How to start a wood fire

by Craig Issod, - - (for tips on Coal Fires, read coaltips)
New- Watch a short movie on how to start a fire in a stove

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 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 selelcting the button below. Note: HearthNet has not checked these methods.

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