Winter Project: DIY Tinder

diy-tinderI am sure we all understand the importance of fire in a survival situation. With winter now upon us, being able to quickly and consistently make a fire in an emergency situation can be a life-saving skill.  One of the keys to starting a fire is having sufficient amounts of tinder.  Without tinder, your chances of starting a fire are very low.

Another consideration is dexterity – or the lack thereof.  As we age – and when our hands are less responsive due to freezing weather – having tinder which easily catches a spark or flame is of the utmost importance.  While there are many options for pre-made tinder available commercially, making your own is simple and very cost effective.

Getting a fire going quickly will make a bad situation a little bit better. With this in mind let’s have a look at some options for some DIY homemade tinder to get a fire burning. Some take a bit of effort, some take no effort at all!

1 – Vaseline soaked cotton balls. This is a well-known homemade form of tinder and it works very well. As the name suggests it is a cotton ball covered in petroleum jelly (Vaseline).  They are very simple to make – take a cotton ball (ensuring it is 100% cotton) and cover it with Vaseline. Be careful not to completely saturate the cotton as you need some dry fibers to take a flame (this is particularly important if you are using a fire steel or magnesium rod).


  • Cotton takes a spark very easily and once soaked in Vaseline it will burn for a long time.
  • They are light weight and take up next to no space in your bug out bag.
  • They are very cheap to buy and make.


  • Messy to make
  • If too much Vaseline is used, it becomes quite difficult to light.

To light a fire just pull the cotton ball apart slightly (making it fluffy), put a spark to it and then build your fire around the burning ball.

2 – Char cloth. This is another relatively simple method of creating your own tinder but brings in a bit of science.

Basically it is using the process of pyrolysis (in very basic terms – the process of chemically altering a material by using heat) to turn a piece of material into ready-made tinder.

To make your own char cloth, you will need to cut some material from an old t shirt or other apparel. Only use 100% cotton – t shirts work great! Cut the material into small squares.

These squares then get placed into a tin which can be tightly sealed shut. A small hole needs to be placed in the tin (about the size of a nail) to allow for smoke to escape. Once the tin is sealed, place it over a fire, you will see smoke coming out of the hole made with the nail. Keep the tin over the fire until the smoke stops. Cover the hole and let everything cool off.

Once you open the tin you should have your own char cloth ready to take a spark.


  • Small size makes it light to carry around
  • It takes a spark amazingly well.
  • It is pretty quick to make.


  • Potentially can be frustrating if you make the hole in your tin too big, this will allow oxygen inside causing your material to catch fire as opposed to heat up.
  • There is a chance you could ignite it unexpectedly as it will catch even a small spark.

3 – Clothes dryer lint. The fluffy stuff that builds up on the inside of your dryer’s door takes a spark remarkably well. This is ready-made tinder (as long as it is dry) and it takes no effort to make it.


  • Easy to get hold of
  • Lightweight
  • Takes a spark easily


  • Burns very quickly
  • Lint from synthetic materials will not burn well

4 – Newspaper – Another method that takes very little effort. Crumpled up newspaper makes great tinder. It will take a spark and burn long enough to get a reasonable fire going around it.


  • Easily accessible
  • Can be stored in a bag with no hassle
  • No preparation needed – just crumple it up and put a spark on to it.


  • Won’t light if it gets wet
  • Burns quicker than other tinder’s mentioned

5 – Sawdust and paraffin wax – Place sawdust over a cooking tray. Cover the sawdust with melted wax. Place in the fridge to cool before cutting the end product into 1 – 2 inch squares for your kit.


  • Burns for a long time and at a high temperature
  • Can make a lot of it in one go


  • Can stick together if not stored appropriately (wrap in foil)
  • Can be difficult to catch a spark.  Best if used with the flame from a match or lighter.

Experiment making different types.  See which ones most easily hold a spark and flame – under differing conditions.

Practice makes perfect!

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