How do you start a really good fire in the fireplace with real wood?

Phil_L

Second Unit
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Sep 3, 2003
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This is my first place with a fireplace and I can't seem to get good fires going unless I use those fake starter logs. I really want to use real wood. I know the drier the wood the better, and I need to get a good wood delivery service. But is there anything else I can do? Thanks in advance.
 

Brian Johnson

Supporting Actor
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Oct 21, 2001
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I'm sure you'll get a lot of good answers but I'll start.

I liked to saw off a chunk or two of those firelogs & use them as a starter.

Put a couple pieces of the firelog on the bottom (or on a nice flat piece of wood), build up with some small pieces of wood (kindling), then bigger pieces, then a bigger log up top.
Then burn the firelogs in a couple places & let her go. Never had a problem getting a fire going.

I miss my wood stove : (
 

Adam Lenhardt

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Take Sunday's newspaper and pull of pages and crunch them up into balls. Fill up the grate with balls of such paper. Grab a few handfuls of twigs and sticks from your your back yard and put them on top of the paper balls as kindling. Stick 1-2 logs (split into quarters - not a full log) on top of the kindling. Once those logs really start burning, you can add more logs as necessary. You keep it to 1-2 at first to prevent smothering the flame.
 

CRyan

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"Ya twist it, twist it - lengthwise to simulate kindling. Thats the way you get it going."
 

Jay H

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What kind of fireplace, with a door or without? A good fire is fuel and air and a good bed of coals. Obviously, at the start of your fire, a good bed of coals isn't going to be around. What you can do though is create that hot bed of coals by burning easier items before throwing on a split. Seasoned and dry, of course, nothing kills a roaring fire than a wet piece of wood.

It can be a science and if you have a flue thermometer, the easier it is. Like mentioned, it's good to start the fire if you have a door and a screen with newspaper and stuff. Can throw off embers but it gets a good hot fire quickly and easily. The easy way is, as mentioned above, you can cut some of those wax logs into small bite size pieces and use that, or you can buy the premade "starter" logs. I find taking cardboard and rolling it up and stuffing it with newspaper works well, light the paper and put your kindling on top of the cardboard. Your kindling should now be going and then you can start adding kindling as needed and also perhaps shortly a small split (bark side up, don't put the bark side down as the bark is the wood's natural protection against moisture, fire, etc. Although if it's a birch tree, the birch itself is a natural firestarter.

If you have a flue thermometer, when you start getting flue temps of about 300degF or so, you can think about adding big splits. You want to run your fireplace above 400degF to prevent creasote buildup as much as possible, don't have cool smokey fires. 400degs though is an actual flue temperature and not a surface temp, though since I assume you have a regular masonry fireplace, you'd have to have some kind of probe thermometer if you have one at all. (can't read temps from the surface of a brick or stone!).


Now if you have a door on your fireplace, you can somewhat control the air intake though of course, none of them are designed to be airtight as much as a wood stove or a fireplace insert. If your fireplace is designed right with a good draft, you'll get a good fire and your room should not be smokey.

As far as wood delivery service, try to find a reputable one, and be careful about the quantity aka a Face Cord is not the same as a "Cord" so make sure when you're pricing them out, that you're getting what you paid for. A Cord of wood should be 8'x4'x4'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cord_(unit_of_volume)

In some states, a Cord is actually regulated and a wood supplier can get in trouble if they "cheat" and they can be reported to the state.

A good hardwood is also a good BTU provider though many of the conifers and some of the fruit trees have a nice smell to it. Apple wood is supposedly nice and pine is nice (some folks say not to burn pine as it is sappy and can coat your flue).

Don't ignore your chimney, you do NOT want a chimney fire :) Have it inspected and cleaned if you haven't done so in a while or are suspicious of it.

Jay
 

Joe S.

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Man, can we get sued if you burn your house down with advice from this forum?


Seriously man, instead of reading a mountian of words about this find a Boy Scout on your block and ask him to show you the fundamentals. They love building fires and are taught to do it safely and correctly. It's really easy but it's 100x easier for someone to show you how to do it than to explain the fundamentals.
 

Eric_L

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The best kindleing is not newspaper - many of the harsh chemicals in it are poisonous. If you want some good kindleing try the fuzz from your dryer lint screen.
 

Mark Giles

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I didnt know that. I've been buring newspapers for a while now. Does the lint burn long enough though?
 

