Pinbusted or Pintrusted: Making Fire Starters With Toilet Paper Tubes

DIY Featured GeekMom
Photo: Judy Berna

Along with many of the other GeekMom writers around here, I am just a tiny bit addicted to Pinterest. I am the woman who used to rip pages out of magazines (way back in the 90s) and save them in carefully worded files like “Christmas Ideas” and “Cleaning Ideas”. And I’m talking about real files. The kind that hang in a file drawer, not the kind that collect on the computer screen. Then came Pinterest.

Now I can just pin ideas, or better yet, I can just go search for a holiday idea, the week before the holiday, and have plenty of ideas to choose from. For this reason, I’ve looked forward to every “Pintrusted or Pinbusted?” post that appears on GeekMom. Now it’s finally my turn to contribute.

We live in the mountains of Colorado and enjoy the fireplace that keeps us warm when we are all hanging out in the family room. I generally put my teen boys in charge of making the fires, since they have plenty of backwoods camping experience. But sometimes it’s my turn and I’m not the most successful fire starter. I have watched with interest every time ideas for homemade fire starters popped up on Pinterest. The one that fascinated me most was the toilet paper tube/dryer lint variety. We go through a lot of toilet paper around here. Ditto for the dryer lint that overflows the laundry room trash can.

While I had some of the boys home over the holiday I decided they could help me try it out. I’d been gathering the supplies for weeks and I was amazed how quickly the project went. From my Pinterest research, it looks like you just stuff dryer lint into the tubes and place them under your kindling and logs. Since dryer lint is so flammable, it is supposed to be a sure fire way to light a fire.

There were a few varieties that involved wax, but we couldn’t figure out how that would help the process at all, so we skipped it. Most of the ideas only listed two ingredients.

Our first attempt did not go well. We carefully made our little kindling tent, with a homemade fire starter underneath it, then larger logs on top. The little guy caught fire quickly but just seemed to simmer from there. At times we were not sure if it was even still burning. Not a raging success for lighting the bigger logs on fire. Even when we added a second one, we got pretty much the same results.

Photo: Judy Berna

My boys discussed our results and wondered if poking a few holes in the tube would help the air circulate better, causing a better flame. Out came the pocket knives and the poking began.

It helped a little, but only enough to help catch some ‘helper’ cardboard on fire that was next to it.

Then they decided that maybe it needed a channel of air. By pushing their fingers through the tube, they squashed the lint down to one side. This seemed to do the trick. Both of the starters we tried after that worked much better. They had decent flames and eventually did catch the kindling on fire. In a few minutes the large logs caught fire and we were in business.

Photo: Judy Berna

I will do this project again, mainly because I would be throwing away the lint and tubes anyway and it might be a good kick-starter to my fire making skills. It’s quick to do and not that messy to store. We still might try adding the wax component and I’d love to know (in the comments section) if anyone has had better luck with using wax. My assumption was that the wax only serves to hold the lint in place better, if you were hauling these things to campsites.

So I’d have to give this project a “Mostly Pintrusted” rating. It does technically work, if you make some of these adaptations to get better air flow. It’s a cheap way to assist in making fires, big and small.

I’d love to know if you’ve tried this project and if you have been pleased with your results.

You can check out our other “Pintrusted or Pinbusted?” posts here.

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8 thoughts on “Pinbusted or Pintrusted: Making Fire Starters With Toilet Paper Tubes

  1. When I was a kid in Boy Scouts we used to make similar fire starters out of cardboard egg cartons instead of toilet paper tubes. You fill each egg cup with a wad of dryer lint, stick a section of twine in it for a wick/”fuse”, then we covered the whole thing with paraffin wax. Once the wax was dry you cut the egg carton apart and now you have 12 little fire starters.

    The wax served to water proof the fire starters and hold everything together (very important for camping), and it also kind of slowed down the burning process, for lack of a better explanation — think burning a candle vs just burning a length of string. I’m not sure of the physics behind it but I think the wax is part of the trick to getting a good-burning fire starter.

    Wood shavings/saw dust works well too in lieu of dryer lint if you have a woodworker in the family. Definitely need the wax if you go that route though.

  2. I haven’t tried the combo you used, but I grew up with a woodworker father and a wood stove for most of our heat. We still have a stash of wood shaving/paraffin/paper candy cup firestarters around, years after he passed away. We pull a piece of the paper cup aside, and light that, which then lights the paraffin/wood shavings mix. My understanding is that the paraffin burns at a higher temperature than the paper or shavings alone, so does a better job of starting the wood.

  3. Hey, Jason, thanks for the input. I think you are absolutely right. I can see how the wax would help. We will try that next time. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  4. Judy, we also learned to use the wax in Scouts (I think I had mentioned that on-list). The wax served more to hold the lint in place than anything else…IMHO. Great post!

  5. Yep, we also used egg cartons and paraffin in Girl Scouts. You also want to try to use dryer lint that is as much natural fiber as possible. If we’re camping in the summer, we store the ziploc bag of starters in an ice chest to keep them from melting in the heat.

  6. I’ve been making these just like this since I was 5. Let me tell you part of your mistake: they work extremely well under an A-frame of .5in kindling laid over with good super tiny, nearly pine needle thin tinder. The tinder is really the key, and that was what I always taught my Girl Scouts. However, the fire starter will catch off the match whereas the tinder will not, then the tinder lights, then the kindling, and finally the fuel.

    I find it funny that Pinterest is now making widely available things I’ve known all my life through Girl Scouts.

  7. We cut the tubes into thirds, fold in the ends to hold the lint in place, and dip them in wax, so we end up with firestarters that are slightly larger than tealight candles. When we use them, we make a slight tear in one area of the toilet paper roll to reveal the unwaxed paper. That’s the area that is lit with the match. It catches fire quickly due to the paper, the lint inside helps it to burn brightly instead of just creating embers, and the wax keeps it burning long enough to catch the larger kindling on fire.

  8. Petroleum jelly would work as well as the wax and is much easier to apply. It will allow the firestarter to burn much longer. I make mine with cottonballs and cover them in petroleum jelly.

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