Monday, February 11, 2013

Scout-Hack #1: Egg Carton Fire Starter

Normally I carry a wad of twine to use as fire starter. I likely will continue to do so when I intend to use flint and steel. However, I wanted to start putting together some simple-to-make fire starters that I could teach my scouts to make. If they take the time to try some of these ideas, I would hope that their fire building would improve.

We try to teach our scouts that a fire requires three components to burn--oxygen, fuel, and heat.  This firestarter is designed to provide low level and long lasting heat that will assist in igniting the kindling.  It also has the advantage of being fairly waterproof.

The basic materials for your firestarter
This fire starter is based on very simple and available materials.
  • Egg carton
  • 8 oz. Paraffin wax
  • Saw dust
 You will also want a double boiler, some parchment paper, and a skewer.

Instead of a double boiler, I filled a pot with water and placed a glass pyrex bowl on the pot. I only did this because the bowl would be easier to clean than the double boiler.  Melt the wax in the double boiler.

While the wax is melting, fill the egg carton cups about 2/3 to 3/4 full.

Place some parchment paper under the egg carton; after you pour the wax into the cups, it will soak through the cardboard and congeal on your counter.  Once the wax is melted, pour it into the cups (careful, the bowl will be hot).  Use a skewer to submerge the saw dust into the wax.

Cover the sawdust with wax.

Pour any unused wax into an old tin can, or outside. Do not pour the wax down the sink.  While the bowl is still hot, use a paper towel to wipe the inside.  If you're quick, you may be able to remove most of the wax residue from the bowl.

If a little extra cleaning is needed, place a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, turn the bowl upside down on the cookie sheet, and warm it in the oven (low heat). The excess wax will melt and drip onto the parchment paper.  A dry paper towel will be enough to remove the residue, and any remaining wax won't hurt you if it turns up in your food.

Once the fire starters are done, you can either remove the wax from the cups, or simply cut the cups apart.  Either way works well.

The disadvantage to this firestarter is that it is a little bulky, and a little heavy.  I wouldn't recommend these for backpacking, but they are probably suitable for the home and for trips where you aren't concerned with minimizing your weight.

Funny story:  While I was making these I hadn't thought to put the parchment paper under my egg carton.  When I saw the wax soaking through, I rushed to get the parchment paper and placed it on an unlit burner on the stove with the egg carton on top.  I then rushed to get the wax cleaned off the counter while it was still fairly warm.

Then I started to smell something.  I looked at the stove and found that the parchment paper had been too close to the operating burner under the double boiler.  And it was on fire! Remember, if there's a wax spill, don't be like me.  Wax cleans up fairly easily even after it is cooled.

1 Dryer lint or some other tinder works well, too.  I think I read somewhere that somebody used magnesium flakes.

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