The fire-building basics with homemade fire starters

Q: I have a nice wood-burning fireplace, but it is difficult to get a good fire started. Do you have any tips to help me so the room does not fill with smoke as it starts?

A: There are some fire-building basics, but if you ask ten old-timers about the best method, you will probably get ten different answers. Although there are many effective and efficient tips for laying a fire and keeping it going, most have some basic fire-building concepts in common.

Before using your fireplace, have the chimney inspected by a certified chimney sweep. Many houses burn to the ground each year from deteriorated and dirty chimneys. This is more common if you have had previous problems getting hot, smoke-free fires started. A slow, smoky fire produces much flammable creosote that gradually builds up inside the chimney.

Most fire-building techniques for a hot fire use newspapers, kindling or fire starters, some softwoods, and mostly hardwoods. The purpose of newspapers is to warm the chimney and get the kindling going. The kindling holds the flame long enough to ignite the softwood and hardwood logs.

Two common methods to lay a fire are the teepee and the English configurations. Both use crumpled newspapers placed under andirons or a grate. Always use well-seasoned wood when staring the fire. A small percentage of green logs can be added after the fire is raging.

Place kindling or fire starters in the center for the teepee method and stack several logs on end to form a teepee pattern. This creates channels of hot gases up between the logs to quickly get them started. Once they are burning well, additional logs can be added in any fashion.

The English method is preferred when using andirons. Place several logs on the andirons. Lay kindling across these logs and then place more logs on top of the kindling. It sometimes also helps to place a few pieces of kindling vertically down into the newspapers and up between the logs.

With either method, place some loose uncrumpled newspaper over the logs. Before lighting the newspapers under the logs, light the top newspaper sheets to create an upward chimney draft. Once the smoke draws strongly up the chimney, light the newspapers under the logs from each end.

Some people also recommend a back log. This is a large log laid at the back of the fireplace. It eventually burns, but its primary purpose is to keep the logs on the andirons and protect the fire brick. The front of the back log will glow red which radiates more heat out into your room.

You can buy small fire starters, which are basically tiny regular wax firelogs, but it is not difficult to make your own. Fill condiment cups with sawdust and then pour in melted paraffin or old candle wax.

For more decorative starters, place a pine cone in a cupcake paper, add a wick and fill it with candle wax. Make newspaper logs by wrapping sheets of newspapers around a broom handle, wetting them with a water/flour solution and allowing them to dry. They will stay together when dry.

Q: I run my dehumidifier sometimes to minimize allergy problems for my daughter. Is the water from a dehumidifier very pure and can it be used in a steam iron, car battery or in my goldfish bowl?

A: A dehumidifier is somewhat similar to the last stage of a water distiller where water vapor condenses into water. There are no hard water ions in the dehumidifier water so it should be fine for the steam iron.

There are chemical vapors in indoor air from cleaners and synthetic products. These may or may not also condense into the dehumidifier water depending upon their boiling point. Don't use it in a battery or fish bowl.

• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit

© 2022, James Dulley

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