How to make homemade fire starters

teepee fire
Vayda's teepee fire. (Sara Welch photo)

Over the weekend, Vayda and I attended an all-day scout event for girls considering joining a troop when they age out of cub scouts. One of Vayda’s favorite activities was fire building, which didn’t surprise me at all.

My family has fires pretty frequently throughout the summer. We’ve already had a couple this year. Somewhere along the line starting and building the fire became a competition.

I started the first fire of the season, and to conserve wood, I started out small and kept it modest. When my brother arrived the first thing he did was comment on how small and weak the fire was.

When my brother starts a fire my dad likes to sit in his lawn chair and kibitz him — “you don’t have enough dead stuff,” “put something heavy on top to weigh down those limbs,” “try rolling it in a little to burn some of this stuff down over here.” 

And of course, when dad builds a fire it’s an epic battle between man and nature. There might not be anything that says, “I am capable,” more than starting a rager.

Dad builds good fires. Hayden builds good fires. I build good fires. But everyone is a critic and it’s always a competition. So it’s no surprise this sense of achievement has rubbed off on my daughter.

Fire starting

Vayda's fire
Vayda squatting down next to her teepee fire. (Sara Welch photo)

When we got to the fire building station Vayda was delighted. She brought back way more tinder, kindling and larger sticks than she needed to start a small fire using the teepee technique. Then she got started on her structure.

After a few failed attempts, she got a stable structure going with a generous amount of tinder in the center. She leaned some larger sticks on top of the smaller ones to expand her teepee and then she was ready to start her fire.

Two types of homemade fire starters were offered. She could choose a cotton ball dipped in petroleum jelly or a single cup from an egg carton filled with dryer lint and wax. Vayda tried both.

First, she attempted to get her fire started with the cotton ball, but she didn’t get enough petroleum jelly on it and it burnt up too quickly to get her fire going.

Vayda starting her fire
Vayda’s first attempt to start her fire with the cotton ball fire starter. (Sara Welch photo)

On her second attempt, she used the egg carton fire starter, which contained a lot more combustable matierial and wax, to sustain a flame for longer. This time she had no problem getting her fire going. Once the fire starter caught the tinder on fire, the smaller sticks and eventually larger sticks caught too.

Making fire starters

Fire starters are helpful for a number of reasons. Not only do they make it easier to start a fire as their name suggests, but premaking them can also reduce the amount of space taken up in a backpack or emergency kit.

Below are a few different homemade fire starter ideas to consider.

Egg carton fire starter


  • Egg carton
  • Dryer lint
  • Candle wax


  1. Place dryer lint in empty egg carton spaces, taking care not to overfill the carton or pack the lint too tightly.
  2. Pour melted candle wax over the dryer lint, so that each cup of lint is completely covered. You can use a knife or fork to work the wax into the lint.
  3. Set aside to dry on top of newspaper.
  4. Cut each cup free to make 12 individual fire starters.

Cotton ball fire starter


  • Cotton balls
  • Petroleum Jelly
  • Ziplock bag


  1. Thoroughly work petroleum jelly into one cotton ball at a time. Make sure cotton balls are generously covered.
  2. If preparing in advance to carry in a backpack, seal them in a ziplock bag to keep the petroleum jelly from drying out.

String/tampon fire starter


  • Cotton string, tampon or shoelace
  • Wax


  1. Fully submerge a tampon, cotton string or cotton shoelace in melted wax.
  2. Ste it aside to dry.
  3. Cut into smaller pieces for multiple uses.

Pinecone fire starter


  • Pinecones
  • String
  • Wax


  1. Tie a string around each pinecone.
  2. Dip each pinecone in hot wax.
  3. Set aside to dry.

Tip: Cooking oil may be substituted for wax.

Other homemade fire starters

  • Dried orange peels can be used to start fires. All you have to do is peel an orange and leave the pieces of peel out to dry.
  • Waxed paper can be used by itself as a fire starter.


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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s managing editor. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and being outdoors.



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