How to Start a Fireplace

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You've built a fireplace or bought a home that has one, and everyone tells you it's as easy as pie to light the silly thing. The only trouble is, every time you try to light the fireplace, you just end up frustrated, cold and without a fire. Rest assured, lighting a fire in a fireplace isn't just a matter of throwing a lit match on some wood. Even so, if you follow some basic steps, you should have a nice fire roaring in no time that's perfect for setting a cozy mood on a cold day.

Things You'll Need

  • 3 large pieces of hardwood firewood (minimum)
  • Kindling (e.g., softwood sticks, newspaper, wood chips)
  • Utility lighter
  • Clean out the fireplace if it is dirty. Debris and ashes can smother initial flames.

  • Place two large pieces of hardwood firewood horizontally (i.e., lengthwise) in the center of the fireplace, leaving just a little space between the pieces. Hardwood is desired because it burns longer than softwood once you've got it going.

  • Put some kindling in the space you've left between the two pieces of firewood. Avoid packing the kindling too tight, as fire requires oxygen. You can use newspaper for kindling if you want, but this is messier than other kindling types and doesn't burn as long. You want kindling that has some durability so the heat has a chance to build and light the hardwood. This is why softwood sticks are ideal--they light easily but don't burn out right away.

  • Light one end of the kindling. When that end is burning stably, light the other end.

  • Wait until the kindling is burning well. Place a third piece of hardwood firewood over the kindling, letting the first two pieces of firewood serve as supports. This should trap the heat from the kindling, and your firewood eventually will start to burn.

Tips & Warnings

  • Avoid using green or damp firewood and kindling. These won't burn as easily because of the high moisture content.
  • Hearth.com explains that some fireplaces and stoves "reverse" if they aren't used for a while, meaning that cold air falls and the fireplace doesn't draft upward. To correct this, you might need to place a piece of crumpled newspaper up through the damper and light it. The newspaper should get sucked up the chimney as it burns. This will warm the chimney and get the air flowing in the right direction again.

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