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How to Build the Perfect Fire in your Fireplace

We often take fire for granted. Not so with folks living in the “caveman” days. For them, there were no matches, pilot lights or Bic lighters. They had to create fire the old-fashioned way, and in order to do it, they had to understand what we today call the “fire triangle.”

Regardless of how fire comes about, it always materializes with a combination of three components, which were available to the cavemen just as they are to us: heat, fuel and oxygen. You use these components every time you build a fire in your fireplace, even if you’re not acutely aware of it.

So let’s use heat, fuel and oxygen and a few necessary techniques to build the perfect fire every time.

Collect your fuel

Fuel is anything that burns. But not just any burning substance will do in making a fireplace fire. You need to build your fire in stages, that is, start with a fuel that burns quickly and easily (kindling) and progress to wood logs, which require a longer heat treatment to combust.

Crumpled-up black-and-white newspaper makes good kindling as do twigs and small sticks. Above the kindling goes tinder, which is commonly larger sticks or pieces of wood such as quick-burning pine or cedar. The logs that will form the core of your fire should be seasoned (dry) and can be from a variety of trees. Softwoods like pine, cedar, spruce and Douglas fir light and burn faster than hardwoods such as hickory, red oak and birch. The amount of heat and burning time you desire will determine your choice of wood.

(Note: do not burn colored paper or yard debris in your fireplace.)

Provide a draft

Oxygen comes from the air, and fire can’t burn without it. An easy way to bring oxygen to the fuel is to open the damper on your chimney. If your home is ultra-insulated and “air-tight,” you might need to crack a nearby window. In a literal air-tight space, a fire can’t be started. It also won’t start if there’s too much wind. Experiment to find just the right amount of draft to build the perfect fire.

Stack the fuel

The key to an excellent fire is stacking first the kindling then the tender and then the logs in a way that allows for air to flow throughout all the material. Fuel that’s packed too tightly prevents the necessary oxygen from coming into the mix. Without sufficient air, you’ll spend a long time getting a fire started.

Introduce the heat

Finally, unlike the cavemen, we can introduce heat that’s already in the form of a flame, such as from a long match or a fireplace lighter. Light the kindling, which should quickly combust and begin heating the tinder, which, when in flames, will set the logs to burning. Never use lighter fluid, gas or any other combustible liquid to start a fire – it’s very dangerous and also unnecessary if you follow all of the above steps.

Now that you’re an expert on building the perfect fire, maybe you’d like to shop a fine selection of fireplaces, inserts, stoves and all the accessories you need to make bringing fire into your home an enjoyable and safe experience. We offer all this as well as full-service chimney cleaning, inspection and maintenance. 


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