By Bob Schrader – Imagine it’s been raining and your campsite is drenched. The matches got damp and you need to start a campfire to warm up and dry out. All you need is a simple match to light the candles or oil lamps. No problem. This time you came prepared because you brought along waterproof matches, homemade firestarters, and candles for the evening hours. The good thing is, you thought to add them to your survival gear list and made them at home before this emergency arose!
Learning how to make wax candles is easy. It just takes a few minutes to get set up, and then it’s a snap. I buy only the brand of wax that is formed in four sticks — most brands are one solid stick. If you buy the wax by the case you will probably get a discounted price, plus you have a carton to place the completed candle back into. It is best to put the completed candle back into the carton and then back into the cardboard box. It is more protection from any heat that occurs.
Now get an old frying pan and melt about 1/4-inch of wax. Be sure to do this slowly because wax can explode and spatter. Keep the heat low enough just to keep the wax melted. Often when you remove the wax block from its container, the four sticks (or at least two) will be stuck together. Test the two to make sure they will not separate later. If all four are stuck together, break them in half.
Assuming the four sticks are separated from each other, slightly dip one side of two pieces into the melted wax. Now press those two wet sides together and hold them for a few seconds until they melt to become one stick. Now repeat with the other two sticks. In the center of the two attached sticks will be a little groove. Score the groove on both pieces so that a string will fit in it. Don’t cut a groove too big, but just enough to hold a string fat with wax.
Use only 100% cotton string cut about seven inches in length. I cut several pieces ahead of time and let them soak up the melted wax. With a pair of tweezers pick up one wick at its top end and lay it in a groove, flush with the bottom of your candle. This wick is wet and hot, and will dry very quickly wherever you lay it down, so try to get it evenly in the groove. (You can pull it off and replace it if you have to.) Once the wick has set, grab the two pieces (one with the wick, one without) in either hand, and dip them for a few seconds in the melted wax. Immediately press these two pieces together being sure they are even at the bottom, since you want your candle to stand upright in order to burn properly.
You now have a candle with the wick in the center and the bottom flat for standing. You can cut the wick if you like, but I don’t. This will give you about a four-inch flame that will give you a lot of light. As is, you will get about 36 hours of use from this candle. But you can increase that to about 40 hours if you wrap foil around it so melting wax does not run off. I also attach a piece of foil at the top which flares out and reflects more light.
This candle will last about 40 hours, for about $2. You can add fragrance to the melted wax if you want, but remember you are adding chemicals to the air you breathe.
To make homemade firestarters, first take a 9 x 11 piece of paper and cut it in quarters. (You can use almost any paper, but I wouldn’t recommend newspaper—it isn’t firm enough.) You can use junk mail or any paper that has a little body to it. I prefer tablet paper, that way I get even sticks about 5-1/2 inches long.
First, I roll the cut length of paper up like a cigarette, then, while holding it, I start to wind the 100% cotton string all along the roll of paper with the string “locked” in at the start and being sure the string is rolled side touching side. When you have wrapped the roll of paper, secure the string at the other end the same way. Your roll is now wrapped in string around the paper and it is hollow. Now “fry” your roll in melted wax turning it to get the air out and being sure it absorbs as much wax as it can. The roll will kind of “gurgle” as it absorbs the wax and air is released. When it seems done (you’ll know), pick it up with a pair of tweezers and let it drain. Place the finished starters on a piece of wax paper to dry. These homemade firestarters will burn for up to 15 minutes.
Well, all of this instruction for homemade firestarters is to no avail if you have damp matches. I guess you can rub two sticks together, but I have an easier way.
Simply dip the tips of wooden matches in your melted wax and you have waterproof matches that will float in water and light when you strike them. Be sure to use wooden matches that are the “strike anywhere” kind. Others will work, but not nearly as easily as these.
A couple of things to remember: Do not dip the matches too deep in the wax, because they will flare up when struck. Have some sandpaper around for striking since the wax may wear off the scratch pad on the box. I use my fingernail to remove some of the wax on the tip for easier lighting.
I know you can go down to the store and buy all these goods ready-made, but what if there was no store? Where would you be if you weren’t prepared with these emergency essentials? These are simple projects that can be very rewarding and save you money.
Oh, don’t store your finished projects out in the back shed. Remember you have been working with wax which will melt if it gets too hot.
Originally published in 2002 and regularly vetted for accuracy.