Episode 169: Building the Best Campfire

Do you love the roar and crackle of a good campfire? Are you mesmerized by the flickering lights, glowing embers and radiating warmth? I’ve got some tips on building the perfect campfire!

Ingredients 

  • Tinder or fire starters
  • Kindling
  • Dry hardwoods
  • Rake
  • Ring
  • Fan or bellows
  • Fireplace gloves or tongs
  • Lighter

Start by preparing your ring or stone circle. Remove old debris and rake around the outside of your ring to make sure that any combustible materials are away from the ring.

Good campfires get going by using three levels of materials that burn. Tinder is the fastest burning material and it is used to ignite the kindling. Kindling burns slower than tinder and long enough to get the hardwood larger logs started.

  • Tinder – You can forage the forest floor for dried leaves, pine straw, pine cones and very small dry twigs. You need really dry material that will burn up quickly. I usually use balled up newspaper to which I add homemade fire starters that will burn longer than newspapers or twigs. A well made fire starter made with a wax base will burn for several minutes, long enough to get the kindling burning well. If you are not using fire starters you may want to invest in a set of bellows to fan the flames.
  • Kindling – Kindling is the medium sized wood that is used to ignite the hard wood logs. It can be fallen branches found on the ground, scrap wood from home improvement projects or slices of hardwood cut off the larger logs with an axe.
  • Hardwood logs – Most campgrounds sell seasoned, dried hardwood for campfires. Most states have restrictions on bringing wood in from out of state locations. These regulations have to do with an effort to control the spread of insects that ravage certain species of trees and should be strictly observed.

 

Tinder is in the center of the fire surrounded by kindling and topped off with the hardwoods. There are a few ways to stack the hardwoods to get your fire going. The teepee style, the log cabin and the upside down. I prefer the log cabin to the teepee which collapses as soon as the kindling is burned up and can smother the fire out. Once the large logs are burning you can add more large logs without having to use additional kindling and tinder. A pair of fire gloves is handy to move wood around.

Image result for pine straw for campfire tinder

Photo credit: Camping With Gus

Fire starters are easy to make at home and I like to make them in big batches on a rainy day and give them as gifts. A new one I have recently begun making from paper bags basically eliminates the need for tinder. It’s tinder and a fire starter all in one.

Cut lunch bags about 2/3 of the way down the bag. Open the bag and put it in an aluminum pan. Cut the paper into strips and make them into paper “nests.”

 

I make the “nests” by opening the strips and placing them on my wrist like a bracelet. When I have a pile I slide them off and ball them up.

 

Shaving old candles with a potato peeler allows me to work with wax that is not hot.

I first place wax in the bottom of the bag and then add the paper nests. I top that with more curled ribbon wax and place them in the oven on 300 degrees for about ten minutes. When they come out the wax has melted into the paper and I tie them up with twine and store them in a plastic box.

Collecting Wax

  • I buy old candles at garage sales, flea markets and thrift stores.
  • The Dollar Store has some great bargains on ten packs of wax candles.
  • I ask the ‘church ladies’ who clean the church to save the candle stubs for me. It’s a higher quality wax that doesn’t smoke or smell.
  • I save all the old birthday candles, gouda cheese wrappers and candle stubs from holiday table settings and use them for these projects.

Melting the Wax

  • You can use an old aluminum small sauce pan, preferably with two handles. You place it in the oven on 300 until it’s all melted. You can just let the leftovers solidify in the pan and reheat it the next time you make starters.
  • Disposable aluminum pans are a great way to melt and remelt wax. Place them in the oven on 300 until the wax is melted. You will need to use two or even three pans together to get enough rigidity to keep the pan from twisting when you take it out of the oven. The downfall for this method and the old sauce pan is that once they are removed from the oven they begin to harden up and you need to keep placing them back in the oven.
  • Buy an old crock pot at a flea market or thrift store and designate it for this purpose only. It’s best to buy a small one because you need a lot of wax to fill a large one. I melt the wax on high and then turn it on warm while dipping my starters. The wax stays melted on the warm setting.

A smaller crock pot is best so that the wax can be deep in the pot and dipping is easier.

Other household things you can use for fire starters. 

  • Brown paper from packages. I cut it into strips, dip it in the wax and twist it into a bow.
  • Corrugated cardboard from frozen pizzas, packing materials or cut up boxes. I cut these in strips and dip them up to about one inch from the top. The unzipped portion makes an easy place to light it.
  • Coffee filters filled with dryer lint, tied with twine and dipped in hot wax makes a good fire starter. The twine can be used to ignite the bundle.
  • Dried roses hung upside down for a few weeks make a pretty fire starter. The petals open when dipped and hold a lot of wax. Warning – people find them hard to toss in the fire.
  • Pine cones, broken up small branches and bundled dried leaves pinched together are also good.

I cut strips of brown paper from packing materials or grocery store bags into rectangles and after I dip them in the wax I wait about thirty seconds and twist them into bows.

Coffee filters, dryer lint and twine are all you need for these starters. Fill the filter with lint, tie it up and dip!!