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How To Start A Wood Burning Fire

 Apr 19, 2021    Do It Yourself

How To Start A Wood Burning Fire

Creating a consistent burn means creating a great stack of wood.

You want to always use dried firewood, which we explore more in depth here, with one or two bottom anchor wood logs on the bottom of your fire stack. A smaller fireplace will most likely only allow for one large bottom log.

The lighter colors in this blue hued image show the air flow possible from a good firewood stack. All of your firewood will need access to air to burn, which is why you never want to pack in the firewood.

Reference image showing the open air spaces in a good firewood stack.

You then want to add in a Lincoln Log style or a tepee style build with each log set stable along the next firewood log.

A crisscrossed firewood reference image.

With the tepee firewood build you want to be sure your logs aren't so tall that they could burn fall out of the fire section. You want your firewood logs close to each other but set so that there is open space for air to reach most sides of each log.

Tepee style fire pit fire build fire safety reference image.

Once you have your firewood stacked properly you want to use a fire starter to get the fire going. Catching even the driest of firewood on fire directly is very hard and not recommended. Fire starters, also known as kindling, can be newspaper, wood chips, fat wood sticks and breaks, pinecones (dried or made for fire starts) to name a few. You want to pick all natural or mostly natural fire starters. For instance, using newspaper is fine and works best if you roll it where the layers don’t burn quickly.

Fatwood link image.

You can learn more about fatwood and browse our fatwood product catalog at the link above.

You never want to use magazines though, unless they are in newsprint form. Magazines with a shiny page surface have a type of seal over the page which when burnt will add to the build up of residue in your fireplace and can send toxic fumes from the burn into your home.

Don't use magazines in a fire or to start a fire reference image.

Another often used fire starter that has mixed results and can also be dangerous is dried leaves. If you have very dry very fresh leaves then it is safe to use as a fire starter but if your leaves are very dry they most likely will burn very quickly before they can smolder into the firewood.

Fall leaves that are somewhat damp from dew reference image.

There are several problems with dried leaves, one is that even dry leaves can have mold and one dew covered dry leaf can ruin your fire start. Another is due to their waxy surface they smolder more than burn, this waxy coating is called the leaf cuticle and protects the leaf from moisture. But this protective leaf coating also makes leaves a bad choice for starting a fire.

Creating a wood burning fireplace fire:

You want to choose firewood for a fireplace that fits into your fireplace grate and allows for 6 inches of all around fireplace clearance. Having large, medium, and small firewood logs will help to build a great heat producing and long burning fire as well.

Two huge firewood stacks reference images.

For larger firewood logs having one side split flat will also help to stabilize your wood stack and help to create a long burn.

For wood burning fireplaces and wood burning fireplace inserts you want to still create a stack of wood and also still allow for air to move within your firewood stack. Each wood burning stove will have its own inside stove belly clearance for the wood. You will want to find your specific information but a good rule of thumb is not to pack in the firewood. And to also leave room on all sides of the belly of the wood stove for air to feed the fire.

Learn about wood burning fireplace inserts image link.

It is important not to burn wood construction wood pieces, which many people refer to as 2 x 4s regardless of the wood size. All wood for construction is chemically treated to keep fungus, rot, and aging at bay. Heat treated lumber and pressure treated lumber may or may not have chemical additives. It is best to not use any lumber in your fires.

Always use untreated wood for fireplaces or bonfires reference image.

We also recommend never using wood shipping pallets for indoor or outdoor fires. While there are some newer pallets that are only heat treated with no chemicals, these make up a very small portion of the wood pallets available for sale.

Reference image of wood pallets not to used in outdoor fires.

Wood shipping pallets are the workhorse of the shipping industry and are made to last. They are often treated with methyl bromide, a very toxic to humans and pets chemical to delay the decay of the wood pallet. They also travel the world so there is no way to know if the wood pallet has been treated. Most countries do not mark treated wood pallets as such, so not having a mark does not mean the wood is untreated.

It is also recommended that you not bring wood pallets inside, as storage or a redesigned rustic table. The wood can give off toxic fumes in an indoor environment. If you really want this look find a new heat only treated pallet to create your indoor look.

Creating an outdoor fire:

Creating an outdoor fire of any type is created a little differently than creating one in a fireplace or a wood burning stove. You can stack the wood in a more circular style but still want to keep the height lower to prevent fly sparks or injury.

Always check local burn notices reference image.

And as with an indoor fire you want to use seasoned firewood and choose local firewood, never transport firewood to a new area.

Fire Pit:

As with all wood burning fires you want to create a well stacked firewood pile that allows for air to move through the firewood logs.

Fire Pit Art large open fire pit reference image.

