Why 'My Mink Betty'?

Why 'My Mink Betty'?
I'm not your common, everyday twenty-something year old and when I graduated from High School I got an equally uncommon gift. My parents found for me a beautiful 1940's mink stole at a garage sale. It had belonged to the woman's Great Aunt Betty who had married late in life to a man with money and had only allowed him to buy her this one luxury. The unusually styled stole has the name, Betty L. Jones, embroidered in the satin lining so that's what I call her. They never had children of their own and the mink was passed to Aunt Betty's niece and on to her daughter. Until it got to me, no one since Aunt Betty had worn it. Now Betty the mink and I go to the theater together on special occasions and I hope that someday I can take her to the Symphony or the Ballet. Although Betty hadn't been worn or loved for many years she was waiting for someone to love her again as are most other things I look for when thrifting.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Simpler Way To Make Fire Starters

Today's post is written by my mom.

We use our fireplace insert to heat our house almost every day, so we build a lot of fires.  I used to make fire starters by mixing melted wax with sawdust and pressing it into the cups of egg cartons.  Those fire starters work very well.  But I have since found an easier way.  Whenever I made sawdust fire starters, I was left with the tops of dozens of egg cartons.  One day I decided to see if I could make fire starters out of the leftovers, and this is what I came up with.  

Fire Starter Strips

 They don't burn as long as the little sawdust cups, but they fit between logs and two of them are just enough to start a small pile of dry pine cones.  There are two giant pine trees in front of our house and I collect the cones when they drop and save them in paper bags in the woodshed until winter.  The cones make great kindling. 

The best thing about fire starter strips is that they are very easy to make.  Plus they are practically free.
If you think this kind of fire starter might work for you, I will try to tell you how to make them.
First you need a pot for melting wax.  You don't want to use one of your good cooking pots; you need a designated melting pot.  I bought this one at Goodwill because it was A) cheap and B) heavy. 

You can see it's got mineral residue and a bit of wax in it from multiple uses.  I never wash it.
Next you need a large can, the kind that held 2 lbs of something.  If you don't have one, I recommend buying a can of hominy. Hominy's good stuff.  You can use a smaller one, but I like this size better.  You are going to make a double boiler by putting the wax you want to melt into the can, putting the can into the pot and then putting water in the pot.  DO NOT TRY TO MELT WAX OVER DIRECT HEAT!

This is my can of premelted wax, left over from the last time I made fire starters. I got the wax by melting down some candles I bought at a garage sale.  I can usually get half-used pillars for 25c-50c each.  Once I got a grocery sack full of them for $1.00. 

Here are my tools: scissors, newspaper, an old oven mitt, and a canning jar lifter. 

In addition to the wax, you'll need a supply of cardboard egg cartons.  Cut off the closure strip and remove the lid. 

Cut up the top until you have a pile of strips like this.

Then cut the strips in half.  You should end up with an assortment of strips of cardboard about 5 inches long.

Lay some sheets of newspaper on the counter closest to the pot and set the bottom of your egg carton on the newspaper.  Make sure the newspaper covers the counter up to the stove, NOT like it is in the picture.

Fill the can with the wax chunks.  One reason I like using a big can is that a pillar candle will fit in it.  If you have a smaller can or a really big candle, cut to fit.  Put the can of wax into the pot and add water up to about one third the height of the can.   If the can starts to tip, you have added too much water.  Heat the pot on high until the water boils.  As the water heats up, the can will rattle a bit.  This is perfectly normal.

When the water in the pot has come to a full boil, turn the heat down to just below boiling and heat until all the wax is melted.  Keep adding wax until the can is about three-fourths full.  Resist the urge to touch the can.  It will get REALLY hot.  If you absolutely must touch it, use the oven mitt.  There is no need to stir the wax, just let it melt until it looks all shiny.  I usually test it by sticking one of the cardboard strips into the wax and trying to stir it.  If I meet any resistance, then there are still some unmelted chunks of wax. 

Once the wax is melted you can start dipping the cardboard strips.  Push each one in almost to the end.  You may need to let the strip bend a little to get it all in.  Then lift it out.  This part should go rather quickly.

Hold the strip over the can until the wax stops dripping - this takes maybe 5 seconds. 

Set the waxy strip into the bottom of the egg carton to dry. 

Here is the finished fire starter.  You can see I now have two cartons.  I cut up another one while I was waiting for the wax to melt.

Here are all the fire starters in their drying racks.  One egg carton yields about a dozen fire starters.

When you have finished dipping all your cardboard strips, CAREFULLY remove your can of wax from the pot of hot water and set it on a pile of newspaper to dry.  This is where the jar lifter comes in very handy.  You can do it with oven mitts, but they will probably get wax on them.  I could leave the can of wax in the pan to cool off, but that takes several hours, and I usually need the stove before that.  

Don't just put the water down the sink.  After it cools I sometimes line a strainer with paper towels and pour the water through that to catch any wax.  Or I might just dump it outside.

I timed myself doing this.  It took 20 minutes to go from empty pot to fully melted wax, but then only ten minutes to make all the fire starters and clean up.  The wax will harden on the strips very quickly.  They can be removed from the rack in a couple of minutes, making space for new ones, so you can do several batches rather quickly. 

We keep our fire starters in a basket next to the fireplace.  The end without the wax is the one to light.  Once I got the idea to dip both ends.  Not a good idea.  You need the bare end for it to light easily.  I also tried other kinds of cardboard: toilet paper rolls, soda boxes, corrugated strips.  None of them worked very well.  I think it is because the egg cartons absorb the wax better.

Has anyone noticed the irony?  I started making these because I had a bunch of leftover egg carton tops.  Now I have a bunch of leftover egg carton bottoms, lol.  I suppose I could become the egg carton caterpillar queen.  

I think I'll just recycle them.

One last note:  I don't have any little kids in my home.  I wouldn't melt wax with little kids about.  But I learned how to make fire starters from the Boy Scouts, so use your own judgement about how old your kid needs to be in order to help with this. 


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