Fireplace Kindling

Fireplace Kindling (The Ultimate In-Depth Guide)

In Firewood, Indoor Fireplaces, Wood Burning Fireplaces, Wood Burning Stoves by James O'KellyLeave a Comment

Kindling can be a staple component when starting any form of wood burning fire, whether it’s within a traditional open fireplace or a wood burning stove.

Firewood kindling can play an important role in getting a fire going as quickly as possible; helping to reduce the potential for any problems to occur such as smoke being produced or the fires going out.

We always use kindling when starting our own wood fires because there can be a noticeable difference when trying to start a fire without it. We also use kindling in few different forms, which we explain more about throughout this article.

This guide has therefore been put together to discuss and explain everything you would want to know about using kindling with wood fires, including:

  • What kindling is and what it can be used for.
  • What can be used for kindling and what the best type of wood to use is.
  • What properties kindling has that makes it so useful.
  • What role kindling plays when starting a wood burning fire and how to use it.
  • And more.

What Is Kindling?

Kindling is material used within the construction of fires and typically consists of many smaller bits to help a fire catch alight more easily. Kindling is often placed below the logs when starting a fire but may be located above when using the top-down method for starting fires.

Kindling is the word used to describe pieces of material that are used to help start a fire.

In the line of combustion, kindling sits between the fire starter (such as newspaper) and the main materials to be burnt (such as firewood logs). Lighting the fire starter will in turn help to light the kindling, which in turn will help the larger materials to catch fire.

Kindling can be defined as:

Material that can be readily ignited, used in starting a fire.’

The word kindling can be used to describe both a single piece of material as well as numerous, meaning that the plural of kindling is typically still kindling.

Kindling does not have to be used when starting a fire but is commonly used when building fires because of its ability to improve the success rate of getting the main source of fuel to catch fire.

What Is Kindling Wood?

Kindling wood is used to describe pieces of firewood that are used as kindling. Firewood can be the most common type of material used for kindling because of its availability, relatively low cost of purchase when buying and fast-burning properties.

Kindling wood is the smaller bits of wood that you’ll find scattered at the bottom of a fire when it’s being built.

As an example of kindling wood, below are pictures of the kindling we use for our own open fireplace fires.

An example of a piece of kindling
Kiln Dried Kindling Bag
An example of a bag of kindling

We personally buy our own kindling (in bags) but other members of our family gather their own pieces of kindling from their property in the form of twigs rather than chopped up bits of logs.

Secondary Air Vent
Kindling can be made up of any small bits of wood including twigs and branches

What Is Kindling Wood Used For?

Kindling is used to help start wood burning fires by providing a medium in which a fire can be transferred from the fire starter to the logs more easily. Kindling can come in different forms but should be comparatively smaller than the logs to be fully effective.

The purpose of firewood kindling is to:

  • Provide a pathway for newly started fires to transfer from the fire starter, such as newspaper or firelighters, to the larger sized pieces of wood in the form of logs.
  • Help fires to start more quickly and reduce the potential for a fire to go out or smoke excessively.

Why Use Kindling?

Logs are harder to light from simply using the flames from a fire starter. The lower surface area of kindling in comparison to the logs helps a fire to get going more quickly and can greatly improve the chances of the logs catching fire.

An important aspect to take into consideration when building, starting and maintaining wood burning fires is the size and the surface area of the firewood.

Due to the larger surface area of logs compared to kindling it can be much harder to get a log to catch fire from simply using the smaller and lower temperature flames generated by a fire starter such as newspaper.

Fireplace Top Down Fire
These logs would be hard to light if kindling wasn’t used

For a fire to start more successfully it therefore needs to be built in such a way that the flames can be transferred from smaller pieces of fuel with lower surface area to larger pieces with bigger surface areas.

Kindling can therefore be used to facilitate spreading of the initial flames to the logs.

To help a fire be more successful, kindling can play an important role where:

  • A firelighter (such as matches) is used to light the fire starter (such as newspaper) to start a wood burning fire.
  • These flames are more easily transferable to the kindling thanks to its smaller size and lower surface area, and the kindling can burn quicker and hotter to help facilitate the logs catching fire.
  • The roaring flames burning through the kindling helps smaller sized logs to catch alight (smaller sized logs should be used when building a fire because of their smaller surface area).
  • Progressively larger sized logs can then be added to the fire as it progresses and gets hotter. Using the largest logs at the beginning of a fire can hinder the fire’s progress.
Multi Fuel Stove Fire
The roaring flames created by kindling helps logs to catch fire

What Kind Of Wood Is Kindling?

