Check The draft
If the flow in the chimney is reversed or stagnant, you may find you have a room full of smoke before the draft begins to move in the right direction. You can check this by wetting your finger and holding it up to the damper. The cool side will tell you from which direction the air is moving. Another way would be to strike a match and extinguish it directly in front of the fireplace and watch where the smoke goes. If it flows into the fireplace, you have the draft. If it goes any place but into the fireplace, you have little or no draft.
To create a draft, roll a cone of newspaper and light the big end, holding it so the flames reach just below the damper. Do not let them rise above the damper. This could set off a chimney fire. If you find you are constantly having to do this, you might consider having a hair dryer nearby. A hair dryer can also used to heat up the flue, creating a draft. The advantage to this is that it creates heat, and is totally smokeless. You can keep it going as long as you need. When you are sure you have a daft, you can light a fire.
If you still have a problem getting a draft going, try opening a nearby window. Also check to see that all competing vents( other fireplaces, bathroom and kitchen fans, etc. ) are off. Consult your chimney professionals for assistance with chronic draft problems.
Prepare The Ashes
You should always have 1” to 2” bed of ash under your fire. Always be certain there is 1” to 2” between the ashes and the fire grate. Taper the ashes from about 3” at the back to ½” at the front. This funnels air up into fire.
Lay The Fire
You need three things to lay a fire.
- Tinder Most people use wadded up newspaper. It’s better to roll the paper into a cone and place it pointing to he back of the fireplace. This produces a hotter quicker fire, with less smoke initially. Other forms of tinder would be hemlock, birch bark, cedar twigs, or dry pine needles.
- Kindling Consists of twigs, branches, and small splits of wood anywhere from1/4” to 1” in thickness. This is the most important ingredient to build a good fire and usually the most overlooked. Most people try to start their fire with only the tinder and wood and then wonder why they spend the next hour trying to get it going. Keep a good supply of kindling on hand.
- Fuel These instructions will be limited to laying the fire when wood is used as fuel. Although there are many ways to lay a fire, the method below seems to work the best with the least amount of effort. The trick to successfully laying any fire is an adequate amount of kindling. Three logs are the perfect amount for starting a fire. Any less and you will have difficulty in maintaining a blaze: any more is simply too much and can be hazardous.
Place tinder on ashes under the grate. Place about 1” of kindling on the bottom of the grate. Now place a medium to large log at the rear, not quite touching the wall. Arrange a second log no larger than half the size of the first log
at the front of the grate. Fill the space between these two with additional kindling. Finally, place a split log diagonally across the top of the two forming a “Z” with the three logs. One match to the tinder should produce a roaring fire. When the second and third logs begin to produce coals, add more wood.
Putting It Out
Okay, so you’ve successfully started the fire, enjoyed the good company and conversation around it, and are ready to call it quits for the evening. Rather than let the fire burn itself out, stand the unburned logs on the end in the back corner of the fireplace. They will rapidly extinguish themselves leaving you several well seasoned pieces to start your next fire.