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How To Build A Fire In A Fireplace

By Lawrence Macmillan October 25, 2021

Building a fire is one of the most important and fundamental skills a person can know, and since man first discovered fire we’ve become ever more reliant on its warmth.

But we’ve come a long way since the days of banging together rocks, and modern fireplaces and equipment can make starting a fire much easier.

While this does somewhat remove the sense of reward and achievement for starting a fire, on a cold December evening after a hard day’s work, nothing is more comforting than a warm fire that you can start relatively easily and quickly.

Whether you’re using the fire to heat your home or as an occasional novelty, there are key steps to follow to ensure that you start the fire safely and effectively.

In this guide, we’re going to look at a step by step guide of how to properly build a fire in a fireplace, as this often requires a slightly different approach than starting a fire in the wilderness or in a wood burning stove.

Let’s get started on the guide itself.

Step 1 - Ensure The Fireplace Is Properly Prepared And Clean

When we say clean, we don’t mean your fireplace needs to be good enough to eat off! However, it is important that you prepare the fireplace and the area around it and there are some key things to keep in mind.

First and foremost, you need to remove any potentially flammable items away from the front of the fire to prevent accidental ignition.

Then you can turn to the fireplace itself, and the first thing to do is remove any old ash and debris from the fire. You can use a brush or a scoop for this depending on the amount of leftover debris.

Be aware that if your fire was recently used there’s a chance that some of these materials may still be hot, so take care and avoid doing this until you can be sure the material is cool and safe.

You can vacuum up any leftover ash that may have spread around if you want. It’s a good idea to save a little ash to help with later steps, but this isn’t essential.

Step 2 - Choose Your Firewood

Choosing the right firewood is key to getting an efficient, hot, and relatively smokeless fire that doesn’t cause a lot of hassle.

The best woods are more dense woods such as Oak, which will burn for longer. Ideally, you should split the wood ahead of time to ensure that it’s sized correctly for your fireplace, and it’s important to make sure it’s totally dry to avoid smoke or failed ignition.

Wood such as pine isn’t a good option as they can produce creosote which is messy and smells awful.

Step 3 - Inspect The Damper

This is crucial, as the damper is the adjustable shutter that sits between the fireplace and the flue. The damper needs to be working properly and unobstructed to allow you to control your fire safely.

Step 4 - Prepare The Flue

Getting the flue set up correctly can be a little tricky, and getting it wrong can fill the room or even your entire house with smoke if you don’t pay attention! This is really horrible and will make everything stink, and can even be dangerous to your health.

Warming up the flue with some rolled-up newspaper is a good way to avoid this.

Step 5 - Prepare Some Newspaper

Scrunch up some balls of newspaper and set them in the fireplace under the grate. This will make starting the fire much easier and will help the larger wood to catch without any issue as newspaper burns fast and hot.

Step 6 - Add Your Kindling

Putting some kindling in the bottom of the grate will help the fire to start in earnest after the newspaper ignites. Think of setting a fire like going up through the gears when driving a car.

You start in 1, which is the newspaper, and the kindling is gear 2, and so on. Kindling will build heat and momentum for the fire and make starting the fire much more reliable

Step 7 - Prepare The Logs

Arranging the logs in the fireplace is something that is often debated, and there are many ways to do this.

Many people use the classic triangle arrangement, however there are other more elaborate techniques for arranging the logs, such as setting up a wood stack similar to a log cabin or even just piling it in haphazardly!

Some people even like to stand the logs up on their ends!

Find something that suits the needs of your fireplace and your wood, and don’t worry too much as long as the logs are in position and are able to ignite when the time is right.

Step 8 - Stay In Control

Even though it’s tempting, try not to get carried away when building a fire! Smaller fires are more manageable, more economical on wood, and produce less smoke while still giving out a good level of heat.

Step 9 - Use An Igniter Log

If you want to skip some of this toil, you can use an igniter log which is a different and very simple alternative method that works in a pinch if it’s an emergency… or if you’re just lazy.

Light the log bag at both ends and what that baby burns!

Step 10 - Use A Fireplace Guard

Fires can spit out a surprising amount of material, from hot ash to embers, and these are a serious hazard and can potentially lead to disaster.

Avoid this by using a fireplace guard to keep hot debris in the fire without blocking out the heat it creates.


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