Almost every one of the major appliances in your home comes with a user’s manual. One that doesn’t, though, maybe the thing in your house that can cause you the most problems if it is used incorrectly. While many homes these days are outfitted with gas or electric models, your home very well may have been built with a traditional fireplace hearth.
Your fireplace can be a great tool for keeping your home warm and providing a great atmosphere, but only if you know how to use it correctly. That’s why this guide is available to help you figure out how to build a fire in your fireplace without causing any issues.
Getting Your Fireplace Ready
Unfortunately, it’s usually not a good idea to just build a fire and hope for the best. Even if you have a brand-new fireplace, there are certain steps that you’ll need to take to ensure that it’s actually safe to start a fire in your home. The good news is that these steps are fairly simple and that taking care of them will ensure that you can safely build a fire whenever you like.
Preparing Your Fireplace
You’ll always want to make sure that your fireplace is well-prepared before you build your first fire. If you have an older fireplace, this first means that your fireplace is actually clean enough for a safe burn. If your fireplace has seen heavy use in the past, you might have some significant creosote build-up in your flue that can be dangerous. As such, anyone who has an older fireplace is generally advised to have a professional come out and not only look at the fireplace but to potentially clean out the chimney before they start building fires.
If you have a newer fireplace, the process is usually going to be a bit simpler. The most important step you’re going to take is to move all of your flammable materials away from your fireplace. It’s usually recommended that you don’t keep anything that could potentially catch on fire closer than three feet from your fireplace, though many would do well to extend that zone out to four feet. You’ll also want to take a moment to look up your flue to figure out if it’s actually clear or if any animals have decided to make a home in the unused space.
It’s also usually a good idea to invest in a grate to put in front of your fireplace. Some fireplaces have built-in grates or covers, but picking one up is usually a fairly inexpensive proposition. These grates will help to control sparks a bit, but their main purpose is helping to ensure that nothing will suddenly fall into your fireplace while your fire is burning. As you might expect, a grate is a must-have item for anyone who has small children or pets running around their homes. Even if you’re pet and child-free, you may still want a grate to prevent accidents.
Checking the Damper and Flue
Now that’s you’ve got the safety issues taken care of, you can start prepping your fireplace for your first fire. The first thing you’ll want to check out is your damper. The damper, which is the large, flat plate on the top of your fireplace, is what allows smoke to control whether or not smoke is able to flow out of your fireplace and up your chimney. Take a minute to figure out where the knob that controls the damper is and whether or not the damper still moves. Once you’ve figured out how to move your damper, you will need to make sure that you remember to move it every time you start a fire.
You’ll also want to make sure that you know how to prime your flue. Cold air sinks, which means that it’s very possible that cold air cold comes down your flue and blow smoke back out into your home instead of letting it rise. This is an easy problem to fix, though, through a process known as priming. Simply roll up a newspaper, set the end on fire, and hold it under the flue for a few minutes. When you notice that air is no longer flowing down into your fireplace, you’ll know that it’s time to build a fire.
Methods of Building a Fire in a Fireplace
As you might expect, there is more than one way to build a fire in a fireplace. There’s actually more controversy around this process than you might expect, with certain adherents absolutely swearing that their particular method of fire building is the only one that will work every time. It’s definitely recommended that all new fire builders take the time to learn both of the methods listed here not just so that they can learn some basic fire building methods, but so that they can figure out what works best for their needs.
Method #1: Top-Down
The top-down method of building a fire purports to use some basic properties of flammability in order to help you get your fire started correctly. This is a method that’s been promoted not just by homeowners for many years, but also by those who build fireplaces. In truth, it’s a fairly easy way to build a fire as well as one that follows pretty sound logic. If you are able to pile up a few pieces of wood based on their size, you’ll be able to start a fire using this method in no time.
The first step you’ll take is to start gathering up wood. Your traditional fireplace logs are going to see use here as a base, so make sure to have between two and four of them to burn per fire depending on the size of your fireplace. You’ll also want some logs that are about half that size and width to serve as your ‘medium’ logs, and then logs that are even smaller to serve as ‘small’ logs. It’s usually a good idea to grab some sawdust, shavings, or even wads of old newspaper to use on top of this pile as kindling.
You’ll start building your fire by taking your largest log and laying them across the grate. This method assumes that you’re going to use at least two to provide some stability, but even a log with a flat top and bottom could theoretically serve as the bottom of this arrangement. Once you have that in place, you can start layering your medium-sized logs on top of the base, facing perpendicular to the logs on the bottom. You can theoretically get away with a single layer of medium logs here, though some experts will note that you can more layers if you are planning on having a fire that lasts longer.
Your final step is going to be adding one more layer of small logs. Some stop here, but the real secret to building a fire that’s easy to start requires adding a little bit of kindling on the top. This is where you’re going to use anything from small, dry twigs to the newspaper, as you’ll need something that is going to not only light relatively quickly but also something that is going to provide plenty of embers to fall down and burn among the rest of your logs.
This method works well for two reasons. The first is that it really puts gravity in your favor. As the top layer burns, it will rain down embers on every layer below and thus get your fire burning. The other big benefit is that it creates a strong upward draft, which helps to provide more oxygen for your fire. Many experts point towards this type of arrangement as the one that can provide for a longer, warmer burn.
Method #2: The Log Cabin
Not everyone loves the top-down approach. If you have built fires outdoors, for example, you might think of several other ways to get fires burning that feel if not actually more efficient, then somewhat easier. One of the more common ways of getting a fire started is the log cabin approach, which requires a little more building skill but that nevertheless tends to be spoken of as an easy choice for many builders.
You’re going to start this version of your build with two big logs, each of which needs to be completely stripped of bark. Between these two logs will sit all of your kindling – the little pieces of wood, paper, and sawdust that burn most easily. On top of this layer will be another two logs, sat perpendicular to the logs below them. This is the structure that gives the log cabin build its name, as your final product should look a lot like a toy cabin. If you’re looking for a longer burn, you can also add one more perpendicular layer to the top of your build.
There are some really great benefits to this version of building a fire= as well. the first is that this type of fire tends to start very easily, as you’re going to light the kindling that is literally touching every side of your primary fuel sources. You should also get a very impressive initial blast of heat from this type of build, as the kindling should go up fairly quickly.
No matter which method of fire-building you choose, you should end up with a great fire. Make sure that you keep children and animals away from the grill and that you never leave the fire burning unattended. While your first couple of builds might feel a little wobbly and they might burn unsteadily, don’t give up – taking the time to learn how to build a fir correctly is a skill that’s more than worth the practice that it takes to learn.