If you’re looking to create a hotter, more efficient fire that produces less smoke and requires less maintenance, forget everything you’ve ever learned about building a fire. Most people learn to build fires in the “log cabin” or “teepee” style, putting the kindling on the bottom and adding progressively larger logs on top. If you want a hotter, cleaner fire, however, you should be building your fire from the top down.
A top-down fire is a simple inversion of the traditional fire-building method, but it produces a superior result. There are three easy steps for building the ideal top-down burn:
- Place your largest hardwood logs in one layer on the bottom with the cut ends at the front and back of your fireplace or woodstove. Putting your logs in the fireplace front to back, rather than side to side, allows the air to mix better with your fire’s fuel.
- Stack on smaller pieces of wood on top. Create four to five additional rows of smaller pieces of firewood on top of your larger base row. If you burn some soft woods, they are ideal for stacking in this middle row of wood. Stack the wood until it is about half way up your firebox or woodstove.
- Top with kindling. Put your kindling on top of the rest of your wood stack, filling the rest of your fireplace. Do not stack wood taller than the fireplace opening. If you choose, you can place tightly rolled pieces of newspaper on top of your kindling. Your kindling or newspaper should be thin enough to light with one match.Your fire is now ready to light! Once you ignite the newspaper or kindling, your burn will progress from the top down. This method provides less smoke, and it means that your fire will not collapse in on itself as it burns, as it does when you build a traditional fire, with the heavier logs on top. Once the fire is burning, you won’t have to reload it or stoke it for up to two hours!
While a top-down burn is a convenient way to light a fire, it’s also cleaner for your home and your fireplace. When your fire burns hotter ad produces less smoke, it means you’re releasing fewer particles into your home and into your chimney. That reduces the rate at which dangerous creosote will build up in your chimney.
And remember, whether you’re building your fire in the traditional “log cabin” style or experimenting with the top-down method, using the right fuel is key! Burn only seasoned wood that has been dried for six months. Wet wood will produce more smoke and will produce less heating, reducing the efficiency or your fireplace or woodstove and leading to a quick buildup of dangerous creosote in your chimney!