How to Make and Use "Candle Cup" Fire Starters (Portable Kindling)

By Alan Silverstein,
Last update: February 12, 2017


What Are They?

One finished candle cup

  • Best all-around fire starter I've ever seen: Small, light, cheap, portable, reliable, long-lasting, and long-burning. Can start split pine burning directly with no other kindling! (Click on the nearby image for full size.)

  • One-ounce paper cups full of junk wax and a small bit of wick, fun and relatively easy to make -- but for best results follow the directions below.

  • Each cup makes a flame about 1" across and 5" tall that burns for 10-15 minutes.

  • Not strictly a fire starter but rather a form of kindling. You still need a match, lighter, or igniter, plus a little wind protection to light the wick until the whole cup gets going. Then the paper cup forms an exterior wick for a long, strong flame.

    How Do I Make Them? (briefly)

  • Obtain one-ounce paper cups, junk wax, and some metal-core (zinc) wick.

    Trays of partially filled cups

  • Array empty cups on an easy-to-clean surface, such as old metal trays on top of plastic sheet on top of newspaper (to block mild heat).

  • Melt wax safely (see below).

  • Carefully pour wax into each cup about 1/4 full, and allow to cool.

  • Cut wicks to about 1" lengths, and crimp one wick in half over the edge of each cup.

    Trays of filled cups, cooling

  • Pour more wax into each cup until full to the brim. Allow to cool and harden.

  • Clean excess wax off the outside of each cup. Store finished candle cups in plastic jugs or bags, away from intense heat.

    How Again Do I Make Them? (valuable details for best results)

    What follows is a lot to learn. But if you incorporate all of this advice based on my own experience, making candle cups is still pretty fun and easy, plus you'll get the best possible results.

  • Use one-ounce paper cups:

  • Any old junk wax will do, such as candles from garage sales or thrift stores, or buy candle wax in bulk from a hobby store.

  • Stiff metal-core (zinc) wick is best for folding and crimping short lengths over cup edges:

  • Melt wax carefully to avoid starting a fire!

  • At a thrift store I found an old junk metal teapot with a handle, strainer, and pour spout:

  • Pour wax as cold as possible (barely melted) to minimize leakage through the cups:

  • Candle cups are reasonably water resistant if wax-infused, but I still try to store and light them dry, even when building a fire in the rain. (Find dry twigs, and keep them dry, to get them started above the candle cup before beginning to cook damp wood.)

  • It's easy to keep a small stash of candle cups in a plastic bag in each hiking pack and/or in your car (along with matches or lighters). Beware however they do deform a little in cars in summer heat. Still functional, just not as pretty.


  • Some people suggest putting sawdust or dryer lint in the bottom of each cup before adding wax, but I haven't found this extra effort necessary.

  • When cleaning up dripped blobs of excess wax from cup exteriors or the work area, I dump them either back into the melting pot or into partially-full candle cups before the second pouring.

  • Napalm and similar fire kindlers are OK, but tend to be pricier and/or messier.

  • Wax-infused sawdust sticks or egg-carton cups (such as from Boy Scouts) are a bit messier and harder to light.

  • Magnesium blocks are hard to scrape for shavings, although then they are easier to start with a flint/steel spark.

  • For millennia people have started fires by igniting fine kindling (somehow) and using it to ramp up through twigs to bigger logs. These candle cups replace the middle steps. Starting dry split pine burning directly from a candle cup is possible, I've done it, but you must stack the wood carefully to catch the intense heat between 2-3 logs while the cup burns below.

  • In a pinch you can use a candle cup as a source of light! While camping I've lit them on top of metal foil (or something similar) placed on a picnic table, to create dinnertime ambience. They don't last as long as a real candle, but once started they are much more wind-resistant.


    My friend Jean Bendon, a retired professional candle maker, told me about these devices, but says the name "candle cups" comes from Yankee Candle. Also to my surprise apparently sometimes she did/does use wood chips in her candle cups. Here are a couple of pictures she sent me: