What You Need to Know About Homemade Fire Starters

What You Need to Know About Homemade Fire Starters

For a large chunk of the year, I live in a small cabin by the river. While it doesn’t have the comforts of running water or electricity, it does have a wood stove and solar panel to keep us warm and lit. In the summer and fall, I cook on an outdoor fire before moving back indoors to cook on the stove. All this to say that I light around three fires a day, so a quality fire-starter is a high priority in my life.

Camp with a baby means daylight is worth its weight in gold, so it pains me to spend time cutting kindling — especially when there’s textured dry bark attached to my firewood. I peel the bark off in large chunks and set it alight, but there are times I need a little assistance. I’m usually in a hurry, so I turn to my fire-starters for help.

I would have been seven years old when the Girl Guides of Canada taught me how to make a fire-starter with newspaper and wax. I carried that little roll around with me for several years before finally having the opportunity to start a campfire with it.  To this day, it remains my fire-starter of choice. 

I have my preferred fire-starter, but figured I should test some others to add options to my list of emergency items. I recently put seven different fire-starters to the test with the intention of documenting burning times. I placed a piece of dry wood behind each of the starters, and then lit them all on fire. I videoed it from start to finish so that I could review and calculate exact times.  

Testing Results

  • Zippo fluid refused to stay lit, but there are too many variables with fire-starting fluid, so I dubbed it a scratch
  • A single piece of crumpled newspaper burned for 1 minute and 41 seconds
  • Cotton ball doused in vaseline burned for 4 minutes and 20 seconds
  • Coghlan’s Waterproof Fire Stick burned for 10 minutes and 41 seconds
  • Wax-dipped rolled newspaper (single coat) burned for 11 minutes and 15 seconds
  • Wax-dipped rolled newspaper (double coat) burned for 19 minutes and 7 seconds
  • Wax-dipped toilet paper roll stuffed with dryer lint burned for 37 minutes and 46 seconds

Out of the test, the double wax dipped newspaper filled with dryer lint performed the best. As mentioned above, I have no power (or dryer) in my cabin, so I’ve had to utilize the next best option: the double wax dipped newspaper roll. This roll burns for nearly 20 minutes, and is the first fire-starter I ever learned to make when I was a little girl in Girl Scouts. Thirty years later, I am delighted to share it with you!

How to Make the Double Wax-Dipped Newspaper Roll Firestarter

1). Roll approximately six pieces of newspaper pages into a baton.
2). Cut a piece of string four or five inches in length, tying a piece every few inches along the roll (there will be one piece of string per roll).  Be sure to leave some length on the ends as wicks.
3). I make mine around five inches long and they burn for over eleven minutes.
*If you’re hunting or trying to pack light, I suggest cutting them half that size.  Note that smaller ones burn for around five minutes (similar to the cotton balls or vaseline which are substantially lighter).
4). Heat up old candles in an old pot that you don’t mind ruining.  Do this on low heat!
5). You can use tongs for this next step, or you can grab the fire-starter by the strings and just dip the rolls into the wax.  I usually throw six or seven into the wax pot and let them soak for a minute or so.
6). Dip the starter in a bowl of water.
7). Dip the roll in the wax again.
8). Put aside to dry.

These starters have truly worked magic for me — particularly when all I have access to is wet wood or large logs.  I find that all fire-starters work best when wood is placed with its bark directly touching the flame, and that a slightly longer wick is helpful in certain scenarios.  The wonderful thing about wax starters is that they can be completely submerged in water, yet still be immediately usable.  So be sure to keep your old candles, and save some of the old classifieds for the melting pot!

Have a fire-starter that works great for you!?  Let us know and I’ll put it to the test!

Sign In or Create a Free Account

Access the newest seasons of MeatEater, save content, and join in discussions with the Crew and others in the MeatEater community.
Save this article