How to Build a Great Fire in Your Fireplace

One of the jokes in our family is how Mom here seems to be the only one that knows how to build a decent fire in the fireplace. I imagine it’s all that experience as a kid on the farm where I learned how to burn brush and scrap wood with a single matchstick.

There’s no big secret to building a fire. Here’s what works for me.

Choose your tinder and kindling carefully. Tinder is small highly flammable material such as leaves, wood shavings, newspaper, dry moss, or similar substance that both ignite quickly and holds it flame long enough for the kindling to catch fire.

For an indoor fireplace, I used a combination of crumpled newspaper and thin strips of pine lathe. The newspaper is stacked in a pyramid, and the lathe is criss crossed over the newspaper to increase the exposure to the flame. The kindling is stacked on top of the tinder in the form of a teepee. Kindling is slightly larger pieces of wood that will burn for 15 minutes or so when they ignite.

Add air. Once the tinder ignites, I add a bit of air to the flame. This is done by either puffing air towards the base of the fire, using a bellows, or by cracking open the door of your insert by an inch or so. The increased air makes the fire burn hotter and will cause the flames to spread to the rest of the kindling.

Stack the wood. This next step is a crucial one. As tempting as it is to throw one big chunk of wood on the kindling and walk away, it’s better to criss cross 2 or 3 smaller logs over the kindling. Too large of a log will smash the kindling and extinguish the fire. The smaller pieces arranged in teepee fashion will provide better air circulation which is important for the wood to ignite.

Place the wood on the coals. After 30 minutes, the small logs will have burned down to a nice bed of coals. Set a small piece of wood (like a branch) directly on the coals and then place a larger log crosswise over the branch so that one end is 3 or 4 inches above the coals. This allows plenty of airspace for the large log to catch fire. As new wood is added to the flame, continue the method of crisscrossing so that the interior air can move freely.

The key to building a fire is nothing more than patience. By starting with small pieces and slowly working up to larger ones, you discover how simple building a great fire can be.

More by this contributor:

Is my fireplace safe to use?
20 amazing uses for fireplace ash.
Is it safe to burn construction lumber in the fireplace?

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