Ensuring that you’re correctly building and lighting fires in an open fireplace will help you to achieve more hot and successful fires.
This step-by-step guide explains:
- How to build a fire in a fireplace
- How to light a fire in a fireplace
To build a fire in a fireplace:
- Remove any excess ashes from the base of the firebox if required.
- Check that the wood is dry enough to burn by using a moisture meter.
- Place crunched up sheets of newspaper at the base of the fireplace, or underneath the fireplace grate.
- Lay small pieces of dry softwood kindling on top of the newspaper in a crisscross pattern.
- Place one to three smaller sized logs on top of the kindling so that they are touching each other, but not tightly packed together or spread too far apart.
To light a fire in a fireplace:
- Ensure that if your fireplace has damper that it’s fully open before lighting any fire.
- Open any external air vents within the room to provide the fire with as much fresh air as possible.
- Warm up the air within the chimney if required by placing a heat source, such as lit piece of newspaper, within the inside top of the fireplace.
- Use long matches to light the newspaper at evenly spaced locations.
- Place the fireplace screen in front of the fire and keep an eye on it to ensure that the initial logs catch alight and the fire gets going well.
How to build and light a fire in a fireplace is explained in much more detail below with our step-by-step guide with pictures showing exactly how to start a quick and effective fire in a fireplace.
How To Build A Fire In A Fireplace
Before building a fire in your fireplace, be sure to clean up any excess ash or charred bits of wood from the bed of the firebox, or within the fireplace grate.
If you’re burning wood without a grate, it’s recommended that around one inch depth of ash should be left at the base of a fireplace.
This amount of ash helps to protect the hearth from the heat of a fire, and helps to insulate and reflect the heat back onto the wood. The ash shouldn’t be left to build up by too much as it can prevent air from getting to below the fire if using a fireplace grate.
If you clean out your ashes between each fire then there’s no need to worry. A fire in your fireplace without any ashes will work just as well.
A fireplace grate is a great accessory for any fireplace. A grate helps to:
- Keep the heat of the fire off the floor of the fireplace.
- Allow airflow to get the fire from below.
- Keep the fuel in place and to minimize any movement as the fuel burns through.
The aim of a building and lighting a fire is to get it going as quickly as possible. This means building a fire in the correct order and arrangement that allows the flames to spread to the logs without any issues.
Adding The Newspaper
With any excess ash removed, newspaper can be laid at the base of the fireplace.
The aim of newspaper is to be a medium for the flames to spread to the kindling, which can in turn spread to the logs. It’s the newspaper that will be lit once the fire is built.
If using a grate, depending on your preference the newspaper can either be placed underneath the grate or at the base of the grate.
Placing the newspaper under a grate can help to prevent the wood from moving once it has burnt through.
Simply take one sheet of newspaper and crunch it up into a ball shape.
Be sure not to over tighten the newspaper, as you want air to still get in between so that it burns effectively. Place the newspaper either under the grate or on top, but ensure not to pack them in together too tightly together for airflow purposes.
We like to use newspaper to help start a fire because it’s always in supply in our household. You can also use firelighters instead of newspaper: both will work great when starting a fire in your fireplace.
Adding The Kindling
Using kindling in a fire serves as the middle ground from which the fire can spread from the newspaper to the logs more efficiently, as it’s not so easy to get a log to light with a naked flame.
Any kindling used should be dry bits of small wood.
It’s typical to find a bag of kiln dried kindling from you local store like the one we bought recently below.
Whether you buy your kindling or have your own supply it’s important to ensure that the kindling is dry enough to burn effectively. Using wet kindling can prevent it from catching after lighting the newspaper, and lead to an unsuccessful fire.
Although bags of kindling may say that it’s dry, it’s always worth double-checking all wood to be sure.
We use a moisture meter to test random bits of kindling after opening a new bag. To burn effectively, the kindling should have a moisture content reading of lower than 20%.
As the moisture content of kindling increases above 20% it becomes progressively harder to burn. If your kindling isn’t dry enough then you’ll need to leave it to dry (season) for a while longer.
You can read more about what the moisture content of wood should be and how to check here.
Click here to see our recommended moisture meters.
To help with airflow, the kindling should be placed in your fireplace on top of the newspaper in a crisscross arrangement.
There’s no specific amount for how much kindling should be placed in your fireplace, but generally the more kindling there is the quicker the fire can get going. As you keep building and lighting fires you’ll learn how much kindling is needed at the start of every fire.
Adding The Logs
The last piece of building a fire in a fireplace is adding logs to the fire. The newspaper and kindling serve as the means of transferring the flames to the logs as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Just as checking the moisture content of your kindling is important, it’s also just as important to check how dry the logs are.
You ideally don’t want to be using any logs in a fireplace with over 20% moisture content, as they will struggle to catch alight, struggle to burn and will produce less heat than dry logs. Wet wood can also produce more smoke as a result of incomplete combustion as a result of the excess moisture.
We make sure to check the moisture content of every log we use in our open fireplace, no matter the size. If there’s one thing you want to check before having a fire it’s that the wood is dry enough to burn efficiently.
As moisture meters are such an essential tool for fireplaces, we highly recommend that you check out our favorite moisture meter over on Amazon here if you don’t already have one.
If you’re in the UK you can find the moisture meter we use here.
Another thing to consider when adding logs to a fire is how cold they are.
Colder logs can be harder to light and harder to burn, and so we bring any logs stored outside inside at least a day before we use them. This helps to bring the logs up to room temperature before being burnt, and is another way to help ensure you have a successful fire.
When building a fire you also want to make sure that you’re adding the smallest sized logs to the fire.
