DIY Fire Starters Kids Can Make
Everyone loves having outdoor fires with kids, but sometimes starting them takes time and patience that you don’t have. Luckily, fire starters to the rescue, and as a bonus it’s really fun to get the kids involved by participating in making their own fire starters!
The basic principle here is that you need something to contain the materials (egg carton, TP tube, rolled up paper, used muffin parchment, etc.), and some flammable material (candle wax, paraffin, beeswax, crayons, wood, dryer lint, orange peels). For best results, choose one flammable solid like wood chips or lint, and one flammable liquid (wax) that will help hold it all together.
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Why use a fire starter?
You may be tempted to forgo using a fire starter at all, and just wad up some toilet paper or recycling and call it good. And that definitely works in a pinch. But it’s messier (most paper products you can use to start fires will also fly off once they’ve burned up) and not as efficient.
Once you’ve made some of these fire starters you won’t go back to lighting your fires without them.
This is also a great way to recycle many home products like the ends of candles, egg cartons, and parchment paper. There are many flammable items that can be given a second life in your fire starters!
Plus this is really a craft activity and your kids can get really creative with what they put in it. Want to add some pretty fall leaves and pine needles? Great! Pop those colorful accents in!
Melting Wax for Fire Starters
There are lots of options for wax, and you can pick and choose by what you have on hand. Candle wax, beeswax, and paraffin wax all work great. You can even use melted crayon if you are looking for a use for all those tiny pieces of crayons (that you’re not supposed to throw away). Or you can create a mix of these, using candle bits and crayon pieces for a splash of color.
Candle wax is easy to use and you can get in the habit of saving all your leftover candles when they’ve burned down. To melt your candle wax, you can use a dedicated pot, or melt it over the fire in a glass container, or in a tin can inside a pot of water.
It’s very helpful to have Pit Mitt Gloves (or similar) to remove cans from the water, but you can also use tongs (the silicone type have better grip), or oven mitts. You can also get fancy and grab a Candle Making Pouring Pot to make this activity even easier.
You can also use just a candle if you don’t want to melt a bunch of wax all at once. Just light your candle and drip the wax directly on the firestarters.
This works better as an accent wax to just add a little color (the kids requested both red and green for next time). Be sure you’re far enough above the firestarter to not accidently light the whole thing on fire!
Fire Starters in Egg Cartons
There are so many great fire starters you can make in egg cartons. It’s very easy for kids to stuff the egg slots full of the flammable materials, and you can easily drizzle wax over the top. They’re portable and with the addition of the wax each individual egg cup is even stronger so you don’t have to be very delicate with them when you store them.
Egg Cartons, Wood Shavings, and Candle Wax
This fire starter is fun because it allows your kids to get some practice shaving wood which my kids just love to do. They can use logs or they could just take wood shavings from sticks.
- Pull out an empty egg carton.
- Using your knife, shave small and varied size pieces from a split log. Long pieces are great but have some be very thin and curly and some be a little bit thicker. Variety is good but you really can’t go wrong here.
- When you have a nice pile of shavings, ball several of them up and stick them inside each slot in the egg carton.
- Melt your candle wax. You can have a dedicated pot for this, or melt it over the fire in a glass container, or in a tin can inside a pot of water. When it’s liquid, pour it over the egg carton making sure to drizzle it over the materials in each slot, but you don’t need them to be sitting in pooled wax (a little will be fine). It is helpful to get some wax on the rim of the cartons because it’s easy to light and also makes cutting the carton easier and straighter.
- Put the carton aside and wait for it to dry.
- When dry, carefully cut each egg slot out, and you have 12 fire starters! They will burn for 10 minutes and give you plenty of time to get your fire roaring.
Once the wax is dry, cut the egg carton slots apart from each other and store until you’re ready to light them.
To light them just take a lighter or match to a waxy corner and it will light right up. The flame with these was immediately about 6″ high, and it burned for a solid ten minutes before the flame died down.
Egg Cartons, Dryer Lint, and Candle Wax
Similar to above, but with dryer lint instead of the wood shavings. Quicker to make, but maybe not as aesthetically pleasing.
- Grab some dryer lint.
- Fill each slot with some lint, do not pack it down too tight or overfill it. Fluff it up a bit so the candle wax will be able to seep in.
- Melt candle wax (see above).
- Cover the lint well with melted wax.
- Put aside and let dry, same instructions as above.
The lint burned a few minutes longer than the wood, but the flames were not as high or active.
Fire Starters in Toilet Paper Tubes
Everyone has TP tubes lying around just waiting for a use, and they do a great job of containing fire-starting material inside them. You can use any other materials described here to put in the tube, but it’s harder to saturate all the material with wax.
