Build a campfire, they said. It will be simple, they said.

You gather up some leaves and twigs from the woods, light a match, and then relax as the flames warm your fingers and toes. Yeah… if it were only that easy.

Starting a campfire at a campsite -

If it’s been raining for a few days or if you’re having trouble catching a spark, building a fire can seem like an impossible task. That is unless you have the magic-like fire-making shortcut in your hands: the firestarter.

Before you hurry to the store, check out these tips on making fire starters with sawdust and other materials and start your campfire with ease!

3+1 Components of a Campfire

Prior to diving into each firestarter, let’s go over the basic components you’ll need to create a roaring fire at your site.

  • Spark: Whether with matches, lighter, magnesium, flint, or an old-school method like directing the sun through a magnifying glass, you’ll need a way to create a spark and ignite your campfire.
  • Fuel: You shouldn’t simply put sticks from the forest in your firepit and expect a match to light them. You’ll first need to gather tinder (i.e., dry bark, leaves, pine needles) before moving up into the larger firewood. Remember, it’s not a race; building a campfire takes time and patience.
  • Air: Of course, for any fire to thrive, it needs plenty of oxygen. When you are starting, make sure to softly blow on the flames to give them more air to grow.
  • Fire starter (Optional): When that tinder won’t hold a flame, you must have something that will burn long and allow the kindling to catch a flame, and that’s what we’ll talk about today.
Starting a campfire at campsite

How to Make Sawdust Fire Starters for Camping

What you’ll Need (at home):

  • Sawdust
  • Old Candles
  • Muffin Tin
  • Parchment Paper Muffin Liner
  • Double Boiler

Instead of vacuuming up your workshop at home, save all the leftover sawdust from your latest home improvement project so that you’ll be able to whip up some easy sawdust firestarters in 4 simple steps…

1. Set Up the Sawdust

In a muffin tin, you’ll want to place the parchment paper muffin liner in each slot. Then, pour the sawdust into the paper until it’s about ½” – 1” tall (the amount of sawdust should cover about the length of your fingernail). Set aside for now.

2. Melt the Wax

In a double boiler, melt all your unused or old candles. It is vital that this wax slowly and evenly melts, so I do not recommend using direct heat from your stove to liquefy the wax.

3. Pour the Wax

Now that all your old candles have melted into soup, you’ll want to pour the wax over the sawdust. Do this very slowly as you’ll want the resulting fire starter to be consistent – and you probably don’t want to create a huge mess.

4. Allow to Cool and Turn Solid

Finally, set your creation aside for a few hours so that the wax solidifies – you can also place it in the freezer if you have enough room. When solid to the touch, remove them from the tray and pack them in a water-tight plastic bag. Store in a cool, dry place, and don’t forget to pack them on your next outdoor adventure.

These slow-burning “hotcakes” will give you the comfort of knowing that you’ll always have a warm fire at the campsite.

Don’t Have Materials Handy?

If you don’t have a workshop or access to sawdust, don’t fret. There are several variations to this method that will provide you with a long-burning fire starter at the campsite.

Substitute the Sawdust

For its ignition capabilities, sawdust can be replaced by other household items such as dryer lint, cut-up paper, cotton gauze, and even linen.

Not all of these products will give you the same burning power as sawdust, but they should still do the trick.

Shredded paper for campfire

Substitute the Wax

If you don’t have a bunch of old candles lying around the house, you aren’t out of luck. You can use any oil-based substance that is solid at room temperature and can be liquified through heat.

For example, you could use old bacon grease in combination with the sawdust to create a firestarter – plus, your campfire will smell amazing.

Cooking bacon while camping

Substitute the Muffin Tin

Not everyone is a baking guru, so you may not even have a muffin tin in the pantry. You can use any receptacle like paper cups, a cardboard egg carton, or an ice cube tray (you will still need liners for this one) to store your homemade firestarter.

Cardboard egg cartons

Substitute the Double Boiler

If you are like me, you don’t have a spare double boiler hanging around your house to melt all your old candles. Instead, use a crockpot, toggling between the warm and low settings to melt down the wax.

Use an oven bag inside the crockpot for easy cleanup, and throw it away when you are done.

Other DIY Fire Starters

No old candles? No sawdust? No problem! There are plenty of other homemade fire starter methods that will ignite your campfire in the harshest of conditions.

Petroleum Jelly Cotton Balls

Put your giant bag of cotton balls to good use by utilizing them to light your campfire. Without any alterations, the dry cotton balls themselves burn for about twenty seconds, but when you soak them in petroleum jelly – like Vaseline, they can stay lit for nearly five minutes.

Now, that’s impressive.

Ensure to store these oily cotton balls in an airtight plastic bag to avoid any moisture from entering. I like to store the cotton balls and the petroleum jelly separately, then combine them at the campsite since both of these products have many outdoor uses.

Newspaper Chain

Once you’re done reading the Sunday comics (does anyone do that anymore?), you can use your old newspaper to create a reliable fire starter for the campsite.

Grab an individual page and roll it up into one long piece – like a hotdog. Then, take both ends and twist them together loosely, forming a kind of pigtail braided newspaper.

Newspaper as firestarter

Repeat this with other newspapers, but ‘thread’ one piece into the next, forming a long chain of newspapers. Keep this dry inside your car and ignite when you are ready.


Who would have ever thought these savory snacks could save your life in the wild? Any common potato or corn chips – Doritos, Fritos, and even Cheetos, make excellent firestarters.

Why? A chip is comprised of hydrocarbons (similar to wood) and doused in fat; both burn easily.

So, next time you want to bring your favorite snack to the campsite, use it to ignite your campfire before you chow down.

Wrapping It Up…

Ignite your outdoor spark with the security of knowing that you’ll have no problem holding building a fire with a sawdust firestarter.

If you don’t have any wood shavings lying around, there are still plenty of methods to create slow-burning, reliable fire starters so that you and your camping buddies can roast marshmallows and bask in the warmth of the campfire.

Start preparing your firestarters today, and as always, camp on!