January 17, 2014

Things We Take For Granted

Reminder: Tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern time, tune your computer into Christian Farm and Homestead Radio for my live interview with host Scott Terry. Be there or be square use the same link to download the podcast for your future listening convenience.

Now, on to our regularly scheduled post. . . . . .

Quickly, off the top of your head! What do you need to start a fire?

Image at which to gaze while you ponder your list.

My guess is that you made the same mental list I would: newspaper (or similar), kindling, and matches.

Kindling I can find, matches I have to buy, which leaves the newspaper. We do not subscribe to any newspapers and I've realized that good fire staring quality paper is getting harder to come by. Some of it even appears to be treated against fire because it does not want to burn. And glossy isn't good, at least not for our catalytic combustor.

Leaves are good if they're bone dry, which isn't always the case in our frequent wet weather. Cardboard, maybe, if there's no glue or tape attached. Paper bags like those for flour or sugar are good, assuming one purchases bags of flour or sugar. That leaves me having to buy newspaper just to start fires(?) Not exactly in keeping with my idea of living a self-sustaining life.

What do you think?

Things We Take For Granted © January 2014 


weavinfool said...

Where I live we can get the ends of the rolls of paper that they use to print the newspaper. Go to the newspaper office to ask for an end roll. Dried grass works well, but straw doesn't burn well as a starter. Some junk mail is good. Our library subscribes to several newspapers and only keeps three months of back issues. At the beginning of each month they recycle the oldest ones. Find out when they do that and collect them from the library. Buy one Sunday paper a month and use the pages from that. We cut up old boards that are shot and split them into thin strips and we use very little paper to get them started.

Laura said...

I make fire starters from sawdust, parafin and egg cartons. Melt the wax in a coffee can in a pan of boiling water - watch carefully!! Add enough sawdust to make it very stiff, and pack into egg cartons. When solid, break the "holes" apart. Light one corner, and you're off an running!

Kev Alviti said...

We get our newspaper from our parents but I agree not really very self sufficient. What about using straw or hay to start it? Or pine cones work well? I get kinderling from work normally but I could use small branches. And as for matches I'm not ready to give them up but could use fire steel and light with a spark but it would take much longer. It's a good point though because we completely take it for granted.
Good luck o the radio. I'll download it over the weekend.

Sherri B. said...

I really like the sawdust, paraffin and egg carton idea.
I have not had luck with newspaper in years..sometimes it has even put what fire had started, out.

How exciting to be on the radio..I will try to listen. xo

Chris said...

What about the humble toilet roll? I've also heard you can dry citrus peel on the wood stove, and then use it as a fire starter. But it pops once alight, so be careful.

Leigh said...

Great idea, folks. Of course some of it I'd still have to buy, LOL.

Weavinfool, an alternate resource is a good idea and I'll have to ask next time I'm at the library. Right now I buy a local weekly trade & sell paper occasionally, which is actually thicker than our Sunday paper. And you're right about having a lot of kindling, it definitely decreases the need for paper.

Laura, I'll have to remember that for when we get bees and I can have my own beeswax. I do like egg cartons too when I'm not saving them to sell eggs.

Kev, I'm not ready to give up those matches yet either, LOL Pine cones are wonderful as long as they're dry (a problem lately due to all our wet weather and no sun to dry things out.) I'm not sure if they'd start just from a match, but they give a longer burn than twigs, which is extremely helpful when kindling is low due to endless rain.

Sherri, yeah, that's my experience with newspaper too. I'm assuming they're treating some sort of fire retardant.

Chris, +1 for TP rolls. I'm not ready to go self-sustaining in that area yet, LOL. Paper towel rolls too, although we have less of those. Interesting about the citrus peel, although I confess to feeding those to my goats. :)

Kris said...

I get free old newspapers from the library - they can only keep so many weeks old on hand, then they have to recycle. But my fave starter is used parchment paper from when I bake. That stuff is just great.

Farmer Barb said...

