I love the fall and winter seasons because we run our wood stove almost continuously. I just love that coziness that a wood stove brings. Yet life happens and sometimes the fire dies. That's when homemade fire starters come in handy. (....and by the way, we've also used these to start fires when we're camping or building a fire in our firepit.)
Our family is learning how to live off the grid in an extremely cold climate. Wood heat is an important part of heating our home. So keeping our stove going is an important daily chore.
In a perfect world, we'd start a fire in our woodstove in October and have it burning 24/7 through the end of May. But when the fire dies, we need to start it quickly.
Making our own homemade fire starters helps us save money and even reduce our waste. If you'd prefer to avoid buying commercial fire starter logs or supplies, here are eight simple DIY fire starters to make at home.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
1. Cardboard Egg Cartons
Until we get our own chickens for our off grid homestead, we're stuck with buying eggs in town. And we eat a ton of eggs each week.
Instead of throwing out our egg cartons, we save them for crafts and fire starters. The cardboard egg cartons burn well. Sometimes I'll add pencil sharpener shavings, which we generate like crazy since we're also homeschooling off the grid.
2. Cotton Makeup Pads With Vaseline
There was a time when I worked outside the home and wore makeup every day. Hah - that girl is LONG gone.
Now I can go weeks (months?) without wearing makeup. And I'm finally becoming more conscious of our waste production, so I'm a little embarrassed to admit I still have a stash of disposable cotton makeup remover pads.
Luckily, cotton makeup remover pads are a fast and easy DIY fire starter. Just dab on a bit of Vaseline/petroleum jelly and light it up.
3. Twigs Wrapped in Newspapers
We've recently cut back on the newspapers and flyers in our home. Partly because we're reading the news online more often. Partly because we can't get an up-to-date national newspaper here (we live in Canada's far north).
And partly because we're intentionally reducing our waste to minimize our trips to the dump.
So when we do get newspapers, we set them aside. Then the youngest kids can gather small twigs and wrap them in the paper for a cheap and easy DIY fire starter.
4. Birch Bark
We live in a boreal forest which includes beautiful birch trees. Although only about 10% of the wood we burn is birch, we gather birch bark when we can because it dries and burns really well. Add a few pieces of birch bark to your tinder and you'll have a fast, hot flame immediately.
5. Waxed Wine Corks
If you or someone you know has access to wine corks, they make great fire starters. Dip them in rubbing alcohol or even warm wax to make them burn faster and/or longer. One family I know keeps a large jar of waxed wine corks on their fireplace mantel to use as a fast and easy fire starter.
6. Wax-Dipped Pinecones
If wine corks aren't your thing, get your kids to gather pinecones on your next outing. And remember to save the ends of all your candles as they burn down.
Simply melt down the old candle wax, then dip each pinecone in the liquid wax. Let them dry and voila - a cheap and simple homemade fire starter.
Tip: this makes a great cheap stocking stuffer for people who have a fireplace, wood stove, or who camp.
7. Toilet Paper with Dryer Lint
Finally, this is how our family makes most of our fire starters. We generate toilet paper rolls far more than I'd like. (I did try to talk my gang into trying reusable cloth toilet paper but faced a full-fledged family mutiny.)
So we save our toilet paper rolls and stuff them with dryer lint. Many people are surprised that we have a dryer, but it's one of the luxuries that came with our off grid home.
In the summer I prefer to hang our laundry out to dry. In the winter I often use a drying rack near our stove, but also the dryer for towels and bedding, or if I'm in a hurry.
And each time I clear the dryer lint I stuff a few toilet paper rolls full. It only takes a couple below a few good kindling pieces to really get our wood stove fire started.
8. Conifer Tree Pitch (Resin)
Pitch, or resin, is a sticky substance found in conifer trees, like the eastern North American pine tree. You've probably encountered conifer resin before and likely spent a long time trying to get it off your hands.
While the other homemade fire starters on this list require some crafting, tree pitch is a ready-to-go, nature-provided fire starter. The easiest way to find resin is to look around the trunk and bark near the base of pine trees. The resin will appear as yellowish globs, the size of peas or small marbles.
Using gloves, scrape the yellowish globs into a jar or vessel. You can also peel off some pieces of bark that have a buildup of resin. Be careful not to remove too much bark, as this may harm the tree.
The resin globs or bark will burn hot and quickly, so be sure to place it under a sufficient kindling pile to get your fire started. To learn more about using tree pitch as a fire starter, see here.
What to Watch For With Homemade Fire Starters
When it comes to starting a fire in a wood stove or fireplace, safety is paramount. Before using a DIY fire starter in your own home, consider the dangers.
Is what you're lighting likely to produce chemical fumes that are harmful to you and your family? For example, styrofoam, paint/markers on paper or wood, and cleaners on used paper towels could be dangerous.
Also, consider the creosote in your chimney. Creosote is a brownish, highly combustible substance that can build up in stoves and fireplaces and in their chimneys. Too much creosote can cause a chimney fire.
Remember, while making your own firestarters is a great way to save money and reduce waste, it's important to be fire smart. Learn more about wood stove and fireplace safety before making and using your own fire starters.
For more off grid crafts and information, continue reading below.