I have been lighting fires since I was about 8 – around about the same time that I fell in love with camping. You’d think I’d be pretty good at it by now. Though there are certainly times that I feel like a total fire starting pro, there have also been many, many occasions where I’ve wanted to kick dirt in my attempt at fire starting, swear and walk away. So, after one failed attempt too many, I’ve set myself up to never falter again when it comes to fire starting. How? Well, aside from brushing up on my fire building skills, I now have every type of homemade fire starter I know about at the ready.
Fire starters for camping. Emergency fire starter. Homemade fire starter for fireplaces. Lightweight fire starters for backpacking. You name it and I’ve got it in my homemade fire starter kit. OK, so maybe I’ve gone a little overboard. But it sure has been fun putting it all together. And I sure do feel smug bringing it out after 10 minutes of watching my friends huff and puff over some dying glimmers of something that resembles a spark!
The best ways to make homemade fire starter
So here are some of the best fire starter methods for a variety of different camping and fire lighting scenarios. And most of them are free from nasty chemicals and pollutants – perfect for campfire cooking.
Wax fire starters
Before you get making wax-based homemade fire starter, you’ll need to know how to melt wax:
Place some wax inside a tin can or some other vessel that you don’t mind getting a bit wrecked. I use the old wax from candles that have burnt down.
- Heat up a large pan of water and place the tin can inside the pan.
- Keep heating the water until the wax has melted and then use/pour the wax immediately.
- Sometimes the tin can may start to float. If this happens then use some tongs to hold it in place and prevent it from tipping over.
- Take care when removing the tin can from the pan of water. The was and can will both be very hot. Again, use tongs or an old oven-glove.
If you don’t have wax lying around then you can buy some paraffin wax at your local hardware store, or pick up some cheap candles at a charity/thrift store.
1Self igniting fire starter
This cool DIY fire starter should feature in the emergency kits of all outdoor adventurers and backpackers. It is a really lightweight and waterproof fire starter that doesn’t even need matches to light it.
- Tightly wrap a few lengths of toilet tissue around a strike anywhere match making sure you keep the striking end of the match unwrapped.
- Dip the the whole thing (match and tissue) into melted paraffin wax then leave to dry on some newspaper.
- Before lighting you will need to scrape away the wax that covers the striking end of the match, and it also helps to uncover a bit of the tissue at the lighting end, too.
2Dryer Lint, Egg carton and wax
If you want to know how to make fire starters with dryer lint then look no further.
- Take an empty egg carton and fill each cup with lint from your laundry dryer (start saving that lint today!). Don’t pack it too tightly.
- Melt some old candle/crayon wax that is lying around.
- Pour the melted wax over each cup of lint so that the lint is completely saturated. Prod it with a knife or fork to help the wax penetrate the lint.
- Leave to dry completely and then cut up the egg cups into individual little homemade fire starters.
3Cotton string soaked in wax
Another super simple method using things lying around the house is a wax string fire starter.
- Take a length of cotton string and dip it into some melted wax.
- Leave to dry on a baking tray or sheet of newspaper.
- Once totally dry, cut the string into shorter lengths of a couple of inches or so.
These are mega lightweight and great for backpackers looking to keep their load as light as possible.
4Cotton pads soaked in wax
This lightweight homemade fire starter is very similar to the wax string method:
- Place a few cotton pads into a pot of melted wax to totally saturate them.
- Use some tweezers or tongs to get the pads out of the wax.
- Place the pads on a tray or newspaper to dry out completely.
Making fire starter cup cakes is a great way to get the kids involved in your DIY fire starter projects. These are easy to make and similar to egg carton fire starters:
- Lay out your cupcake cases.
- Place a spoonful of sawdust or wood chipping into each case.
- Pour melted wax over the sawdust and leave to set.
6Shredded paper cupcakes
If you don’t have any sawdust or wood chipping lying around, then you can use the paper and/or card from your recycling bin.
- Take some paper or card and shred into thin strips with scissors.
- Place the shredded strips into your cupcake cases.
