Starting Fires


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)

2013-01-21 12.23.39

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.

2013-01-21 12.31.43

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.

2013-01-22 19.09.09

2013-01-21 12.42.11

5. Let cool to room temperature and remove from liner or wax paper. If removed from a pan, break into chunks.

2013-01-22 19.35.37

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6. Put in your fireplace with wood, light, and enjoy the warmth!!


23 thoughts on “Starting Fires

  1. Angela Stricklin says:

    You are amazing! How awesome is this! Very impressed! This makes me want to trade my electric fireplace for a real one so I can make these! Love it!

  2. Glenda says:

    Just a matter of before you end up an original Pinterest pin…awesome!

  3. Sharon says:

    You are so smart and I love the husband’s inputting to make this easier.

    • Carole says:

      Awww, Mama Sharon, you are so sweet. But, please don’t encourage any “husband input” by complimenting him. We don’t need the guys to think they are smarter than us.

  4. Sharon says:

    I love your teal blue bucket. I want one.

  5. hollykaann says:

    That is great, we are about to move into a house with a wood burning stove so I will be using this. I love the new background

    • Carole says:

      I hope it helps, Holly! We try to use our wood stove as much as possible because of the crazy gas prices. And, thanks for the compliment on the background, totally the work of my talented daughter. It’s so appreciated as the Mucking Moms are trying to figure out this whole blog thing.

  6. fbeldin says:

    I thought you should know that Shannon thought these were cookies and wanted to eat them, so I couldn’t make these at my house! Lol

  7. heatherfolks says:

    Where’s your Pin This button? This is a great idea. Fixer Guy is nodding in approval. We too tried the lint in toilet paper rolls to no avail. It’s stunning how many toilet paper roll related pins are out there. As I think I mentioned in one of my posts, we’re heating our house almost exclusively with our wood stove, except when Fixer is out of town and I let it burn out. Getting it started again is always a beast. I also have a metric ton of old candles. Total problem solver! Get rid of my junk candles and avoid freezing.

    • Carole says:

      Heather…we’ve been trying to heat with just the wood because of amazingly high gas bills. But, I’m like you, getting the fire to start was just a beast! or another “B” word!! I hope this helps. And, let me know if you find something to do with all these toliet paper rolls :).

    • Carole says:

      Thanks, Marcy, for the informative article. I’m like you…I’m hauling my tail out of anything burning. My husband is a retired volunteer fireman, so our household is well versed on fire safety. Because we live like that, it’s hard for me to imagine people that don’t have working smoke/carbon monoxide detectors and action plans.

      Thanks for stopping by and reading some of our posts! We will be sure to follow you as well.

      • Marcella Rousseau says:

        You’re welcome : – ) I don’t understand why people are so blasé about fires. They are lacking in information and in denial too. I have 2 smoke detectors in my 1040 ft. ranch home with no basement. One is electric the other battery operated! My carbon monoxide detectors is electric with battery backup. I need to bone up on an action plan although there may not be that much I can do with such a small house. I do keep shoes near my bed. I will look into it. I am following you too. Be safe.

  8. We just moved into a house with a gas fireplace about two months ago. Although we love it and it does keep the living room warmer, I think it would be even better with the crackling and bit of wood smell from a “real” fire. Minus the cat in the oven from your first fire starter experiment though. Ha! That really did make me LOL. I too shed a ton of hair so I’m sure I would have been in the same boat.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog today and following! Talk to you soon ~ April 🙂

  9. Leslie says:

    This is an awesome idea, and I bet if you have scented wax it would smell fantastic!

  10. Buffy says:

    Reblogged this on Mucking Moms and commented:

    Here is an oldie, but goodie post. I thought it was appropriate since we are going to need to build some fires this week. Brrrr……

  11. Very interesting. We use our woodburner also going through about 10 cord a season. I have never used fire bricks or any other starter besides tons of crumpled up newspapers and small pieces of kindling we made with a hatchet. Always starts up and burns quick. The hardest part for us is getting the draft going quickly as our outside pipe is very looonng and you need those newspapers to heat the pipe up and get the draft.

  12. valbjerke says:

    Well – the ‘recipes’ section caught my attention – I realize the ‘fire starter’ post is old – but I have to say, I can’t remember the last time I read something that cracked me up 😄
    Cat in the dryer huh? Priceless!
    Seems we have a similar sense of humor.

  13. chriszygakis says:

    Here is what we do in Crete: We make a small pile of very thin, dry branches (preferably with dry leaves on them), with enough space underneath, to make space for air (aka oxygen, which feeds fire). On that pile we place 2 or 3 thicker ones (one edge on the pile and the other on the floor of our fireplace). Then we take half a page from a newspaper and put it under the pile in a way that it touches the branches, while we can reach one of its edges safely. Then we set the page alight and we have our fireplace lit in 2 mins! When all the branches have caught fire and the flame is strong enough, we maintain the fire as normal!

    And once you have the fire on, you can place food inside a kitchen foil and cook it under the coals that will be created (unpeeled potatoes and chestnuts cooked this way are the favourite treat in our house)!

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