Kindling is made up of dry, smaller bits of wood compared to the size of logs, and typically thin and long length. Wood kindling comes most commonly in the form of chopped up bits of logs but may also be found as twigs or bark.

Logs do not take the form of kindling.

Firewood logs are typically much larger compared to pieces of kindling and do not have the right properties to work well as kindling.

What Is The Best Wood For Kindling For A Fire?

The best type of kindling for a wood fire is relatively small pieces of dry softwood such as Pine, which allows the kindling to burn fast and hot in order to help the logs catch fire.

The most common type of wood you’ll find being sold as kindling is softwood because they typically have the tendency to burn faster compared to hardwoods, which is essential for use as kindling when helping to get a fire going.

Softwoods used as kindling commonly include:

  • Pine
  • Fir
  • Cedar

However, most other dry softwoods can work just as well as the above for use as kindling.

The bags of kindling we buy are don’t specify what type of wood it is apart from that it’s kiln dried softwood.

The best wood to use as kindling in wood fires can have the following properties:

  • Softwood such as Pine.
  • Small.
  • Seasoned or kiln dried.
  • As dry as possible.
  • In plentiful supply.
Fireplace Kindling
Kindling is often small bits of softwood firewood

Is Kindling Hardwood?

Kindling is more commonly found as softwood, but hardwood kindling can be used if required.

Softwoods have more favorable properties for use as kindling compared to hardwoods, I particular being able to burn faster and hotter, which helps a wood fire to start more successfully with fewer problems.

However, hardwoods can still work well as kindling.

Kindling needs to be small, plentiful, dry and spaced far enough apart to allow for airflow, which combined can be more important than simply using softwood kindling instead of hardwood kindling.

Does Kindling Need To Be Seasoned?

Kindling does not necessarily need to be seasoned but needs to be dry enough to burn quickly and efficiently to help get a fire going as quickly as possible. Kindling can be made up of either seasoned and/or kiln dried wood.

The most important aspect of kindling is that it is dry enough to catch fire and burn well.

Kindling can reach a dry state where it is low enough in moisture content to burn fast through one of two processes:

  • Seasoning
  • Kiln drying

Seasoning is the process of naturally air drying the wood out. For more information we have a complete guide to what seasoned firewood is here.

Kiln drying is the process of artificially drying out wood in a kiln to speed up the drying process. We have an in-depth guide to kiln dried firewood here for more information.

Firewood Stack
Seasoning firewood is a slow but low cost process
Kiln Dried Firewood Moisture Content
Some firewood logs and kindling are kiln dried to speed up the drying process and ensure that low enough moisture levels are reached

The moisture content of the kindling (or for any firewood in that matter) can be the most important aspect that affects how well it burns. The higher the moisture content of the wood over a certain level the progressively harder it can become for the wood to combust effectively.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that the ideal moisture content for firewood is between 15-20%. This can account for kindling as well as logs.

If the moisture content of the kindling is lower than 15% that’s fine, but shouldn’t be much higher than 20 or 25% as you’ll start to find that the kindling isn’t catching and may be smoldering or smoking as the fire tries to burn off the excess moisture before the wood can be properly combusted.

The moisture level of our own kindling is low enough that it burns extremely well and does a very good job for what it’s supposed to do at the start of every fire.

Kindling Moisture Content
For kindling to burn well you’ll want it to be below 20% moisture content

You can use a moisture meter to check the moisture level of your kindling, and any other type of firewood, to confirm that it will be dry enough to burn efficiently.

Moisture meters are an essential tool that can really make the difference between a successful fire and one that struggles to get going.

See our recommended moisture meters here.

What Size Should Kindling Be?

Kindling should be sized so that it has a much smaller surface area than the logs on the fire. Length of kindling isn’t as important as the width and long pieces of thin kindling can burn much better than cubes of wood.

Kindling is often firewood logs splits down into much smaller pieces.

It’s therefore common to find kindling that is just as long as logs but much thinner and therefore much smaller in surface area.

Kindling should be adequately sized so that it’s able to sit within the grate of an open fire or the firebox of a wood insert or stove.

How To Start A Fireplace Fire With Kindling

To start a fire with kindling lay a generous amount of kindling on top of the fire starter within a fireplace or stove, ensuring that the kindling is laid in a criss-cross formation to aid in airflow but still touching each other.

In order to start a wood burning fire with kindling you’ll need to have a large enough supply of small bits of dry firewood kindling.

Bags of kindling can be bought from many local stores but if you’re using your own supply of kindling ensure that it has been properly seasoned by checking that the moisture level is around 20% or lower.

