Building a good fire

Burn locally, burn cleanly, burn safely

How to build foolproof wood fires in a stove

  1. The function of the kindling fire is to quickly heat up the chimney and the brick and steel of the firebox to create the environment for a stable, brightly burning fire, without having to open the loading door several times to adjust it.
  2. The edges of firewood pieces heat up and ignite first. The more edges close together in your kindling fire, the faster it will ignite. Unsplit rounds should not be used when starting a fire because they don’t have edges.
  3. Softer woods like pine, cedar, spruce and poplar make better kindling than harder woods because they are easier to split up into fine pieces and they light more readily.
  4. Logs from which kindling is split can be cut as short as six inches to make splitting and fire building easier. Straight grain conifers like cedar and pine work well as kindling.
  5. Before building a fire, remove excess ash from the firebox; never let ash build up to more than two inches.
  6. Open the air control(s) fully and open the bypass damper if the appliance has one.
  7. When building a kindling fire, avoid a structure that collapses, smothering a struggling fire. Following are two popular approaches to avoiding the collapsed kindling fire.
    • Two parallel logs: Place two split logs parallel to each other in the firebox with a space between. Fill the space with newspaper and fine kindling and place several larger kindling pieces crosswise on top. Light the paper.
    • Top down fire: Place a layer of standard firewood pieces first, a few pieces of heavy kindling next, and finally, fine kindling. Roll up single sheets of newspaper corner-to-corner, tie a loose knot in each and place four or five on top of or in front of the kindling. Light the paper. This type of kindling fire can provide two or more hours of effective heating without having to open the door to add wood or adjust the fire.
  8. Leave combustion air inlets wide open at least until the firebox is full of flame and the wood is charred black and the edges are glowing red.

Whatever the wood-burning system you are using, you can improve its efficiency and reduce air pollution by learning to burn correctly. Here’s more detail from Wood Heat Org. on How to build and maintain a wood fire.

How to build a good fire in a fireplace

A fire laid in an open-hearth fireplace is usually more for esthetics than for heating your home, but just as with a stove, it is a balance between the right kind of fuel and the right volume of air. This series of short YouTube videos by Expert Village explains how.

How to build a good fire in outdoor fire bowls, chimineas and fire pits

The rules for building a recreational fire are similar to those for a wood stove or fireplace, but the fires are usually smaller and less complicated. A fire in a chiminea, for instance, uses two bricks set in sand as a firebox, and takes wood pieces that are much smaller than conventional firewood. Large fire pits can usually handle standard split firewood pieces. The use of outdoor firewood systems in urban areas often requires permits. Check your local municipal rules and regulations.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your outdoor appliance to reduce nuisance smoke. The only difference from using indoor appliances is that you have to allow for wind and rain… and consider your neighbours.

  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood. Burning of garbage, plastic, rubber, grass, tree prunings, brush, painted or treated wood is strictly prohibited in Winnipeg. Check your local regulations.
  • Don’t start a fire when it’s windy (over 25 km/h). Keep it supervised and under control.
  • To extinguish the fire or keep it under control, keep a garden hose connected to a water supply, a fire extinguisher, or a supply of sand nearby. Be sure the fire is out before you leave the site.
  • In provincial park campgrounds, you are allowed fires in designated fire pits, from April 1 to November 15. You are not permitted to burn elm or ash.

What to do with wood ashes

1.    Remove a small amount of ash frequently. During 24-hour heating in cold weather, it may be appropriate to remove a small amount of ash each morning before the new fire is kindled to make raking coals and kindling loads throughout the day more convenient.

2.    Ashes often contain live coals which can stay hot and give off carbon monoxide for days. So, put ashes in a metal container with a lid and place the container outside the house and away from combustible material.

3.    Some ash can be used as a lawn and garden fertilizer to provide soil nutrients and reduce acidity. It can be used on compost piles to maintain neutral acidity levels. Some people use ashes to provide traction on icy driveways and sidewalks. Others use ash to keep down the smell and the flies in the outhouse at the cottage.