You probably learned to build fires using the traditional teepee method, stuffing balls of crumpled newspaper underneath split wood. As the fire gets hotter, you add more crumpled balls of paper until the fire burns on its own. This is the traditional fire-building method, but it’s not the most efficient. Burning excessive paper is unnecessary and results in excessive ash build-up.
Once you learn to build a fire like a pro, your stack of newspapers will last you several years. Here’s what you need to know:
1. There’s more than one way to build a fire
The nostalgia of building teepee fires is hard to fight, but for the sake of building a better fire, roll with the idea for a minute.
There are plenty of situations in which the teepee method works best. For example, when you’re camping in the wilderness and you have to build your entire fire pit from scratch in the dirt with twigs. However, when you have access to kindling there’s a better way.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you built your fires upside-down? It might be hard to believe, but it’s more efficient to build your fires with the bigger pieces of wood on the bottom and kindling on top. It takes skill to put it together, but once you light the fire, it won’t be long before it gets going.
The benefits to building an upside-down fire are that you don’t need to use paper, and it doesn’t require much maintenance. The fire will burn slowly and more thoroughly for hours without much effort. You’ll produce less smoke, too.
Upside-down fires aren’t just for camping. You can build this type of fire in your home’s wood stove or fireplace. Start by stacking larger pieces of wood on the bottom close together, and build your stack up from there. When you get closer to the top, your wood pieces should be the size of kindling and then at the top should be tinder. Light the fire from the top and be amazed.
2. You can control your fire with the damper
If you’ve never fully realized the potential of a damper, you’re in for a treat. Manipulating the damper doesn’t just push hot air into your home – it’s a tool for creating a fire the way you want it.
How you should position the damper depends on the type of fire you want to build (warm or raging hot) and the weather outside. To make full and proper use of a damper, it’s important to have a chimney cap to prevent moisture from getting into the flue. If everything is wet, you’ll have a harder time starting a fire.
Of course, your first fire of the season will be the biggest challenge since your chimney will be filled with cold air. Opening the damper will push smoke into your home. You could wait for the warmth of your home to heat up the chimney but that can take hours. In this case, building an upside-down fire is essential. Since the fire burns at the top, it will heat up the chimney quickly. Top-down fires also burn hotter, so you won’t need to adjust the damper as much to direct heat into your home.
If you don’t want your home heated to the extreme, build a traditional teepee fire with some uncut rounds. The burn will be slower, and you can adjust the amount of heat you get with the damper (to a degree).
3. Giant rounds are your best friend
When you’ve got a chainsaw, giant rounds will be your best friend. If you’ve never seen anyone build a Swedish fire torch, you’re missing out.
A Swedish fire torch is a campfire built from a single log that’s been cut cross ways with a chainsaw. The taller the log, the longer your fire will burn.
You don’t need a fire pit for this one. Just cut the log as seen in the video linked above, stuff some tinder (like dryer lint) into the cuts, add some small kindling to the top and light it. As the fire burns continue to add slightly larger pieces of kindling until the fire is fully burning and it will burn for hours! You can also use this type of fire to cook on, since the top of the log provides a flat surface for cookware.
Newspapers are still useful
Although newspapers aren’t necessary to start a fire, keep some on hand anyway. You might need to use them occasionally, but thanks to the tricks in this article, you won’t need to hoard them anymore.