To build a wood fire using kindling:

  • Lay a generous amount of kindling on top of the fire starter (such as newspaper).
  • If the top-down fire method is being used (read more about the top-down fire method here) place the kindling on top of the logs.
  • Arrange the kindling in a criss-cross formation so that the pieces of wood are spread out but still touching.
Fireplace Logs
Build a fire with kindling up in stages ensuring that air can still get in between the bits of wood

To light a fire that has kindling, use a fire lighter source such as matches to light the fire starter such as newspaper (do not light the kindling itself).

If the fire has been built with kindling successfully then the flames will catch hold of the kindling and will in turn allow the logs to catch fire.

For more information see our in-depth guide to starting a fire in a fireplace with kindling here, or our guide to starting a wood stove fire with kindling here.

How To Split Kindling

Kindling can be split either by using a hatchet or using a dedicated kindling cracker.

The video below shows how you can chop kindling using a hatchet.

The video below shows how you can split kindling using a kindling cracker.

See the range of kindling crackers available to buy here.

How To Dry Kindling

Kindling should be left outside under an enclosed area with one side left open to the sun and wind to help it naturally dry out over time. An overhang roof will also help to keep the majority of the rain and snow off the kindling and logs.

Whether you gather your own kindling from your property in the form of twigs or chopped logs, or buy in your kindling you’ll want to ensure that it’s dry enough to burn effectively when used on your fires.

The EPA recommends that firewood burns its most efficiently when within the 15-20% moisture content range, and so the 20% moisture level or lower is what you should aim for when drying out your kindling.

If you’re gathering the firewood from your own land then it’s more than likely that the wood will be too high in moisture content to burn well.

Buying in ‘seasoned’ firewood to use as kindling does not necessarily mean that the wood will have been properly seasoned dried to a decent enough level. Always use a moisture meter to check the moisture level of any new firewood deliveries.

The best way to dry out kindling (or logs to be split into kindling) is to naturally air dry it out through seasoning.

Some members of our family season all of their firewood, with an example show below.

How we season our own firewood

For best results, logs and kindling should be properly seasoned by:

  • Placing the stack on a dry platform such as concrete which allows water to runoff into the nearby ground and prevent water ingress into the stack.
  • Stacking it up against the side of a building such as a garage and providing an overhang above the stack to help keep the wet weather off the firewood.
  • Leaving one side of the stack entirely open the weather elements.

The most important aspect for ensuring that your logs and/or kindling dry as quickly and effectively as possible is allowing the wind to get to the stack and circulate around it.

Leaving one side of the stack completely open is the best solution. A stack shouldn’t be completely covered over with a sheet of tarpaulin for example because it will restrict airflow and can promote damp and rot.

For more information see our complete guide on how to season firewood here.

How To Store Kindling

To help keep kindling dry and away from moisture it can be stored in the same location as where it had been seasoned, or stored in a cool and dry area still open to the wind such as within a firewood rack.

Once kindling has been fully seasoned or kiln dried it should be ready for use within wood burning fires.

However, this moisture level must be maintained for kindling to still be usable further down the line, and so it’s important to still keep kindling (and all other forms of firewood) within a dry and open location.

Seasoned kindling can still become damp and rot if subject to constant and prolonged contact with moisture, therefore rendering it unusable as firewood.

Wet Firewood
Any type of firewood can become too wet to burn if not stored properly even if it had been properly seasoned or kiln dried beforehand

Therefore, to store kindling in order to help maintain its low moisture levels you can:

  • Leave the kindling in the same place as where it had been seasoned (if you are seasoning your own firewood).
  • Place the kindling within dedicated firewood racks that help protect the firewood from the wet weather but also promote air drying thanks to being open on at least one side.
Firewood Shed
A firewood rack is an ideal place to store logs and kindling

What To Use Instead Of Kindling (Other Than Firewood)?

Although using cut down strips of firewood logs as kindling can be the most efficient and common form of kindling, other materials that can be used as kindling can include pinecones and bark.

Can You Use Cardboard As Kindling?

Carboard should not be used as kindling. Carboard, such as from delivery boxes, pizza boxes and cereal boxes can typically contain a range of chemicals that can be released if burnt when used as kindling.

We’ve personally never used cardboard and won’t do so because you can’t tell what it has been treated with.

Can Pinecones Be Used A Kindling?

It can typically be fine to use pinecones as kindling. Pinecones are a natural product and haven’t been manufactured or treated with any chemicals.

If pinecones are to be used as kindling then they should be dry before being used, much like traditional firewood kindling would need to be.

We’ve used pinecones as kindling on a few occasions and have found them to work well.

Does Bark Make Good Kindling?

