Sunday, 21 June 2015

How to set a fire


I know setting the fire is not something everyone does these days, many people never set one during their whole lifetime. But when my grandmother, Eva, was born in 1888 everyone cooked over a wood fire, baked their bread, boiled water, heated their house, bathed children, dried hair and clothes before an open fire.  During her lifetime (until 1966) she used wood and coal fire stoves, oil, gas and eventually electricity.  She actually preferred a gas stove but mastered them all.
My Dad taught me how to set a fire when I was very young. Later on that knowledge was refreshed by instructions in a cowboy movie and though I survived over 40 years not having to set a fire, when the time came again it was like falling off a bike – sadly I’ve never been very good a riding bikes, I'm much better at fire setting.

The science of setting a fire is to get the flames under the wood. If you throw in a log with a few bits of newspaper on top you won’t get a good fire.
The instructions below explain how I set a fire in a steel firebox but would work in almost any fireplace.

You will need;
TINDER – dry fire starting material like newspaper, old phone books, dry grass/hay, dead leaves, dry tree bark, and twigs.
KINDLING – sticks, smaller than your thumb and some cardboard or heavy paper.
WOOD – sticks bigger than your thumb or larger pieces split open.
LOGS – dry wood from bigger than you thumb up to the any size you can fit into your fire space.
TOOLS – a small shovel, brush and tin bucket to clean out ash, a poker to move burning wood if necessary, heavy gloves for handling splintery or burning wood, a fire lighter or matches.

SAFETY – make sure the chimney is cleaned at the beginning of winter.  
Check your firebox for cracks, rust and crumbling fire bricks.  
Make sure other wood and extra paper is in a container at least a metre from the fire site, you don’t need two fires.  
Keep clothing or damp washing and towels ‘a metre from the heater' – as recommended by our fire service officers.

1 – Open the flue.

2 – Clean the glass door, if you are using a firebox.  Clean out the old ash. A new fire will burn onthe fire in a pan.  If lighting a fire outside you could dig a shallow hole, as a pan, and surround it with rocks, in an open fireplace a single line of bricks across the front holds the fire and in a steel fire box, like we have in our house, there is usually a shallow pan shape formed by fireproof bricks inside.
top of old ash, and a shallow layer is good, but I like to have

3 – Lay a base of cardboard or thick paper (not glossy) or thin bark.   Save cardboard boxes from cereal, crackers etc. A cereal box flattened makes a good base as do cardboard egg cartons, non-glossy magazines, old bank statements, bills, advertising brochures and other junk mail.  Paper will do if nothing else but cardboard, or heavy paper, burns slower.  Junk mail and envelopes inside a large used envelope or paper bag makes a good base for a fire, but not too thick.

4 – Put kindling on top of the base - scrunched up newspaper and parcels of dry leaves, very small sticks and twigs wrapped in newspaper.  Use twisted newspaper to make a ‘wick’ from front to back of the fire box, so that when you light it later it will burn into the middle of the space.

5 – Lay small sticks across the top of the kindling in a criss-cross pattern to allow air movement between the pieces.  Air is fuel for the fire.  The fire box should be about half full.

6 – Now we are up to the real wood. Select some sticks bigger than your thumb but not as big around as your arm.  Lay two or three of these bigger sticks across the top of the pile of the smaller sticks and stand about 8 or 10 more in front of the fire, leaning back on top of the kindling pile i making sure your newspaper ‘wicks’ poke through to the front. Ir this was a camp fire the standing sticks would be in tepee form around the kindling.

So now the fire is ‘set’ and ready to go. 
Light the fire by touching your lighter to the four wicks and stand back, or close the door if you have a glass door firebox.  You should see the fire burning through the paper underneath the bigger wood.

As the kindling burns the pile will collapse and you can add more of the larger sticks and finally the logs. From here on you need some intuition as every fire is different.

If you get a lot of black smoke try opening the door a little.  A little cool air going into the fire box helps to draw the smoke up the chimney.

Close the flue half way when the fire is burning well.

When the large sticks are glowing you can add bigger and bigger logs. The fire will eventually become glowing logs with a few flames and you will feel the heat radiating from the firebox.

Close the flue all the way and add logs as needed.

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