Sunday, January 11, 2009

how to build a fire

A reader saw the post below with the image of my fireplace and asked if I could explain how to build a fire. I answered her in the comments section, but decided to make this it's own post so it's easier to reference when people actually need it. Now, there are probably a billion ways to do this, but this is the method that works for me. It's worked at bonfires and on beaches, and it worked at campfire and in cabins. It's really easy. You'll just need to remember two things. Fires need air to breath and they burn up. If you make it so air can get under the flame and stack things like a teepee, you can start a non-duraflame fire anywhere. But hey, I use those starter logs too. It's a quick way sometimes to get things going in a hurry. No judgements here. We all know I'm not a purist.

Note: You may need to "light the flew" if your fireplace is on a lower level of the house. This means opening the hatch (flew) and throwing some burning newspaper or old toilet paper rolls up there to make sure the air is drafting up the chimney and not into your house. When you're flew is open, and taking smoke up, you can light a fire. You can test this by lighting a match in the fireplace and seeing if the flame is burning up, or leaning towards you inside the house.

1. Start small. Get small kindling-style sticks or small "firestarter" slats. (Orvis sells this stuff called "fatwood" that is gangbusters at this.) But you can use any small, dry, sticks (old dead pine is amazing, as is pine cones). You're going to want to make them into a teepee shape, with some paper or dry grass or anything that will burn easy underneath them. Have some of this on the side to keep fueling you're starter teepee incase the first round doesn't take. The firestarter, (that thing you orginally light - the paper, what have you) needs to ignite something slightly larger than itself and burn up.

2. When your original little pile is going strong, and the wood (not just the paper) is burning well, slowly add slightly larger wood to your small fire, placing it like a Teepee. Point the wood so it can burn up, leaving the bottom airy. If you pile wood on top of each other you'll just smother it. So stack it in a circle, or semi-circle. Using the back wall of the fireplace as a prop.

3. Keep your fire in the back. You don't want smoke thinking your house is where it should go. The closer to the back of the fireplace you burn, the least likely you'll have a smoky house. I learned this the hard way. Trust me.

4. When you have built up to medium sized logs burning through themselves it's okay to let the fire fall into itself. No more Teepee action needed. You can also start to add bigger longer burning wood to last for the long run. My goal is to always get the fire to a point where I can load up a decent log that will burn for hours while I sleep, keeping the living room warm. I hope this helped Debbie? The main idea is to start with that tiny twig teepee and slowly add onto it.  


Blogger DrZ said...

For those lighting fires in fireplaces inside somewhat modern houses, or those that live in one and are planning backpacking trips, dryer lint makes fantastic material to start a fire with. A bit of dryer lint in a ziplock bag has saved me on many a soggy backpacking trip.
For those who strictly use laundry lines, (first off, way to go!) you could probably get a healthy supply of dryer lint with a 2 minute stop at a laundromat, but keep in mind that the less artificial fibers in there, the better.

Oh, and love the Blog. Read 'Made from Scratch' within a day of receiving it for Christmas and am in the midst of negotiating the location of our chicken coop with my landlord! Keep up the good work.

January 11, 2009 at 7:57 PM  
Anonymous Debbie said...

hey, this is great and I will try it tonite. I have a grate in the fireplace, though, and I don't know if I can teep-ify stuff on there (seems like it will fall through). I never understand those grates anyway. am I supposed to put the kindling etc under it and the logs on top? Or build the whole thing on the grate itself? (which is difficult, even the kindling teepee you are talking about would fall right through - the slates are about 3" apart from eachother.)
I really appreciate your lengthy and detailed directions, and I'll see if I can get it working when i get home this evening (I have fatwood even!). Thanks so much! Lurve the blog!

January 12, 2009 at 7:49 AM  
Blogger FarmerGeek said...

Great explination. That's why you are the author! :-)

I too have one of those grates across in my fireplace. They have a couple of uses. 1) They let air get under the wood for a hotter and more complete burn. 2) They let the ash fall through so that it does not interfere with the coals. 3) They move the fire closer to the chimney for a better draft to keep the smoke from coming into the house.

I build my fire completely on top of it, and I use a "lean to" method. This helps stop the tinder and the kindling from falling through.

Hope this helps, Debbie. Jenna, I'm sorry, I don't mean to step on your toes! Love the book and the blog!

January 12, 2009 at 7:59 AM  

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