A roaring fire in your fireplace can be one of the best home comforts, but the experience quickly becomes frustrating when you can’t keep your fire burning. Fortunately, several quick and easy tips can remedy this and guarantee your cozy fire will burn for hours.
Read on for 15 of the best tips to keep your fireplace burning on any occasion. We’ll discuss simple preparation and maintenance steps, the best materials to use, and many other factors that will make building and maintaining fire a breeze.
1. Clean the Firebox and Grate
Before you even touch a match, you want to make sure your fireplace is clean. If the inside of the firebox and grate is covered in soot, ash, and other debris, your fire won’t start efficiently or burn for the ideal length.
To ensure your fire can burn properly, here are two cleaning regimens you can use for your firebox and grate.
Simple Cleaning Regimen
- Place a blanket or tarp in front of the fireplace to catch any stray debris during the cleaning process.
- Remove any old chunks of charred woods from the grate and dispose of them.
- Brush off any ash or debris from your grate. You can use the brush from a fireplace cleaning kit, a paintbrush, or the hand-held brush that comes with dustpans.
- Remove the grate from the firebox (if possible) once it’s cleared.
- Use your choice of brush and pan to sweep up and remove the ash and debris from your firebox floor. Be sure to leave at least an inch worth of ash at the bottom of your fireplace to protect the floor and help radiate heat.
- Replace the fire grate.
Extended Cleaning Regimen
- Follow steps 1-4 of the simple cleaning regimen.
- Store a small supply of ash in a bucket and set it aside. There should be enough to provide an inch worth of coverage on your firebox floor.
- Remove the rest of the ash and debris using a brush and pan.
- Use a shop vacuum to suck up any other small debris within the firebox.
- Spray the bricks with regular warm water until they are fully saturated. Brick is extremely porous, so you’ll want to fill the material with water before applying any cleaning solutions.
- Spray a liquid that is equal parts white vinegar and warm water onto the bricks.
- Scrub the liquid into the bricks using a clean bristle brush. You can also use this liquid to clean your fireplace tools, screen, and grate.
- Rinse the bricks with a bucket of warm water and a large sponge, like a masonry sponge. Change the bucket water regularly when it becomes too dirty, so you aren’t reapplying that water to the bricks.
- Wait until your fireplace is completely dry, then sprinkle the reserved ash onto the firebox floor and replace the grate.
2. Make Sure Your Chimney is Clear
Keeping your chimney clean and clear is another form of fireplace maintenance that should be performed at least once a year.
All chimney interiors will become black with soot from the smoke and rising debris created by fires. These sticky deposits are called creosote, which can cause blockages within your chimney and even chimney fires due to their high flammability.
Not only is it essential to the safety of the home’s inhabitants to have this regularly cleaned, but removing the creosote will help the chimney:
- Remove harmful waste gasses and smoke from your home’s interior
- Maximize the draw of fresh air into the fire
- Reduce draft
You could potentially clean your chimney yourself with the right tools and a low level of creosote build-up. However, if you have little experience with this process or the build-up levels are significant, it’s best to leave this process to the professionals.
3. Find the Right Starter Materials
Never underestimate the power of your starter materials. You can rarely create a fire with just the classic giant logs, and if you do somehow get one going this way, we guarantee it won’t last for long.
If you want a long-lasting fire, you’ll need to incorporate tinder and kindling.
Tinder for Ignition
Finding some quality tinder is typically the first step in this process because the tinder is what’s going to catch fire first and help ignite your kindling.
Tinder is usually defined as easily combustible material that will allow you to start your fire quickly as possible. Most tinder will start to glow and spark and then produce a fire, typically after you blow on it to add that extra kick of oxygen.
Some of the best tinder materials include:
- Cotton (you can use an old cloth or some cotton balls)
Make sure your tinder is dry when you go to light it; otherwise, it will be too difficult to burn and won’t efficiently light your kindling.
Kindling for The First Burn
Although tinder and kindling are similar because they’re both exceptionally flammable, kindling refers to smaller pieces of wood like sticks, twigs, or even wood chips.
Ideally, you want your kindling wood to be small, thin, and dry so they catch fire quickly from the tinder. This will reduce the time it takes to get those first real, sustainable flames.
Once you have smaller pieces of kindling burning, you can start adding slightly larger and thicker twigs or branches until your fire is strong enough for you to add logs.
4. Only Use Dry Wood
Possibly the worst thing you can do when trying to build and maintain a fire is use wet or damp wood. If there is moisture in your logs, kindling, or tinder, it will significantly inhibit your ability to create a decent fire.
