January 22, 2013 by Carole
We have discovered, at our home, that fireplaces are wonderful for drafty old 3500+ square foot houses. We have gas heat, but try to use the wood burning fireplace as much as possible. It’s much cheaper, because we have an abundance of trees, and it’s so much warmer than gas heat. The one problem I’ve struggled with, however, are fire starters. I’ve always bought the brick fire starters, that you find at your local “discount” store. This year, I was determined to save the $10 – $20 a box and make my own. After doing an extensive amount of experimenting, I’m sharing my findings so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
The first “recipe” I found was for dryer lint. Now, in theory, this seems like a good idea. We all hear about houses catching on fire every year from people not cleaning out their dryer lint screen. This is not a problem at my house, as I’m fanatical about this. But, I figure, if it can start a house fire, surely it can start a wood fire. So, after about a week of saving, I had a big ole wad of lint. The directions said to stuff the dryer lint in toilet paper rolls, wrap twine around the roll until it closed on both ends, and dip in wax. There was no warning label, on the recipe, that when you lit this your house would smell like you stuck the cat in the oven. Princess and I both shed like dogs with mange, so our lint had ALOT of hair in it. Result? It didn’t catch the wood on fire and now we needed to get the fried hair smell out of the furniture.
The second “recipe” was from good ole Ms. Stewart. You take pine cones, dip them in wax, pour salt on them once they dried, and repeat with the wax and salt. Not only would you be able to start a really nice fire, but you would get all kinds of pretty colors depending on what salt you used. Princess is currently taking chemistry, so she explained that the salt/color trick is true, as she has set something on fire…or something was burned…can’t remember. Anyway, we spread all our pine cones out and carefully dipped them, sprinkled one of four different kinds of salt on each cone, and redipped. If you try this method, please note that holding the edge of a brittle pine cone while dipping in hot wax is generally NOT a good idea. Ms. Stewart would have been proud. We had an entire counter full of salt covered pine cones. Result? Two problems. First, I’m not sure what Princess and her lab partner did in chemistry, but I saw no “pretty” colors. Second, it took like a dozen of the pine cones to start a fire. To use this fire starting method, the whole winter, I would need a dump truck load of pine cones.
So, last week, it got cold again, and we needed to build a fire. After resorting to a little lighter fluid on the wood, and still not being able to get the fire going, I broke down and ran to the store and bought one fire starter for about $2. Builder Bob (the husband) and I agreed that maybe this particular area is not where we need to save money, and we need to just invest in a box of the bricks.
On Saturday, BBob and I were working in the yard. He cut a tree down while I was raking up all the “junk” left from the tree and burning it. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Take the super fine wood shavings (from the chainsaw cutting the tree down) and mix them with old candle wax and make my own fire starters. Easy!! And, they worked!! They lit easy, and stayed lit long enough to start a great fire. Below, I’ve got how I actually put it all together in case you want to make your own “no cost” fire starters. One note: I started out by packing mine in cupcake liners in an old cupcake tin and getting little “cupcakes”. It took about three of these to get an awesome fire going. BBob suggested that I line a pan with wax paper and pack it in (like I was doing in the cupcake tins) and cut or break it apart. The block came right off the wax paper, and I was able to break it into nice chunks that will be easy to light.
Check out how I did it below:
1. Get a bowl of wood shavings (or you can use sawdust)
2. Melt pieces of candles in a double boiler. I didn’t want to have to clean up that mess, so I just melted the candles in an old pot that could sit in a bigger pot of boiling water.
3. Using a 1:1 ratio, mix the shavings and the wax with a wooden spoon. I started out with 2 cups of each, and worked my way up. Consistency should be wet and crumbly.
4. Spoon, or with your fingers, press as much of the mixture into the mold (cupcake liners or a pan) as you can. It should pack down and look compressed.
5. Let cool to room temperature and remove from liner or wax paper. If removed from a pan, break into chunks.
6. Put in your fireplace with wood, light, and enjoy the warmth!!