You want to make some homemade fire starters and decide how hard can it be, you will just ask the almighty Google, after all, how many ways can there be to make them.
How about 385,000 results in .67 seconds, that is what I got when I asked the question, just to find out what the answer would be.
There seem to be just about as many types of fire starters as there are proverbial grains of sand on the beach. There are commercially available fire starters, natural ones such as birch bark, pine pitch and fat wood, then there are cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly or melted wax, cup cake papers filled with anything from wood chips and wax to dryer lint and wax. I even found one gent who makes them from dried coffee grounds and wax. It just goes on and on.
Topping this off is that no matter what kind of fire starter you have or make, someone will say it is not as good as the one they make. It can honestly get rather crazy. I’m beginning to think that fire starters need to be added to that list of things not to talk about like politics and religion.
To me, what it really comes down to is this: they need to be easy to make and fit into your style of camping.
I have three fire starters that I like to use; cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly, cotton balls coated with wax and rolled paper coated with wax. When it comes to the cotton balls, just make sure the ones you buy are 100 percent cotton and not some strange synthetic blend.
Cotton balls and petroleum jelly
When it comes to being easy to make and light, nothing beats cotton balls coated with petroleum jelly. When made correctly, meaning not overly saturated with petroleum jelly, they can be very easily ignited with sparks from a ferrocerium rod which to me is a must when it comes to emergency fire starters.
The way I make them is to toss a few cotton balls into a zip closed bag, add a few globs of petroleum jelly and then squeeze it around until the cotton is coated. You do not want to over saturate the cotton ball, the key to lighting these is having the fine cotton fibers available to catch a spark and then ignite. Just make sure the cotton balls have a good coating with a bit of a dry center. To light them all you need to do is pull the cotton ball apart a bit to expose the inner fibers and then either apply a flame or fire some sparks into it and poof, it will begin to burn
To carry them, I just stuff some in either a zip close bag or even an old prescription bottle. The down side is that they are a bit messy and as far as burn time, they are the shortest burning of the three, though they will burn more than long enough to get a fire started if you have prepared your kindling and other wood.
Cotton balls and wax
Next on the list of flammables to add to the cotton is wax. Just by the virtue of having to melt the wax, they are not as easy to make as the ones using petroleum jelly, but it really is not a big deal.
There are just two things to remember when melting wax and it is flammable and has a flash point. So do not over heat it, only melt the wax using a double boiler method so there is no chance of starting a fire. By using a water bath double boiler, I can then turn off the heat and the hot water will keep it liquid while I work. To save some money, the wax I use comes from left over candles so for me, there is no added expense.
To make the fire starter, I use a pair of small needle nose pliers or long tweezers and dip the cotton ball into the wax just enough to coat the outside. I end up turning it over to get the other side and then I put them on a piece of wax paper to cool. You do not want to over saturate the cotton, if you do you end up with a solid piece of wax and very little if any fine cotton fibers making it rather hard to light.
Sure you might be able to do it with a match or lighter but I want something that will start with sparks from a ferrocerium rod or even the flint from an empty lighter. To use them, just open one up to expose the fibers inside and direct some sparks or a flame on to fibers and they will light right up.
Some people will do this with cotton makeup removal pads which can then be stored in a round flat container. When I tried this the problem I had was that they sucked up so much wax they were hard to light. But to be honest I think I need purchase thicker pads and the ones I bought were rather thin.
Rolled paper and wax
These were the first fire starters I made when I was a teen ager and I still use them to this day. They are cheap to make, all you need is some wax and old newspaper but unlike the cotton balls, they require a flame to ignite. This type of fire starter is perfect for getting camp fires going and I use them in the fire pit in my yard when I am in a hurry. They are not the type of thing I would use as an emergency fire starter because as I said, you need a flame to get them going.
The size of the paper roll dictates how long these fire starters will burn. In my tests a smaller one, about one-half inch thick and three inches long burned for just over eight minutes. So if you want it to burn longer, just make a bigger roll.
I have tried variations of them over the years adding wicks sticking out the ends or a wax coated match, but the original is still the easiest way to make them. The only change has come when it comes to getting newspaper as so many people no longer have them delivered to the home. But other paper will work like old printer paper or all those sale papers that come to in the mail.
The easiest way to do this is to roll a sheet of newspaper into a single roll, starting at the top or bottom and once rolled up, put a piece of tape around the center hold keep it together. At this point you will want to decide just how large you want each of the fire starters to be, I make mine around three inches long. You can note this mentally or you can mark the paper to give you evenly sized pieces.
Next you will need some cotton twine to wrap around the center of each of the smaller sections you have marked off. The twine will hold the paper roll together when you cut it and it works as a wick once it is coated with wax. Now go ahead and cut out the individual little rolls.
Have your wax melted and then all you do is dip the paper rolls into the hot wax making sure to coat the entire bundle. Take it out and let it cool on a piece of wax paper. As with the cotton balls, you do not want totally saturate the little bundles turning them into solid pieces of wax. You want layers of paper inside that ignite easily. You will now have a number of little wax logs that will burn for a very long time.
To light them you can either just light one end like a giant candle, light the cotton string like a wick or cut into the roll to expose the inner layers and as I said, the larger the roll, the longer it will burn.
As I said before, these are the three I use which have worked out well for me over the years, but it is always an evolution when it comes to fire starters.
Regardless of the type you make, just be sure you have them with you and know how to use them when you need to start a fire.
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