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How to Build a Fire in a Fireplace

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Having a fireplace in your home can be one of the most gratifying features you will ever find in any place you live.  The hearth is a natural gathering point during social events and naturally enhances any space they grace.  Yet, while the beauty and even the functionality of a fireplace are beyond question, the simple fact remains that actually using the hearth is a little harder than it might first appear, especially when it comes to building a fire.  Be sure to have the proper fireplace accessories like a fireplace screen, fireplace tools, and perhaps a fireplace bellows.

In order to start a fire and keep it burning strong throughout the night, you need to make sure it gets plenty of oxygen.  Fires are fueled by both the wood and the oxygen present in the hearth opening which means that you are going to first need to get it off the floor.  To accomplish this, you will need to stack wood on either a fireplace grate or a set of andirons.  

Fireplace grates tend to feature a “ribbed” design that is intended to allow oxygen to feed the fire from below while simultaneously allowing the ashes to fall to the floor.  Andirons are sold as sets and are made to stand vertically while having a pair of “shanks” that actually hold the wood for the fire.  Grates allow you to use shorter pieces of wood while andirons must be adjusted closer together to accommodate smaller logs.  

Whether you are using andirons or a grate, the first step in the actual fire building process is to stack the logs properly.  Kindling will be the first, or bottom, layer of wood.  You want small pieces of wood on the bottom because they are easier to start and will get the larger logs hot enough to get the fire roaring properly.  A more effective means of making sure that the fire gets hot enough is to use fatwood as the bottom layer of your wood stack.  Fatwood is a specially treated type of pine that has been saturated with pitch so that the wood lights quickly and stays lit until it has been completely consumed.

After you create a bottom layer of either kindling or fatwood, the next layer should be composed of medium sized logs and then topped with your large pieces.  The large logs will be more difficult to keep ablaze so you want to create a bottom layer of smaller pieces that burn easier.  This way, the large logs will get good and hot by the time your medium-sized pieces have been consumed.  You will need to periodically turn the wood with a poker from your set of fireplace tools unless you have a specially designed grate that is self-feeding.  Even then, you will still need to occasionally turn the wood so that it burns evenly and completely.

When possible, avoid starting a fire using newspaper.  The ink from the newspaper will cause damage to the inside of your hearth and may lead to expensive repair bills.  You can light the kindling or fatwood using a firestarter and avoid using newspaper.  When the fire is completely burned out, just be sure to clean the hearth floor using your fireplace tools to make sure that the ash is removed.  Otherwise, future fires will be starved for air and will not function properly.