Nothing can make you feel quite as warm and secure on a cold winter night as a good fire crackling in the woodstove. Building a good fire, however, can take some patience, good supplies, and some practice. There are probably hundreds of different ways to make and keep (the hardest part!) a roaring fire, and after eight years of having a fireplace, I have truly heard them all. However, I was able to pick and choose some good methods and came up with my own system.
The first step to any fire is starting it and keeping it going using kindling. Generally, though I hate to admit my crutch, fire starters found at grocery stores, hardware stores, etc are very helpful for this, particularly for a beginner. A fire log can burn for ten to fifteen minutes which allows the other kindling to get hot and ignite.
When it comes to picking out other kindling items, it’s good to have a variety. Paper, such as newspaper or cardboard, ignites quickly and burns quickly as well but can be helpful to raise the temperature in the stove temporarily or ignite embers from a previous fire. Sticks and twigs, even the bark from firewood will burn longer and slightly hotter, and you’ll want to have sticks of various thicknesses in your woodstove when you light your fire. That way, the smaller ones will burn first, which will hopefully ignite the larger ones.
Once you’ve gotten your kindling to burn well and you’re reasonably confident that it won’t go out when you add more wood, begin adding some smaller pieces of firewood. It’s important that your firewood be seasoned well (generally, it should be cut and split a year before you plan to use it at least) and a hardwood like cedar, oak, hickory, etc and not pine. Pine releases sap and can often contribute to a build up in your chimney. The first few pieces that you add to any fire should be split so that fire can catch on the rough surface of the split. It’s imperative that the first pieces be very well seasoned and reasonably small as well.
When your fire is going well and the first pieces of firewood that you’ve added have burned about halfway, begin adding larger pieces, slowly at first. Adding just one piece at a time will give your fire time to reach a high temperature which will mean that you’ll be warmer and it will have a more difficult time going out. After it has reached a very high heat level, there is little you can do to accidentally extinguish it, so feel free at this point to add more pieces of wood at once or even throw in the occasional unseasoned piece if you don’t feel you’ll have enough seasoned wood to last through the season.
Keeping a fire going overnight is more difficult, but also completely possible. To do so, stock the woodstove heavily, then close the dampers nearly all the way. This will slow the rate of burning, but you’ll still need to tend to it about seven or eight hours later. Many people get up once in the middle of the night to use the restroom or get a drink of water; if you’re one of those people, it would certainly help to add a log to your fire at this point. The reward will be a toasty house in the morning, and the knowledge that you won’t have to restart your fire all over again!