by Todd Walker
What’s the best tinder material when making a fire is essential?
The best answer is dry, fibrous material which catches a spark even in wet conditions. Fire starting woes are compounded when the dry stuff isn’t available. Every bushcraft, camping, hiking, or emergency kit should include redundant layers for making fire.
The usual suspects for combustion tools include:
- Ferro rods (ferrocerium), AKA firesteels
- Flint and steel
- Magnesium bars
- Fire pistons
- Plain ol’ matches or storm matches
A flic from your Bic doesn’t guarantee fire. It may produce a flame (depending on conditions) but you’ll need dry tinder in your fire lay to get warm. Preparing a fire kit ahead of time will help you avoid a freezing night or worse.
Commercially produced fire starters are available. Why pay 8 to 10 bucks for a pack waterproof fire starter tabs when you can make your own? I’ve been making my own out of jute twine and wax for years.
A 500 foot roll of jute twine cost less than $10. Plus, you can never have enough cordage. The same goes for wax. If you don’t have wax on hand, poach a few crayons to melt from your child’s school supplies. Just so you know, peeling paper sleeves is tedious and time-consuming. Save time and buy some paraffin wax from the canning isle at your grocery store. I used soy wax I have for candle making.
Here’s how to make your own waterproof emergency tinder bundle…
Gather the Stuff
- Jute twine (10 to 12 feet) – find the thicker twine if possible
- Wax (half-handful)
- Double boiler and stove (heat source)
- Nail or metal pin like a door hinge pin
- Variable speed drill (not necessary but I like power tools)
[Skip this step if you've ever melted wax in a double boiler] Set up your double boiler with enough water in the bottom container to make the top container float. In my shop, I use an old camp stove. Your kitchen stove will work. To avoid igniting the wax, don’t use open flames or high heat directly on a pan with wax in the bottom.
While bringing the water to boil, prep you twine.
Measure and cut about 12 feet of jute twine… about 2 arm spans for me. Roll it around 3 of your fingers to make a loose bundle. Place the entire bundle in the melted wax. Flip it over to completely saturate the jute. The twine is very absorbent and won’t take long to soak up the liquid wax.
Set bundle aside and prepare your drill.
Don’t attempt this step unless you have variable speed drill. You don’t really need a drill to make the bundle. You could wind the twine around a nail or metal pin by hand. But it is way more manly to do it with power tools!
Place the drill in a vise. Tie one end of the twine to the head end of the pin with a basic slip knot. Do this fairly quickly after removing the bundle from the wax. The longer you wait, the more stiff the waxed twine becomes.
With one hand on the trigger of your drill and one holding the tag end of the twin, slowly squeeze the trigger to begin winding the twine around pin. You’re trying to coil the cord almost to the drill bit opening on your first pass. When you reach that point near the drill, guide the twine back towards the other end. I make my bundles oblong – skinny on the ends and fat in the middle.
Remove the pin from the drill. Hold the bundle in your hand and press it gently down on a hard surface causing the head end of the pin to emerge from the top of the bundle. Grab the head end and pull. If you used a smooth metal pin, the bundle will slide off with no resistance.
Tie the loose tag end at the middle of the bundle leaving a 1 inch tag to hang free. This loose tag end is where you’ll start unrolling pieces from the bundle.
While the wax is still liquified, hold the knot end of the bundle and coat with the remaining melted wax on all sides. Hang it from the knot with a clip to dry. Once dry, repeat this step two times.
Now, to make your time productive between dippings, create a Paracord-Duct-Tape-Lighter. I know, it’s a bonus DiY Preparedness Project for you. You get 2 for 1 today… No extra charge!
Bonus DiY Tip
Grab the child-safety strip that runs over the striker wheel with a pair of needle-nose pliers. Twist up and out of the lighter housing. This step makes it easier to get flame when your fingers and hands are numb from cold.
Cut a piece of paracord a little over double the length of the lighter. Burn the ends to prevent fraying. Make several wraps of duct tape (Gorilla Tape) around the lighter.
Add a whistle or other useful emergency items and attach it to your kit. No more fumbling around for fire when you need it!
Waterproof Tinder Bundle continued…
Your bundle will resemble a honeycomb (or drug smuggling cache) with three layers of wax.
To use, find the short tag end at the middle of the bundle from Step 4. Untie and roll off a 2 inch section. The wax will crumble but won’t affect the waterproofing. No worries, the whole bundle is waxed.
Process the piece by pulling and fraying the individual strands to create a fibrous, hairy looking nest. This only takes a few minutes. Time well spent if using a ferro rod or other sparking device. Of course, if you’re lighter works, you can simply light the cord and make hot chocolate.
Below is a comparison of waxed and unwaxed jute. They both ignite immediately by a ferro rod but the waxed version will extend your fire. You need all the advantages you can get when building fire.
Build it… and it will burn!
Keep Doing the Stuff!
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