CONCORD, N.H. — Graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows are the essential ingredients for summertime s'mores, but what about wax, alcohol and pinecones?
If you're extra impatient to roast marshmallows for those sweet, gooey treats, consider helping things along with homemade fire starters. Once lit, they'll provide a bit of extra fuel to your campfire, ensuring robust flames in minimal time.
While I found many tips about stuffing dryer lint into toilet paper tubes, I wanted to make slightly more attractive fire starters that could be given as a hostess gift on the Fourth of July. I settled on testing three methods, all of which can be dressed up a bit for the holiday.
Here's what I found, with each method rated from 1 to 10, with 10 indicating the least expensive, easiest and best results:
A tutorial found on a blog called Life With Heidi couldn't be simpler. Just plop a bunch of corks into a jar filled with rubbing alcohol and let them sit for at least 24 hours to absorb some of the liquid. This also would be an extremely inexpensive option if you drink a lot of wine and save the corks. I don't, however, and drinking on deadline seemed like a bad idea. But craft stores sell corks in various sizes, as well, for about $3.50 for half a dozen.
While I couldn't figure out a way to make the corks themselves more festive for July Fourth, I chose a jar with a red and white cover, and figured I could add a blue ribbon for extra flair. Unfortunately, these fire starters failed when it came to testing them out. When I lit one with a match, the flames lasted for less than a minute. While that may have been long enough to ignite some paper or kindling, I wanted to test how long each starter would last on its own. These were the worst of the bunch.
COST: 9, if you have saved corks.
I had better results with the second method I tried, found on the Rustic Escentuals Crafting Library site. To make these fire starters, I melted a few ounces of paraffin wax in an old can set over simmering water on my stovetop. I then used tweezers to dip round cotton pads meant for removing makeup into the wax and then set them on a sheet of waxed paper to dry. To make the results more festive, I also melted bits of red and blue crayons into the wax to produce colorful discs as well.
I had the wax on hand from another project, but you can buy it for about $5 for a pound of wax. Look for it near canning supplies at grocery stores or hardware stores. There was nothing complicated about this method, though melting the wax was a bit time consuming and required careful attention.
As for performance, these fire starters were significantly better than the corks. I ripped one of the wafer-like discs a bit to expose the cotton and lit it with a match. The resulting flame lasted for eight minutes before burning out.
I found many tutorials that called for dipping pinecones into wax, but I was wary of the mess. So I was happy to find a tutorial on a blog called Kate's Creative Space that turned out to be both easy and impressive.
This technique involves removing tea light candles from their metal casings, putting them in mini paper cupcake liners in muffin tins and melting them in the oven. While the directions called for carefully moving the wicks over to the side of the paper liners, mine ended up coming detached from the little metal disks at the bottom of the tea lights. That actually worked out fine, because I was able to use tweezers to remove the metal disks altogether while moving the wicks aside. From there, it was simply a matter of placing a small pinecone in each little pool of melted wax and letting the wax harden around them.
I had plenty of pinecones around my yard, but they also can be purchased for about $3 per dozen at craft stores. Tea lights also are inexpensive. Mine cost under 25 cents each. I purchased colored cupcake liners and used red, white and blue to match my holiday theme, but you also could use colored tea lights and peel off the paper later to reveal the colored wax.
This project was not only easy — making a dozen fire starters at a time — but the results were cute and performed well. Just one of these fire starters burned on its own for 25 minutes.
Holly Ramer, The Associated Press