How to Make Fire-Cloth

by Erich

I’m sure you’re already familiar with cotton balls and Vaseline being an excellent tinder for starting fires. That in combination with a ferro rod (FireSteel) is typically my go-to method for starting fires in an emergency.

Recently though, I’ve been updating/upgrading my EDC kit and wanted to make a more compact and comprehensive one. Since the cotton balls were a little bulky/greasy for my new kit, I needed something flatter and drier.

Enter fire cloth.

At a recent food-storage conference, Leon Pantenburg from (be sure to check out his site, he’s got some great articles there) recently gave me some of his homemade firestarter — what I like to call fire cloth — that seems to consist of a mixture of waxes and cotton cloth.

Here’s a video I put together on how you can make your own (if you want a written description, just skip the video and go directly to the article below it):

How to Make Fire-Cloth

What You’ll Need

  • Paraffin Wax
  • Beeswax – Instead of purchasing expensive commercial beeswax, you can just buy a toilet wax ring (found in most hardware stores). They’re typically made from beeswax and are under $2).
  • Cotton cloth or cotton balls

Making Fire-Cloth: Step-by-Step

Step 1: Melt some paraffin in a double boiler. I made a make-shift double boiler by placing a glass Pyrex bowl in simmering water.
Step 2: Melt an equal amount of beeswax.

Step 3: Dip cotton strips in wax and let cool. The thicker your cloth strips the more wax it’ll absorb and the longer it will burn.
Step 4: Light with matches or lighter.

Negatives of Fire Cloth and How to Get Around Them

The cloth strips are very effective…if you have a flame source like a lighter or matches. The downside is, unlike cotton balls and Vaseline, it’s tough to use a ferro rod with the standard fire cloth.

Here’s an alternate method I came up with:

Step 1: Dip a cotton ball in the above mixture. It’s better to quickly dip so the cotton isn’t completely saturated.

Step 2: Place wax-impregnated cotton ball in folded parchment or wax paper.
Step 3: Flatten cotton ball with a roller pin.
Step 4: Fluff up and light with ferro rod. Once cooled, remove the cotton from the wax paper (it should be completely flat. When you’re ready to use it, just tear off a piece and fluff it up so that the ferro-rod sparks will ignite it.


Having a really flat piece of effective tender is an excellent option for the fire portion of your EDC kit. Try it out and let me know in the comments below how it went!

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Comment by Patrick
2013-04-05 09:59:47

My question is, why don’t we all carry a cheap disposable lighter,
in addition to the fire starter kit?

Less than $2 for7 Scripto Pack, at Walmart!
I place some starting kit with it.

Even empty, it makes sparks everytime!
I keep both kits in sealed sandwich bags, but, in
separate parts of my BOB, and backpack, and one in each
ammo belt pouch that holds cleaning kits…

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:33:40


Absolutely. I do carry one as well (wrapped in duct tape for other uses).

Comment by Mel
2013-04-05 10:13:39

Thanks so much for the demo! I will definitely be making some of the cotton ball versions this weekend. Please do more of these prep-it-yourself videos… Awesome ideas!

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:33:52

Thanks Mel. Will do.

Comment by redi2gowtshtf
2013-04-05 10:51:17

looks good will definetly add to my edc and go bag. word of caution though when you put it in your kit there is potential for the wax to melt and make a mess also. maybe in another small bag.

i also use the wax and wood shavings with a cardboard egg carton and make 12 fire starters, but they are bulky. depending on the ratio you use i have had the egg carton (one egg cup) burn for 40 minutes.

thanks for all you do, keep up the good work, and lets hope we never have to use our skills in shtf scenario. -redi2gowtshtf

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:36:08

After having this in my pocket now for a couple days of testing (since this article basically), I haven’t had that issue. I do keep in inside a folded Mylar emergency blanket (which is part of my EDC kit) which may be preventing my body heat from reaching the Fire Cloth.

Nice reminde3r about the wax and wood shavings/egg carton idea. I love that and have used those wax/shaving molds many times in rainy weather to start fires outside. They’re fantastic.

Comment by Jim Donaghy
2013-04-05 11:15:44

Thanks for sharing. I like to use the flat make-up removers they sell at the dollar stores (80 for $1), it’s like 2 pcs. of thin felt with cotton in the middle. They make great char cloths also and work well as you have prescribed. Skip the pressing step. I hope this helps some. Please keep your valuable tip coming. Jim

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:36:56

Fantastic Jim! I’ll definitely try that out this weekend.

