It never fails: it’s a cold, dark day, and all you want is the warmth and comfort of a blazing fire. And all you get is frustration and a spark of flame (and hope) that is quickly snuffed out! Sure, just turning a dial or pushing a button is easier, but nothing beats the heat of a fireplace or wood stove… That is, if you can get it going. Fear not, with a few tricks of the trade, you can skip the aggravation and light a fire successfully every time. 

Light a Fire – On the First Try  

When we think of technological advances, cars, computers, and smartphones come to mind, but the ability to control fire is one of the most significant by far. Our earliest ancestors learned to “stretch” naturally occurring fires by adding combustible materials. Then came the use of flint. Then came hearths and cooking and gathering. It’s an incredible evolution – but you may feel like a Neanderthal when it comes to starting a fire!  

Here are some easy-to-follow steps to help you light a fire:

1. Start by gathering the supplies you need:

  • A clean chimney and flue. Always be sure that your system is properly cleaned and inspected before you start your first fire of the season. 
  • A few pieces of seasoned firewood – and more on standby. “Green” wood is still wet at its core and will not burn easily or steadily. You’ll also generate a lot more smoke. 
  • Kindling sticks. A dozen or so pieces should be fine. 
  • Newspaper for tinder. 
  • Extra-long matches or a utility lighter, with a long neck. 
  • A poker, fireplace/stove shovel, and metal ash bucket with lid.

 2. Clear combustibles from the fireplace/stove area.

Do a visual sweep of the area around your fireplace or stove. Remove any items, such as clothing, books, paper, etc., that could ignite with an errant spark. If you have a fireplace, the hearth stones should be clear of any obstruction. If you have a wood stove, make sure you have proper clearance from the walls and that they are treated with a fire-retardant material. The stove should also be on a non-combustible floor pad (bricks, ceramic tile, and other surfaces are both safe and attractive!).

3. Open all of the air vents/dampers.

This is an important step to take for two reasons. One, it allows more oxygen into the firebox, providing fuel to the fire, and, two, it prevents smoke from backing up into your home. Smoke, and toxic byproducts of combustion, like carbon monoxide, need a safe escape route to the outdoors. 

If your home or camp is especially drafty, make sure your clothes dryer and any bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans are off.

4. Place Your Firewood, Tinder, and Kindling In the Fireplace or Stove

Depending on how big your firebox is, lay two or so pieces of firewood in the bottom, parallel to each other. Keep a few inches of space between them – remember, air is fuel. Next crumple up some newspaper and place it between the logs. This is your tinder; it burns quickly. To make sure your fire catches, you need to put a layer of kindling (small sticks) on top. Remember to keep a little space in between.

5. Light It Up.

Use an extra-long match or utility lighter to light the fire. The tinder will create an immediate flame, catching the kindling and eventually the wood. Give it a little time. When the fire is established, add another log to keep it going. You can then close your vents or dampers off a bit. This will keep heat from escaping up the flue.  Depending on your system, it can take a little experimentation to get the right air flow to maximize heat and efficiency. 

Remember, whenever you open your stove to add more wood, open the damper to avoid a face full of smoke. 

Preheating Your Flue  

If you’re not having much luck, you may need to preheat your flue. If you haven’t used your fireplace or wood stove, the flue is full of cold air. Since it is heavier than warm air, it acts as a kind of plug. This can make it more difficult to light a fire and keep it going. You may also generate more smoke. 

When do you need to preheat your chimney? It’s a good idea for your first fire of the season or when you haven’t used your heat source for some time. You can also do a quick check by lighting a match or utility lighter near the flue. If the flame is being pulled upwards, good news: the smoke will go that way as well. If it pulls back towards the room, that cold air plug is getting in the way. 

Sometimes, just opening the damper or vents all the way while preparing a fire is enough to shoot warm air up the flue, which can take about a half hour. You can also preheat it to save time. Don’t worry: it’s a quick and easy process! Lay your fire as outlined above. Then, twist some newspaper into torches. Light a few and hold them near the flue in your firebox. The heat will rise, and this is typically all that’s needed to “unplug” the cold air. 

From there, light your fire, add more wood when necessary, control your dampers/vents – and finally, sit back and enjoy the incomparable warmth and glow of your fireplace or woodstove.  

Stay Warm – and Safe – with Brick + Ember 

Knowing how to light a fire is important. Even more critical is ensuring your chimney and its many components are ready for the job. Keeping your family and home safe is Brick + Ember’s number one priority. Start every fire with peace of mind by scheduling regular cleanings and inspections. Get in touch with us to see how easy it is.