Fireplace Fire Starter:
How to get your Fireplace or Fire Pit Lit
Could a fire starter help you? It seems silly but starting a wood fire can actually be tricky at times! I've got some fire starting tips and info that will help. Except where noted, all of these can be used to start fires in your fireplace, outdoor fire pit or campfire.
Safety note: I recommend avoiding chemical based fire igniters when you intend to cook food on your wood fire. Fire starter gels and logs often have multiple chemicals including kerosene to make them easy to light and long-buring. Their smoke can have dangerous chemicals in them as well. If using these, at the very least let them burn off completely before cooking food!
First off, lets consider what we need to get a fire going. In the most basic sense, we need oxygen and heat. But there are other things that help:
- Tinder and Kindling - Tinder is something that burns fast and easily, providing a bit of early heat to get your fire going. It includes things like newspaper, dried leaves and the like. Kindling is slightly bigger, more substantial fire fuel that lights easily such as dried twigs and small, thin pieces of wood. Together, tinder and kindling will get a nice bright blaze going in no time. They won't burn for long, but this should be adequate to help get your firewood ignited, which is the hard part. If natural kindling is not available, skip below for other ideas for getting your fire started.
- Dry Firewood - Your tinder, kindling and firewood should all be absolutely dry. Wet things do not burn. Firewood which is freshly cut and "green" is very hard to ignite and will not burn as well even if you do get it lit. This is why "seasoned" firewood is best for making a fire. Seasoned firewood had been dried out for months, even years, after being cut. Therefore the water content is very low and it burns easily. Softwoods will burn quicker and faster than hardwoods. But hardwood will burn hotter and longer. So if both are available, you can get your fire started with softwoods and switch to hardwoods once you have a nice hot blaze and some embers.
- Oxygen - This is an often neglected aspect to starting a fire! Oxygen is the most important fire igniter! Without oxygen your fire suffocates and dies. So make sure your firewood has enough ventilation. To get your fire started, stack your firewood loosely with lots of air space. If you stack your wood densely, no air will get to the wood and your fire will not start. There are several types of fire starter wood stacking ideas, from a tepee to a 2-by-2 "log cabin" or pyramid stacking. Whichever you use, make sure the wood has room for air. Even blowing on your fire as it builds can help stoke a weak fire and get it going.
- Maintaining your fire - Don't forget oxygen once your fire has started! If your fire at any time seems to start to die, despite unburned firewood, you may need to "stir the pot" a bit. Use your fire poker to move those logs around a bit and even blow on them. The extra oxygen the get exposed to usually helps the fire jump back up. Never neglect your fire until it is well and established. Keep checking and moving the wood around until it is nice and hot. Once you have a nice core of glowing red embers at the bottom of your fire, you should have no trouble maintaining your fire. Those glowing red embers are actually charcoal burning, which burns much hotter than the wood initially does. You'll notice your fire get hotter and hotter as you accumulate embers. Simply add more firewood to keep the fire going if you want to keep it lit. When you don't want your fire anymore, don't leave it unattended until the embers have died out!
Tips for starting your fire:
If you live in a city and are starting a fire in your fireplace or backyard fire pit, you may not have easy access to good kindling. The old faithful way us city folk start our fires is to pile up our firewood and then use wadded up newspaper lit with a match to provide the initial flames to get the wood ignited. This works, but often takes
time and lots
of newspaper as a fire starter! It can get messy, creates a lot of smoke and can be frustrating. Just keep adding newspaper until your wood is lit and continues to burn itself.
There are some easier and better ideas for getting your fire started. For all of them, you are basically using a fire starter which lights easily and then maintains an intense blaze for at least 10 to 30 minutes. This acts like a kindling, allowing you to stack your firewood around the fire starter. By the time your fire starter has burned out, the firewood is lit and you have yourself a nice fire. There are several of these described below and some have additional information on their own pages.
Other Fire Starting Info:
- Proper Firewood Stacking - Proper stacking of your firewood is critical to getting your fire started quickly and easily.
- Fire Starter Log - These composite logs are made with chemicals that maintain a long burning fire. They light pretty easily with a match or lighter and can be used to ignite the rest of your firewood. You can buy them at most grocery stores.
- Fatwood Kindling - Fatwood is a naturally resin-filled pine wood which ignites easily and burns for several minutes with an intense flame. It can be bought in bulk from several sources. A 100% natural option for starting your fires!
- Fire Igniting Gels - These are basically sticky, gel lighter fluid that sits on your firewood and when ignited will burn intensely for several minutes. Like the starter logs, this relies on chemicals, but can be very effective to get your fire lit.
- Pine Cone Wood Starter - This is a cute little gizmo which uses a pine cone "candle" to start your fire. In my experience, more fun and cute than effective. Regular pine cones do make pretty good kindling though but you need to get them ignited first.
- Charcoal - Charcoal should not be burnt indoors in a fireplace generally. However, one option for getting your outdoor fire pit ignited is to start a small pile of charcoal. Get it nice and hot and glowing like you would in a barbecue. When they are glowing red with a nice grey ash over them they are hot enough. Then lay your pieces of firewood on top. This is usually very effective in getting your firewood started. The charcoal can be lit by any of the traditional methods but I particularly like using a charcoal chimney fire starter which does not require lighter fluid. Once your fire is lit, simply add firewood, you don't need any more charcoal.
One of the best places I know to buy supplies for cooking with fire is SpitJack.com. Besides being one of the best options for fireplace cooking supplies (fireplace grills, rotisseries, cranes, long-handled roasters, etc.), they have a uniquely chosen stock of other great accessories. Their own fire pit rotisseries for pig and lamb roasting are top notch and sturdy. They also have fire pits, firewood storage and splitting supplies and more! Check them out!
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