Being the Lady Who Likes To Make Everything, we have a system. We use wood chips, found tinder and kindling and bits of old candles. After a great deal of research (trial and error), 165 degrees is the right temperature to melt the nice restaurant votive candles and not have them smoke. Individual chips, dried in our house or garage, or sticks are tied in cotton yarn. I dip the bundle and the yarn into the wax until one end issaturated. As any frequent fire starter knows, air flow is king. The yarn keeps burning like a wick until the little guys catch. My kids sell these bundles to neighbors to earn extra money. When you have trees, you always have sticks.

Ed said...

I use newspaper when I have it or buy some premade paraffin starters for when I don't. However, my parents only use corncobs which is probably something you might have a lot of around. (I don't or I would use them too.) They burn well. I have read that others go to the trouble of soaking them in various flammable liquids but they just crush a few up, put some kindling on top and light it up. They also smell better than chemicals when burning!

Anonymous said...

We always used what was deemed "cheater" when I was growing up. Sawdust with diesel fuel or lamp oil depending on what was around. It was kept in an old tobacco tin (well, plastic) and worked really well. It would burn long enough and hot enough to start the wood. Probably the paraffin starters are safer though. :)

Mama Pea said...

We use paper, kindling, then wood split a bit on the small size, then when that's going good, we add a couple regular sized pieces of wood or logs.

We save packing paper from anything ordered through the mail. (You can even request "no packing peanuts" or bubble wrap, just paper.) We don't subscribe to any newspapers either but our recycling center has a special container for newspapers only and on Monday mornings I can often find big stacks of the Sunday paper that didn't sell. (We never burn any colored sections because of the toxins they give off.)

In one wood shed, we have a kindling bin that I fill with cut and split softwood (most often cedar) which stays dry all year round.

It's all a bit of a chore, but if you rely on wood for heat and can't get a fire started, you're in a bad situation!

Renee Nefe said...

For camping we make fire starters out of Toilet paper tubes stuffed with dryer lint and sealed up with wax.
We also use pinecones.

I've never been a fan of newspapers. Unfortunately where we live there is a local paper that we get and never read...goes straight into our recycling bin. Then the metro paper sends us Sunday Select which is just the ads with a single sheet of some stories printed to cover the ads. I don't want any of it as hubby feels it is his duty as a citizen to read every scrap of this paper (that we didn't ask for!) and he is a slow reader, so it sits and piles up. I wish I could send you all of our papers. ;)

Sandy Livesay said...


You can also us dryer lint, animal hair (that may smell a little), and old straw.

I'm going to listen for you tonight.

MiniKat said...

We use fire starters made from dryer lint, sawdust, and paraffin.

Quinn said...

Every Autumn, a neighboring town newspaper sends out one free copy to invite new subscribers. I read it, then tuck it behind the stove to save for Winter. I think I still have part of the 2012 issue; once I start burning wood for the season, I rarely have to start another fire from scratch...just pull out a few embers when I clean the stove, and start the next fire with embers and kindling.
I also use egg cartons which people save for my hens to fill with lovely eggs. Sometimes these cartons are not perfectly clean, and those also go behind the stove.
But I think the very best thing for starting a fire from scratch, bar none, is birch bark harvested from dead trees. I remove either large pieces or "collars" of paper birch bark when a dead tree is completely rotted. Then I pull strips off the piece as needed. That bark will burn when it's wet!

Bill said...

But there is something so satisfying about burning junk mail. :)
If you have a neighbor who takes the paper, maybe you can get it from them. We have a neighbor nearby who does and she saves them for recycling. She's happy to let us take them when we need to. Our feed bags are paper and they work too.

Woolly Bits said...

I don't know how newspaper is sold on your side of the pond, but over here all the unsold ones have the title removed as a strip - and the rest goes into the bin/landfill/collection. if that's the case with you, maybe your newsagent would be happy to let you have them? costs only a question:) I also saw something here: using a sugar or flour bag, you can fill them with cones, small twigs etc and some candle shavings - they can be stored and grabbed easily to light a fire... I have to admit though that I don't buy enough sugar and flour for that trick to be used daily!

Sharon said...

We always use birch bark. It's the best thing We've found. It lights easily, and burns longer than paper. It's all we ever use.

Nina said...

