I confess that I always cringe when I hear the term “fire starter” because it is not a fire “method” that “creates” fire but rather a “device” to sustain a flame once lit. To that end, they are helpful when tinder may be a little large or damp and need a sustained flame to get them lit. While camping in the snow, this need became apparent to me as my tinder was damp and stubborn to light. Fortunately in that case I had a candle to use as my fire starter to get my campfire going.
There are many ways to make fire starters but I favor using cotton and wax/paraffin material combinations because raw cotton can easily catch a spark for ignition while the wax can sustain a flame. Wax (or paraffin) is not greasy like Vaseline and it acts to water-proof the cotton. Some folks make quite a production out of combining these elements using double boiler pans in the process to melt down the paraffin and they must take care to prevent spilling while dispensing. Then, there’s the clean-up at the end. I decided to take a more simple and direct approach.
My wife uses cotton facial pads in her make-up regimen that are conveniently flat with embossed puffy ribbed sections so I took a few for my project and cut a section off that was two ribs wide. I placed a metal jar lid top-down on the table and put the cut piece of cotton inside (see photo). I lit a tapered (or “dinner”) candle and held the tip horizontally over the piece of cotton and let the melted wax drip consecutively along the strips. By tilting the candle slightly downward while slowly rotating it on axis allows the wax to melt more quickly. Care must be taken to keep the flame a safe distance from the cotton pad so as not to ignite it during the melting process.
I only saturate about three quarters of the length of each strip so that the last quarter can be “fuzzed up” when needed to catch sparks from a ferro rod to ignite it. Once the dripping process is completed I extinguish the candle. The wax is warm and safe to handle so I fold the ribs of the pad together lengthwise and press it tight. This creates a “stick” as it cools that is easily stored for use. How many ribs wide to cut or not for this purpose is subjective but the more wax that is infused, the longer the flame will burn once lit. Not only does the fire starter host the flame by it’s self but as the wax melts it can saturate the materials beneath it that helps to enhance the fire starting process. The jar lid in this case is just a convenient way to catch any errant drips of wax but is not a necessity. For clean-up It can be simply discarded or kept for the next time these fire starters are made.
I have come to value fire starters as a back-up tool for building campfires. It is always wise to be prepared for adverse conditions. Due to the convenience of this production method combined with the ease of storage to carry I heartily suggest that you make some of your own so that you will be prepared for your next fire building project.