Adam Lenhardt

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I've been burning newspapers for decades, and my lungs are fine. If you've got a good flue, I don't see how there's a problem. Of course, I've never used a flue thermometer either, and the wood in our fireplace comes from chopped dead wood in our back yard.

Jay's right though, if you use newspapers you've got to watch out for floating embers. We got a hearth rug when we replaced the carpet in the living room, and it has actually been a good investment for us (judging by the number of burn marks!) I'd also never thought about cardboard, but being a hefter paper product, it makes sense that it'd be a slower (and therefore more useful) starter burn.

Magazines burn crappy because of the waxy gloss.

ADDED: Eric got me worried so I did a little research. The short answer is he's right that newspaper ink is toxic. The long answer is the most newspapers have switched to non-toxic organic inks. If you're really concerned about it, call your paper and ask them what kind of ink they use.
 

Jay H

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Let me state that all my fires I make are in my wood stove which is an airtight design, other than the primary and starter air vents. Not completely but considering the draft and design, whatever toxins at startup gets sucked out the flue. In a regular masonry fireplace, can't always guarantee that. If you really want to be particular, gift wrap, some of those waxy cardboard boxes fall into the same category as well as many paints and oils.

The pressurized outdoor wood burns off to arsenic though I think in 2003, the outdoor lumber industry banned the use of the bad arsenic producing lumber which can come off by contact, not just by burning, in small amounts... Somebody check me on that...

Jay
 

Jay H

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Technically, I am not even using the newspaper as kindling, it's just as a starter to light the cardboard that I usually have aplenty of, the (non plastic/waxy kind) though I do burn the occasional cereal box in my wood stove just as a starter. Obviously, I only burn split wood. My kindling is actually dead branchs I collect from the oak trees in my yard, the newspaper and cardboard is used just to light the twigs and warm up the flue.

Jay
 

Jeff Gatie

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There are no "harsh chemicals" in 99% of the "daily" type newspapars out there. Newspapers long ago switched to soy-based inks and recycled pulp. Perfectly safe for burning or burying.
 

Joe D

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"Quote"The pressurized outdoor wood burns off to arsenic though I think in 2003, the outdoor lumber industry banned the use of the bad arsenic producing lumber which can come off by contact, not just by burning, in small amounts... Somebody check me on that...
"Unquote"

Never burn any wood that has been treated with any chemicals, including pressure treated CCA / ACQ lumber. The chemicals are released into the air when burning and are easily absorbed into the body. Also, after burning, the ash leftovers will contain the chemicals which are also easily absorbed into the body.

For safety precautions when handling the lumber, wear gloves and use a dust mask when cutting the lumber.
 

Joseph DeMartino

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Plain newsprint and modern inks are harmless. You don't want to burn the glossy advertising inserts, magazines and other stuff that comes with the Sunday paper, though. I live in Florida, so would have little use for a fireplace even if I had one, but I used to have 'em in New York and still remember the basics. I used to save up junk mail all spring and summer in a old filing cabinet (again, nothing on glossy paper and I'd always tear out plastic from the window envelopes) and use that to start fires all winter.


Regards,

Joe
 

Nate Anderson

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Jan 18, 2001
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I have actually stopped using newspaper most of the time and found this really great stuff called fatwood, it comes from the stumps of logged yellow pine trees, all the sap from the roots gets pushed up into the stumps leaving a strongly concentrated wood that is naturally flammable. You can light it with a match and it works great along with some dry kindling to start a quick fire.

Here's how I use it:

Light one stick, allow it to start burning place on grate, stack three or four more sticks around it, and then carefully start stacking dry kindling around it and on top of it allowing for proper air flow. You should have a nice roaring fire in no time.

Newspaper also works just as well. The real key is starting with small pieces of wood, no bigger really than 1/4th of an inch wide and then build from there as the fire gets going. Going that route, you should have a nice hot fire in no time.

The other key is dry wood. If the wood you're burning is hissing a lot, then it's not dry enough to burn properly.

Another tip, when purchasing wood, buy from someone reputable and make sure you get a fair, solid stack for your money. Alot of dealers cheat and stack all the wood in a "criss cross" fashion, meaning you're only getting roughly half the wood you're paying for!
 

Adam Lenhardt

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This is an important point that I completely forgot about in my initial post. May sure you store your wood where it is both covered from rain and protected from the ground (which naturally sucks up moisture). Here's what we use:
 

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