Lifehack: How to start a fire successfully every single time…

There’s more old wives’ tales around the ancient art of starting a fire than anything else. Stories of mum holding a big sheet of newspaper infront of the grate, trying to produce a good ‘draw’, grandad struggling to make sure it was ‘in’ before he could settle down for an evening’s telly…

There’s many ways you can start a fire, but this is, in my opinion, by far the cleanest, quickest and most efficient way of getting the flames roaring. It’s called the ‘Upside Down’ fire method and it has multipe benefits, which I’ll explain later.

Here’s what you need:

– Good, quality dry/seasoned fuel – birch is good for starting off a fire, hardwoods such as oak are only suitable once the fire has been brought up to temperature
Dry kindling
– Fire lighters
– A stove pipe thermometer placed in the middle of the pipe

Logs in a stove

Step One: Place your main fuel on the grate first. If you are using seasoned/dry wood, then place the logs on a bed of ash. If you are using smokeless fuel, make sure the grate is clear and air is able to get through the grate. The reason is that wood needs air from above to catch fire, whereas smokeless coal needs air from below. Wet/damp fuel will struggle to ingnite, and cause tar in your flue. Don’t use it until it’s dry.

putting kindling into a stove

Step Two: Place your dry kindling on top of your main fuel. Two to four handfuls, depending on the size of your stove, will be fine.

fire lighters kindling and wood.jpeg

Step Three: Take 4 or 5 firelighters, place them on top of the kindling and ignite them

add more kindling

Step Four: Now place another handful of kindling on top of the flames

close the stove door.jpeg

Step Five: Close the stove door and check that the air controls on your stove are fully open (check the manufacturer’s instructions – some have one air control, others have two)

A stove pipe thermometer

Step Six: Now keep an eye on your stove thermometer. Once the dial gets into the ‘Optimal Burning’ zone, turn down the primary air control on your stove (usually at the bottom of the stove). You can also now regulate burning rate using the secondary air control, ensuring that you stay within optimal burning range.

So, why is this better than the old paper-kindling-logs/coal method? Firstly, the heat from the firelighters and kindling promote natural draught within the flue, therefore producing a more efficient burn. Also, you’re not smothering a small, cool fire with a load of cold fuel, thus not creating loads of smoke.

As I always say to my customers, there’s only two things to remember about fires; smoke is simply unburnt fuel, and soot is simply smoke which has cooled and condensed in the chimney. A chimney billowing about smoke is not only a waste of your money – because, remember, it’s just unburnt fuel – but on the way up it’s depositing lots of soot, tar and creosote in your flue. Thus is a major cause of chimney fires and liner failures. Moreover, it’s very inconsiderate towards your neighbours as well as being bad for the environment.

At first glance, the upside down method seems impractical, as it goes against everything we’ve been taught about how to light fires. But trust me, it works, and you can use it anywhere – I start campfires with this method and it’s fantastic.

Why not give it a try? Be warned though, once you start using it, you’ll never go back…

Mr Soot Chimney Sweep is a HETAS Approved Sweep, and member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, offering a professional and friendly chimney sweep and stove service in Wigan, Stockport, West Lancashire, Chorley and surrounding areas. Book Mr Soot online or call 07724 311 992.

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