Camping Hacks: Homemade Fire Starters

If you’re like us, you believe that no camping trip is complete without a campfire. And if you’re also like us, you’ve tried many different methods for making and maintaining a good fire under a variety of conditions. Since our earliest camping trips we’ve used store-bought fire starters, paper we’ve brought from home, cardboard, and when we really wanted an exciting flare up, lots of lighter fluid.

When we moved away from tent camping and to camping with a travel trailer, my husband started following several Facebook camping forums and picking up several camping hacks along the way. One of our favorite camping hacks has been the “recipe” for homemade fire starters.

I’m all for both saving money and recycling, which our modified camping starters allow us to do. We did have to make a couple initial purchases, but in the end we have saved money and been able to avoid throwing some things in the trash by making highly effective fire starters for ourselves. In fact, not having these fire starters with us when we went on our Christmas break trip out west made our campfires during the first and last stops of the trip less than satisfactory. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had time to make them before we went.

For this project I use the following:

  • coffee filters (These we have to purchase, but they don’t cost much and we even found some for very cheap at a local Goodwill store.)
  • old candles (I love to burn candles but pillar candles never burn all the way down. I usually use these leftovers for this project, which has created some interesting scents when starting fires.)
  • a pan to melt the candles (Again, my husband found a cheap one at a local Goodwill.)
  • cleaned sour cream and cottage cheese containers for molds
  • sawdust
  • shredded paper
  • Note: you can use one or the other or both. My preferred method is just sawdust because it does a better job of absorbing the melted wax. If you don’t have sawdust, shredded paper works fine, but you will have to build the fire starter in layers pouring wax and adding paper on top before you pour more wax. I usually do this in at least three layers. Paper doesn’t absorb the wax as well. If you have limited amounts of both, mixing or layering the paper between layers of sawdust also works well as the sawdust will effectively absorb the wax while clinging to the paper.

I start with sawdust that we have collected from different home projects and paper from our office shredder.

I put old, unused coffee filters (two at a time for a stronger outside casing to hold in more wax) into emptied and cleaned sour cream containers. Then I put a layer of sawdust on the bottom, a thin layer of paper on top of that, and a thick layer of sawdust on top of the shredded paper.

I then heat and melt the wax in our used pan on a low setting.

It takes awhile to melt all of the candles down (especially when I am trying to make several fire starters at a time, so I use the wax as it melts down. I pour the wax over the sawdust, put another thin layer of sawdust on top of what was already there, and then add more wax on top of the new sawdust. The sawdust absorbs the wax, clinging to the coffee filters as the wax cools.

I don’t make our homemade fire starters very often, but when I do decide to spend two to three hours prepping for the next several camping trips, I end up with pile like this. To burn them we light the filters and if we have proper kindling, we will only need to use one. We occasionally have to use two, but that is usually the result of other factors, such as damp wood or lack of sufficient kindling to get the fire started. Yes, it does take time to finish the project and I occasionally have a wax mess to clean up (I accidentally spilled some on our table last night), but I feel good knowing that I’ve saved money and landfill space.

Video of the fire starters working hard to get the fire blazing, as pictured above.


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