Even if you can get the fire going, the flames need to work much harder to burn because of the wood’s extra moisture. If you can keep it going long enough and at a high enough temperature, the fire will be able to eventually dry the wood enough as it burns. However, the more likely outcomes are:
- The fire can’t catch at all
- The fire will burn, but the flames will be very low as it struggles to remove moisture and maintain heat
- The fire smolders, so there is mass amounts of smoke and no flames
- The fire goes out completely, prematurely
If you know you will be making a fire, try to bring your burning materials inside ahead of time so they can dry out and are protected from the elements. It’s best to refrain from using any wood that has been recently cut because it is far likelier to have excess moisture than freshly cut wood.
If you’re trying to keep your fire going for a significant length of time, but you have a minimal supply of dry wood, you can easily supplement this with a larger quantity of try kindling, particularly thicker branches.
For those who make fires fairly regularly at home, it might be worthwhile to invest in a moisture meter.
This budget-friendly tool will tell you exactly how much moisture is within a piece of wood. If the meter shows you a moisture percentage over 20, then the wood has too much moisture for a long, sustaining fire, effectively eliminating the guesswork.
5. Use a Mixture of Softwood and Hardwood
If you had no idea, there were different types of trees apart from their species. Then you’re not alone. Mixing softwood and hardwood is the best way to get a quickfire going that will also last as long as you want, as long as you use them correctly.
Softwood for Tinder and Kindling
Softwood is cut from a coniferous tree, which typically includes pine, fir, or spruce trees. It is often used in construction, woodworking, or carpentry.
Don’t be fooled by the name; softwood isn’t soft. It just comes from evergreen trees and has a different structure from hardwood that typically renders it less dense.
For a long-lasting fire, you’ll want all of your tinder and kindling to come from some softwood species. The best options are cedar, fir, and pine, but any dry softwood will work well and provide you with a quick flame.
You can also add softwood when your fire starts to dwindle, so it gets that extra boost before adding more logs.
Hardwood for Logs
Hardwood is cut from angiosperms, which are flowering deciduous trees, meaning they lose their leaves and are dormant in the winter. Common examples include walnut and hickory, but the best species for fires include:
You want to use hardwood for your logs because it is much harder to light than softwood. Additionally, softwood lights quickly but isn’t usually the most sustainable wood for a fire as it will burn out faster.
This is why you’ll want to ensure your fire’s longevity by adding hardwood when you have a decent enough flame because this wood can burn for much longer.
Another important note is that softwood has a much higher sap content, creating more creosote that coats the inside of your chimney when it burns.
Therefore, to reduce how quickly this builds up, it is best to use softwood less with your tinder and kindling and use hardwood for your logs that will burn longer.
6. Preheat Your Chimney Flue
When making a fire in a fireplace, it is important to consider your equipment and help or hinder your fire’s sustainability.
Your chimney can promote a long-lasting fire in many ways, and one of them involves preheating the flue.
The flue is the inside of the chimney where cold air can get trapped when not in use. This cold air can make it difficult to light your fire because it can push down on the fireplace, blocking waste air from rising and fresh air from coming down and reaching the fire.
Because of this, the fire has to work that much harder to warm the air within the flue to break the barrier. More often than not, this task is too much for a new fire, and it goes out prematurely.
This balanced draft within the flue is essential to the fire’s longevity. Heating the flue is the easiest way to ensure this, and here’s how:
- Take four or five pieces of newspaper and roll them up to create a torch-like object. You could also use a large, thick piece of cardboard if it’s available.
- Prepare a few extra torches as this process might take long enough that you’ll need more than one.
- Light your torch and hold it inside the firebox under the flue.
- Let the torch burn and watch the smoke. If you notice it is rising the chimney, then the chimney is drawing on the fireplace properly, and the air is warm enough for a fire. If you notice the smoke is stuck in the firebox, then the chimney isn’t ready.
Once your chimney is primed and ready, you can start building your fire with your tinder and kindling.
7. Make Sure Your Wood is Room Temperature
One easy step that can make a world of difference for your fire’s longevity is room-temperature wood.
Most people will store their chopped wood in a garage, in a shed, or outside on some shelf. Unfortunately, this means it’s probably cold when you decide you want to bring some in for a fire.
Like the cold chimney, it will require extra energy from your fire to heat cold wood enough to burn properly. You might even find that your fire won’t catch on the cold wood at all.
To ensure your wood is warm enough to burn, try to remember to bring it inside at least a day before making your fire. Alternatively, you could buy a log rack to place next to your fireplace and always keep a limited supply of ready-to-use wood here.
