Okay, when the lid comes off civilization and things are fun again, you don’t want to be the numbskull sending up a smoke signal that can be seen from space, just trying to get a fire going. You want to be the guy who kneels down for a bit and brings forth fire, like Prometheus or somebody that gets things done.
I am going to teach you to make tinder that will stay lit and accelerate your fire. It will be inexpensive, too.
Then you will achieve success in building a fire so you can finally crack open that can of Dinty Moore and be popular again. Your amazement will be towering.
You’re going to need some stuff. However, let’s do this “on the cheap”. Cheap is good. It’s refreshing. Use tools you may have or can get really inexpensively.
Stuff you will need:
1. Big chunk of cardboard
2. Some masking tape
3. Old crock pot
4. Old candles
5. Lumber scraps or culled wood
6. Some hot dog tongs
7. Some zip lock baggies to store your Most Excellent Tinder Sticks
You will need some tools. Since we are in the prepping community, I might not be too far off the mark in assuming that you might have some of the basics. If not, I would start hitting the garage sales and thrift stores. According to my wife, anything that does not bring in money is called a hobby and expenses are rightly scrutinized by the paymaster. Inexpensive is the motto, so I can spend my money on ammo and food.
Tools you will need:
1. Saw, to cut your wood
2. Hatchet to split your wood into Tinder Sticks
3. A bench vise is nice, but it’s not necessary
5. Fire extinguisher, so you won’t burn your house down
With regard to the Crock-pot. Do not use the wife’s. You will sleep on the couch for exactly twice the amount of time it takes her to get the cinnamon-berry-wax/pork-roast taste out of her mouth. Don’t worry; I am here to guide you. Go to the thrift store. There will be a Crock-pot there. Buy it. What’d that set you back? Five bucks? See? Now, I’m “the man”.
While you’re in the thrift store, look out for some old candles. Sometimes there are big fat decorative ones. It doesn’t matter. Any old candles will do. Also, garage sales are a good place to get old candles.
Grab some hot dog tongs or an old salad grabber at the thrift store.
On your way home stop by the back end of some stores and get some cardboard. The bottom off a refrigerator box is supreme, but anything at least 3’x3’ will be adequate.
Stop at the lumber yard and buy a culled 2×4. This is a board that is so warped that it is unusable for honest construction. It will probably cost you a dollar or two. Get a dry one, since you want to start fires. Now, they can cut them for you, but it’s like $0.50 cents a cut. So just buy enough cuts to get it home in your car without endangering people on the sidewalk.
So now we start
Clear off a work bench outside so you can get things done. Don’t do this inside, if you like sleeping inside. You will make enemies if you do this inside. Also don’t do this on the ground, because you know the dog will step in it if you do.
Now take the cardboard and make a big tray to work in. This is what the masking tape is for. The sides only have to be a couple of inches tall. Set this aside with a rock on it so you don’t have to chase it down the block.
This tray will catch the wax and keep it from going all over grandchild #3, the dog, and everything else underneath the workbench when you knock over the Crock-pot. This cardboard will also become valuable fire starting tinder to add to your stash, thus being energy and resource friendly, making you look even smarter.
Take out the baggies. Since you are storing this stuff in baggies, you are going to use the baggie to determine the length of your tinder.
Measure your baggie with an eye to placing your tinder in there vertically oriented, like cigarettes in a pack. This allows for the most versatile storage while allowing the baggie to stay closed, which is good. My baggies measure 5 and ¾ Inches from zipper to bottom.
To store the Most Excellent Tinder Sticks effectively, I cut my tinder at 5 inches to allow the baggie to stay closed when I jam a load of tinder sticks in there. Cut the wood into the proper lengths.
Then use the hatchet to split the five inch or so blocks into Tinder Sticks. You want them about ¼ inch square, or the thickness of french fries. This is going to take a bit of time. This is also where a bench vise comes in handy. It makes this step safer.
