> TEOTWAWKI Blog: The Fire Can



The Fire Can

A fire can, ready to light.
If you've read a wilderness survival manual or two, you've probably seen the fire can. Also known as the buddy burner, they've been around for decades. Bit o' cardboard, cut into strips, rolled up, put into a can and then covered with wax.

Wax from four tea lights ready to pour.
I wanted to see how well the fire can worked, so I made on up. Your parts list is simple--a can of some kind, cardboard cut into strips and then wax. I melted down tea lights because I have a bunch of 'em on hand--cheap 100 packs from Ikea--but you can certainly use whatever wax you've got lying around or buy some bulk candle wax at a craft store.

Cut out cardboard strips around the same height as the top of the can. Roll 'em up and put them in the can.

Melt the wax down--a double-boiler is going to be the safest and fastest.You're not supposed to melt wax over an open flame due to fire risk. I just put a nesting GSI cup in a pot of boiling water. Melts down in a couple minutes, easy stuff. Then I Poured the tealight wax over the cardboard and let it cool and firm up.

Next comes the fun part - fire. The fire can is NOT going to be lit with a ferro rod alone--you'll need some actual flame to get this started. A lighter will take 10-20 seconds or so of direct contact to really get it going. I settled for a bit of cotton ball lit with a ferro rod. That got it burning, and the flames gradually spread from the center of the roll on outward towards the edges.

The fire can puts out quite a bit of heat and a pretty good sized flame. It's certainly something that you could cook with - a fire can plus a vented #10 can would make a good hobo cook set. The can was outside with a 5-10 mph breeze and burned well, not threatening to burn or snuff out prematurely. Total burn time was 75 minutes, with the flame only noticeably shrinking towards the end.

A couple thoughts. I think the can that I used was too tall--the fire cans in the survival books I've seen are usually based off of a shoe polish tin or a small tuna can. The top of the cardboard roll is really what burns, so in this particular can, the lower 1/2 to 2/3 of the roll was useless. Shorter cans would seem to be better. I would also want to explore what adding more wax would do--this particular can probably did not have quite enough wax for its size.

Were I to pack these for a survival kit, I would make sure to include a candle wick in the build process or a bit of some kind of tinder on top. Something to ensure that you could light it when the chips were down.

While the fire can is worth a try, it's a bit of a niche piece of equipment. The fire can is not going to burn all night, so in a cold weather survival scenario, you're going to need to build a real fire at some point anyways. That relegates the fire can to a cooking role, where I would prefer a soda can stove or gel fuel can like a Sterno, or just cooking over a fire.

In most survival scenarios, I would prefer the tea lights over the fire can, too. Tealights burn for around 4 hours a piece and can be used for warming or starting a real fire.

That said, the fire can is not without its uses. In an urban environment or in a hide site, you may not be able have a full-fledged fire, and if you had no other stove options and a surplus of wax, this might just be the ticket. Or perhaps in a rain/winter scenario where you could not get a fire going otherwise due to dampness, lack of tinder, etc. A burnin' fire can should be enough to get a fire going most anywhere.

Fun little project that only costs you some wax and time. Certainly worth knowing how to do even if you never need it.