It seems like such a simple thing to do, throw some sticks of wood in your stove or fireplace and strike a match. PRESTO…your cozy fire is roaring. You and your sweetheart are cuddled up watching the flames dance and enjoying a glass of Domaine Leflaive (that’s really expensive wine for you beer drinkers). Sweet nothings are whispered in your ear and the best evening of your life is underway.
Yeah…..so here’s what really happens.
You grab what seems like the right size pieces of wood, throw some newspaper under them, and strike that match. Suddenly, the room is filling with smoke. In your haste to grab something to fan the smoldering flames with, you kick over the box of wine purchased at stop-n-shop. This immediately causes a permanent stain on the new carpet the Home Depo installed for you last week. This in turn causes your sweetheart to call you several names. As you are trying to mentally convince yourself that the names were probably just terms of endearment, the top piece of wood shifts from the pile you created to start your fire. It rolls out onto the carpet and completely burns away that new stain from the wine. PROBLEM SOLVED you think as you hear the bedroom door slam shut and the lock click. So begins the longest night of your life.
I know what you’re thinking. Your thinking O’God, I hope The Maine Stove Guy is going to tell me what I can do to avoid this tragedy (and how does he know about this incident? Does he have my place bugged?). Well have no fear stove people! I will now provide you with some knowledge to prevent this from happening to you…or perhaps prevent it from happening to you again as the case may be.
The first thing you need to recognize is that smoke must be pulled up your chimney by a force called draft. Draft is created by the temperature difference between the air on the outside of the house and the air in the chimney. The greater the difference, the greater the draft (or draw as it’s sometimes called). Now there’s a lot more to it than that but for our purposes here you just need to remember that the air in the chimney needs to be heated as quickly as possible to establish this force of draft. This is what make the smoke go outside rather than into your room.
Sometimes you may find that cold air is actually coming down the chimney (reverse draft). If you feel this before starting your fire you may want to pre-heat the chimney before touching off the fire. You can do this in several ways. A sheet or two of newspaper placed up into the chimney opening and lit is usually enough to get things going. I have also found pre-made fire-starters work well. In an extreme situation you can even take a hairdryer and use it to pre-heat the flue.
KINDLING IS YOUR FRIEND
You should start with loosely balled up pieces of newspaper. Don’t be stingy with them, newspaper is cheap You need a good 10 or 15 balls of paper to get things going.
Pick out the smallest kindling wood that is dry and did I mention small. Start stacking it in a crisscross pattern on top of the newspaper first in one direction then the other. This will allow air to flow between the pieces and get things burning quickly. If your starting a stove keep adding kindling wood in this manner until the stove is at LEAST 3/4 full. In a fireplace make 8 – 10 layers of crisscross pattern. This might sound like a lot but remember, we need to get heat into the chimney as quickly as possible and this method is going to burn hot and fast.
Next place a couple small (and dry) sticks of firewood on top of the kindling pile you have created. Pick sticks that have been split already if possible. I would recommend having them about as big around as a billiard ball.
Now (after making sure your draft is going in the right direction) use your match to light the newspaper and in a few minutes your fire is well under way. Keep adding a few small sticks increasing in size as the fire builds.
If you are lighting the fire in a stove, you should leave the door cracked just a bit until the larger sticks begin to burn. This allows a little extra air turbulence into the stove and helps to get things moving. If your using a fireplace don’t forget to make sure the damper is open before beginning.
HEY MAINE STOVE GUY..IS THIS THE ONLY WAY TO START A FIRE???
No, of course it isn’t. I consider this my tried and true traditional method. There are many commercially made fire starter products that work great. Just PLEASE PLEASE do not use any form of accelerant that is not intended as a fire starter. No kerosene, No gasoline, No WWII surplus flame thrower. People are injured or worse every year by starting fires with such things and it’s not worth the risk.
So write this stuff down, print it out, memorize it, or whatever you have to do to be sure that you can avoid the tragedy that is so common in this country and I outlined in the beginning of this post. Remember…it’s never OK to have to sleep on an uncomfortable couch……..ever.
The Maine Stove Guy
By: Mark Higgins