Comment by Mick McNulty
2013-04-05 11:24:40

An empty lighter which still has some spark left in it can be used to produce a flame. Take a thin piece of paper like a cigarette paper (rice-paper from an old prayer book or bible is ideal). Fold it and grate some of the flint powder into the crease. Tap the paper to gather the powder in the crease then spark beside to it so the powder ignites. It burns quickly so have a taper ready. If you’re on your own hold the taper in your teeth.
Another reliable method which works with some types of cotton sweatshirt – the kind which loses its shape after a couple of washes – is to take a few pinches of the nap from inside the shirt (near the waist’s hem or the cuff is best), then flick the spark at it. It will catch fire but it burns quickly, much the same as the lint from a clothes-dryer filter.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:37:45

Great tips Mick. Thanks brother.

Comment by Jim Donaghy
2013-04-05 11:44:58

I forgot to mention that the disks have the cotton in the middle so it is easy to open and use with the fire steel.
Also as an after thought I wanted to mention that a flat piece of waxed paper folded over several times also makes a good quick fire starter. They don’t burn as long but would help in a wet situation and it wont take up much space in an EDC. Jim

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:38:17

More great tips Jim. Thanks!

Comment by Gunbear
2013-04-05 13:23:31

Dryer lint dipped in beeswax works pretty well too. Those flat makeup pads that Jim mentions are good too, and you can use them to swab the barrel of your rifle or pistol if you need to. They’re pretty cheap too.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:39:45


Funny. I use the swabs all the time for my guns. Never did dawn on me to use them for firestarting…

You guys are great!

Comment by David
2013-04-05 15:26:40

Butane lighters are great and work well in cool, to hot climates but they don’t work if it’s too cold (not sure of the exact temperature they’ll freeze up in but I’ve had mine not work before in Alabama. The sparks one puts out isn’t as hot or as plentiful as a ferro rod produces. I have a small ferro rod on my key ring and keep one in every bag as well as a Bic lighter on me and 2 in each bag (they weight next to nothing and don’t take up much space). Redundancy can be a good thing.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:40:55

Yup. Redundancy is crucial. “Two is one and one is none”

Comment by Ray
2013-04-05 16:17:08

Pretty cool. Do you happen to know how hot this stuff burns?

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:41:32

Not sure Ray. Are you looking to light something in particular?

Comment by beltsr
2013-04-05 16:53:20

I love new things to add to my survival kit and you can never have to many ways to make fire. Great post. one of my fire starters is the good ol’ dryer lint with some linseed oil on it. you have to bring the oil to a low boil before soaking the lint to avoid future spontaneous combustion though. Another trick. linseed oil soaked rags stuffed into a can with as little room left as possible with start a spontaneous fire, no other tools needed.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:42:56

I’ve heard of that happening. Do you know how long it takes for the oil-soaked rag to self-ignite (when stuffed in a can)?

Comment by Sherry
2013-04-06 00:17:33

Thanks for the imformatin. Is there a use for shredded paper and can you use it for someshing like this also? I have MS and have good days and bad days but I do know its so important to be prepared.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:44:26


Shredded paper dipped in wax will work as well (the denser you can cram the paper the better).

Comment by Renee
2013-04-06 13:52:06

You knocked this one out of the park, Erich! Question: can I substitute the bee wax with crayon wax?

I plan to fold this and tape it to the backside of my belt at work. My EDC is growing!

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:46:04

Crayon wax is pretty stiff and would probably be a better replacement for the paraffin. You need the beeswax to soften it a bit so it’s flexible (if you plan on folding it).

Comment by Renee
2013-04-06 13:55:19

I have an F Rod on my paracord bracelet, if needed; but I keep lighters in my bags, like you do.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-06 14:46:38

Yup. As David mentioned below, redundancy is key.

Comment by Michael Stonebear
2013-04-06 20:32:03

These are all great ideas, folks. Thanks so much. It just so happens I bought six blocks of paraffin last week to seal the leather tankards I made.

I also have MS so I know how it is to worry how I’m going to manage the rough times when the shtf.

Thanks TI.

