Building a Fire
Nothing is quite as satisfying as relaxing in front of a wood fire burning crisply in your fireplace with your feet up and a fresh cup of hot cocoa at your lips. Just in case you need a little brushing up on your fire building skills, here are three hassle-free methods and a few tips for building a crackling fire in no time at all.
BEFORE STRIKING THE MATCH
Before you reach for the tinder and kindling, clean the firebox of ash, but not all of it. Leave a two to three inch layer beneath the log grate. If it is all gone, then retrieve either old wood ash or ash from your barbecue grill. Alternatively, you could put down a single layer of small firewood pieces. This layer helps create an ember base that ignites new firewood.
Double-check that the damper is open and that the flue is clear. Light a tightly rolled newspaper page until it produces a healthy flame, blow it out and hold it in the center of the firebox. The smoke should rise upward. If it does not, then the flue may be blocked by leaves, a bird nest or other debris. In that case, have it inspected by a chimney sweep.
PREPARE YOUR KINDLING
The kindling wood is what gets things going. It must be dry and thin. It is not necessary to use the same kind of wood that you will use for the full fire. In fact, many species of trees, such as pine or fir, are more desirable for use as kindling than fire logs due to their high pitch content.
THREE WAYS TO LAY THE FIRE
Traditional “Right-Side Up”
The most common way to lay a fire in a fireplace is to start small and work your way up. A layer of your smallest kindling pieces are laid on the grate followed by a layer of fatter kindling or small firewood pieces about two inches in diameter. Put loosely wadded newspaper beneath the grate.
Add more layers of larger firewood and then light the newspaper. If you want to hedge your bet, light the kindling first, wait until it is burning well and then add larger firewood pieces. Some people stack the kindling in a teepee fashion, but this is a matter of style, not substance.
The “Upside-Down” Approach
If you have not tried the upside-down technique before, take it on faith that it works, though it defies logic. Simply stack paper, kindling and firewood in reverse order. Put large logs on top of the grate followed by layers of progressively smaller firewood and then the kindling. Top it off with wadded newspaper. This technique also pre-heats the flue so you start off with a good draft.
The Firebox Stack
In this method, the size progression of the wood layers generally goes from small to large. Place kindling on the grate. Set two large pieces of firewood at each side of the kindling. The back ends of these logs slant toward one another and are furthest apart at the front. They should touch the rear side of the fireplace.
Next, stack two large firewood pieces on top of the rear ends of the side logs. As with the traditional method, put newspaper below the grate, light your fire and add larger pieces as the kindling begins to burn. Continue building the fire in the center of the log “firebox.”
The firebox technique throws significantly more radiant heat into the room than the other methods.
It goes without saying that fires can be dangerous. To ensure your fire stays in the fireplace where it belongs and you do not fill the house with smoke, here are a few final tips:
- Never use flammable liquids to start your fires.
- If you have any doubt about flue blockage or creosote buildup, have a professional inspect the chimney.
- Do not store paper or kindling close to the fireplace opening.
- Be careful that logs do not extend past the opening as they may throw smoke into the room.
- Especially with firewood that tends to throw embers, use a fireplace screen. Your wood supplier can recommend low-ember species of wood.