In the autumn when we don't keep the woodstove running 24/7, we just grab an ad flyer from stores when we are doing errands. It's enough to keep us in paper without having to purchase anything. Of course this time of year, the stove never goes cold, so we just scoop out the ashes and if needed, set the kindling on top of the remaining coals.

Anonymous said...

We use all of the old stalks of our sunflowers. They are cut to length after we take the heads. Usually I keep them in old milk crates because they stack out of the way nicely. The stalk contains an ample amount of oils to burn hot enough to get a good fire started. At one time we would make small bundles with a bit of paper and tied with sisal, but that really became a waste of time making them up in advance.

DebbieB said...

Leigh, it was delightful listening to your interview! I missed the live broadcast but enjoyed the archived mp3 version last night. So nice to put a voice to a long-distance friend. :)

I won't forget to post an Amazon review when I finish your book, and I'll put up a blog post about it, too. I don't have nearly the readership that you have, but every little bit helps, right?

Cr said...

I'm going to second Sharon - we use birch bark (otherwise known as white paper bark). Starts easily and burns long enough to start the logs. I also do a crosshatch stack of the logs which seems to make for a quick fire: two small pieces of kindling straight into the stove with bark wedged between them; three slightly larger pieces of wood laid across the kindling; three again larger pieces now laid across the second layer (is this making any sense?!?). You end up with good air flow and a nice bed of coals as the logs collapse into each other. We have the Hybrid soapstone stove - looks very similar to yours!

Leigh said...

I have to say that there are some very interesting ideas in all the comments. Of course, I lean toward the ones using things I can provide right off the homestead (whether now or future). Still, there are great ideas here for everyone!

Kris, I'm definitely going to have to check at the library. Good idea about the parchment paper (which I confess I've never tried!)

Barb, great use for those odds and ends of old candles. And it's so true about trees and sticks. I'm thinking after we get bees, I'll have a good source of wax for either candles (or fire starting.)

Ed, I can confirm about the corn cobs but admit I've never tried them without paper. Like pine cones, they burn longer than twigs and give the rest a chance to get going. Interesting about the flammable liquids, but I always wonder what various things would do as far as chimney soot.

Littlehawkyarns, welcome and thank you for your comment! You've got me wondering if perhaps bits of melted fat might work too.

Mama Pea, I envy your woodshed! That's really what we need with all our rain and humidity. It's true heating with wood is a chore, but then it's part of the "wood warms you twice," isn't it. :) Good idea about leftover newspapers. I'll have to keep my eyes open.

Renee, dryer lint, eh? I used to eye that stuff and wonder if I could spin it, LOL. I mostly have dryer lint during rainy weather, but I'll save it and give it a try.

Sandy, I'll have to try the old straw, which we have. Reminds me of Pa and Laura Ingalls twisting the prairie hay into "twigs" to burn during their long hard winter.

Kat, so good to hear from you! You've got me wondering about lint and beeswax. Hmmm.

Quinn, I agree those old egg cartons are great fire starter. And I should have mentioned that we use coals as well. When we have winter warm-ups, however, we tend to let the fire go out. And interesting about he birch trees! Too bad they don't grow this far south.

Bill, I agree, LOL. You've got me thinking about putting a request out on freecycle. I haven't tried feedbags because I save them for mulch (the few that are still paper; most are now plastic, sadly) but I do use flour and sugar bags.

Bettina, +1 for the flour and sugar bags filled with twigs and pine cones. Interesting about your landfill. I'm now wondering where newspaper is recycled here. Something to investigate.

Sharon, hello and welcome! I tried to return the blog visit but yours is still a blank slate. :) Birch trees only exist in my childhood memories nowadays. :(

Nina, that's the best way, really. I think I mentioned though, that we don't use the stove all winter long. Often we have warm ups and we let it go out to conserve wood.

Woody, good to hear from you. great idea about the sunflowers. I always wonder what to do with those, and corn stalks, and amaranth stalks, and okra stalks. That may be a great source for easy to start kindling!

Debbie, thank you so much. I was really dreading that interview because I'm such an awkward speaker. So glad you thought it came out well!

