How To Build A Fire In A Fireplace

Unless you’re a boy scout, your method for building a fire is most likely just to throw some logs on the fireplace grate & light them. Growing up, I watched my brother & my father (yes, both boy scouts) carefully stack & move the logs in our fireplace to achieve the perfect flame. We always had controlled-but-nicely-roaring fires and below, you will find out how to build a fire in a fireplace just like they did!

Before You Build It …

  • Make sure that your fireplace has been adequately cleaned. It’s a good idea to have your chimney swept before you start building fires in it for the season. In the off-season, animal nests, leaves, and the remains of last year’s fires can create blockages & will result in a smoke-filled house.
  • Open the damper! If you don’t, you’ll fill your entire house with smoke instead of with the crackling warmth of a cozy fire.
  • If your chimney is built on the outside of your house, the chimney flue will be cold (assuming it is cold outside). When you open the damper, the cold air in the flue will sink because warm air is lighter than cold. If you try to light a fire immediately after opening the damper, you’ll still end up with smoke coming into the house. To counteract this, you’ll need to “prime the flue” by warming it up. If you have a fireplace with a gas pipe to supplement your wood burning, turn on the gas and light the pilot light without any wood in the fireplace. Your flue will warm up in a matter of minutes. If you don’t have that slight advantage, simply light a roll of newspaper and hold it up the damper opening for a few minutes. When you feel the draft reverse, you’ll know the flue is primed!

Build A “Normal” Fire
There are many ways to build a fire, but I grew up with the typical boy scout fire: kindling & other fire starters placed underneath the larger, longer-burning logs. Start by crumpling 2-3 sheets of paper/newspaper and put them in your fireplace grate. Put a handful of kindling strips on top of the paper – or use fatwood for the kindling. (Fatwood is a natural, chemical-free part of pine trees. It is cut into easy-to-use sticks and is very easy to light. It provides the enduring flame necessary for fire starting. This was always my family’s preference.) On top of the kindling, criss-cross 8 or 10 dry pieces of hardwood that are approximately 1″ square by 1′ long. Now, light the crumpled paper in your fireplace grate from each end. When the paper lights the kindling and the kindling lights the hardwood, you can add a few pieces of split firewood. As the fire establishes itself, you can add more firewood.

Build An Upside-Down Fire
The concept of an upside-down fire is rather simple: place the largest logs on the bottom, then top that off with smaller wood – kindling & other fire starters – on the top. The idea behind an upside-down fire is that you shouldn’t have to mess with it for quite some time once it’s lit. However, the first 10-15 minutes can be pretty lackluster as you wait for the embers from the kindling & such to light the bigger logs. Once it takes off, it does make a mighty impressive fire!

Stack Your Logs Efficiently
The “typical” fireplace stack (think: pyramid) encourages all the heat you’re producing to head straight up your chimney! Try stacking your logs toward the back of your firebox in such a way that they encourage heat to head into your room instead. This illustration from Texas FireFrame is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

What is your preferred stacking method when building a fire?
Tell us about it in the comments below!

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