Playing with fire - Livre d'Or — LiveJournal

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Playing with fire
Thursday, 21 February 2008 at 08:56 pm

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Does anyone round here know how to make (lay?) a fire? I have a fireplace, and I have a whim to use it. But I have never made a fire before and I'm a little nervous. Yes, I could google for instructions but I'd rather have something vetted by someone who has actually done it. It's the sort of thing I think I know how to do because I've read lots of descriptions in old books, but when it comes down to it I'm not that sure of the practical details. Any advice much appreciated (even if it's, don't even attempt it, you're too much of a klutz and disaster will be sure to ensue).

Whereaboooots: Älvsjö, Stockholm, Sweden
Moooood: hopefulhopeful
Tuuuuune: Meatpuppets: Light the fire
Discussion: 19 contributions | Contribute something

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catwithclaws: Alias - sexy red
Date:February 21st, 2008 08:06 pm (UTC)
5 minutes after journal entry, 01:06 pm (catwithclaws's time)

I think I spent my childhood starting fires... wait that sounds wrong

I suspect google or wikipedia could describe it best :)

the key is to have kindling (lighter bits of wood) to help start the fire, along with paper.

the 2nd key is to have room UNDER the wood bits so that the air (and therefore the flames) can get in there and spread better from the inside going out.

So ideally think of it as a small heap of paper with lighter bits of wood stacked around it, leaning against each other so that they will ideally form a bit of a teepee shape and not collapse into a dense pile.

you light the paper, fan the flames, and let it catch the little bits of wood. Once a few of them are burning well, add one bigger piece of wood, maybe a bit on the side so it can let THAT catch on fire, then add and go from there.

yeah. I think something online might describe it better. have fun!
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chickenfeet2003: canada
Date:February 21st, 2008 08:07 pm (UTC)
5 minutes after journal entry, 03:07 pm (chickenfeet2003's time)
Assuming we are talking wood what you do is:

Start with a layer of crumpled up paper
Build a sort of lattice of kindling over and around it
Put a few bigger bits of wood on top of the kindling
Light the paper and then when the kindling starts to take add slightly bigger pieces to the places that are burning best. Once it's really got started you can add bigger bits of wood.
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hypatia: book
Date:February 21st, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry
That is how I learned to do it and how I still make the fire all through the Winter :) I miss a fireplace if I don't have one.

The building of the kindling around the paper just allows the air in. If you don't have paper just get some wood shavings - its just having something which will catch immediately and then burn long enough to get the next layer going until it runs under its own flame.

Plus - there is now shame in using parafin firelightesr :)

Once you have it going you can tell us the stories you see in the flames.

We also get the chimney swept every couple of years - we don't need it done more often. You can get little smoke bomb things to check your chimney is clear. A sweep or your landlord should advise.
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ioevri1: default
Date:February 21st, 2008 08:11 pm (UTC)
10 minutes after journal entry, 08:11 pm (ioevri1's time)

try here for video on how to...


hope it helps...
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Date:February 21st, 2008 08:13 pm (UTC)
11 minutes after journal entry
Lighting a fire is not dangerous. :-) If your wood is nice and dry, it will kindle easily; if not, you may have trouble getting it to start burning, but it won't be dangerous in any event.

It's best to begin with kindling -- small wood. Sticks (rather than logs), or smallish pieces of wood, whatever you can find. I usually build a sort of grid out of sticks and small logs -- like a # symbol, some going this way and others going perpendicular, and so on. Crumple up some newspaper and shove it beneath and inside your grid of kindling. If you have cardboard, you can layer that in, too. The reason for a grid, rather than just a pile of stuff, is that you want airflow.

The paper will light most easily, and from there the fire should spread to the cardboard and from there to the sticks. You might want to reserve a piece of cardboard with which to fan the flames; that helps your kindling to catch. Fan it for a while; ideally your sticks will begin to burn, and you can add more of them, a few at a time. Once that seems like it's burning well, add a few larger pieces of wood; eventually add whole logs.

If you add logs at the very beginning, they may smother the fire (e.g. they will be too big and heavy to ignite.) Likewise if your wood is damp. But if you keep adding kindling, and keep fanning the flames, eventually even damp wood will catch.

This makes it sound complicated! Honestly, it is not so hard, and gets easier with practice. We light a fire almost every day, and I love it. :-)
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pir_anha: default
Date:February 21st, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC)
15 minutes after journal entry, 12:16 pm (pir_anha's time)

Re: Playing with fire


i make a fire in our wood stove daily during the cold season, since that's our main source of heat. and that's pretty much how i do it; newspaper, softwood kindling, hardwood logs.

very important: chimney needs to be clean. ascertain with whoever manages that in your building that it was cleaned at the start of the fire season, before attempting to make a fire. otherwise there might be all sorts of crap in it (buildup of creosote, old birds nests) that can start a chimney fire.

otherwise you absolutely should do this, no matter whether you're a klutz. it's fun once you figure out how. disaster will not ensue as long as the chimney is clean.

where will you get the wood from?
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siderea: default
Date:February 21st, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 04:17 pm (siderea's time)

Re: Playing with fire

otherwise there might be all sorts of crap in it (buildup of creosote, old birds nests) that can start a chimney fire.

Which can then (to be clear about it) burn down the whole building. Really, really, really make sure it was serviced, or get it serviced, and make sure you figure out how to operate the flue. If you get it serviced, the guy who does it will be able to show you how to operate the flue.
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lethargic_man: default
Date:February 21st, 2008 08:19 pm (UTC)
17 minutes after journal entry, 08:19 pm (lethargic_man's time)
I'd tell you how my Dad does it, but since that involves a gas poker and coke as well as wood, I doubt it would be any use whatsoever.