8. Avoid Accelerants
Accelerants are fantastic for immediate combustion when you don’t want to wait for your fire to grow. Unfortunately, using this quick and easy tool is probably the worst thing you could do to a sustainable fire.
There’s a relatively long and arduous process to creating the perfect fire that will last. You need to slowly build it up from small pieces of tinder and kindling to larger logs. This ensures it has a strong foundation with lots of heat and oxygen.
Using an accelerant skips all that. True, you’ll get a nice quick flame on your logs, but this flame is likely to burn out incredibly quickly because it hasn’t had time to build enough to burn large logs.
Another note to consider is that accelerants produce a lot of heat, which means your wood will burn much faster and require more wood and maintenance to prevent it from burning out.
Ultimately, using charcoal lighter or other accelerants won’t be doing you any favors in this scenario. It’s extremely dangerous to use them, especially indoors.
Accelerants can easily leak or spread to other surfaces outside of your fireplace, such as carpets, walls, and floors. This material is highly flammable and could cause an unwanted fire in your home within seconds.
You don’t want a sustained fire at the cost of your home, so it’s best to leave the accelerants to the cookouts.
9. Fully Open the Damper in Your Chimney
Air is extremely important to a fire because it contains about 21% oxygen, and most fires require a minimum of 16% oxygen content to burn.
To ensure your fire can receive the necessary amount of oxygen to light and burn, you’ll want to open your fireplace damper fully.
The damper is a component of your fireplace located within the flue. It is attached to some chain or lever which allows you to open it to let in fresh air or close it to keep cold air and debris from coming down the flue into your home.
When your fireplace isn’t in use, you’ll want to keep the damper closed, but when you are preheating the flue and starting the fire, you’ll want to use the chain or handle to open it fully for a long and strong fire.
10. Consistently Provide Proper Air Supply
As we mentioned previously, the more fresh air your fire has access to, the longer it will burn. Opening the damper will help provide a sufficient air supply, but there are a few other things to consider.
Fireplace and air vents are typically located in homes, particularly newer ones that are more likely to be reliably sealed. These vents can help provide oxygen to your fire without inhibiting its ability to burn.
If you notice your home has external air vents in the same room as your fireplace, you’ll want to open these before you start prepping your fire.
Not only will this provide an extra supply of fresh air to the fire, but it will also prevent your fire from drawing warm air from the flue or other parts of your home.
Opening an external air vent can also help prevent the fire from drawing warmer air from other parts of your home.
If you have a slightly more modern fireplace that is constructed with vents, you’ll want to open these too.
In the case that you don’t have any fireplace or external air vents, you could crack a window in the room to give that extra dose of fresh air.
This might seem counterproductive if it’s winter and you’re making the fire to stay warm, but the extra air from this slight crack can make a world of difference in the longevity of your fire.
11. Create a Breathable Structure
Going along with the theme of air, it is important to ensure that the wood for your fire can “breathe” while it’s burning.
We’ll get into a more detailed description of how you should build your fire momentarily, but first, we want to explain why this particular structure is important.
Providing air from the environment by opening vents, windows, and the flue is a great first step towards a sustained fire, but the flames can’t properly utilize it if your wood is stacked poorly.
Looking at common examples of firewood structures, such as the teepee and the lean-to, you’ll notice that people use very little wood and provide a lot of space between the pieces.
This is done specifically for the fire to burn around the wood but still have enough space to breathe and continually use air.
If you decide to stack all of your wood side by side and on top of one another in a block formation, there’s relatively no space between the pieces for the fire to breathe. As a result, it is likely to smolder and/or die quickly, which means you need to start the process over.
12. Avoid the Teepee
It might surprise you to know that the classic firewood structures we mentioned previously, namely the teepee and the lean-to, aren’t really the best if your goal is to have a long-lasting fire.
These structures are fantastic for camping, where you just want to toss together a nice fire to sit around and only add a log or two throughout the night. Most campers intend for this fire to stay up for an hour or so before they turn in for the night, which is perfect because the structure isn’t likely to burn for very long.
If your goal is to have a fire that could theoretically burn all day with minimal care and assistance, you’ll want to use structures like “the Log Cabin” or “the Platform.”
These structures allow you to build the logs, tinder, and kindling on top of each other, which provides the fire an easier burning path as it travels up or down the structure depending on which method you used.
Top-Down Versus Bottom-Up Method
There is a lot of debate regarding which method is best for a fire, top-down or bottom-up. The structures for each are the same, just reversed from one another.