Dryer Lint in a Tube
Want a super simple way to upcycle your TP tubes and dryer lint? Stuff a tube full of dryer lint! This is waxless so it’s super easy, though when we tried this it did not stay lit very well. I suspect this is because we wear a lot of wool so our drier lint is a bit resistant to flame, but our lint firestarters with candle wax burned great. I tried it twice, and tried to not pack the lint so tight so that air could circulate, but didn’t get a great flame either time. But I’ve heard from many people that this works quite well!
Aromatic Burn Packets
If you also want to have a delicious smelling fire, whip up some aromatic burn packets. You can wrap these in paper or parchment, and add really anything you choose. Orange peels are a great choice because they burn well and smell amazing, I’ve seen it recommended that you can add just orange, but this didn’t quite do it for us even in addition to the oils left on the parchment from baking with it.
You can add any other delicious items like cinnamon sticks to make really special holiday firestarters, but you’ll need a good amount to smell it if you’re using it in a fire pit. After you’ve added all your items, wrap them up like a tootsie roll. A little twine is helpful to keep both ends from unraveling, and the twine will burn well too.
When we tried these out we just threw in peels from one orange, a little cinnamon, and nothing else. We ended up using it along with one of the wax firestarters and that worked well, it didn’t burn great on its own. Adding something to bulk up the packet besides oranges would be helpful.
Using pinecones for firestarters is fun because they are beautiful and make excellent gifts. They work (and look) best if they’re completely covered in wax, but I covered this one with a small amount of leftover beeswax and it helped it hold the flame for a lot longer.
Cotton Balls in Vaseline
I have done this one in the past and it is not my favorite because it is messy to do with the kids (harder to keep this contained versus using wax for us), but it’s effective and lightweight. Simply coat the cotton balls in Vaseline jelly (I’ve even used the petroleum-jelly-containing vapor rubs for this). Put them in a bag to keep them from drying out.
Other Household Materials
Let’s say you were reheating some beeswax in the microwave because your stove was full of other waxes, and it accidently spilled. No worries! Grab a paper towel and mop up that waxy goodness and stick it in an egg carton.
We are also saving our parchment paper muffin wrappers to be used as firestarter caddies for our next batch, no need to let them go to waste by just throwing them out. Start thinking of things you can save rather than tossing to use in your firestarters.
Foraged Fire Starters
There are many natural materials around that make excellent fire starters. But be aware of the environmental impact caused by harvesting some of them, and only take what you need. These are great things for the children to gather.
- Grasses. Dried grasses will ignite and burn quickly, and create an excellent nest for a new flame. But use caution working with them and make sure they all stay within your fire pit/grate.
- Leaves. While they can be relatively smoky, dry leaves will burn great and since they’re found almost everywhere below treeline they’re a great material to help start your fire.
- Tree Bark. The bark of many trees can be an effective fire starter, especially birch bark. Only use bark that has fallen off or is about to fall off.
- Pinecones. Pinecones are great at helping get a fire going, and even better if you coat them in wax as described above.
- Lichen. Especially fruticose lichens like “Old Man’s Beard” (Usnea). These ignite very quickly, but these lichens take a long time to grow and if you’re in an area where they are not plentiful reconsider using them for your fire as they serve many important ecological functions.
- Cattail Fluff. If you live in an area with cattails they’re extremely flammable and can be an excellent addition to your fire.
If you live in an area where you can find pine trees, you can harvest pitch logs for a firestarter! TMM Team Member Domo Woodham loves harvesting pitch as it’s one of the simplest firestarters and it can be a fun family outing to “hunt” for pitch stumps in the woods. Old cured pine or Douglas fir stumps work best since they produce a lot of sap and that’s what gives pitch its quick and lasting ability for ignition.
You’ll need a saw or axe to be able to cut or chop pieces off the stump to transport. This stuff is rock hard and heavy, but that’s how you know you’ve got a good pitch stump (plus the fragrance!). Use an axe to split the chunks into smaller, useable sticks of ignition-ready kindling.
If you are patient and have the right conditions and firewood, it should just take one piece of pitch wood to get your campfire or fireplace going. Simply ignite the pitch and place it within your logs you’re intending to burn. It will hold flame for a long time and thus transfer to your logs quickly.
Pitch logs are easy to transport and pack on camping trips, and reduces the need for any other forms of kindling.
Firestarters can be a great addition to your holiday gifts. Pair them with some campfire-themed goodies like a package of s’more fixings (see page 131 of Amelia’s book “The Easy Camp Cookbook” for tons of great s’more ideas that go beyond the basic ingredients) and you’ve got holiday treats covered!
The kids had a blast making these s’mores gifts. A firestarter is tied on top and the jar is filled with some caramel-filled chocolates, graham crackers, and marshmallows. The kids could draw on the egg carton (in crayon would be perfect!) for an even more personalized gift.
Fire Starters are Easy to Make!
Making your own fire starters is a fun activity to do as a family. It’s simple and you can get creative with your “recipes”,. They make fire starting effortless and once you start using them you won’t want (or need) to go back to starting a fire without them!
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