I will very much appreciate an Amazon review and a blog review. Yes, every little bit helps and is very encouraging. I'm working on a "what readers are saying" page and hope you'll let me include your blog review with a quote and a link!

Cr, I'm certainly beginning to envy all of you with those paper birches, LOL. They were a favorite tree when I was a kid in northern Illinois. I wonder if an equivalent grows this far south. Your description of the crosshatch stack sounds like a really good idea. That coal bed is key!

Sharon said...

Leigh, I'm actually not a new visitor at all :) I used to have a blog (Quilting the Farm), but closed it down about 2 years ago. I have been following your blog for several years now, I just don't comment because you know way more than I do to begin with! Congratulations on the publishing of your first book.

Leigh said...

Sharon! It's so good to hear from you. I had wondered what happened to your blog. Does "A Blending of Passions" mean your going to take up blogging again?

Sharon said...

Leigh, I had originally made the commitment to post every day on Quilting the Farm, but when I realized that I just couldn't do it anymore, I made the decision to close it and say goodbye rather than have it die off into willy-nilly nothing-ness.

I actually took up art (painting) again, and I am making a career of it now...or at least trying to :) (selling + lessons, workshops etc). That blog was/is for that passion, I just haven't got around to writing anything on it yet. I do have a Facebook page for my art www.facebook.com/SharonCaveArt (you can view it without a being a member of Fb).

I definitely need to get back to blogging (not every day though!). I do miss it, and I dislike Facebook intensely. I still love reading about all your adventures. You are the only blog I still follow. Your house (and home)are coming along beautifully.

Leigh said...

Sharon, I have to agree with you about FB, but there I am anyway, because I've been told it's a great way to promote my book. I love your artwork and it's thrilling to hear you've been able to make a career of it.

I have to say that a commitment to daily blogging is a huge one! I aim for every three days, unless I get on a writing tear and manage an extra post here and there. It does take quite a bit of time though.

Tombstone Livestock said...

I use junk mail and all the envelopes mail comes in and the weekly ads that come in the mail for starting fires, old broken pallets make good kindling also. Unfortunately I am limited due to air quality as to when I can use my wood stove .... and cold weather has a lot of no burn days if there is no wind or rain to clean the air here.

Lynda said...

In our part of the world, you may find you have fat pine, which is the world's best fire starter. Where pine trees have died, fallen, or even been cut, the stumps will very slowly, over a period of years, concentrate their piney, oily, turpentiney goodness. The old remnants of stumps can be found in the woods. Take a little hatchet and chop them out by bits and by strips. They will be very, very hard. A little piece or two of fat pine (sometimes called "lighterwood") will light with a match and burn hot for long enough to light your kindling. If you have a few saved pine cones or corn cobs on top of them, you have really got it made. A side benefit is that they smell wonderful.
We keep a little basket on the hearth for this purpose. This is a good pursuit in the winter months when there are fewer chores to be done and woods rambles are a pleasant way to spot them. You may find them when you trip over them in the leaves!

Leigh said...

TL, something satisfying about burning junk mail, isn't there? :) Those burning restrictions sound like a problem, however, especially for those who have no other source of heat. I hope you're staying warm.

Lynda, North Carolina was once known for manufacturing turpentine because of all the pines that grow in this part of the country. So while I don't know if they're fat pine, they should still be a good source of kindling.

One problem we have regarding all the natural resources mentioned, has been the amount of rain and humidity we've had for the past year. Either it's damp or mildewy! Me thinks what we really need is a wood shed with bins for storing things like this.

Lynda said...

Leigh, fat pine isn't a type of pine tree, but the natural result of the decomposition of pine trees of any kind. Find hard, jagged-looking old remnants of stumps on your land or in the woods, try to chop into them (often they will splinter not chop) and if they small like concentrated pine, you've got it. They will light in a pouring rain.

Leigh said...

Lynda, I just learned something both useful and interesting. Thank you for that! We do indeed have quite a few old stumps in our woods, as well as trees that have fallen some years ago. This sounds like an excellent answer to the question.

Unknown said...

We keep all of our dryer lint for this.

Leigh said...

Rachel, I'm definitely going to have to keep our dryer lint to try as well.