- Pour melted wax over the paper or card to fill the case and leave to set.
This is a really nice method to play around with. Add in some dried orange peel for an extra zing, or melt waxed crayons for a colourful finish.
Non-wax homemade fire starters
Wax isn’t the only thing that helps to get the sparks flying. Here are some other simple homemade fire starter idea to get your DIY juices flowing.
This is a good method for lighting a fire at camp or in the back yard.
- Take on old jam jar with a lid that seals well and half fill it with rubbing alcohol. You can get this at most pharmacies if you don’t have any kicking around the house.
- Have a wine tasting party and save as many of the corks as possible!
- Place the corks in the jar and leave to soak until they are needed to light a fire.
These are super lightweight for backpacking. But they will need to be stored in a sealed container to prevent the alcohol from leaking.
8Cotton wool dipped in vaseline
Both cotton wool and vaseline are highly flammable making this an electric combination. Both ingredients are also lightweight and can be used for other things whilst backpacking. So you might just want to pack a little extra of both in your first aid kit and use when you need it. (Just make sure there is some left for medical emergencies!)
- To pre-make, simply work some vaseline into the cotton wool ball and store in a ziplock bag.
Natural fire starter
9Pine cone fire starters
Every fireplace should have a basket full of pine cones ready to get the sparks flying. They look pretty when they’re not fuelling the flames, and they smell wonderful when they’re being burned. They need to be totally dried out before they can be used as a fire starter. But you can also really maximise on their large surface area and fire lighting effectiveness by:
- Soaking the pine cones in used cooking oil. Leave out to dry before you use and if you are worried about your house smelling of delicious food, then only use on outdoor fires. It is also an excellent way to recycle your used cooking oil.
- Covering the pine cones in wax. Tie a piece of string around each pine cone and pull one of the ends up to the top. Melt some wax in a can over some hot water and dip each cone into the wax. Leave to dry before use.
This is a good emergency fire starter method to have up your sleeve when you’re out in the wilderness. Conifer trees are best and if you can find a pine tree then you’re laughing as you can also use the pine cones together with sap from the tree. For information on how to find and harvest ‘Pitch’ from conifer trees take a read of Mother Earth News.
11Dried orange peel
Surprisingly the skin of oranges is a very effective natural fire starter. It contains limonene oil which is also used as an essential oil. Leave your orange peel to dry out on a tray or cooling rack and when burned the peel will ignite easily, diffusing a sweet smelling fragrance.
12Wooden coffee stirrers
Yes, they may be manufactured by humans, but coffee stirrers are most certainly all wood. Their thin and lightweight nature make them really easy to ignite and an excellent addition to your fire starter kit. So long as you can store them in a totally waterproof container, they are the ideal last resort when dry kindling is few and far between.
Fire starter accelerants
There are also a few other things you can use to help get your fire started that you will probably always have with you in your pack when out camping or backpacking.
13Hand sanitiser (with alcohol)
A couple of blobs of hand sanitiser spread onto your kindling will help things get going a little more easily if the wood is slightly damp. Make sure you choose one with alcohol in, as some don’t contain any.
Use in the same way as hand sanitiser to speed things up when starting a fire. But make sure you don’t use a spray once there are flames.
Good old duct tape! Yes, it’s even great as a fire starter. Cut it into strips and place onto your kindling before lighting one end.
16Rubber bike inner tube
This is a pretty toxic option so never use indoors and make sure you don’t breath in the fumes when using outdoors. However, it is highly effective at getting things going and is a great way to use up a punctured bike inner tube. Cut into strips and add to your fire starter kit.
If all else fails then you can always throw some of your food on the fire. Chips with high fat content burn excellently. The fattier the better. So next time you go camping don’t choose the low fat ones but opt for the full fat chips that will burn the best.
How to store homemade fire starter when out in the wild
Unless you have made yourself a waterproof fire starter, you’ll need to store your creations in something watertight when out in the wild. Wax-based fire starters should be fine, although it just makes things that much easier if they are totally dry. The best way to store fire starters is either in a ziplock bag or a locking tupperware box.