Fire starters, there is lots to be said on the internet for good reason. Starting a fire in a cold stove, on a frigid day, in a chilly house is not easy, especially one of poor design. I’ve found some tricks and yes, that is plural. The theme for this year’s discoveries is ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’ and so I’ve found several ways to make the task easier depending on the materials available. I can guarantee you that our forefathers traveling across the wilderness did not use the same materials every time to start a fire.
So while I play fetch with our kitten, yes, you heard that right. He loves to play fetch with his fake mouse, bringing it back time and time again, dropping it on the computer keyboard for me to throw. I’ll attempt to type as he loves dashing across the keys and so if you see a string of nonsense letters ffffkkkkkkkkkkkllll, it’s not me. He’ll do this 11 times or more before snuggling against me for a ‘cat nap’. It’s exhausting work being a kitten in training for mouse patrol, chasing, jumping.
But I’ve digressed. We were talking about fire starters. Though I’ve built fires all my life, the poor quality, wood stove in this house is challenging. The fire goes cold by morning as we have to burn pine and needs daily restarting.
Paper is the first choice as it easily catches fire but it burns very quickly and doesn’t last long enough to start wood on fire unless you use a whole heaping wad of it or very small, kindling sized wood which is great on an occasional fire but is time consuming to hatchet into size 7 days a week, months on end when there is a better way that uses less paper. We get one small advertiser for free in the mail each week so that doesn’t go far. Luckily, our one daughter gives us hers and Kirk’s step-mom offers her twice weekly local newspaper to be shared with our daughter that just moved to a home with a wood stove. We stock up through the summer reserving them for winter. I remember as a kid when newspapers were used for a myriad of tasks like tracing patterns on to and wrapping all kinds of things in, replacing paper towels for messy tasks, and much more but they are becoming something of our past so I’m looking for other options.
Toilet paper works too. I dump the bathroom trash bins, minus everything but nose blowers, into the outdoor trash for the land fill. The nose blowers, which includes Kleenex too, goes into the stove to start a fire. I don’t mind a good handkerchief but the rest of the clan isn’t too keen on them. I guess it’s what you grew up with. My dad always had a handkerchief in his pocket on the ranch and my nose was wiped many a time as it has a tendency to run when you are in the cold feeding livestock. Using the waste Kleenex and toilet paper is recycling and saves on our garbage costs as we pay by the pound. It too goes up in flames very quickly so you need a good sized pile of it but then who wants to keep it anyway.
Paperboard is also an option. Most has lots of dyes on the covers as they are colorful advertisement but we use them on occasion as we don’t have many.
Saw dust from wood cutting works pretty well when a small pile is placed on paper which ignites it. We just don’t produce a lot of sawdust though we cut firewood. Most of the time, we just shovel the little we have onto the garden when we rake up at winter’s end. I do know a couple resources, a lumber mill and a firewood cutting business both 25 miles away but in opposite directions so yes, that has crossed my mind as a possible resource. from there but storage is a problem. There is also livestock bedding shavings we can purchase but that costs. When I was a kid, my dad use to pour diesel fuel on sawdust and keep it in a coffee can with a plastic lid. NEVER EVER gasoline as it is explosive. The diesel fuel soaked sawdust would be used to start outdoor fires for camping especially if the wood was damp. He also used it in the fireplace but that wasn’t used often either. It’s a petroleum product and hence, produces toxic fumes. Though in an emergency, I’d use it. We keep a couple cans of diesel for the tractor, and so in small amounts, easy enough to create if needed.
Cardboard shredded into pieces with a small piece of paper to ignite it, works really well as cardboard is paper but burns slower because it is denser. It allows the wood to catch and get started well before it burns up. We used this all last year and it greatly reduced our need for paper. Cardboard and paper can be a problem if your humidity is high as it becomes damp but we have very dry air.
Bills and used notebook paper get burned instead of shredded and trashed. Paper leaves a lot more residue ash to clean out of the fire so beware. We are going more paperless over time leaving the paper for information we want to store.
My all-time favorite is pine cones because like wood, which they are, they leave little ash. We started to collect them 5 miles from here. I’d been watching a Swedish YouTube and came across the idea last winter but snow covered, they were froze to the ground. I waited. Since then, I’ve noticed everywhere online that people are dipping them in wax, (broken crayons, parafin, and candle wax) but I’m allergic to petroleum products, big time! Bees wax is just too expensive, so I tried last year’s pinecones. Dry, aged brown, I threw a few on top of a couple crumpled sheets of paper. Wow, they lit up immediately and embers kept burning after the flash of flaming paper traveled away an instant later. Crisscrossed pieces of wood above caught on fire and the flames grew. Since, I’ve looked at several sites and sure enough, all the pine cones were newly dropped and of course would need dipped. Who cares if they are pretty light brown and not broken, I’m burning them anyway. So back to the park by the fish hatchery I go to collect more from the Ponderosa pines.
Meanwhile, I’m also gathering some fresh ones too as they are falling off the trees right now. I’m hoping later in the winter, they will be dry enough to work well without wax. I’ll need to experiment. Soft pine cones work too and we have a few the Blue Spruce shed in the yard. So why waste time and money waxing them?
Now the question becomes – where to store them? They are a fire hazard and I can see why forests so quickly go up in flames. The question hasn’t been answered for the few cans of fuel we keep on hand either. In the summer, the garden shed works but come winter a 3 to 4 ½ foot barrier of snow cuts it off from us. Hm…we are going to build a lean-too off the barn for wood storage so I think they will eventually go there. I plan on lining the structure inside with old steel siding to add a light protection. It would be best to build an independent structure but flat land is scarce as we’ve got all the flat, least snowy areas, covered with buildings, garden, parked trailers, and a two track road to get to the equipment.
My next experiment will be twisted dried grass. I’ve read about using it in the Laura Ingles Wilder series as a kid. I’ve used dried cat tail plant leaves to burn but it’s like using paper. They go up in flames quickly. I’ve twisted the drying leaves like you’d make yarn to create cordage just cuz and that might be an option as there is a little cat tail patch down off the hill below us. As for twisted grass, I’ll wait till we’ve had some good snows and rains as ours is pretty much stubs right now. We’ve had a severe drought of historic proportions this last spring and summer, another motivation to be more resilient having a back-up for our back-ups when our main resources grow scarce or are no more.
Paper livestock feed bags are great! I trim them down in length and just pile logs inside and set the edges on fire. It is a bit hard to fit them into the fire box though. They are rather large. We don’t get many as we buy our grain in bulk now and most feed comes in plastic bags but just like with toilet paper and Kleenex used for our cold, running nose, it’s one more recycling project.
Pine cones have performed the best but storage is a problem. Large plastic bags in the horse trailer will be used for now but I don’t like the use of plastic. That area will need some thought. But really best is using all your resources available in the most responsible manner and that means using a bit of this and that until it is used up.