What Is the Best Way to Start a Fire in a Fireplace?
I have a simple definition of bliss. Happiness is sitting in the house, with a warm mug of cocoa in hand, listening to soothing music, as I watch the fire burn. I can’t imagine living without a fireplace.
Would you like to enjoy such bliss too but don’t know how to build a fire in your fireplace? I got your back, whether it is newly installed, or new to you. Let me tell you how the pros do it.
If you don’t have a good set of fireplace tools, you may want to consider one. This can be done without them, but it’s easier, cleaner, and safer with them.
Recommended Read: Beginner’s Guide to How to Use Fireplace Tools
1. Start at the top: A clean chimney
Step one is to make sure you have clean chimney free of any blockages, so sweep it before you light your fire. Things like animal nests, soot, and ash buildup, or debris may have blocked it, causing dangerous conditions.
So when you light your fire, the smoke, unable to go up the chimney, will fill the house, making for unsafe air conditions. Worse, the blockages may be flammable, causing a fire. That would make you feel even worse about your fire-building skills.
If your chimney has any debris that you can’t remove, is damaged, or you’ve never used your fireplace before, contact a professional chimney sweep before using your fireplace.
Recommended Read: When to Clean Your Fireplace Chimney
2. Ensure the damper is open
Let’s define some terminologies first. The passage/duct through which smoke goes is known as the flue. And the device that controls how much air flows through the flue is the damper.
So for the smoke to go up the chimney, the damper must be open. Otherwise, smoke will fill the room, embarrassing you in front of your friends. Just before you light the fire, turn the lever to open the damper.
Your damper may have an external lever or pulley or have to be opened from the inside.
3. Glass doors: Open 30 Minutes Early
Some fireplaces have glass doors. If you have this type of fireplace, don’t start the fire immediately after opening the glass doors. Give it around thirty minutes.
That should be enough time for the warm room temperature to enter the fireplace, and go up the chimney.
You see, when the doors are closed, cold air from the outside (at night or in cold weather that is) come down the chimney and enter the fireplace.
But since the doors are shut, the cold air will remain there trapped. This cold air makes it more difficult to start your fire. Give the fireplace time for the warmer air to displace the dense, cold air.
Recommended Read: There Are Hundreds Of Types Of Fireplaces!?!
4. Check the direction of the draft
Is the air going up or down the chimney? You are not supposed to light a fire when the draft is coming down. Lighting a fire with the draft coming down only sends smoke into the room, thwarting your best efforts.
How to check the chimney draft? Simply light a match, and hold it under the flue. The flame will either bend down because the air is blowing down, or stand up, drawn the right direction.
You can prime the flue by setting fire to a roll of newspaper, holding it up the opening for some minutes. The heat will start to counteract the air sink, causing the draft to move upwards as it should.
Lighting a fire with the draft coming down will only send smoke into the room, thwarting your best efforts.
5. Make an ash bed
You may be tempted to clean out all of the ashes from your fireplace after each fire, but don’t.
A 1- to 2-inch ash bed in the hearth is good for insulating your fireplace. It also helps make the fire hotter. The ashes from your previous fires will do just fine.
However, if you have never used your fireplace before, you can use the ashes from your outdoor grill.
When there are more than 2 inches of ash in your fireplace, remove the excess to keep that nice one-inch bed you need.
6. Newspapers and other tinder create the base of the fire
Next, you should place newspapers and other tinder at the base.
It doesn’t have to be an actual newspaper; save the regular paper junk mail you get for this use (not the plastic-feeling mailers, only plain paper).
To prepare your base, crumple them and put them in a small pile on your grate. Optionally, place any tinder you want to use on this small pile of paper.
Note: Using too much paper creates excessive smoke, so be economical.
Other tinder you can use include tiny twigs, dry moss, straw, or other dry material that quickly catches fire. The tinder is supposed to transmit the flame to the kindling stacked on top.
7. Stack kindling on top of the tinder
Big logs take too long to catch fire. So we use kindling, the smaller sticks, and slightly larger twigs, to start a fire. Stack the kindling horizontally on the tinder in crisscrossed layers.
You can light the newspaper now, to get the kindling started.
8. Stack logs on top of the kindling
Place one or two small logs on your kindling base. Remember, the fire’s base is still not strong enough to add the large ones. Larger logs have larger surface areas, and as such take too long to catch fire, wasting your paper and kindling.
Use tongs to place the logs, to avoid being burned.
Never stack the wood at more than two-thirds of the fireplace’s height. Otherwise, the fire will grow too big and might get out of control.
After a while, when the smaller logs are well lit, you can add the larger logs, and enjoy the fire.
Notes on Log Stacking
The interior height of your fireplace determines if you can use a vertical stack, or must horizontally stack for your logs. Vertical stacking looks like a teepee around your fire-starting materials. Like the image below:
Horizontal stacking of the logs will look like this:
The Perfect Crackling Fire, Every Time?
No one is perfect, and while you are learning to build your fire in a fireplace, there are going to be some failures. Don’t worry, that’s the learning curve, and you’ll get better as you learn your equipment and hone your skills.
Eventually, nearly every fire will be a joy to behold, and you may find yourself zening-out during the fire building process. The feeling of accomplishment just adds to the relaxing experience of enjoying it!