You want to create a clearance zone around your fire pit much the same as you would in a fireplace. This will condense the center of your fire pit fire toward the center of your fire pit and protect the outer edges of your fire pit. As with all outdoor fires you want to create a safe zone around the fire to keep small children and pets away from the fire.

Firepit reference image showing side of bowl clearance for safety.

You can learn more about wood burning fire pits and view our highlighted selection at the link below.

Image link to learn about firepits and see our highlighted selection.

Concrete Bowl Fire:

Concrete Bowls are not designed to hold wood burn fires. Starting a fire in a concrete bowl can cause intense heat that may crack your concrete bowl. These outdoor fire features use gas, in a propane tank or from natural gas lines added from your home. Concrete fire bowls are very easy to use and can add to the value of your home too. You can learn more about concrete fire bowls at the link below.

Camp Fire:

Starting a campfire is one of the most exciting features of time outdoors. If you are in an unfamiliar area you should check the fire burning status of the area before you start any fire. If possible line your camp fire - fire in large rocks. Or if there are no rocks dig out a circle around your camp fire to designate the fire zone.

Concrete fire bowls reference image of gas ring.


Bonfires have gained in popularity in the last few years as has the size of bonfires, with the seeming goal being to create the largest ever bonfire with each new fire. Bonfires can be very dangerous. With injuries and deaths reported each year. One highly reported death was that of a 33 year old man attending a Burning Man event in Nevada, one of several deaths associated with Burning Man events. Sadly, many Bonfires hosted or with friends and family cause injury and death every year.

Bonfire safety reference image to show not creating an out of control fire.

Create a stable bonfire fire by not creating too high a fire stack, using dry wood, don’t stack the wood end to end. This can cause a burning log to fall creating a cascading fall effect all around your wood stack. You want to use the same stacking style as any other fire.

Bonfire safety reference image.

Create a safe zone around your fire pit or bonfire.

Children are drawn to fires just as adults are but they can also forget that a fire is burning when playing and running. It is advised to set-up a no go zone around any fire with physical blocks such as lawn chairs or coolers to stop the kids before they get to the fire. Dogs are the most common furry family members on a campout. They don’t love the heat of the fire the way cats do but most dogs do love to be by their people. Which puts them next to the fire if you are there.

But the greatest concern is when we cook on our outdoor fires. Dogs and cats only know it smells good and even the best behaved pet can forgo their manners for a slow grilling steak. But just like children they won’t consider the burn risk of sharing the food you’re grilling. It can be very hard to keep pets away from an outdoor fire. Using a leash or lead is one way but not practical for a long outdoor stay. Setting up a perimeter where your pet can’t get to the fire is best.

One easy way to keep your dog, cat, or children away from your outdoor fire is to buy a paneled baby or pet yard. You will most likely have to buy two or three to get the circular area needed but these are lightweight, easy to stack, and will give you a level of peace of mind that lawn chairs, coolers, or dog leashes can’t.

Always completely put out any fire you start.

Forest fires are a concern anywhere but if you are creating a fire at home the risks are greatest from someone getting burned hours after you think the fire is out. Additional risks are someone getting burned from your fire pit sides or creating a home fire. Using water to put out a fire is the best way to douse an outdoor campfire or bonfire. You want to completely cover the fire in water then rake the coals and ash over, then pour more water over the fire. You can repeat this process until you are absolutely sure the fire is out.

Smokey the Bear reference image to safe outdoor wood burning fires.

Putting out a fire in your barbeque grill, fire pit, or other metal crafted unit needs to be done a little differently to protect your product. If your barbeque grill or fire pit has a drain you can use the water method the same as you would for an outdoor fire.

But if it doesn’t have a drain added a lot of water can create a burned ashy mess in your grill that can also rust your grill. If you have a covered lid on your grill or fire pit we suggest staying with your grill and closing the lid to let your fire naturally burn down. Then you can add a little water across the top mixing it with the lower ash base. Be sure to clean everything out the next day or sooner if you are certain the fire is out and cooled.

If you don’t have a covered lid you can still plan for letting your fire die down by not adding more firewood as your outdoor time starts to wind down. We still suggest using water to be sure your fire is out, adding as little as possible to put out the fire.

You will most likely hear pops and hisses from your fire as you add water to put the fire out. This is a tell-tale sign that you have very hot embers in your fire still. Large amounts of smoke when you add water to put out your fire are also a sign that your fire is very hot under the burn material. Adding a little water at a time will eventually put the fire out. And as with the barbeque grill we suggest cleaning the grill once the unit and fire have completely cooled.

We offer many fire pits with a built in drain that allows for putting out a fire easily and as drainage from outdoor weather events, such as rain or snow. If you have a drain you can use water a little more liberally to put out your fire. You do want to check that no coals are blocking the drain which could cause water to pool inside your fire pit.

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Last updated on June 10th 2021.


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