Tips for Building a Fire in a Fireplace

Avoid any meeting of the minds during the holidays as you build a fire in a fireplace by getting it started right away. We'll get you on your way to roasting chestnuts in no time!

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Cleaning the fireplace. Hand of man holding a brass shovel with ash

Clean Out the Ashes

An important step to knowing how to work a fireplace is to make sure all ashes are cleaned out of the firebox before you start stacking wood for that first fireplace fire. Simply sweep or vacuum the cold ashes and dispose of them outside. But you may want to keep a few ashes around to help build a fire in your fireplace. Be aware that coals can remain hot for up to three days, which can become a fire hazard if they come in contact with flammable materials. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher nearby, and make note of the expiration date.

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Pile of stacked triangle firewood prepared for fireplace and boiler.
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Choose the Right Fireplace Wood

Choose dense wood such as oak. Wood should be split and stored in a high and dry place for at least six months. Green woods, such as pine, are not recommended for a wood burning fireplace since they can produce more creosote. Or, if you want to try a non-traditional approach to keeping a fire going in your fireplace, try this candles in the fireplace idea.

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dfh17sep042-04 brick fireplace dirty damper

Check the Fireplace Damper

The damper is a movable plate that sits above the fireplace before the flue. Make sure the fireplace damper is working properly. There should be no debris preventing it from opening and closing. This is a critical step in understanding how to work a fireplace.

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Prime the Flue

Avoid smoke pouring into your home by priming the flue. You can do this by igniting a roll of newspaper and holding it up the damper for a few minutes to warm it up.

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Fireplace kindling newspaper

Build Up Balls of Newspapers

After you’ve opened and inspected the damper, crumble balls of newspaper and place them underneath the grate. Learn the difference between fireplace andirons and grates.

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how to add kindling to a fireplace
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Add Some Kindling

Add some kindling at the bottom of the grate to get it going after you ignite the newspaper. You can lay the kindling length-wise or in a criss-cross pattern. Kindling should be dry, thin strips of wood which will help your fire get started.

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Fireplace fire

Arrange the Logs

How to arrange the logs remains a hot button issue. Some people go with the traditional triangle approach while others have opted for a bit more elaborate strategy by placing two logs at either end of the grate and then stacking two logs perpendicular to those base logs on top, kind of like a log cabin. Others claim the upside down method for arranging logs is the best way.

You don’t have to get crazy with the engineering here. Try these different methods and figure out what works best for you. Once you’ve got a fire in your fireplace you can see which arrangement keeps the fire going the longest and work with that one going forward.

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fire within a large stone arched fireplace, with pile of logs and basket of pine kernels fireplace fire

Keep the Fire Small

Small fireplace fires generate less smoke and create less creosote buildup. When building a fire, put the logs toward the rear of the wood-burning fireplace and be sure to use kindling, not flammable liquids, to start the fire. These tips are crucial in knowing how to work a fireplace.

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Grab an Igniter Log

An igniter log it might be the easy way out but you don’t want a bunch of egg or soot all over your face. Just light the log before everyone comes over so they won’t be the wiser.

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limestone fireplace
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Add a Fireplace Guard

To prevent hot embers from getting out, use a metal-mesh screen or glass fireplace doors. Don’t burn wood in your fireplace without a guard. The last thing you want to do is start a house fire.