Letter Re: Easy Fire Starting Article

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Hugh,

I found the recommended easy fire starter posted a couple of weeks ago to be very interesting. That recommendation involved rolling 2-inch wide newspaper and soaking it in bees wax obtained from a toilet seal ring. My first attempt produced a marginal flame. I realized that I needed more wax absorption. On my second attempt, I used rolled up paper towel. This gave better but still just not adequate results. From the sight of the rolled up paper towel I came up with a better idea– tampons! As a 66 year old widower, I sucked it up and hid a box of tampons among the coffee and beer in my grocery cart. I also decided to use paraffin from candle wax. I tried a couple different techniques, but it is best I just list the procedural steps that worked:

  • I took several tampons out of the wrapper and out of the plastic holder.
  • The wax candles were from tall 2” diameter hurricane candles (Votive style) from the dollar store. I had a case on hand for post hurricane light.
  • I eventually used two candles for lots of starters. I found the best way to break the glass was with a gentle squeeze in a vice. (Okay! Use safety glasses and gloves, of course.)
  • The wax was melted in a tin can in a pot of simmering water. I initially tipped the can edge up and slipped a teaspoon under the edge to release bubbles and get better circulation under the can.
  • A soft drink box was prepared as a dryer support with one end cut out. Once all of the wax was melted, I took one tampon and looped the string over a bamboo grill cooking stick. A long fireplace match also works well.
  • Initially, just the string was dipped into the wax, then it was re-dipped followed by twisting the two strands together while maintaining the small loop in the end around the stick.
  • Set this aside for a couple minutes to cool and harden and prepare a few more, dipping the strings only. Slip two of the tampons on a bamboo grill stick or fire place match by the loop in the string.
  • Lower the two hanging tampons into the candle wax. They will float horizontally momentarily. Then they will swing vertical and sink as they release tiny bubbles.
  • After a few minutes, inspect and let cool just a few seconds. Replace the tampons into the wax again, if necessary. When they are fully saturated the cotton texture will be smooth wax and the size will be about 20% bigger.
  • Remove tampons (remaining on sticks) from wax and hang over empty box to cool and harden.
  • Repeat.

For a couple burn tests I laid them on the edge of a vertical concrete block with the wax string hanging down. The vertical “fuse” readily lights. The cotton end is next to burn. Within 30 seconds the flame propagates along the top and down the 2-inch length. The robust triangular flame will be two inches by five inches (or more) for TEN MINUTES followed my another five minutes of taper off flame. When blowing on the flame, it immediately recovered.

I also tried soaking them still inside the plastic holder. This works but prevents 20% expansion and produces 20% less flame in a side-by-side test. They also had to be cut out rather than pushed out as hoped.

Like the original author, I also was not a Boy Scout, but I was a juvenile fire bug and that led to actually being a proverbial “rocket scientist”– engineer. – Rocket Man

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