Fire is life. This mantra is widely accepted as accurate, and even those who have a counterpoint will agree that fire is crucial to survival. So having a way to start a fire is a pretty high priority.
Firestarters come in all shapes and sizes. I have used so many over the years that I have lost count. As new ideas and products hit the market sometimes something will catch my eye, and I’ll change what I carry, but for the most part, I stay away from gimmicky products and ideas and stick with what I know.
However, I recently saw a new type of firestarter and decided to give it a try. I fell hopelessly in love and started testing these things out more and more. I now feel that they are one of the best primary fire starters you can carry, and I learned how to make them at home.
They are called “paraffin fire disks” on most of the internet, but I have also seen them called “wax rounds” and “fire pucks.”
The concept is simple, you take a cotton round, the ones a lot of women use to take off makeup at night, and you dip it into a wax. Once the wax hardens, you take the tip of a knife and stab it into the middle and pull up, revealing some of the cotton fibers. You spark or light the cotton fibers, and it will begin to burn and melt the wax, which will then act like a candle.
They are weatherproof, have no oily texture or smell, a reasonably durable, work in very wet conditions, and catch a spark exceptionally well. They are easy to make, inexpensive, and store well. Generally, they will produce a 3 to 6-inch flame and burn for approximately 5 to 6 minutes.
Paraffin Fire Discs Fire Starters
- 1 lb Household Paraffin Wax
- 4 oz Paraffin Lamp Oil
- 80 Cotton Rounds
- Heat source
- Double Boiler Setup
- Forceps or Needle Nose Pliers
- Wax Paper
- Cut/Chop the wax into small pieces and place them into the inner container. You don’t have to break the wax down very small, but the smaller they are the faster that they will melt.
- Put the double boiler onto the heat and allow the wax to melt. You will want to stir it from time to time and make sure that it is thoroughly melted.
- Remove the wax container from the double boiler, but leave the heat on and the boiler hot.
- Add 4 ounces of the paraffin lamp oil to the wax and stir to combine.
- Drop a cotton round into the wax and them immediately grab it with the forceps/pliers. Make sure that the entire round is covered in the wax.
- Allow the excess wax to drip off and back into the wax container. Place the round on a piece of wax paper and allow it to cool/dry.
- Repeat for all of the rounds. Depending on the air temperature, wind, and other factors, the wax will begin to cool and harden as you work. Once you start to see this happening, stop and put the wax container back in the boiler to heat back up. Stir and continue.
- Allow the rounds to cool and dry completely.
- Examine the disks and look for any exposed cotton. Re-dip these areas. It is crucial that all of the cotton is sealed in wax. You can also do a full re-dip on all of the disks if desired, but it will make them thicker.
- Allow to the disks to cool and dry completely and they are done.
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Paraffin wax can be acquired easily in most locations. It is sold in bulk online and in hardware stores and can be found in the trapping section of most sporting goods stores. You can also buy it in the baking/canning section of most grocery stores.
Paraffin lamp oil can be found online and in many hardware stores. You must make sure to use paraffin lamp oil. Most lamp oil you buy nowadays is distilled from petroleum, and will not work the same. The oil works as an accelerant, and helps the flame burn hotter to melt the wax. It also helps the disk catch fire easier from a spark.
The cotton rounds can be found in the pharmacy/first aid or cosmetic section of most big box stores. They need to be 100% cotton.
You will need a heat source to melt the wax. You will want to do this outside due to the paraffin lamp oil, so we used a backpacking stove, and it worked well. You are going to need to set up a double boiler so that you do not burn the wax. We used an old vegetable can sitting in a cooking pot with about two inches of water.
Lastly, you are going to need something to dip the rounds with and wax paper to lay them on to dry.
How to Use a Fire Disc
Insert a knife or other pointed object into the center of the disk at an angle, then pull up.
This will expose and lift up some of the cotton fibers. Repeat this motion and create a small “birds nest”:
Lay the disk into your kindling bundle and spark into the “birds nest”, which will quickly ignite.
The disk will begin to burn and start to melt the wax. Once this happens, you will have a nice and steady 3 to 6-inch flame that will burn from 5 to 6 minutes on average. If you are using a lighter, you can bend the disk in half and then tear it from the edge. You can then light it with a regular lighter and use the same way.
