Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle

by Todd Walker

Primitive Fire Balls - How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle -



One of my favorite DiY fire starters is waxed jute twine. I’ve been using these for years in damp/wet conditions. They ignite with ease with ferrocerium rods and lighters/matches. Flint and steel sparks are too weak to ignite waxed jute alone. Charred material is needed. I wondered if anyone had made one before.

I searched for ideas online for making a waterproof tinder bundle which could coax fire using modern and primitive ignition sources (friction fire embers and/or flint and steel). Joshua Stuck made this fire starter and shared it on Primitive Ways.

Time for me to trade theory for action!

In his article, Joshua used birch bark strips to wrap his jute twine bundle and fire starter before waxing.The only native birch in my Georgia woods is the river birch which doesn’t work well as a wrap or basketry. This reinforces the importance of spending time in one’s local woodland to find and test your natural resources.

One of my favorite natural tinder sources is the inner bark of dead-standing tulip poplar trees or dropped limbs. Needing a pliable bark wrap for this project, I carefully separated the outer and inner bark from a young tulip poplar to produce strips wide enough for the task. I also have a collection of dry cottonwood inner bark which I used.

Another natural option I considered for wrapping material was a dead hornet’s nest. The papery layers come off in large sheets. Cedar bark was another idea.

I’ll be using all-natural material personally gathered from my local landscape… except the char cloth and bee’s wax. The wax was purchased, and the cotton denim was lying on my shop floor.

Primitive Fire Balls

Material and Tools

  • Dry Tinder Material: I used finely processed inner bark of tulip poplar in one ball, and crushed roadway pine straw in the other.
  • Charred Material: Char cloth, charred rope, or charred punk wood can be used. My experiment found the best results using char cloth. Here’s my tutorial for making char cloth.
  • Exterior Wrap: Inner bark, hornets nest, anything dry and pliable.
  • Bee’s Wax: In keeping with the natural material theme, bee’s wax was used. Old candles stubs or paraffin wax will work.
  • Double Boiler: Melt wax safely in a double boiler to prevent accidental fires.
Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~

Above the bee’s wax is a few layers off a hornet nest which might work as an exterior wrap.

Step 1: Create a Tinder Bundle

Process enough inner bark into fine fibers to make a compressed ball about the size of a golf ball. Mine were slightly larger. Be sure to place the finest fibers at the center of your tinder bundle.

Another addition could be fat lighter’d scrapings sprinkled into the nest. I didn’t do this but will test it on my next batch.

Step 2: Insert Char Cloth

Spread the compressed tinder bundle and place a piece of char cloth in the center of the nest. Now ball up the nest with the char cloth in the center.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~

Char cloth in the center of the tinder bundle.

Step 3: Apply Wrapping

Begin wrapping the compressed ball with your chosen material. I found the tulip poplar strips created a tighter, neater wrap than the cottonwood inner bark. Work to cover the entire ball to form a shell.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~

For size comparison, a wasp (pictured left) flew into the hot bee’s wax during melting. Ironic, huh?

Step 4: Wax the Balls

With your bee’s wax melted, carefully dip the ball into the wax. The wax is hot so be careful. You’ll get wax on your fingers no matter how carefully you dip. I used tongs after the first coating of wax. The wax will help hold loose bark in place.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~

Double boiler method

After the first coat, I simply laid the ball in the wax and rolled it around to coat the entire bundle. Allow the wax to cool a bit between each coat. I applied 4 or 5 coats of wax to each ball. While the wax is still pliable, press and form heavy drips into nooks and crannies.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~

Using the Primitive Fire Balls

I tested the shell’s ability to keep moisture out by placing the ball in one of our bird baths for a few minutes. This is certainly more water than they would see inside my haversack under normal rainy conditions – save capsizing a canoe.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~

Floating for about 3 minutes in a bird bath.

To light the tinder bundle, cut it down the middle and open the ball to revel the char cloth. Fluff the tinder out of its compressed state to create surface area. Use a flint and steel to spark the char cloth. Gently blow the glowing char cloth to ignite the tinder bundle. Turn the bundle over to allow the flames to bring the waxed exterior to combustion temperature.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~

This is the pine straw tinder after 5 minutes.


Both Fire Balls, tulip poplar tinder and pine straw tinder, burned steady for well over 5 minutes. A slight stir of the burning bundle will rekindle and extend the burn time – especially so in the crushed pine straw ball. The pine straw ball also ignited more quickly than the tulip poplar ball.

One thought occurred to me that melted pine/conifer sap could be used to seal the Primitive Fire Balls. We have an abundance of pines in my area making sap easier to harvest than honey comb.

As a modern primitive practitioner, I enjoy the miracle of friction fires. I have a backup plan in my thumb-drill (Bic lighter). The practicality of having a waterproof tinder bundle and fire starter made from all-natural materials gives me options when starting fires in wet conditions. Practice primitive stuff and push your limits.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle

  1. Here is where I would not use expensive beeswax because it has the highest ignition temp of all the waxes. It is too valuable to use on a firestarter, IMHO. Use old pieces of candles or pine pitch.


  2. Harry

    Todd, when you spoke of pine straw is that old dried pine needles? Were you using them instead of the poplar and cottonwood bark?


    • I pick up pine needles from streets after they’ve been crushed by tires. I used pine needles in one ball and tulip poplar inner bark fiber in the other. The wrapping was both tulip polar and cottonwood inner bark. Hope this cleared it up for you. Hope to the video of the process up by tomorrow. Thanks, Harry!


  3. Bacchus58

    Don’t need to get real tricky with the guts of the ball. . . the other day, I spilled some olive oil on the counter. I wiped up a few drops with a cotton ball, set it on the sink, and lit it with a ferro rod.
    I reckon cotton rounds or dryer lint or anything like that, with some extender (anything from lighter fluid to WD40, to olive oil), would make a real quick core, then wrap it with anything from bark to corn husks to strips of newspaper, then dip it in your candle wax.


    • Good tips. The reason for the char cloth in the center was to be able to ignite the ball with a flint and steel. Those sparks are weak compared to ferro rods.


      • Bacchus58

        Ahhh, but you have mad fire skills, Obi Wan. My flint and steel talents have led to a lot of crumbled flints, a few wan sparks and a whole bunch of politically incorrect expletives.

        But, point taken, char cloth would be the lowest common denominator for any sparking ignition source.
        Thanks for the reply, and your blog.


      • Bert

        I use Cotton Balls lightly saturated with Petroleum Jelly, “Vaseline” . I store them in Short Milkshake straws with the ends folded over. Works GREAT for Flint & Steel.


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