My daughter and I love to walk, and we always make sure to bring an old grocery sack or two. Scooping dog poop, you say? Nope! Collecting pine cones. Though we live in a fairly urban setting, the nearby school playground and medical building parking areas abound with pine trees.
When you think about it, pine cones are pretty amazing. Straight from the ground, with no other adornment, they are beautiful. Baskets filled with them make lovely autumn decorations, and there are always a couple sitting on my desk or shelves. Wired to a Christmas wreath they add something really special as well. They just look great!
Aside from their sheer aesthetic value, pine cones serve a really useful purpose in my home. We heat our house almost exclusively using our wood burning fireplace. We go through about a 1/2 cord of wood a year (remember this is Southern California, your mileage will vary) which translates to a lot of fires. We use packing paper from Amazon boxes, fat wood, old newspapers, etc. to start the fires, but it can be tricky getting them to light. That’s where the pine cones come in…
Dipped in wax, pine cones make the best fire starters ever! One word of caution right now – I take no responsibility for your home, your fireplace, your ability to make fires, etc. If you wish, the project described here can simply be used to make really pretty basket fillers that NEVER need to be lit. Pine cones burn very hot and this can cause creosote buildup, so please if you use these fire starters – CLEAN your chimney once a year. You should be doing that anyway if you make more than a couple of fires each season. Just saying…
This is a great project to do with older kids. My family and I made this batch of fire-starters on a picnic table covered with paper bags. Doing the project in the late afternoon helped the finished cones to dry quickly, and kept us from melting ourselves. Just make sure all helpers understand how hot the wax is, and choose an area where mess won’t be catastrophic. Great-grandmother’s antique Louis the 15th dining table is NOT the place to be playing with hot, staining, hard to remove substances. ‘Nuff said.
Candle wax – I usually use the type that comes in a 10 lb. block – purchased at Michael’s, but this time out I tried what is called Creme Wax. Either works perfectly well.
Double boiler – I use a pot filled with boiling water and an old coffee pot for the wax.
Crock pot and liners – ideally, like me, you will have an old crock pot that still heats but which you never again intend to use to cook food. Look at yard sales. The liners make cleaning up much easier.
Tongs – for gripping the cones while dipping. I purchased very inexpensive small tongs at Smart and Final, which I use only for working with wax.
Wooden spoon – also a cheapo that I use only for working with wax.
Apron – Oh yes, you WILL drop at least one cone into the hot wax, causing a spray of sticky droplets to coat whatever you are wearing. Be ready.
Candle scent oil – I purchased cranberry scent online.
Wax colorant – purchased at the local Michael’s craft store.
Begin by melting wax in the double boiler. The crock pot just doesn’t get hot enough to melt the wax quickly. It becomes a Tootsie Pop situation, just how long DOES it take for a crock pot to melt candle wax? The world may never know…
Once the wax is completely melted, transfer to the lined crock pot, set to low. Add the colorant and scent if you have decided to use them. As with most of my projects, there is no specific measurement. Add colorant until the wax looks beautiful to you, scent until it smells the way you like it.
The idea is to let the wax cool until it is still liquid, but doesn’t heat the cones to the point that the wax won’t adhere. Test by dipping your pines cones and then allowing the wax to run off into the crock pot. When the temperature is right, you will see a nice coating of wax that begins to dry onto the pine cone fairly quickly. I usually dip the first few, then allow them to dry and dip them again so that the cones have a fairly thick coating. I like to start right away, letting the wax cool as I work my way through the cones we have collected. By about the time we get 1/3 of the way through, the wax is perfectly temped and one coating does the trick.
Set the cones onto sheets of foil to harden and you are done! Finished cones make a beautiful gift when placed in a nice basket. We store them in our garage, and in baskets around the fireplace. They look gorgeous all year round and give off a nice scent for months.