Being able to start your own fire is almost like being able to change your own tire. These days, though, there are more than a few inexpensive and easy-to-use firestarter products that can light up your fireplace or wood stove, in about half the time it takes to change a tire, and without the use of either kindling or newspaper.
One of the fastest firestarters is EZ Fire Firewood Starter, a kind of gel-wax byproduct of diesel manufacturing. Like pretty much everything at The Firebird, it’s ecologically sound (and recycled). Packaged in a flat plastic squeeze tube that’s like an oversized packet of ketchup (or energy paste), it’s paraffin-based and as soon as you light it up, the gel oozes out over the log in a little river of fire—“Like bacon fat,” says The Firebird’s Kelley Nace, as he demonstrates in one of the store’s many showroom fireplaces. “Or napalm.” It burns for about five to ten minutes, and whatever it oozes onto catches fire as well.
Another convenient firestarter is the Seymour Fire Blox—little cubes of pressed (and recycled) cardboard. Set a piece beneath a log or a hunk of wood, put a match to it, and—presto!—fire. These Blox are lightweight (excellent for camping and favored by outdoorspeople everywhere), and they, too, burn for five to ten minutes.
The third option is fatwood, Genuine Georgia Fatwood, which The Firebird offers in small burlap-ish bags. They’re a bit like kindling, but these sticks of longleaf pine were once used to make turpentine, and the ones sold here come mostly from Georgia and elsewhere in the South (where they’ve been harvested from long-dead tree stumps). They catch fire as quickly as the EZ Fire and the Blox, and they’re also good for camping and will even light up damp logs. Known locally as acote, these fatwood sticks haven’t been treated with any chemicals and are all-natural. (Although, if you were to throw a whole bag’s worth into the fireplace, they’d coat the inside of your chimney with creosote.)
Sure, you can go with dryer lint or cotton balls soaked in Vaseline, or the wax-coated cardboard boxes grocery stores use for shipping fruits and vegetables, or kindling—or even Fritos brand corn chips (yes, they’re rumored to be a great firestarter).
But take caution with things like pallets (which tend to be coated with chemicals to preserve the wood and make it less flammable and/or bug resistant) or railroad ties (which give off that harsh smell of tar). And while plenty of people still use newspapers, clumps of yesterday’s news tend to drift upward with the heat in a fireplace, where the paper can sometimes clog up the chimney’s cap-spark screens or, in a stove, gum up the catalytic combustor. And never use any type of liquid charcoal lighter.
Basically, though, the fastest, easiest, and healthiest firestarters are the Fire Blox, the EZ Fire Starters, and the Georgia Fatwood.