If you've ever had great difficulty starting a fire in your fireplace, this is for you.
Do you wad up page after page of newspaper as the first kindling in your fireplace? Do you light the newspaper, sit back and wait for it only to blaze quickly then just fizzle out and smoulder? Do you often go through this procedure several times before it finally catches, or do you give up completely and forget about having a fire?
If you do, then you need to use a firestarter (also known as firelighters), for it is rare that just one of these little things does not start a beautiful blaze.
First, you'll need some wood shavings or sawdust. If you don't have access to quantities of sawdust, bedding for small animals (available from petshops) works nicely. How much to use will depend on whether you're making a lot of firestarters to use throughout a long cold winter, or if you need just a few for the occasional romantic fire.
You'll also need some wax. Any kind of wax will do - old candles or paraffin work equally well. You could even use old birthday candles, but it would require hundreds to provide enough wax to make even a few firestarters. The most frugal source of wax would be from old pillar candles. Scented candles can provide a nice fragrance for your firestarters, but mix these with paraffin or wax from unscented candles because the scent from just one of these scented candle can be overwhelming.
The only other things you'll be needing will be three old pots, which you can reserve just for making firestarters (or one pot and a double boiler), some small paper cups (bathroom-size is good), and a small spoon that you don't mind reserving just for this purpose.
Put some wood shavings or sawdust in the largest of the three pots. You can almost fill this pot with wood shavings, but be sure to leave room to stir them.
For safety reasons, it is best to use a double boiler method to melt the wax, particularly if you are using a gas cooktop, as the temperature is more difficult to control than on an electric stove. If you don't have an old double boiler to devote to this purpose, an easy way to make a double boiler is to place some water in your pan, then put another smaller pot within the saucepan to melt the wax, so that the steam from the boiling water melts the wax.
Caution! Melted wax is very flammable. Be very careful.
Once melted, pour this wax into the other pot containing the wood shavings. There is no need to remove wicks from the melted candles as they are combustible too. Mix thoroughly with the spoon until the shavings have consistently turned to a darker shade, indicating that they have all soaked up a little bit of the wax. You don't need to have melted wax sitting in the bottom of the pot, as any excess melted wax will just soak through your paper cups and be wasted. If need be, melt more wax, adding enough to achieve uniform colour wood shavings.
Using the spoon, pack the wax coated wood shavings into the paper cups. As they cool, the wax will harden, adhering the wood shavings to each other and to the inside of the paper cup. Store these where they'll be handy for your fireplace.
To build a fire using the firestarters, place one in your fireplace, arranging the firewood on top of it, and light the firestarter, either with a match, or a long-nozzled fireplace lighter. Each firestarter will burn for approximately 10 minutes, during which time your firewood should begin burning. You shouldn't need to use any kindling unless your wood is very wet from being out in the rain. It is important to have the firewood arranged in such a way that there are small crevices between the pieces where the flames can lick up between them. Remember, a good fire requires oxygen and fuel in the right proportions along with the heat of the flames to continue burning successfully.