Building a Fire like a Boy Scout
If your home has a fireplace, woodstove, or outdoor oven, chances are you will be building a fire at least once during the winter months. Even though it isn’t camping season, now is the perfect time to practice building a fire that lasts. Who knows, you maybe come so proficient at building a fire that everyone will beg you to get that old fireplace started up again. Why not? A fireplace is an excellent way to cut the home heating bill that typically spikes during the winter season.
Once you have learned the correct techniques for building a fire pit, your friends and family will thank you for keeping them warm. Building a fire the right way will also help you manage the temperature in your outdoor oven so that food is cooked to perfection.
Ready to become an expert at building a fire? The following article from Life Hacker outlines the steps to building a fire that will impress. This guide also gives separate instructions if you are building a fire inside versus building a fire outdoors.
How to Build a Better Fire: Both Outdoors and In
Building a fire is one of those things that you might sort of know how to do, but don’t really have to do it that often. Building a fire is actually quite simple, whether it’s a campfire or a cozy one in your living room. Here’s how to do it.
What You’ll Need:
- A safe place to build your fire. If you’re outdoors, that means a fire pit away from trees and bushes. Indoors, that means a fireplace with a good grate, a screen that will keep sparks from flying out, and a working flue that you can open up to let smoke escape.
- Matches. Obviously, you’ll need these to start the fire. Of course, you don’t need matches—any fire starter will do. Matches are generally the most convenient.
- Tinder. This is what you’ll use to start your fire. Outdoors, this means small, dry sticks and twigs, while indoors newspaper will work just fine.
- Kindling. This is wood that’s slightly larger than tinder, usually a bit less than an inch in diameter. This will burn easily and get your fire going, building a coal bed under your larger wood. Make sure this is dry.
- Logs. You know what these look like. Usually a few inches in diameter, this is the wood that will go on your fire last, that’ll build it up to the right size and keep it burning for awhile. Again, you’ll want to make sure this is dry before you use it.
- Water. You’ve heard Smokey the Bear say it a million times, so I won’t bore you, but make sure you have some water handy to put out the fire when you’re done. Only you can prevent forest fires.
Note that lighter fluid is nowhere on the list. It’s looked down on by many as dangerous, and frankly, you just don’t need it. At best, you’ll have some weird tasting marshmallows, and at worst, you could burn down your house. All you need for this is some good old-fashioned wood, and if done right, you’ll have a solid fire going in no time.
Building an Outdoor Campfire
If you’re building a fire outdoors, you’ll need to be a bit more resourceful than if you had the comfort of a fireplace. This means you’ll need to find the wood, kindling, and tinder, and you’ll need to build a small fire pit if you don’t already have one. Also, since you don’t have a grate, you’ll need to put a bit more work into structuring the fire. Check out the above video from Howcast to see it in action, or follow along with the steps below.
- Make sure you’re away from trees, bushes, or anything that burns. You don’t want to be starting any forest fires. Also, if you’re at a campsite, double-check that fires are permitted in the area.
- Build a small fire pit. To protect the wood from falling apart into the area where you’re sitting, dig a small hole and surround it with rocks. If your campsite already has a fire pit (or you’ve built a backyard one yourself), you can obviously skip this step.
- Put some tinder in the center of your fire pit. Remember, tinder are the small sticks, twigs, and leaves you’re going to use to get your fire burning, so the easier it burns, the better.
- Stack your kindling on top of the tinder in a “teepee” structure. Make sure to leave an opening on the side you’re going to light. In general, you’ll want more wood on the downwind side so you can shield people on that side of the fire.
- At this point, you have a fire-ready structure. You can build this as big as you want (be careful!), and the structure doesn’t matter as much. Some people like to build large teepees with their bigger logs, while others like to build a square structure around their small teepee. Generally, the square “log cabin” structure is better for letting out heat, but a teepee is easier to make into a large bonfire.
- Light your fire. Grab your matches and light the tinder. It helps to light it in a few different places to get it burning faster. Note that you may need to add more tinder if the kindling takes a while to catch fire. As the fire burns, you can gradually make it larger by adding larger and larger sticks.
That’s it! You should have a roaring campfire in no time, and if you’ve remembered to save a few of those sticks, you can get your ‘mallow roasting on. Be sure to put out your fire completely when you’re done!
Building an Indoor Fire
Once Winter comes and you start building indoor fires, you’ll have to change up your technique a little bit. We’ll assume you already have all of your wood, but you’ll also need to deal with the flue, make sure you have a quality grate, and a fire extinguisher nearby (you know, just in case). Check out the video to the left from MonkeySee and follow along with the instructions below.
- Before you do anything, open the flue and make sure it works correctly. You’ll usually be able to feel the cold air coming from outside if it’s open. The last thing you need is a house full of smoke!
- Grab your newspaper and crumble a few pieces up, throwing them into the back of the fireplace. These are going to act as our tinder, starting our fire with an easy-to-light surface.
- Stack some of your kindling on top of the newspaper. Make sure you leave enough room in there for oxygen to circulate, as your fire will need it to burn. You don’t need too rigid a structure, here, since you have the grate and screen to keep the fire put together.
- Light your fire. Again, you’ll want to light the tinder (newspaper, in this case) in a few different spots to get it burning quickly. Your kindling should catch fire pretty easily. You can add a bit more kindling once it starts to create a nice coal bed.
- Once you’ve got a small fire going, you can start adding your bigger logs. You can usually just lay these across the grate lengthwise, then stack one or two on top diagonally. Remember: you want to leave enough room for oxygen to flow so everything catches fire easily.
That’s it! You should have a warm, crackling fire going in no time. You can always add more logs if you want to keep it going longer, too. Be sure to put that screen up to protect your house from flying sparks—you don’t want your carpet catching fire.
Obviously, everyone has their own methods for building fires, and there’s no one way to do it. If you’ve got your own favorite methods or tips, whether for outdoor or indoor fires, be sure to share them with us in the comments.
Now that you know all of the correct steps for building a fire, you have the ability to cut down on home heating costs or entertain guests outdoors during colder weather.
Remember that if you are building a fire indoors, be sure to check that the flue is open. You may need to consider hiring a chimney sweep to clean the chimney, as a clogged chimney can produce dangerous house fires.
Avoid pouring water on a fire if you can. For an indoor fire, this will cause a lot of smoke and may set off your fire alarm. Since the fire remains in a concentrated area like a fireplace or wood stove, you can allow the fire to burn out on its own instead. However, be sure to never leave a burning fire or hot coals unattended.
Now that you are an expert on building a fire, you may want to build a fire pit or fireplace to contain your practiced fire. Camosse Masonry Supply carries kits for building your own outdoor fire pits, fireplaces, and pizza ovens. Contact us to purchase materials or for more advice on building a fire today!