With winter upon us, so is the season for fire. We can use fire to warm us up, create an atmosphere, or light up a room.

Whatever our reasons, the fact is that fire doesn’t come without a cost. For those, likely in more rural environs, that spend the summertime cleaning up fallen trees and branches then splitting them into firewood, kudos are in order. For others, likely the bulk of us, we want to burn stuff, too, but that doesn’t mean we want to buy virgin forest converted into logs or chemically-tainted supermarket versions of firewood.

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Well, then, what options remain? As we all know, the paper once was wood. And, while it can’t exactly be converted back into a tree, old newspapers, junk mail, and discarded documents can all potentially become logs for the fireplace. Even better, these logs can be made at home for next to nothing.

What You Need to Make Paper Logs

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Nothing says DIY project quite like a material and tool list, and while this time the list is short, there are a few things log makers will need. Some old bread loaf or cake pans will act as the log molds, and they will need to have some holes drilled in them to drain off water. (Specially designed molds are available, but old tins can be bought at Goodwill or other thrift stores for cheap.) A brick or block of wood that fits just inside the mold could be handy as well.

Before the molds, however, there are some preliminary supplies. A large container, such as a five-gallon bucket, with no holes in it will be used for soaking the paper. (These are available, usually for free, at the bakery in supermarkets that make their own cakes.) Then, of course, the main ingredient for a paper log is paper. Newspapers are great, but documents, spent printer paper, junk mail, and even cardboard are all viable to use. The other ingredient is water.

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How to Make Your Own Newspaper Logs

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Once the equipment and ingredients are gathered, the process is easy. Really easy. An enterprising kid could do it for some extra allowance. An elderly person who has admitted to losing a step need not worry. This is a no-skills-required, no-conditioning-necessary, useful task for the masses.

The first step is shredding or ripping up the paper products into pieces, say the size of a sandwich. (It might be worth taking along a sandwich to measure and then snack on.) Once the bucket is packed with paper, fill it with water and allow the paper to soak for a short while, a matter of minutes.

Now that the paper pulp mixture is ready, it’s time to put the paper into the molds. This is the most time-consuming part. The paper should get scooped into the molds and compressed to wring out as much water as possible. This is where the brick or block of wood comes in — as a press — and why those drilled holes are necessary. This process should be repeated until the mold is packed tight and full.

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Then, the mold needs to be turned over and cleared, leaving the brick in a good place to dry out. The brick will need to be completely dry to burn correctly. It can take a while, something like a week in the sun. But, once dried, the bricks can be stacked and stored under shelter to be used whenever.

Special Tips for the Paper Log Process

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Making the basic paper log is simple enough, but it’s always nice to get a few tips going in. Some folks like their logs (or bricks) to look the part, so they add some old coffee grounds or black tea to the soaking mixture to turn the paper brown. A well-compressed paper brick doesn’t just burst into flames as paper does, so it might not be a bad idea to free a little wick-like bit of paper before the brick dries. These logs burn hot, so they work great — one or two at a time — for wood-burning stoves. Otherwise, they help to provide fire while lighting larger logs.

This is a great project and a great use of old paper. For those who use their fireplaces regularly, it’s a much better way to handle paper waste than recycling. And, for those with access to lots of old newspapers and such, say from coffee shops or grandparents, this is a free source of heat. So, have fun and stay warm.

Lead Image Source: Flickr

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