Larger logs have a greater surface area and can therefore be harder to burn early into a fire. As the fire progresses, heats up and a bed of hot coals are formed, you can add progressively larger logs to the fire without any issues.
Depending on the size of the fireplace, the size of the fire and the size of the logs, around 1 – 3 logs to should added to the fire on top of the kindling.
As with the kindling, the logs should be arranged on the fire so that air can still pass around them. Leaning the logs on each helps for the heat to be transferred between them while also allowing for sufficient airflow. Don’t pack the logs too tightly together or spread them too far apart.
The Environmental Protection Agency also recommends that when building a fire you should only burn wood with less than 20% moisture content, and to start fires with newspaper, kindling or use natural firestarters. Flammable liquids such as gasoline should never be used.
How To Light A Fire In A Fireplace
Lighting a fire in a fireplace isn’t too complicated, but there’s a couple of things to check before starting any fire.
Open The Damper
If your fireplace has a damper then it’s important to ensure that the damper is fully open before lighting a fire.
A damper is essentially a metal plate that can be open or closed using a handle. Dampers are typically closed when the fireplace isn’t in use to help prevent heat loss from a home.
The damper is typically located at the throat of the chimney, within the inside top of the fireplace. To open the damper, simply rotate, slide or push (depending on your particular damper) the damper handle away from the fireplace.
If you aren’t sure whether your fireplace has a damper then take torch or use the flash on your phone to look under the top of your fireplace. Our open fireplace doesn’t have a damper, and so we don’t have to worry about opening it. We do use a chimney draft excluder however, and so we always make sure to remove it before starting any fires.
For more information about fireplace dampers you can read our complete guide to dampers here.
Open Any Air Vents
A fire will need a lot of fresh air once started so that it can quickly burn through the initial bits of wood.
To help supply a fire in a fireplace with as much oxygen as possible, you should open any doors to the room in your home, as well as open any external air vents located in the same room as the fireplace.
We have an external air vent located on the other side of the room to our living room fireplace, and so we ensure to fully open this vent before starting any fire.
Warm The Chimney
Depending on the situation, including the temperature difference between the inside and outside of your home, and the weather conditions, you may need to warm up the air inside the chimney to help start the draft.
The movement of hot air up the chimney is known as the draft, and helps to remove waste gases and smoke from the fire from your home, while also pulling fresh air into the fire from the room. (You can find out more about how fireplaces and chimneys work here.)
Cold air trapped within the chimney can prevent a fire in your fireplace from getting going properly, and so it can be good practice to warm up the air in the chimney before lighting any fire.
If the draft is poor then you may experience a fire that doesn’t catch, and any smoke can start coming into the room rather than leaving up the chimney.
Warming the chimney or flue doesn’t need to be extensive. Simply taking another sheet of newspaper, rolling it up, lighting it at one end and placing it under the inside top of the fireplace for a short while can be sufficient.
If you see smoke from the newspaper leaving up the chimney then it’s a good sign that you’ll be able to start a fire without any draft problems.
If you’re using a fireplace insert, it can also help to leave the door to the insert open for a short while before lighting a fire, as this can help bring both the fireplace and chimney/flue closer to room temperature.
Lighting A Fireplace Fire
With the fire built, and any dampers and external vents open, the fire can be lit.
To light the fire you’ll need a flame. We always use long matches to light our fires as it allows us to:
- Reach more of the newspaper before the match burns out.
- Light as many places around the newspaper bedding as possible.
- Keep our hands safe from the parts of the newspaper already lit.
As mentioned previously, the aim when starting any fire is to get it going as quickly as possible. This is to help reduce any issues from occurring that may cause the fire to go out.
The fire has been built in a way to transfer the flames and heat to the logs through the newspaper and the kindling.
To maximize the changes of a successful fire, you’ll want to light as many places on the newspaper as possible, while taking care to evenly light the newspaper across the fireplace.
The flames will take hold of the newspaper and kindling very quickly, and so we like to move across the fire from one side to another, lighting the front and back corners.
Lighting these specific locations using long matches helps to ensure that all our fires get going as quickly as possible to give us a higher chance of a more successful fire.
Once the fire has been lit it’s a good idea to place your fireplace screen/guard in front of the fire, and keep an eye on the fire as the initial set of logs start to burn through.
Once the initial couple of logs have burnt down and started to create a bed of hot coals, you can start to add progressively larger sized logs.
The hot embers will be able to transfer the heat to the bigger sized logs more easily.
At this point it’s preferable to start using hardwood logs if you haven’t already done so. Although they can be more expensive, hardwood logs will give a hotter, cleaner and longer lasting burn compared to softwood logs.
Burning hardwood logs will help to keep your chimney clearer of creosote (tar), and also help to prevent the glass door on your fireplace from staining if you’re using a fireplace insert.
The Environmental Protection Agency also recommends that you should be building hot fires, as a colder, smoldering fire is far less efficient and safe.
Using the above methods you’ll be able to get a fire going as quickly as possible in your fireplace to help achieve a hot and successful fire.
There’s also another method to starting a fire in a fireplace that can be more efficient than the method shown in this article, and can be done by using the ‘top-down’ method.
The top-down fire method reverses the order in which the fire is built, and can help to achieve a longer lasting fire once lit as well as reducing the amount of smoke at the start of a fire.
For our complete guide to starting a fire using the top-down method click here.
How To Get The Most Amount Of Heat From Your Fireplace
Parts Of A Fireplace Explained
How A Fireplace Works
What Moisture Content Firewood Should Be (And How To Check)
How To Start A Fire In A Fireplace (Using The Top Down Method)