Bark can make very good kindling. Dry bark can burn just as well and efficiently as traditional bits of wood kindling. Bark should also be dry enough to burn otherwise it may not work well when starting a fire.

We’ve used bark as kindling on a number of occasions when we didn’t have any bagged kindling left. We strip the bark off the logs we’re looking to burn, tear it into pieces and typically add it onto the top of the logs using the top-down fire method.

Firewood Bark
Bark shavings can be used as kindling to help start a fire

The fire starter such as newspaper is then placed on top of the bark and the fire is lit from the top.

Can You Use Twigs As Kindling?

Low moisture content twigs can be very useful as kindling in wood burning fires.

Members of our own family use twigs (gathered from their property and then properly seasoned) as their kindling when starting fires in their wood burning stoves.

Multi Fuel Stove Kindling
Any form of dry twigs or branches can work very well as kindling

Can You Use Pallet Wood For Kindling?

Certain pallet wood may be useable as kindling but in the majority of instances pallet wood can be unusable as kindling due to being treated with chemicals, painted or having absorbed harmful chemical spills.

A lot of due diligence will have to be done to ensure that pallet wood is safe to be used as kindling. It can also be harder to break up pallet wood into kindling compared to other wood materials.

Pallets may be marked with a description of what they have been treated with, which can help you determine whether the wood is suitable to be used as firewood.

We personally wouldn’t use pallet wood for kindling as there can be other better options.

Can You Burn Treated Wood For Kindling?

Treated wood should never be used as kindling or any other form of firewood. Harmful chemicals can be released if pressure treated wood is combusted in a fireplace or stove.

Starting A Fire Without Kindling

In some situations the most suitable forms of kindling may not be available. In these circumstances using bark off the logs can be used as a suitable medium to help transfer the fire from the fire starter, such as newspaper, to the logs.

For more information see our more in-depth guide on how to start a fire without kindling.

Kindling Not Catching Fire

If kindling isn’t catching fire ensure that the kindling is dry enough to burn well, that there is enough kindling within the fire, that enough of a gap has been provided between the pieces of kindling, and that there is a suitable amount of fire starter.

If the kindling is catching fire but not transferring the flames to the logs, ensure that the logs are as small as possible, that the logs are low enough in moisture content and that the logs are propped up against each other with space for airflow in between.

If the kindling you’re using is not catching fire, ensure that:

  • The kindling is dry enough. Kindling, much like logs, should be low in moisture content to catch fire quickly and burn fast and hot. The ideal moisture content for any form of firewood is 20% or lower and you can use a moisture meter to check.
  • Enough kindling has been used. Using too few bits of kindling when building a fire may cause the fire to go out before the logs have had a chance to catch alight.
  • The kindling is placed in a staggered formation and not smothered by the logs. For kindling to burn fast and hot, fresh air will be required. Building a fire with kindling in a criss-cross formation allows the fire to spread between the different bits of while still allowing air to flow through.
  • The logs are dry. Even if the kindling is dry and burns well, if the logs are too high in moisture content then this can prevent the flames from spreading to the logs.
  • The logs are small enough. Larger sized logs can be a lot harder to catch alight during the earlier stages of a fire and so it’s always recommended to build fires using the small logs (with the lowest surface are) possible and add progressively larger sized logs as the fire gets hotter.
  • The right type and amount of fire stater has been used. The fire starter, such as newspaper or firelighters, will be lit to start the fire with the flames spreading to the kindling. Using an adequate amount of fire starter that is lit at numerous locations across the fireplace or stove will aid in getting the kindling to catch fire.

Where To Buy Kindling

The best places to buy kindling is a local store, a local firewood supplier or an online store delivering to your area of residence.

Always ensure that the kindling is dry enough to be burnt before using, even if the packaging states that it has been properly seasoned or kiln dried.

Kindling Firewood Accessories

Kindling Cracker

If you’re splitting down your own firewood into usable kindling then you may want something to help you speed up the process and allow you to do it more efficiently.

Kindling crackers/firewood splitters are a great addition to any home and an essential tool for splitting logs into kindling.

See the range of kindling crackers available to buy right now here.

What Is The Difference Between Tinder And Kindling?

Kindling is the smaller bits of wood used on a wood burning fire to help the logs on the fire to catch alight, while tinder is the material used to help set the kindling alight and can include materials such as dry grass, leaves and shaved pieces of bark.

Further Reading

How To Build & Light A Wood Fireplace Fire With Kindling

How To Start A Fire Without Kindling

How To Start A Fire In A Wood Stove With Kindling

A Complete Guide To Seasoned Firewood

How To Season Firewood

What The Moisture Content Of Firewood Should Be & How To Check

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