Even seasoned fire builders can make mistakes starting a crackling blaze. Follow these steps (starting at the bottom of the diagram) for a safer, more effective fire. Remember: Hire a pro annually to inspect the chimney for cleanliness and safety before you begin.
1. Ashes Save the ash bed from your last fire: Two inches of ash insulates fireplaces and creates a hotter fire. Keep one inch clear between the ash and metal grate.
2. Grate Use a metal grate or andirons to raise logs off the ground so air can fuel the fire from below.
3. Starter logs Lay two dried logs (look for gray logs with loose bark) parallel on each end of the grate. If you’re purchasing wood from a store, look for seasoned, ready to burn, or kiln-dried on the label.
4. Newspaper Stuff seven grapefruit-size balls of newspaper between the two logs. You’ll light this to start the fire. Add dried orange peels for an inviting scent. Never burn wrapping paper or boxes; they can damage your fireplace and release harmful chemicals.
5. Sticks Crisscross kindling, like thin sticks of wood, across the starter logs for air circulation. The flames will spread through the kindling first and then to the logs. Never use driftwood or wood with paint or varnish (it may release toxic chemicals).
6. Extra logs Add another log every ten to 20 minutes for the first hour, but don’t get too aggressive in building the fire. You should always be able to see the top of the flame in the fireplace.
Sources: Mark Schaub, a chimney relining and restoration expert in Hillsborough, New Jersey; Judy Comoletti, division manager for public education at the National Fire Protection Association; realsimple.com; artofmanliness.com; marthastewart.com; epa.gov