10 Frugal Homemade Fire Starters for Your Hearth or Emergency Pack

Add These Easy Projects to your Survival Backpack List

10 Frugal Homemade Fire Starters for Your Hearth or Emergency Pack

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Save money on your survival gear list by making items from scratch. Homemade fire starters combine free or upcycled materials with inexpensive combustibles.

Whether you need to start a fire fast to fend off hypothermia symptoms or simply want a crackling fireplace on a cold day, reluctant flames can be exasperating. You light a match, hold it to kindling, and it licks the splintered wood but fails to take hold. Another match starts the same reaction. Other obstacles may be wet matches and fire starters or green wood. Perhaps a slight breeze keeps blowing out your tiny flames. After rearranging the wood, shoving newspaper into the cracks, and burning through a dozen matches, you’re ready to give up. Knowing how to make candles, matches and fire starters can make the process easier.

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Prepare these ideas then store them in your survival backpack with a couple of small butane lighters or a canister of waterproof matches.

Paraffin Pine Cones

If you’ve learned how to make candles out of paraffin wax, save a little for your homemade fire starters. Collect small pine cones, one to four inches in length. Tie six to eight inches of yarn to one end, wrapping it around so it stays secure while leaving a long length for dipping. Lower the pine cone into melted paraffin, tucking it beneath the wax with a butter knife or skewer if necessary. Pull the cone up, let the wax cool and harden for a few seconds, then dip again. Cover the cone with several layers of paraffin. Set all the cones on a plate until the wax cools completely. Cut the yarn into a short wick, just above the wax layer.

To make festive homemade fire starters as gifts, tint the paraffin with candle-coloring cubes or gels. Be creative. Cover the cones with wax, let them cool completely, then hold or hang the cones upright as you spoon white wax onto the tips to look like snow. Or, while the paraffin is still soft, press colored candle wax beads into the coating to look like tree ornaments.

Photo by Shelley DeDauw

Wine Corks in Alcohol

If you drink fine wines or know someone who works at an Italian restaurant, collect the corks. Be sure they are the real ones, made out of small chunks of soft cork wood. Modern “corks” are often made out of plastic.

Place the corks in a mason jar. Pack as tightly as you wish because a little alcohol goes a long way. Now purchase a bottle of inexpensive isopropyl alcohol and fill the jar. Tightly cap the jar and store away from heat and flames, such as on a mantle instead of in front of the hearth. Remove the corks one at a time, as needed, to start fires.

To add corks to your survival gear list, find a watertight bottle that fits a single cork. Soak the cork thoroughly then place it in the small bottle. Dribble in a little alcohol and cap tightly. Prepare a couple bottles for your kit. For added leakage protection, place bottles inside a zippered freezer bag.


Cotton Balls in Petroleum Jelly

Because they pack tightly in a small area and do not leak combustible liquid, these homemade fire starters are perfect for a first aid kit contents list. And their uses extend past starting fires.

Choose sterile cotton balls if you plan to also use them for first aid purposes. Roll each cotton ball in clean petroleum jelly until well saturated. Pack in a clean zippered plastic bag or rigid container.

Start fires by placing a couple cotton balls beside kindling. Petroleum jelly ignites easily and the cotton keeps the fire going until it can spread to the wood. Each ball burns for about 10 minutes.

Use cotton balls for first aid by rubbing on dry lips to moisturize or applying to minor cuts and scrapes if you don’t have antibiotic ointments. Do not apply petroleum jelly to burns because it can hold in heat and bacteria. Despite popular belief, petroleum jelly does not prevent frostbite and can actually exacerbate the condition by cooling fast in a wind chill and providing a false sense of security.

Dryer Lint in Toilet Paper Tubes

For a dollar or two, make several large bags of fire starters while recycling what you’d normally throw away. Each time a roll of toilet paper runs out, save the cardboard tube. Then, each time you clean your dryer’s filter, roll the lint into a cylinder. Save both until you’re ready to make the homemade fire starters.

This gets messy, so it’s recommended that you do it all at the same time. Spoon a small amount of petroleum jelly into a bowl so you don’t contaminate the entire jar with lint. Scoop a little petroleum jelly out and work it into the cylinder of lint. Now insert the saturated lint into a toilet paper tube. Store several lint-and-jelly tubes in a single zippered plastic bag.

Remove an entire tube, placing it beside kindling. Light the cardboard tube. The flame will spread to the petroleum jelly, and the lint will burn for a long time.

Waxed Cardboard Strips

Cut cardboard boxes into 1×3” strips. Carefully dip them in paraffin then allow them to dry on a nonstick surface. Stack in a plastic bag and remove as needed to light fires. Waxed cardboard doesn’t burn as long as cotton, but it can be cheaper if you already have the boxes.

Spent Fragrance Tarts

Whether you purchase tarts marketed by fine candle companies or the little cubes sold within at-home parties, you’ve probably thrown away a lot of wax as it loses its fragrance. Though it doesn’t smell as good, it’s still perfect for homemade fire starters.

Find dry, slow-burning material such as cosmetic cotton pads, cotton balls, or dryer lint. Melt the fragrance tart in a saucepan or fancy wax warmer. Using tweezers, dip the cotton material in the wax, turning to fully coat it. Set the finished item on nonstick material such as plastic wrap or waxed paper until it cools completely. Store them in the same plastic bag or container, keeping them away from heat so they don’t melt together.

Egg Cartons and Newspaper

If you have chickens, you’ve noticed that you can only reuse a paper egg carton so many times! After the tabs and hinges wear out, save them to make homemade fire starters. Only save the paper cartons, because Styrofoam can release toxic chemicals when it burns. This method takes more wax than the aforementioned ideas.

While the egg carton is still intact, stuff each cavity with shredded newspaper. Now melt paraffin or spent scented wax and drizzle it over the paper, saturating it enough that the paper adheres to the carton. After the wax cools, cut the cavities apart and stack them within a waterproof container.

Broken Crayons and Old Jeans

After your kids’ jeans have worn too many holes, cut them into long, thin scraps. Braid the scraps together into a three-strand wick. Now melt down old crayons in a double boiler made of an old coffee can set in a pot of boiling water. Dip in the braided denim, lift long enough to let wax solidify, and dip again. After the wick is well covered in crayon wax, let it cool and harden. Store in a zippered plastic bag.

Homemade Fire Starters

Duct Tape

They say duct tape can fix anything. It even burns for a long time. If your survival gear list already has duct tape for binding purposes, you’re ready to use it for fires as well. Twist a six-inch length of tape into a tight wick. If you have any, dip the end in an accelerant such as petroleum jelly or alcohol. Light the accelerant end and use the twisted tape to ignite kindling.

Hand Sanitizer and Cotton Gauze

Both products exist in a well-stocked first aid kit and both also fit within a purse or pocket. Prepare the fire starters beforehand by saturating gauze pads with the sanitizing gel, folding them up, and placing them in a zippered bag. But be aware that sanitizer evaporates quickly if the bag is compromised. You can also place a travel-sized bottle of sanitizer beside a stack of gauze pads within a plastic bag.

Whether you’re creating artistic paraffin pine cones or simply rolling pieces of duct tape, making homemade fire starters combines the cheapest of ingredients to provide necessary warmth during a survival situation. Or just to start a cozy fire at home.

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