How to: Make Paper Bricks as a Fire Starter

Posted on Jun 20, 2011 in DIY Projects – Kevin Hayden


I’ve been playing around with making paper bricks as a substitute for firewood. One small issue is that I don’t actually have a fireplace at my current house, but I’m not going to let a trivial thing like that hold me back!

A paper brick, and paper brick makerSo what’s the concept? Its pretty simple. You soak some newspaper in water, put it in brick mold, squish out the water and leave it to dry. The brick maker I’m using and a sample brick are pictured. You end up with a compressed brick of newspaper that you can throw in your slow-combustion fireplace.

Getting the brick maker can be a little tricky – there was a time when you could pick them up from any hardware store. The reason why they’re a little hard to find nowadays (in my humble opinion) is that the paper bricks are not as good as real firewood.

There. I said it. I admitted the green, DIY alternative isn’t as good. Wow – what a release!

But all is not lost. The truth is that, in my experience in other houses where I’ve had wood-fire heating, paper bricks do not burn as long as a good hardwood log, or as hot. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth looking into. If you go into it with your eyes open, you could feasibly, with a bit of work, replace your firewood entirely with bricks. But a more attainable goal might be to make use of paper bricks as part of your firewood supply. Maybe you put on paper bricks while you’re still up and about (and can more frequently reload the fire), and use real wood when you go to sleep. Or maybe you put in a mix of real wood and paper bricks whenever you load the fire.

However you choose to do it, paper bricks can offset at least some of your wood use. If you replace 20% of your wood use with paper bricks, then that’s 20% less wood that needs to be harvested. If your wood is harvested from natural forests, you’re reducing the rate of deforestation. But even if your firewood is harvested from sustainable plantations, reducing your usage means less wood needs to be carted in on diesel-burning, carbon dioxide-emitting trucks.

If you decide to give it a go, you can still find the brick makers around. I’ve seen them on eBay for around $30-$40. My brick maker came from my parents’ garage so garage sales are worth a look, and I’ve seen them through Freecycle as well. If you’re handy, making one yourself shouldn’t be too hard – they’re basically a brick mold with a press! Having got your brick-maker, here are a few hints and tips on how to make good paper bricks.

  • If you can spare the time, rip up the newspaper before soaking it. I rip it into strips – bear in mind that newspaper has a “grain” and will rip easier in one direction than the other. Ripping it both increases the surface area as well as exposing the little paper fibres that assist the brick to “bond”.
  • Make sure you soak the newspaper for a reasonable while to let the water really soak in and the fibres loosen up. I tend to soak mine overnight.
  • When compressing the brick, really stuff the brick maker full before squeezing it. You’d be surprised how well it compresses, and if you only fill it loosely, the brick maker will “bottom out” before squeezing the brick as much as it could. The result is a loose brick that will burn quickly. The more compressed and solid the brick, the longer it will burn.
  • Give it time to dry. Really. This is the big thing, and I’m not talking 24 hours here. I’m talking weeks or months. The exact time will vary, depending on your circumstances, but it can take a surprisingly long time. Summer is a perfect time to follow that old adage and make hay while the sun shines, although in this case you’re making paper bricks! Your bricks can dry out in the hot summer sun, and be ready for winter. (Now you see why I’m making bricks without having a fireplace – I might not have one now, but I want to be ready for when I do! )
  • I’ve heard that you can experiment with other materials as part of your “brick mix”. For instance, making a mix of paper and sawdust. However I haven’t tried this myself, so I can’t vouch for it as a technique.

If you have any other tips or tricks, we’d love to hear them in the comments.

This technique isn’t for everyone. But if you’ve got a slow-combustion stove as your heating, paper bricks can be a good way to reduce your firewood bill, lower your impact on the environment, and do some recycling in your own home.

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