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Starting a Perfect Fire in your Fireplace or Stove

Wood Burning FireplacesHumans have been creating fires since the dawn of time. While the materials used in this effort and the motive for generating fire have varied, the scientific formula – known to ancient and modern man alike – never has:

Heat + Fuel + Air = Fire.

This is known as the fire triangle, and without appropriate levels of each component, there can be no fire. Let’s look at how to use the fire triangle to create the perfect fire.

Select your fuel

Fuel for a good fire in a wood-burning fireplace or wood-burning stove means more than just logs. It’s actually involves three key ingredients: kindling, tinder, and then logs. Kindling burns quickly, so it’s the first fuel placed into the fire area. Small sticks make good kindling as do crumpled-up sheets of newspaper. Don’t use glossy or colored paper as both emit toxic smoke and creosote.

Thin-cut logs and large sticks make excellent tinder, which goes on top of the kindling. On top of that will go the logs. The type of wood you use will determine the type of fire you produce. For a fire that lights quickly and burns faster, choose softwoods such as cedar, yellow pine, Douglas fir or white spruce. For a longer-lasting and hotter fire, go with hickory, birch, pecan, red oak or other hardwoods.

For the greatest efficiency, all three elements – kindling, tinder and logs – must be dry, often referred to as “seasoned.” Ideal wood seasoning happens between six months and a year after the tree from which it came was cut down. Damp wood produces excess smoke and gives off far less heat that seasoned wood. It also emits more creosote.

Safety note: never burn leaves or grass in a fireplace or stove. The National Fire Protection Association points out that house fires are commonly caused by this practice.

Bring in air

There’s a reason firefighters use extreme caution in opening a door behind which they know some level of fire is burning: it can cause a rush of air to blow into the room and dramatically increase the level of already existing flames. The same principle applies to fire in a fireplace or stove.

Prior to stacking your fuel pile, make sure the chimney or vent pipe damper is open to allow air to circulate around the fire you’ll be starting. If you have a newer home that’s tightly constructed for energy efficiency, it wouldn’t hurt to crack a window.

The fuel pile

Now it’s time to get ready to make a fire. Kindling goes on the bottom, crisscrossed tinder is stacked next, followed by the logs, with adequate room left between them to allow for air circulation. The proper fuel pile is one that can “breathe” easily.

As you probably guessed, the way you stack your logs will determine how fast they burn. If you want a fire that burns hot and lasts long, use hardwood logs stacked somewhat on the tight side. A shorter, less-intense fire is accomplished by using softwoods and arranging them sparingly on the stack.

Light the fire

Wood StovesAn extended butane lighter or long match is the best and safest way to light the kindling. Light various sections to create an even initial burn. Never use a combustible fluid to help light a fire – this can be dangerous, and it’s also unnecessary.

If you follow the fire-starting advice given here, you’ll be ready to begin enjoying the most important benefits of your wood-burning fireplace or stove: great heating, and the aesthetic of beautiful flames that are playful and vibrant.

Marsh’s Stoves & Fireplaces of Toronto is a leading supplier of wood-burning and gas-burning fireplaces and stoves along with a full line of hearth accessories. To inquire about any of our products and services, please call (800) 906-5557, or contact us by e-mail today.

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