With firelighters, matches, coal, kindling and logs ready-to-buy from your nearest supermarket or petrol station, it’s easy to think “how hard can it be?” when it comes to lighting a fire. However, getting a long-lasting, roaring fire started quickly and mess-free can be much more challenging than you might think.
That’s why we’ve compiled a step-by-step guide on how to build the perfect fire.
In order for your fire to burn successfully, there needs to be a lot of air flowing through your chimney to provide oxygen to the fire. If soot has built up in the chimney then this will restrict the reduce the draw of oxygen.
If it’s been a long time since you had your chimney inspected or you have just moved home and aren’t sure when the chimney was last swept, then before lighting your fire call a professional chimney sweep to inspect and clean your fireplace – this will give you the best starting point for your fire. Ideally, your chimney should be swept twice a year.
If your chimney is clear but you have ash left over from previous fires then it’s best to remove the debris before building your new fire. Rather than sweep the ash and risk making a mess, a special ash vacuum cleaner or tank that connects to your vacuum cleaner removes the soot and ash in seconds.
Check out our Vacmaster Ash Vacuum Cleaner here.
Check fuel / smoke restrictions
Many parts of the UK are designated smoke control areas. This means that you can’t emit smoke from a chimney unless you’re burning an authorised, smoke-free fuel or using ‘exempt appliances’, for example burners or stoves.
A list of exempted appliances can be found here: https://smokecontrol.defra.gov.uk/appliances.php
A list of authorised fuels can be found here: https://smokecontrol.defra.gov.uk/fuels.php
Before you start building your fire, double-check these lists to make sure you’re using the right fuels and appliances for your area. You can contact your council to find out if you live in a smoke control area.
Step 1: Build Your Fire (the base)
When building your fire, start by tearing pieces of newspaper into thin strips and place a generous amount on your fire grate (depending on your type of fire).
Many people make the mistake of lining their fireplace with whole sheets of newspaper or screwing pages into balls and strategically placing them in-between logs, but using thin strips of newspaper will allow the air to circulate better around the fire. This air circulation is key to the success of your fire.
Next, place small pieces of kindling and build up rows of wood into layers, to form a raft with plenty of gaps for the air to circulate. This will allow air to circulate between the wood or coal and as flames burn upward, the fire will burn up the kindling and be less likely to go out from lack of a fuel source. At this stage you can also opt to tuck in a few firelighter tablets to help start the fire.
If you have a multi-fuel stove or an open fire, then using coal together with logs gives you a hotter fire with higher flames, than just using one type of fuel. Start by adding your coal into a pile in the middle of your raft. The idea is to get a good base of red hot coals alight before adding your logs.
Tip: When stacking your coal or logs, ensure that there is space for air to circulate. Round logs and coal should be stacked or placed in such a way that there is no risk of them rolling out of the fireplace – for example placing round logs facing inwards rather than horizontally.
Step 2: Light your fire
Stay a safe distance away and using a long match or a long gas click lighter, light your newspaper or firelighters from underneath and towards the back of the fire first.
Step 3: Keeping your fire burning
Have patience and wait until your coals are glowing before adding your logs or more coal– this can take around 30 mins. The bigger your base of red hot coals, the quicker your logs will catch and the hotter your fire will be.
The trick to keeping your fire burning is airflow. Too much airflow and your fuel will burn too quickly. Too little and your fire will suffocate and go out.
If you’re using a wood burner or stove, leave your vents more open, if you have a traditional open fire, leave the draw open underneath the grate to allow oxygen to fuel the fire until your coal is glowing (or your larger logs are lit if you’re just using wood).
Once your fire has established, slowly close the vents until your fire is burning with flame, but not roaring. A roaring fire might look great, but your fuel will simply burn out quickly meaning your fire won’t be burning for as long as it should.
Quick guide to building a fire:
- Clean away remains from any previous fires
- Tear pieces of newspaper into thin strips
- Add your kindling, forming a pyramid / raft that has plenty of gaps for the air to circulate
- Nestle firelighter tablets in-between (optional)
- Add the coal into a pile in the middle
- Light your newspaper/firelighters from underneath and towards the back of the fire first.
- Wait until the coals are glowing red and the flames have died down.
- Poke the coals to allow ash to fall out underneath and unblock the grate
- Now add your logs.
- Periodically poke and feed with coal. Add coal in small amounts to the edges, to prevent smothering your fire.