Okay, you have a fireplace and you want to build a fire. You grab a few logs and light it, right? Well, although starting a wood fire seems like a no-brainer, there is actually more to it than that. Think of your fireplace more than just a box where you burn wood. Your fireplace is a heat source, a focal point of your home, a selling point for your home should you ever want to sell, and a system to create ambience.
The most important thing to keep in mind when you start a fire, every time, is safety! Just a simple mistake can turn an otherwise romantic evening in front of the fire into a disastrous house-consuming fire. Therefore, the first thing you need to do is make sure the chimney drafts upward. Many chimneys reverse when they are not being used. That means cold air can come into the home. All you need to do is reach inside the fireplace to see if you feel cold air coming from the damper. If you do, the chimney has reversed.
To confirm the problem, light a piece of starter or newspaper. If the smoke drifts upward, then you know for sure the chimney has reversed. If the fireplace is an open model, then place a piece of newspaper that has been balled up into the damper. Light the paper and then watch to see what happens. The paper will help warm up the chimney, and then be sucked up inside the chimney. Once this happens, light starter or newspaper underneath your fire immediately. What happens is the chimney is warmed up very fast, reversing itself to where it should be. If you have a stove fireplace, do the same thing but push the first piece of newspaper high up into the chimney.
Now that the reverse problem has been corrected, you need to set the kindling for your fire. While there are many different ways to accomplish this, the best way is to place crumpled newspaper or fire starters on the floor or grate of your fireplace. Then, place just a small amount of kindling on top of that. Remember, the drier the kindling the better. Rather than just piling the kindling in, crisscross it leaving a small space in between for air.
Now, if you have a wood-burning stove, you want to set your larger wood log on the kindling first and then continue adding wood pieces on top of that that are still large but just a little smaller. The goal is to get the pile so it is two-thirds full. If you have a traditional open fireplace, crisscross two logs on top of the kindling and then add your additional logs.
To light your fire, be sure the damper is open and then using matches, a fireplace lighter, or a gas starter, light the newspaper/starter/kindling pile. The fire should take hold right away and soon start your bottom log on fire. If you have glass doors on the fireplace, leave these open until you have a nice roaring fire. Finally, to keep the fire going strong, make sure you always keep a flame going. If you notice the wood, smoldering or smoking that means the fire is cold and not efficient. This also creates creosote and pollutants that are unhealthy.
Next, before the flame gets too low, add more wood. Always be sure you use quality, seasoned wood, which is wood that has been allowed to dry for a full year after being cut.