Put your hatchet in the vise with the blade facing upward. You want about an inch of the hatchet blade showing above the top of the vise. Don’t expose more than that or you will end up on a first name bases with the ER nurse. Then you can split the blocks using the mallet by positioning the block on the blade and tapping the block down on the blade, splitting it. You make a pile of rectangles and split those into Tinder Sticks. This part is the tedious part, and you must remain careful if you wish to avoid unnecessary visits to the Emergency Room.
When you finish, take the hatchet out of the vise before some idiot (probably yourself) puts a hand there.
Next we can get down to business
Put the cardboard tray on the bench. Place the Crock-pot and the tongs in the center of the tray, and plug in the Crock-pot. NOTE: Be careful with the cord. Make sure it won’t be tripped over or chewed on, et cetera.
Next cut a double handful of candle chunks and throw them in the Crock-pot. Wicks, tin wick anchors, and all, just chunk them in there. NOTE: This is the most important part: Make sure the fire extinguisher is handy.
Set the Crock-pot on low. Keep it there. [Editors Note: A double boiler is better, as it guarantees the temperature will not get too high.]
In fact, set the Crock-pot on low, take the knob off, and throw the knob on the roof. Do not become impatient. Becoming impatient will burn your house down. Next, if you have a block plane, you can plane the remainder of your scrap wood. Make a big pile of curly shavings.
So now you have a pot of melted wax. After dunking your finger and the like, you take a double handful of Tinder Sticks and put them in the Crock-pot. Stir them around a bit and use the tongs to take them out and dump them on the tray to harden. Then put in some more sticks and repeat until you are out of the first batch of wax. Dump in some more wax and start over. Do this until you run out of material.
After the wax hardens, you start grabbing the pile of tinder sticks, busting the wax that joins the sticks, and organizing them into groups for baggie insertion. Then, you fill your baggies with your Most Excellent Tinder Sticks.
If you have enough wax, break the curly shavings into the wax by rubbing them over the Crock-pot. This will form an oatmeal mush that you tong out onto the cardboard to harden as the wax cools. I used to use ice cube trays to make cubes out of this stuff, but after a week in the pack they break down to a wax/sawdust granola, negating all that effort. The “granola” is just as flammable and is even more effective when sprinkled into the fire starting base for a flame extender. So instead of involving all that work I just make lumps that I put into bags when it cools.
Now we make waste into cool stuff
Grab some strike anywhere matches and dip the heads in wax before it cools. It helps keep them from lighting on each other in a backpack and helps waterproofing. Don’t get wax all up the stick.
Scrape the wax up from the cardboard and put it in the Crock-pot for the next batch. Cut the cardboard that has wax staining into pieces and put that in some baggies for starting a fire in bad weather.
You can rub the wax on tool handles to preserve them and dip drill heads and other metal tools in wax to keep the edges from rusting.
Now if you don’t want the Crock-pot any longer, out it goes. Or, you can bag it inside a trash bag for next time.
So how do we get that Dinty Moore action happening? We start a fire, that’s how.
Finally, we use our Most Excellent Tinder to start a fire
If you have no teenagers or other minions, you are going to have to gather firewood and kindling yourself. After collecting an impressive amount of both, spend a few minutes breaking the kindling into smaller and smaller bits. The reason behind this is that small twigs catch fire easier, so the larger the kindling pile the better shot you have at getting the wet castle timbers you hauled into camp to light and keep you from freezing. A good thing to remember is that graduating the sizes of your kindling up from itty bitty to thumb size to wrist sized will increase your chances of starting a clean burning fire successfully.
So having gathered and gathered, you prepare the fire base. Take out a baggie of Most Excellent Tinder Sticks and place two side by side about two inches apart. Then lay two more crosswise on top of the first two forming a “log cabin” shape. Repeat until you have a little cabin about four inches high. You can put a piece of paper in the center or light an end of one of the Tinder sticks and start building your kindling on that. The wax and the dried pine will extend the flame time and help get your kindling alight. Stack a nice pyramid of kindling using the flames to guide your placement.
Now enjoy that stew. You earned it.