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Flawless Fireplace: The 4 Steps to Building The Best Wood Fire

A crackling fireplace is the glowing heart of your home when the ice-breath winter arrives at your doorstep - but building that picture-perfect roaring fire is no easy feat! Things start out well - you've cleaned out the flammable creosote from the chimney flue, cracked open a window to get the air flow going, and created a lovely-looking pile of logs, twigs and paper. The next thing you know, plumes of thick smoke are billowing into the room from the fireplace; eyes sting, lungs wheeze, and the entirety of your house smells lightly charred. Save yourself the hassle by following our four simple steps for building a fuss-free, flawless wood fire!

1. Damper Double Take

Before you begin, always check that the damper on your fireplace is functioning properly. When your fireplace is not in use, the damper should be closed to prevent drafts, rainfall, and pests from coming down the chimney flue. However, it is essential that when a fire is lit, the damper is open. If it is not, it will block airflow in the chimney flue, therefore preventing the chimney from drawing smoke from the fire upwards and out of your home. If the damper is closed or damaged, smoke will accumulate in the room instead: gases within this smoke are dangerous to inhale, so do be aware of the importance of checking the damper each time you light a new fire.

2. Flue Prep

When not in use, the air in a chimney tends to be cold - especially for those which are situated on the outside of a house. Basic science tells us that hot gas rises whilst cold gas falls. As such, this cold air will sink from the chimney and into your house once you open the damper, and will render the chimney less effective for some time: if you try to light a fire during this air sink, the sinking air will drag the smoke out of the fireplace and into the room. To prevent this from happening, warm up the air inside of the chimney before you begin to light your fire. Light a roll of newspaper and hold this up the chimney for a few moments: the heat produced by this flame will heat up the air in the chimney, causing it to rise upwards and ensuring that the air is rising up as opposed to sinking down.

3. Seasoned Fire Wood Only

One of the key causes of a smoky, pitiful fire is the use of unseasoned wood: this is because it is not dry enough. You can determine whether the wood is seasoned by its weight, smell, and color: the optimum log should be relatively light in the hand, and it should resonate a hollow 'thud' when tapped against another piece of wood. Likewise, the odor of the wood should be musky and minimal (it should not have a 'freshly cut' smell), it should be rich in color, and should also have small cracks on the end of the log. To ensure that the moisture is completely dried out of a piece of wood, it should be seasoned for at least six months prior to burning. If you find that it is not yet ready to burn, simply store it away in a dry cupboard for the next year

4. Turn It Upside Down

Whilst the standard fire building will generally follow a 'pyramid' type structure, there is a more effective method which greatly reduces the amount of smoke emitted from the fireplace - as well as creating a hotter flame, leaving no wasted fibers, and requiring no management once it is lit! Referred to as an 'upside down fire', the structure is the exact opposite of a standard fire. To begin, lay the biggest fuel logs along the base of the fireplace. Changing the direction for every layer, stack a layer of smaller logs on next, followed by a layer of kindling twigs. Then add a layer of cedar board, a layer of loose newspaper, and finally your tinder. Light the fire from the top of the stack: this heats the air in the chimney flue faster, resulting in a greater convection of air and therefore reducing the amount of smoke which escapes from the fireplace. Be aware that each layer that you create should be tightly packed together, too.

Images sources:

2 & 4 created from video: artofmanliness.com

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