Tips and Tricks
The measurements given here are what we found to be a convenient batch. You can make as many or as few as you like at a time. To adjust, make sure that you add 20% by volume of the paraffin lamp oil. A one-pound block of paraffin wax will give you approximately 20 fluid ounces of wax, so we added 4 ounces of the oil.
If you would like to color your fire disks, you can add color to the wax. You have to make sure that anything you are using is made of paraffin wax.
Soy and other wax materials will not work as efficiently and may inhibit the intensity of the burn. We bought red-tinted paraffin lamp oil which gave us the pink color in the photos. Note that crayons will not work here.
The best way to carry these in your pack is a small tin of some type. They need to be protected from light and sun. They will melt if left in a car.
It is possible to tear them in half and only use half to start a fire. However, once you expose the cotton fibers, the accelerant in the oil will begin to evaporate:
Some people have reported success in lightly melting the edge to re-seal the disk, but that would be on a case by case basis since without dipping them its hard to know if they are sealed.
The disks will work without the accelerant in the oil and could be made from straight paraffin wax; however, they do not burn as intense or catch a spark as well. So unless you are in a survival situation where you need to conserve resources, I would use a whole one each time.
Let’s Try These Out!
These fire disks are a great item to have and I hope that you give them a try. They work well as a survival prep and for starting a campfire. You can play with the “recipe” and make it your own, and if you find something that works well be sure to share it in the comment section below.
Born and raised in Kentucky, Steve grew up deep in the mountains on a family farm. After college, Steve spent over 15 years working in public service and has experience in Fire, EMS, and Law Enforcement. He has also worked with training and deploying search & rescue and service dogs for utilization in a variety of services.
Steve is also a Scout Leader with the Boy Scouts of America, and works to teach preparedness to the next generation. Steve has worked with and taught firearms and self-defense in multiple venues, from tactical applications to long range shooting, and also has extensive training in first aid and wilderness first aid.
An active prepper, Steve has devoted hundreds of hours to mastering and teaching skills and techniques for use in survival, homesteading, and general preparedness.
4 thoughts on “Paraffin Fire Discs Firestarters: How to Make Them”
Tea candles work too. To take a tip from the latter: simply add a piece of cotton string (I suppose you would call it “twine”) to the disc and use that as a wick. I am never without a pocket stove with plenty of solid fuel tablets (mine’s an Esbit, however, this old timer gives some excellent advice about hexamine tablets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wO-92xtyvl8), so that I can use this as a fire starter if push comes to shove. Pine sawdust can be used instead of cotton disks, as can any type of sawdust, unsized paper, cardboard discs cut from boxes or any other flammable material.
I also have two refillable gas cigarette lighters, extra flints and mini gas refill in my emergency pack. The lighters are supplemented by flint holders and wheels, taken from lighters that no longer hold gas. If the lighter no longer gives a spark when the wheel is spun with a thumb, take a sharp object (I use a sharpened steel masonry nail) and carefully scrape away the built-up flint dust from between the serrations of the flint wheel. This renders it as good as new again. Forget about the new fangled pietzo-electric lighters: when they stop working there is nothing you can do except throw them in the trash.
I make fire starters from sawdust and egg cartons but theses are the same concept. A trick I learned is go to your local thrift store and buy a slow cooker or crock pot to melt the wax in. This way you can just keep it turned on and don’t have to worry about reheating the wax. Also any left over wax can be just let to harden in the pot for next time you are making these.
That is a great idea!
I see those little tiny slow cookers at thrift stores all the time for cheap, and that would be great. Thanks for the tip.
Hi, Gary Pierce here. I have been living in Germany for 41 years now and have been training to live off the land since 1974. Boy Scouts, California.
I`ve been using these for years also. Other ways to use them: (1)cut two about half way thru, slip them together in an X form and light for more heat (wet situation). (2) cut into one in a sleight spiral, 1 to 1 1/2 inches, raise the cut up to vertical and light like any candle. (3) cut one all the way around in a spiral completely to the center. you get a very long burning little “wick” .