But the final product is really wonderful. A long burning ring o' fire. Placed strategically underneath your logs in a fireplace or bonfire, they will keep a flame going long enough to get things ablaze. Great idea, wish I'd have thought of it myself!
To make six fire starters you'll need 10-12 oz. beeswax, 6-8 cups of sawdust (I got my fancy walnut sawdust from a friend who builds high end cabinetry*****), a B-team donut pan, several feet of tin foil, a metal bowl to fit on top of a boiling pot of water, and assorted disposable utensils for mixing and filling the pans.
Do not use walnut shavings! My good pal Richard Popovic from Apartment Therapy is a skilled builder and craftsman, and wrote to warn me that walnut sawdust (and other darker woods as well) can be toxic to humans, mostly on contact with skin, and can be fatal to horses! Also, walnut sawdust should not be composted. Luckily I had no reaction, and it burned nicely in our fireplace with no incident, so I'll probably use the rest of our fire starters here at home. Unfortunately I'll have to make a new batch for gifts (for people like Richard)!
The reason I'm insisting you use beeswax is because I made another batch from leftover candles, and it did not end well. I broke a knife tip trying unsuccessfully to dislodge them from the pan, and had to throw them away, pan and all. The beeswax rings, however, came right out of the pan with minimal effort after just an hour in the freezer. So, USE BEESWAX! I bought a chunk online and cut/pried off a +/- 10 oz. piece to start with (keep a few extra ounces on standby in case your mixture gets too dry when forming the rings, see below). Be sure to use a knife that you don't care too much about, as I don't know if I'll ever get all the wax residue off of mine.
Speaking of residue, you'll want to cover the bowl that you'll be using as the top of your double boiler really well. I put four layers of foil on the bowl, overlapping and crossing the foil so no wax could seep through. If you have an accident, it's possible you can freeze the bowl and chip off the wax that snuck through the foil, but that's really not very fun, especially with such a thin skim of wax.
Get a double boiler going with a pot of water on high flame under your foil-covered metal bowl. Place your wax in the bowl and let it melt, agitating the wax every ten minutes or so. I think it took almost an hour for my wax to melt all the way, which I didn't expect. I cleaned the art supply closet in between stirrings.
Be careful to keep the beeswax away from open flame, as it is flammable!
You can see in the photo above, the wax starts to set up again around the edges as soon as you remove it from heat. So don't. Keep the double boiler situation going for the duration of the mixing and filling of the pans. And please be careful!
Now to make the mush. Add about two cups of sawdust, a little at a time, thoroughly combining with the melted wax. I used an old semi-burnt rice paddle that we should've discarded long ago to mix mine. Be sure to use something you don't mind getting rid of. Even a disposable spoon will work. You want this mixture to still be slightly liquid. There is a temptation to keep adding more sawdust in order to make more fire starters, but there has to still be a little free-flowing wax left in your mixture for them to set up properly.
Fill one pan at a time, packing the mixture in and around the donut pan cavity with a disposable spoon. After the cavity is well filled, sprinkle a thick layer of sawdust on the top of the wax mixture in the pan. Using the utmost care and the new coat of sawdust as a thermal barrier, gently press the mixture into the pans with your fingers, being careful not to burn yourself. After the first few your fingers will have a protective layer of wax and sawdust on them, which helps. Repeat as needed until the top of the donut looks dry. Sprinkle a final layer of sawdust on for good measure. Repeat for the other five fire starters.
This next one is a NO. There is not enough wax here for this to set up well and not fall apart before you get a chance to use it. If you happen to have more beeswax around, you can melt a few ounces and either combine with the too-dry mix, or just pour more wax over your dry fire starter ring.
All coated in sawdust, these went in the freezer for an hour to set up. The freezer also helps with the removal of the rings from the pans. I popped them out of the pans fairly easily after a little prying with a butter knife.
To light one, set in fireplace, wood stove or outdoor fire pit atop a few crumpled pieces of newspaper, wax paper or a waxed paper bag. Wrapping them in paper makes them a pretty gift, and is practical in terms of igniting the fire starters, so you could do that instead. Light the paper and watch your ring catch fire. It took me only two tries to get it lit, so hang in there if it doesn't light on your first try.
We timed the burn on our test ring, and it burned hot and high for 15 minutes, about 25 from start to finish. Plenty of time to get your fire stoked. These are definitely going on my list of great gift donuts. I know a lot of campers and wood stove users who would appreciate some of these, first and foremost my brother and his family!