Wood Fire in Fireplace

Starting a wood fire in the fireplace is easy to do. But there are also some basic mistakes you can make that will produce a less effective, more smoky fire. Here are some step by step instructions to make sure you get the most out of your wood fire.

1. Open the damper all the way. Some dampers can get stuck because of rust or soot before they're fully open. Make sure your damper is free from obstructions and is open just as far as it can be.

2. Lay in some wood on the grill. Don't set all the wood you intend to. Just put a layer of it along the bottom toward the back. Put some space in between the logs to ensure adequate air supply on all sides. Remember to use dry, seasoned, hard wood. Green wood and soft wood will not burn hot enough and can increase your risk of smoke in the living room or a fire in the chimney.

3. Set some kindling. Crumpled newspaper makes good kindling out of materials ready to hand. Ball the sheets up tightly. You don't want them to go up in flames all at once. You want them to burn smoothly for long enough to get the wood going. 3 or 4 sheets should do it. Firestarters and fatwood can also be used. Set the kindling toward the front where you can reach it with a lighter and with enough air space below that a fire will be fueled.

4. Place more wood on the kindling. Again, don't overdo it. You want plenty of air space between the wood and the walls and chimney. A small hot fire will burn with less smoke and creosote buildup than a slow cool fire. Lay the wood criss-cross so that there's plenty of room for air flow.

5. Check for a down draft. Especially when it's cold outside, the draft may have reversed itself. You'll feel cold air coming down the chimney past the damper. (You may have already felt this while laying the wood.) You can fix this by lighting a rolled up newspaper and holding it up the flue for a few seconds. When it's clear the flame and smoke are headed upwards, use the newspaper to light the fire immediately so that the draft continues in the proper direction.

6. Light the fire. If you haven't already done so in the previous step, light each piece of kindling on fire and stand back to watch. Leave the glass doors to the fireplace completely open to ensure sufficient air flow.

7. Wait for embers. You'll know the fire is really going when you see embers or glowing coals among the logs. This means the fire is hot and the draft is established. It's safe to partially close the damper and/or the glass doors to control the air flow and the size of the fire.

8. Add wood as needed. If you want to keep the fire going, add wood when the fire has consumed about half of the original stack. If you wait too long, the fire will start to get cooler and all your work at creating a hot fire with a good draft will have to be repeated.