No fuss, no muss.
4 years ago
I had completely forgotton about these. My mom used to make these back in the 80's for our family camping trips. She learned how to make them in a college elective corse called "Family Camping"!
4 years ago
Nice! I will totally have to use these. I go hunting, and starting a fire with only matches can be a HUGE pain in the rear. Especially when everything is soaked. These work really well. Thanks!