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What is the Best Way to Build a Fire in the Fireplace?

By Bronwyn Harris
Updated May 16, 2024
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Many people become enthusiastic about building a fire in the fireplace, only to find their best efforts literally fizzle out. There is a science to building a fire effectively, taking into account the three categories of fuel.

The first category of fuel that should be taken into account when preparing to build a fire is tinder. Tinder is the first part to be lit, and then lights the rest of the fire. Therefore, tinder needs to be highly flammable. Newsprint, wood chips, brown bags, and dead pine needles all make excellent tinder. Newspapers can be rolled up and tied into knots to be kept by the fire.

Kindling is the next type of fuel that is used to make a fire. Kindling includes branches and sticks of varying thickness. The sticks and branches can be as thin as a finger or a little thicker than a wrist. Kindling is lit by the tinder and in turn, lights the logs.

The final fuel category includes logs. The best logs to build a fire with are hardwoods such as ash, birch, maple, oak, and beech. Wood which comes from fruit and nut trees is also good to burn and let off a pleasing odor while burning.

Softwood, such as spruce, or pine are easier to light and can be used for tinder and kindling, but should not be used as logs. Softwoods contain resin, which forms creosote as it burns. This creosote remains flammable, and can endanger the house if caught on fire.

Logs which are used to make a fire should be dry and ideally aged for 6 to 12 months. Green or freshly cut logs tend to burn unevenly, smell bad, and produce excessive smoke. To see whether wood is aged, check for tiny cracks along cross sections.

When you build a fire, remember that it also needs oxygen. The oxygen needs to be able to circulate through the burning pieces of fuel, which must be close enough together to light each other but not crushed under one big log, stopping the oxygen from circulating.

Next time you build a fire, try this. Build a pyramid, beginning with a layer of newspaper, All around and on top of the newspaper, add wooden tinder, then kindling. Be sure you crisscross the pieces of wood so that air can get through. Light the paper, and once the kindling catches on fire, place some small split logs near the flames but not directly on top of your pyramid. When the fire is going well, add more logs, but always leave at least an inch between them.

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Discussion Comments
By sunshined — On Apr 15, 2012

There are some products you can buy to add a nice scent to your burning fireplace, but I like to use pine cones.

We have a lot of evergreen trees on our property, so I collect a lot of pine cones to burn in my fireplace.

They are also a great thing to use to help get the fire started, and they put off a nice fragrance.

I have noticed on real windy days I have a harder time getting the fire started. It seems to take a little bit more effort to get it going when you can feel the wind coming down the chimney.

My efforts are always worth it though. There is nothing as cozy or warm as sitting in front of a blazing fire.

By andee — On Apr 15, 2012

@John57 - I have also found the more often I build a fire, the better I get at it. One thing I learned the hard way was to make sure there was enough oxygen and air circulating to allow the fire to take off.

We have a damper on the front of our fireplace with different notches. Being the impatient person I am, I would always move it to the lowest notch too soon.

I found out I needed to keep it open longer until the fire was burning good and strong. Another tip I learned was to not put the large logs on until the fire was going really good.

If I use smaller logs at first, and add the big logs later, I don't have to keep adding logs as often to keep it burning, and it takes off faster.

By John57 — On Apr 14, 2012

I think there really is a science to getting a fire started in a fireplace and I have not mastered it yet.

I don't know how something that should be so simple can be so frustrating. Just when I think it is going to take off and burn, it fizzles out and I am back to where I started.

I have heard the old saying, "Where there is smoke, there is fire", but that does not always hold true for me when it comes to getting a fire going.

Usually when I try to take shortcuts is when I get the most frustrated. I have had the best results when I start out with some kindling and build a nice pyramid with newspaper in between.

Anytime I have tried to get a fire going with just newspaper, it never works. I always have to have some smaller pieces of wood to get it burning the way it should.

By julies — On Apr 13, 2012

We have a wood burning fireplace in our home, and burn wood most of the winter. This is not our main source of heat, but it sure adds a lot of extra warmth and a wonderful atmosphere.

When we are done reading the newspaper, it is kept in a container right next to the fireplace, along with the matches.

I always use this when I am trying to get the fire started. Another way of recycling is to use pages of an old phone book.

These tear out easily and since they are thin pieces of paper, they work well to help get a fire started.

I also use the fireplace as a personal document shredder in the winter. This is where I get rid of my papers with personal information on them.

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