How to build a fire in a fireplace or woodstove

July 27, 2015

Indoor fires can make any room feel cozy. Before you get started, here's what you need to know about choosing the right firewood, building the perfect fire, and storing your wood.

How to build a fire in a fireplace or woodstove

Choosing the right wood

Whether you are building a fire in a fireplace or a woodstove, it is important to start with the right kind of wood.

  • Seasoned wood, logs that have been cut and allowed to dry out for six months or more, will burn cleaner and give off more heat than green wood, which still has a high water content. Two pieces of dry, seasoned wood will make a ringing tone when struck together; green logs will thud.
  • Softwood, such as pine, spruce or hemlock, ignites quickly and is good for getting a fire started.
  • Hardwood, such as maple, oak, ash or birch, burns more slowly and keeps a fire going.

How to build a fireplace fire

  • Always lay a fireplace fire on a grate or over a pair of andirons to allow air to circulate and feed the fire. To get more air at the fire, slide the grate forward slightly, but not so much that smoke enters the room. You can also improve circulation by setting the legs of the grate on fire bricks.
  • Crumple newspaper and set the balls under the grate or between the andirons.
  • Pile kindling (small pieces of dry wood) on the grate first, then add several light logs or pieces of split wood.
  • Top this layer with two or more full-sized logs. Lay the logs with enough space between them for air to circulate, but close enough together that they can ignite each other.
  • When you are ready to start the fire, open the damper wide and put a match to the newspaper.
  • Once the fire is established, close the damper down a bit, taking care that smoke does not enter the room.
  • You can now add more logs, adjusting their spacing with a poker or fire tongs.

Easy tips for building a woodstove fire

  • Place a pile of dry kindling over crumpled newspaper and top with a mix of split wood — softwood for quick ignition and hardwood for long burning.
  • Open the damper and air inlet, light the paper and shut the stove door.
  • After a few minutes, when the fire is burning well, add enough larger hardwood logs to almost fill the combustion chamber.
  • As soon as the larger pieces of wood have caught fire, close the air inlet two-thirds of the way or more to slow the burn rate and keep the fire going longer.
  • The outside temperature and the degree of wind chill will affect how fast the fire burns, and you will have to use trial and error in adjusting the air inlet and damper.
  • If your stove has a thermostatically controlled regulator, these adjustments will be made automatically.

Storing firewood the proper way

Keep firewood outside for seasoning or just for storage.

  • Stack it off the ground on a frame, which you can improvise from concrete blocks and boards or metal pipes, so that air can circulate around the logs to dry them out and to prevent them from rotting.
  • To protect the wood from rain, cover the top of the pile with a plastic or canvas tarpaulin tied to four posts, or make a lean-to type of roof that water will roll off. Keep the sides of the wood pile open to the air.
  • Firewood can be home to many insects, so bring in only enough logs to burn for a single day at any one time.
  • Don't store firewood in the basement or garage. It is not only a potential source of insect infestation, but it also releases unwanted moisture into already damp air and poses a potential fire hazard.

Fires can be a great way to keep your home warm and comfortable. Make sure you're building your fire correctly by following these easy tips.

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