How to Make Firestarters with Sawdust

Build a campfire. How hard could it be, right?

You just gather up some leaves and twigs from the woods, light a match, and then relax as the flames warm your fingers and toes.

Yeah. if it were only that easy.

If it's been raining for a few days, or if you’re just having trouble catching a spark, building a fire can seem like an impossible task. That is, unless you have the magic-like firemaking shortcut in your hands: the firestarter.

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Before you go hurrying to the shop, know that you can create the best firestarters yourself from common materials. Let me show you how to use sawdust (and other tricks) to make firestarters.

3+1 Components of a Campfire

kindling campfire

Before we dive into each firestarter, let’s go over the basic components you’ll need to create a roaring fire at your site.

  • Spark: Whether with matches, lighter, magnesium, flint, or an old school method like directing a sun through a magnifying glass, you’ll need a way to create a spark and ignite your campfire.
  • Fuel: You shouldn’t simply put sticks from the forest in your firepit and expect a match to light them. You’ll first need to gather tinder (dry bark, leaves, pine needles), before you move up into the larger firewood. Remember, it’s not a race; building a campfire takes time and patience.
  • Air: Of course, in order to for a any fire to thrive it needs plenty of oxygen. When you are starting off, make sure to softly blow on the flames to give them more air so that they can grow.
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    Firestarter (Optional): When that tinder won’t hold a flame, it is imperative that you have something that will burn long and allow the kindling to catch a flame, and that's what we'll talk about today.

How to Create a Sawdust Firestarter

Instead of vacuuming up your workshop at home, save all the leftover sawdust from your latest home improvement project so that you’ll be able to whip up some easy sawdust firestarters. These slow-burning “hotcakes” will give you the comfort of knowing that you’ll always have a warm fire at the campsite.

What you’ll Need (at home):

  • Sawdust
  • Old Candles
  • Muffin Tin
  • Parchment Paper Muffin Liner
  • Double Boiler
  1. Set up the sawdust: In a muffin tin, you’ll want to place the parchment paper muffin liner in each slot. Then, pour the sawdust into the paper until it’s about ½” - 1” tall (the amount of sawdust should cover about the length of your fingernail). Set aside for now.
  2. Melt the wax: In a double boiler, melt all your unused or old candles. It is extremely important that this wax slowly and evenly melts, so I do not recommend using direct heat from your stove to liquify the wax.
  3. Pour the wax: Now that all your old candles have melted into one liquidy soup, you’ll want to pour the wax over the sawdust. Do this very slowly as you’ll want the resulting firestarter to be consistent (and you probably don’t want to create a huge mess).
  4. Allow to cool and enjoy: Finally, set your creation aside for a few hours so that the wax solidifies (you can also place it in the freezer if you have enough room). When solid to the touch, remove them from the tray and pack them in a water-tight plastic bag. Store in a cool, dry place and don’t forget to pack them on your next outdoor adventure.

Don't Have the Materials Handy?

If you don’t have a workshop or access to saw dust, don’t fret. There are several variations to this method that will provide you with a long-burning firestarter at the campsite.

Substitute the Sawdust

paper lint

Ideally used for it’s ignition capabilities, sawdust can be replaced by other household items such as dryer lint, cut-up paper, cotton gauze, and even linen. Not all of these products will give you the same burning power as sawdust, but they should still do the trick.

Substitute the Wax

bacon

If you don’t have a bunch of old candles lying around the house, you aren’t out of luck. You can use any oil-based substance that is solid at room temperature and can be liquified through heat. For example, you could use old bacon grease it in combination with the sawdust to create a firestarter (plus your campfire will smell amazing).

Substitute the Muffin Tin

egg cartons

Not everyone is a baking guru, so you may not even have a muffin tin in the pantry. Still, you can use any receptacle like paper cups, a cardboard egg carton, or an ice cube tray (you will still need liners for this one) to store your homemade firestarter.

Substitute the Double Boiler

If you are like me, you don’t have a spare double boiler hanging around your house to melt all your old candles. Instead, use a crockpot, toggling between the warm and low settings, to melt down the wax. For an easy cleanup, use a oven bag inside the crockpot and throw it away when you are done.

Other DIY Firestarters

No old candles? No sawdust? No problem! There are plenty of other homemade firestarter methods that will ignite your campfire in the harshest of conditions.

Petroleum Jelly Cotton Balls

Put your giant bag of cotton balls to good use by utilizing them to light your campfire. Without any alterations, the dry cotton balls themselves burn for about twenty seconds, but when you soak them in petroleum jelly (like Vaseline), they can stay lit for nearly five minutes.

Now, that’s impressive.

Make sure to store these oily cotton balls in an airtight plastic bag to avoid any moisture from entering. Personally, I like to store the cotton balls and the petroleum jelly separately, then combine them at the campsite since both of these products have a multitude of outdoor uses, but I’ll get to those another day.

Newspaper Chain

newspaper

Once you're done reading the Sunday comics, you can use your old newspaper to create a reliable firestarter for the campsite. Grab an individual page, and roll it up into one long piece (like a hotdog). Then, take both ends and twist them together loosely, forming a kind of pigtail braided newspaper.

Repeat this with other newspapers, but ‘thread’ one piece into the next, forming a long chain of newspapers. Keep this dry inside your car and ignite when you are ready.

Chips

Who would have ever thought these savory snacks could save your life in the wild? Any common potato or corn chips (Doritos, Fritos, and even Cheetos) make excellent firestarters.

Why? Well basically, a chip is composed of hydrocarbons (similar to wood) and doused in fat; both which burn easily. So, next time you want to bring your favorite snack to the campsite, use it to ignite your campfire before you chow down.

Your Turn - Become a Firestarter

Ignite your outdoor spark with the security of knowing that you’ll have no problem holding a flame with a sawdust firestarter.

If you don’t have any wood shavings laying around, there are still plenty of methods to create slow-burning, reliable firestarter so that you and your camping buddies can roast some marshmallows and bask in the warmth of the campfire.

Start preparing your firestarters today, and as always, camp on!

Jay toes the line between hiking enthusiast and vagabond as he treks across the world, soaking in it’s natural wonders. When he’s not exploring the trail, he writes articles to help guide others through their outdoor conquests.

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