How to Make Colorful Pinecone Decorations and Firestarters
Anybody can throw some dried pinecones in a wicker basket and call it the Christmas season, but some people like to give this staid decorating tactic a kick in the pants. The winter was over before I got around to trying these pinecones, but I’m hoping I’ll get the pinecone urge next winter and will have some pictures then.
How to Open, Kill Bugs, and Sanitize Pinecones
Gathering your own pinecones from the backyard is an easy and fun way to do it, until a bug crawls out of one and you get the heeby jeebies everytime you look at your pinecone crafts after that. These are the steps I usually follow to sterilize my pinecones, though I think most people don’t bother with this and just use them fresh from the yard.
Place the pinecones in a bucket of cool water and let them sit out overnight (don’t let them freeze). The pinecones will close up when you do this, which takes care of most of your bug problems and removes any random dirt too. Some pinecones will take a while to absorb enough water to sink. If a few stubborn ones haven’t sunk after a couple hours, try putting a rock on it to push it down (don’t squash it).
The next day, let the cones sit out in the sun to dry (preferably inside where they won’t just find more bugs). When the cones are dry through to the center, put them on an old cookie sheet and stick them in the oven at 200 degrees for about 20 minutes. Use tongs to pull off the cones which have completely reopened, and look “done”. Some (or even most) cones will need more time—just stick them back in and let them heat for another 10 minutes. When all of your pine cones are full and wide open, let them cool and begin work on your craft of choice.
Waxed Colorful Decorative Scented Pinecones
These pinecones just look neat, and sit around the house. I imagine you could burn them too… I’d forego the glitter if that’s the plan though.
- Pinecones – I’d grab these from your backyard or a local stretch of pine forest, but craft stores might carry them in October through December as well.
- Paraffin wax – Used in candle making. Try the craft store.
- Double boiler – Again, candle making.
- Crayons – Steal them from a child, remove the paper, and break them up.
- Cinnamon oil – Aromatherapy. Craft store!
- Tongs – The kitchen section of a place like Target. Don’t expect to use them for cooking again later.
- Glitter or fake snow – An optional finishing touch, which would look tacky around all of my other glittery crafts, but might look better in your home.
Melt the paraffin wax in the double boiler. If you’re not sure how to do this, read up on basic candlemaking for all the safety tips you need to know around boil-heating wax. Add the crayons to the melted wax as a colorant, and stir the wax until it’s an even color. Add a few drops of the cinnamon oil for scent. Dip your pinecones in the wax mixture and set them aside on wax paper to dry. By the time you’ve dipped the last pinecone, your first pinecone should be cooling off. Once they’re all dry to the touch, dip them again for coat two. You might need 3 or even 4 coats to completely cover the pinecone. Immediately after the last coat, you can lightly sprinkle the pinecone with glitter or fake snow. Set your pinecones aside for the last time, and begin cleanup. Let the pinecones dry for 2 or 3 hours before you call them done, and throw them in baskets to decorate your home with.
Water-based Pinecone Firestarters
These firestarters make colored flames when you burn them in the fireplace, and make a great party trick. They also look cute in a basket until it’s time to do the burning.
- A big bucket
- A chemical (see below)
Choosing the Chemical
Each of these chemicals make a different colored flame, and different chemicals cost more than others. You should only make one color of cone at one time, and should never burn different colors together, so there’s no need to buy every chemical.
- Table salt – Yellow flame – The grocery store. You can use the same stuff you fill your salt shaker with.
- Borax (sodium tetraborate) – Yellow-green flame – 20 mule team borax, in the laundry aisle. ~5$ for much more than 1 cup.
- Salt substitute (potassium) – Violet flame – The grocery store.
- Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) – White flame – A pharmacy
- Bright green flame – Allum (thallium) – Try the pharmacy. It’s for food processing (mostly, pickle making), but natural food stores charge a ton for it. ~5$ for 8oz/1 cup.
- Bright red flame – Strontium chloride – Used in aquarium keeping somehow, so check a speciality aquarium store. ~10$ for 8oz/1 cup.
- Boric acid – Deep red flame – Try the pharmacy. I think it’s used in soap making? ~5$ for 8oz/1 cup.
Also, the other day at OSH I noticed a container of chemicals specifically for changing the color of the fire in your fireplace. I'm not sure which chemical it was, but if you live near an OSH you might want to look into that.
Fill the bucket with half of a gallon of hot water. Add a cup of your chemical of choice (ONE chemical). Soak your pinecones for about 8 hours, then fish them out with the tongs and set them aside to dry (some of these chemicals will lightly stain a countertop, so be sure to use lots of newspaper). The pinecones need to dry for at least 3 days before they can be burnt, and will need to dry for at least a day before you can stick them in a basket or wrap them.
Wax-based Pinecone Firestarters
This is basically a cross between the colorful decorative pinecones and the last firestarter recipe. It’s wax based, so it can hold color as well as emit color, and it should burn longer. Watch out for wax buildup in the fireplace though.
- Paraffin wax
- Double boiler
- A chemical (see above)
- An old cup
Mix fine sawdust and your chemical of choice in a large container. Melt the wax in the double boiler, and add crayon to create some color if you want. Restrict yourself to one or two coats of wax—as a consequence, expect some thin spots in the color. Immediately dip the waxed pinecone in the chemical/sawdust mixture. Use the cup to pour the mixture into hard to reach crannies, then set the pinecone aside to dry. In a couple hours, after the wax is completely cool, lightly shake the excess sawdust mixture out of the crannies.
All of these crafts involve putting flammable and toxic substances on the everyday pinecone. Don’t let your children play with them, don’t let your children play with fire, don’t let your child eat or gnaw on the pinecones. The phrase “no duh” comes to mind, however it is a concern you should take seriously. If you spend a day making something, and stick it in a basket on the hearth, your toddler will decide to take a taste. If you make pretty colors in the fire with a pinecone, your child will probably try throwing all of them in at once when your back is turned.
When burning the firestarters, only burn one at a time. Good ventilation is important, but you’ll want that to prevent smoke inhalation as well. Never mix the chemicals, and make sure the first pinecone is completely burnt and gone before you add another.