In the top-down method, all of your easily combustible materials, like tinder and kindling, go on top, and your heavy logs are placed at the bottom. As a result, your fire burns downwards towards the sturdy base.
The bottom-up method is the opposite, where kindling is at the bottom, and the heavy logs are at the top. This method is popular with fireplaces because these fires are typically built on a grate. This allows you to stuff tinder, like newspapers under the grate, to feed the fire as it burns upwards.
However, many practiced fire-makers will vehemently defend the top-down method because it is:
- Easy to start with fewer failures/retries
- Produces less smoke
- Creates significantly more heat
- Requires less maintenance from the builder after it’s lit
The top-down method’s biggest downside is that it takes much longer for your fire to really get started than if you used the alternative method. It could take upwards of 20 minutes before you notice some significant flames.
Although bottom-up is more traditional, top-down is typically more successful for a sustained burn, but the decision is really up to the builder of which they prefer.
Here’s how to create a sustained fire using the bottom-up method:
- Crunch up ample amounts of newspaper or a similar tinder and place them underneath the grate in your fireplace.
- Shred some additional newspaper and sprinkle it on top of the grate with other tinder you have available.
- Lay small pieces of your softwood kindling on top of the newspaper on the grate in a crisscross pattern. You should start will the smallest pieces on the bottom and stack the larger ones on top.
- Place a mixture of softwood and hardwood branches or small logs on top of the kindling in the same crisscross pattern.
- Lay two to four hardwood logs on top of the previous layer. You can either lay two to three side by side (as long as oxygen can still get through), or you can continue the crisscross pattern.
- Light the structure from the bottom where the newspaper is crumpled under the grate.
Here’s how to create a sustained fire using the top-down method:
- Lay two to three large hardwood logs next to each other on your grate with little to no space between them.
- Perpendicularly add two or three more longs on top to start that crisscross pattern.
- Continue the pattern by adding a layer of mixed hardwood and softwood branches with more space between them.
- Transition into a layer of softwood twigs with a smattering of tinder.
- Top your structure with a layer of newspaper or and other tinder.
- Light your structure from the top where your tinder is located.
13. Save the Large Logs for Later
It’s certainly tempting to get out the big guns right at the beginning and place your largest logs onto your fire. Some people assume that by doing this, they won’t have to maintain the fire for quite some time once those logs catch fire.
Unfortunately, they’re significantly hindering their fire’s ability to burn and sustain itself by starting with the heftiest logs.
You want your fire to start small and hot before it is ready to build up and burn larger pieces of wood. If you place large logs onto your fire too early, it might not have enough fuel just yet to burn this wood properly.
As a result, the fire might just turn into a smoldering mess that will inevitably go out. For this reason, it is best to build your fire with smaller logs first. Once you’re sure it has reached optimum temperatures to burn the larger logs, you can add them to the pile.
The same goes for when your fire starts to die out. You don’t want to toss a giant piece of wood onto the grate because it won’t be able to burn it. Slowly build your fire back up with your tinder and kindling before you drop this giant wooden obstacle onto it.
14. Stoke the Fire Regularly
This is a fairly simple tip, but it can certainly help keep your fire going for as long as you like. Ideally, you should use fire poker for this task, but you can just use a sturdy stick if you don’t have one around.
You don’t want your wood to sit in the same position you built as your fire burns, or you’re going to find it will quickly turn into a pile of ash and embers. Even the best structure needs to be stoked on occasion so that the fire gains little bursts of oxygen and obtains more fuel to continue burning.
Try to stoke your fire from time to time as it burns, particularly when you notice it is getting significantly low and most of your wood has burned away.
You’ll also want to poke the logs around when you noticed they’ve burned and fallen into a formation that doesn’t allow a sufficient enough supply of oxygen to your flames. In this case, try to move them into a more breathable formation before you leave them to burn.
15. Replenish Your Supply As Needed
Building a fire can be quite the process, and we sympathize with wanting to kick back and relax once the initial flames are going.
Unfortunately, if you want a long, sustained fire, you’re going to need to maintain it from time to time. In addition to stoking the wood, you’ll want to replenish your supply when you notice your fire is dwindling and most of the wood is too charred to burn.
Again, make sure you start small with tinder and kindling before you add larger pieces of hardwood. Ideally, you would add these from time to time as your fire burns, rather than waiting for it to almost die because, at this point, you’re more or less rebuilding your structure entirely.
Maintaining the crisscross pattern and blowing a few quality gusts of air into the flame and embers will help revive any dying flames and keep your fire burning for hours to come.