Seems like a simple thing…just put some wood in the fire, light a match and there she goes—NOT ! Anyone who regularly fires up their stove or fireplace knows there is much more to it than meets the eye.
I’m not the world’s best tennis player.. I can’t ski over those big bumps (moguls) and I’ve never run a marathon—but I do consider myself one of the world’s foremost experts on starting a fire. I was always a pyromaniac…loved those model rockets, fireworks and anything else that would blow up. I never thought any good would come out of my fascination with fire. Thus, I will pass this hard-earned knowledge down to the next generation. We’ll cover starting fires in closed stoves and open fireplaces. The basics are the same, however the technique can vary especially after the fire is established.
Ok, lets break this down to a simple series of steps. Each one must be done or the fire will be a bust.
1. Make certain the chimney is drafting upwards. Many chimneys will reverse (cold air falls) when not in use. Open the damper of your fireplace and/or the door of your stove..if you feel a cold draft coming down then your chimney has reversed itself. Keep this in mind and follow step #4 below in order to reverse your chimney.
2. Set the Kindling. Yes, everyone does this differently. Here’s the best way. Place firestarters, fatwood or crumpled newspaper (3 or 4 sheets balled up fairly tightly) on the floor or grate of your stove. Place small kindling over the paper or starter…TIP—the more dry, small kindling you have—the easier and better your fire will start. Crisscross the kindling so there is plenty of air space in between each piece. Wood that is packed too tight will not burn properly.
3. Set more Wood. Set larger wood on top of the kindling, and continue to set larger and larger pieces on top until the stove is over 2/3 full. If it’s an open fireplace, set one or two layers of crisscrossed or spaced wood on top of the kindling.
4. Countdown – If you determined in step #1 that your chimney was drafting upwards, go ahead an light the newspaper or starter. If you think your chimney has reversed, do the following: If it’s an open fireplace, place a piece of balled up newspaper up through the damper..it should stay in place by itself. Light this piece of paper, and watch it—it should warm up the chimney and get sucked upwards. If it does, immediately light the starter or newspaper under your fire..the heat will then warm the chimney quickly so it will not reverse again. If you have a stove, place the piece of balled newspaper as high up in the stove toward the chimney (usually above the baffle plate) as you can get it. Then light it—it should get sucked upwards and reverse the chimney with it’s warmth.
5. Ignition – Assuming that you’ve lit the starter, stand back for a moment and watch the fire do it’s thing. If you have a stove, keep the draft control and damper fully open at first, in fact it may help to keep the stove door slightly open for the first few moments until the fire is caught.
6. Blastoff – The fire should quickly catch and spread through your load of wood. Don’t make the mistake of closing your air control or damper soon after you start the fire. it may look good, but until you’ve warmed the stove up, warmed the chimney and established a good bed of coals (red embers), your fire is not really at critical mass.
7. Mission Accomplished – Keep the fire going..the subject of tending a fire in stoves and fireplaces will be addressed later in other documents, but keep these simple points in mind.
A. Always keep a “flame” on your fire – a smoking or smoldering fire is a cold and inefficient fire..and also produces pollutants and creosote (tar in the chimney)
B. Add more wood before the fire gets too low…this will assure the continuation of your hard-earned fire.
C. Use Dry, Seasoned wood – if your wood sizzles and refuses to light or burn it’s probably not ready for prime time—- store your wood in a dry place and cut and split it at least 8 months prior to burning.
8. Other Methods – There are dozens of other ways to start a wood fire. Some suggestions from our site visitors can be found by selecting the button below. Note: HearthNet has not checked these methods.
Dear foremost fire starting expert, I have been using a method for years for starting fires (both campfires and fireplace) that is much simpler than the one you describe, 99% percent effective, and safe.
It uses common cooking oil in a small paper cup or like container. I have used the bottom of soda can in a pinch. All you need to do is wad up some paper towel or some other wicking material, stuff it into the container leaving some (about 15%) of the of the wick sticking up, and then add two or three ounces of used (or new) cooking oil being careful to wet the upper part too. If using a fire grate, set the fire starter between the grates, light the starter, and then set two pieces of wood over the starter. I never use kindling and start most of my fires with quarters or halves of 4-8 inch logs. The only trick to this is setting the starter under the split edges where the two logs above nearly touch each other and then stacking a couple of more good sized pieces on them, making sure to get them close together but not tight enough to block the air or flame. This doesn’t cause the fire to suddenly (and dangerously) flare up but takes a few minutes to get going. First the logs start to smoke and then after a few minutes they start up very nicely. No blowing on the fire, no poking extra sticks in, just stand there, wait and sip your wine.
Generally, at my house it takes me about two minutes to make the oil starter and get it under some wood in the fireplace.Then by the time I get a video in, get a beer, a snack and settle down in my usual place in front of the fireplace on the rug, the fire is going pretty well.
If you want to use this method for lighting a campfire, you just set two pieces of wood in the fire pit as though they are the grates in any fireplace. I have used this method more than 200 or 300 times and can only recall once or twice that it has not worked. And I think that was because I was too cheap with the oil. It does not flare up, it uses items that would end up in the trash, most people have on hand all the time, and best of all there is no reason to mess with kindling.
I have lit many fires while camping with this method while the doubters stand by, cold beer in hand and tell me there is no way that is going to work. I always offer to wager with them ($50 maybe) but no one has ever taken me up on the bet and they have always been lucky they passed. Any way you light a wood fire is good enough if it does the job. The important part is enjoying it!!
Best regards, Pat Johnson