Comment by Pat
2013-04-07 23:16:03

Took my first adventure as a senior yesterday for a one day adventure here in New England. The edible plants are a bit late as weather is still a challange.but I did find some chickweed to cook up. I went to a river that I grew up on so I kind of know the area. It is amazing how much things grow up and change over the years. As a child I used to walk this river for hours. Now it is just covered in thorny rosehips. Next time I will bring my machete. However, I did bring my fishing pole with a hook and bobber. I found some grubs in a dead tree and was able to catch three small sucker fish. Started a fire with my metal match and a cat tail head that I picked up in a pond area along the way. Man, that cat tail head went up with one spark of my metal match. Great stuff.
Just so happy that I could walk off into nature, catch something to eat, and start my own fire with out a match and cook my food, boil my own water to drink. Sorry for a rookie’s tale of survival. Cannot wait for June and the five day plan.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-09 17:30:51

Thanks for sharing!

Comment by Pat
2013-04-07 23:38:39

Michael, where are you located? Maybe if I am close enough I can give you a hand. Pat

Comment by brenda
2013-04-08 09:34:42

Dirttime does full picture instructions giving credit to a youtube by intenseangler.

Take kitchen size strike anywhere matches, wrap tightly in a width of soft bathroom tissue matching the length of the stem, dip in candle wax leftover from spent candles, lay out on parchment paper til solid. When ready to use, gently remove wax from strike head with your fingernail (carefully so you don’t ignite), strike anywhere, twirl a bit until tissue lights good. It gives you 7 minutes of burn.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-09 17:30:00

Nice tip. Thanks Brenda

Comment by english ben
2013-04-10 09:51:11

i’ve got a few tampons in my bag, they’re easy to light with a flint rod aswell as being sealed in a waterproof packet. Or there’s a method i saw on dual survivor, put some cloth in an almost air tight metal tin and heat over the fire until smoke starts coming out, the cloth should be black and will then easily take a spark.
Keep up the good work

Comment by Dan Baugh
2013-04-10 21:34:01

Lots of great ideas! One of my favorites is first aid “alcohol prep swabs.” These come in about 2-inch square, very flat foil sealed packets. They would be used to wipe the skin before an injection. These are tiny, so should be used to supplement another firestarter, but they light extremely easily with a spark.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-04-11 08:41:02

Thanks Dan, alcohol swabs are a great tinder.

Comment by Marge
2013-04-14 17:58:50

I am off topic. I just reread your article from 2010 about keeping copies of documents. I have many flash drives all over the place. A few months back I found a small metal PNY usb that can be hung on a key chain. I have it with me 24/7 on a short dog tag chain necklace. Now I don’t have to go look for one or lose one to a thief that may rob my car and thus have all my info.
Thanks for all your great info.

Comment by George O'Toole
2013-04-16 20:02:31

Great, simple method of developing a fire starter. When you make a “batch”, do you know the shelf life is?

I also like the redundancy ideas some of the other commentors put forth.

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2013-05-09 08:44:46

Others are right seems to be a lot of work.

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Comment by pete
2013-06-20 01:21:49

re: The cotton makeup patches for gun cleaning. Just repurpose the used oily or saturated patches and use them as tinder. More multiuse.Put them in an old film canister with some 000 steel wool and you have some really flammable tinder for use with flint stick or Bic.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-06-24 16:03:48

Excellent tip Pete. Thanks!

Comment by Bob Bigelow
2013-10-30 17:37:18

Started a project to make some firestarters with Vaseline, when I noticed a jar of that mentholated stuff you put on your chest when you have a cold. Read the ingredients…. two kinds of oil, special petrolatum, and…. turpentine! Tried one, burned for 2 minutes 45 seconds, very hot. And besides, it makes your BOB smell good.. tucked into a film can, or a snack size ziplock, would fit anywhere and not dry out.

Comment by Myke
2013-11-06 13:19:22

This method is a little larger and heavier than most “portable” fire starters but it may come in handy while “Bugging-In”. I made these in Cub Scouts many millenia ago. Take a used tuna can and cut cardboard the width of the height of the can. Roll up the cardboard and place it inside the can then pour wax into it so the wax comes up just shy of the top of the cardboard (I’ve found that buying old large candles at the thrift store save me a lot of money and makes a lot of fire starter). Voila, you have a home made Sterno cooker.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2013-11-06 17:00:25

that’s a great tip Myke. I remember doing the same in scouts. We’d also use woodchips in place of the cardboard sometimes. Both are excellent “sterno” cookers.

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