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Tips for Starting Fires
By Plow & Hearth
2/21/2013 2:53:00 PM
Super Fatwood

Although it seems so easy to strike a match, turning a stack of wood into a cheerful blaze can be a frustrating challenge for a novice. For those of you new to the joys of wood burning, here are a few tips from the fireplace and woodstove professionals at Plow & Hearth, your Hearth Headquarters®.


Getting Prepared:

Dry Wood A Must
The #1 tip is to start with dry firewood. In order for wood to burn, it must reach a temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit. The moisture in damp wood will boil at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, turning it into steam which takes heat away from the wood. Until enough water has escaped, the wood will not burn.


Green wood weighs 30% to 250% more than dry wood because of excess water. As you can imagine, it takes lots of energy to dry wet wood out. Also, the extra water vapor and smoke created by trying to burn green wood condenses more easily on chimney walls, creating a thick, hard-to-remove creosote which increases your chance of a chimney fire. So, whatever else you do, try to start with good, dry wood.


Boy Scout Firebuilding
The classic way to start a fire is to use several sheets of crumpled newspaper, pile on some twigs or kindling split to approximately 1/4" diameter, then use increasingly larger pieces of split wood stacked loosely in a crisscross or teepee-shaped fashion. A match lights the paper, which gets the smallest pieces going, which in turn get the larger pieces going. Soon you have a nice bed of hot coals, which allows you to add full, un-split pieces from the woodpile.


If you have a woodstove, build the pile close to where the air comes into the stove. More air will get into the stack and cause it to catch faster. Bellows can help direct air to your firestarting efforts in either a stove or fireplace.


Firebuilding Shortcuts:

Fortunately, you do not have to find twigs or split kindling every time you start a fire – nor do you have to resort to rubbing two sticks together! Once you have built up a bed of hot coals, you just keep adding whole pieces of wood to the fire. Even more fortunately, there are firestarting aids that bypass using paper and small kindling altogether. Here are some of our favorite fire-building shortcuts:


Green wood weighs 30% to 250% more than dry wood because of excess water. As you can imagine, it takes lots of energy to dry wet wood out. Also, the extra water vapor and smoke created by trying to burn green wood condenses more easily on chimney walls, creating a thick, hard-to-remove creosote which increases your chance of a chimney fire. So, whatever else you do, try to start with good, dry wood.


Boy Scout Firebuilding
The classic way to start a fire is to use several sheets of crumpled newspaper, pile on some twigs or kindling split to approximately 1/4" diameter, then use increasingly larger pieces of split wood stacked loosely in a crisscross or teepee-shaped fashion. A match lights the paper, which gets the smallest pieces going, which in turn get the larger pieces going. Soon you have a nice bed of hot coals, which allows you to add full, un-split pieces from the woodpile.


If you have a woodstove, build the pile close to where the air comes into the stove. More air will get into the stack and cause it to catch faster. Bellows can help direct air to your firestarting efforts in either a stove or fireplace.


The Natural Solution
The most popular firestarting aid with Plow & Hearth employees and customers alike is Fatwood. What is Fatwood? It’s a natural byproduct of logging that comes from the stump of a pine tree that is harvested several years after the tree has been cut. During this time the root system keeps pushing pitch up into the stump, which fills the cells in the stump wood.


Cut into pieces approximately 8"L x 1/2" diameter and boxed in 10, 12, 25 or 35 pound packages, a piece lights with a match and burns with a hot fire for about twenty minutes. A couple of pieces of Fatwood can turn small seasoned logs (or pile of charcoal for grilling) into a blaze quickly.


Being a natural product, Fatwood can be used to start fires in woodstoves, even the new models with catalytic converters that can be harmed using other types of starters.


                                                                                                   

Lamp Oil Burners                                   
Two traditional firestarting methods rely on lamp oil or kerosene to start a fire without kindling. The Cape Cod Firepot holds oil and a porous ceramic ball on a handle by the hearth. When starting a fire, you place the ball under some kindling and small logs and light it. The lamp oil burns long enough to get the fire going.


A fire tray works in essentially the same manner as the Cape Cod Firepot. You just pour oil in a cast iron tray with a porous ceramic insert, put the tray under your firewood and light it.


Compressed Sawdust Starters
The most widely available fire starters, this type is similar to the artificial fire logs. They are made of highly flammable sawdust that is molded with a flammable binder. They light easily and will provide enough heat to create a fire.


                                                                                                        Replica Dynamite Fire Starters

Practice Makes Perfect
Starting fires is definitely a learned skill. The more fires you start, the better your technique gets. Whatever method you choose, don't get frustrated if it doesn't work the first time. Just use some smaller pieces of wood until you get it right!



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