I'd just like to say instead, make sure your chimney is unblocked, all the way up, before you actually do go ahead.

And good luck, and here's wishing you a hearthy success.
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hatam_soferet: default
Date:February 22nd, 2008 12:57 am (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry
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shreena: default
Date:February 21st, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
35 minutes after journal entry, 08:37 pm (shreena's time)
The advice other people have given about laying it looks sound to me.

But, I can't stress enough: make sure you find out from your landlord/whoever whether or not your chimney is clear before you do anything. It can go quite disastrously wrong if you have random shit in your chimney.
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blogozoid: default
Date:February 21st, 2008 08:45 pm (UTC)
43 minutes after journal entry


I would concur with the other comments about chimney safety being the most important thing. Is the chimney old, has it been properly serviced? Depending on your fireplace design there may also be vent levers to open or close the flue going up the chimney; and possibly others to circulate air around the firebox for warmth. The more the flue is open the more air your fire will suck up the chimney. This can be either good or bad, depending on the heating in the house besides any gained from a fire. Plain, old newspapers on newsprint make good fodder to add to the kindling. One sheet at a time, torn to single page size and rumpled up by hand and placed beneath the kindling. Don't use glossy/color printed paper, or color magazine/catalog paper.

It is probably more dangerous to prepare the kindling with a hatchet or axe from pieces of wood than to light the fire itself. Watch your thumbs and fingers. Long, pencil-size, or pasta-size slivers of kindled wood with newspaper will help ignite larger kindling pieces. Proper-size logs of dry, seasoned wood will slowly ignite once the kindling fire is going on its own. Access to fresh air is what keeps a fire going, thus the poker is useful to tend the fire when adding another log if needed. All this works best if there is an andiron to keep the logs off the floor of a traditional fireplace. More sleek, modern designs of free-standing fireplaces may have a different placement of the wood. Either way, if old ashes and soot from an earlier fire are completely cleared from a cold fireplace it will make a new fire easier to start. Hope this helped you.
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Date:February 21st, 2008 08:58 pm (UTC)
57 minutes after journal entry
What they said.

If/when I come to visit I will lay a fire for you if you like.
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syllopsium: default
Date:February 21st, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry

Petrol and firelighters

Chuck on a match, stand back...

What they said, basically - it's not tricky in a house. Paper/kindling then larger amounts of wood. Larger logs can be added later on once the fire has got going.

Stick a match in the bottom of the fire and wait a few seconds for it to catch. The paper lights easily, which starts off the kindling and then works on larger logs. Once the big logs are going it'll carry on forever, as long as you add more logs.

Nothing is going to go wrong as long as the logs/coal cannot fall onto something flammable (usually they're stopped by the grate, obviously). Petrol and firelighters are not /really/ a good idea :)
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owlfish: default
Date:February 21st, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 11:42 pm (owlfish's time)
You've already gotten good advice - check the chimney first and be absolutely certain its clear, layer a bit of twisted up newspaper, kindling on top, logs, make sure it all has lots of air and be patient. Blow on it now and again if it's hesitant to give the flame more air.
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hatam_soferet: default
Date:February 22nd, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)
4 hours after journal entry
What all that lot said about the chimney, and adding, do remember to keep hair, skirts, and suchlike, out of the way. Because you have such lots of such beautiful hair.
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darcydodo: tara candle
Date:February 22nd, 2008 09:29 am (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 03:29 am (darcydodo's time)
Do you know if you have a gas starter? I'm presuming not, in which case you want to go with all that newspapery advice up there. If you have, you don't need the newspaper.

But basically, you want two logs parallel to each other and to the front of the fireplace with some space between them, and a third log going across them diagonally. Then you twist up lots of newspaper and stuff it underneath and in all the little crevices, and then light it in a few different places along it.
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cartesiandaemon: default
Date:February 22nd, 2008 12:26 pm (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry, 12:26 pm (cartesiandaemon's time)
It sounds fairly sorted. You were going to talk to the landlord anyway, weren't you, which I felt was necessary although didn't know the details -- after all, the chimney could have been bricked up years ago. Did/have you?

I wish I could trade my fear of the faff of flying for your fear of the faff of firing :)

*hugs* But fires are lovely when you have them.
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cartesiandaemon: default
Date:February 22nd, 2008 12:29 pm (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry, 12:29 pm (cartesiandaemon's time)
I assume 'rfh' is 'request for help'? That's nice. I had introspected over what tag to use there -- I used 'poll' for just getting opinions, but settled on 'haylp' when I wanted help :) The ironic over-the-top reflects that I rarely *do* :)
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lumiere: default
Date:February 22nd, 2008 03:41 pm (UTC)
19 hours after journal entry, 07:41 am (lumiere's time)
What the others said, mainly, but here are some additional notes.

Firelighter, parafin, and the like will liquefy as they heat up. Use the recommended amount so they don't flow out of the fireplace.

The interior of wood catches more easily than the bark layer, most trees having evolved to try to survive fires. For a fireplace, you'll probably only want to use split pieces, and to face the interior sides towards the flames to help them catch.

Others have mentioned pokers, but other tools can be helpful. A standard set of household fireplace tools includes a handbroom and dustpan for emptying the ashes, a poker, and tongs for moving and placing burning logs.

Old fireplaces may have ash-emptying spaces underneath them, with an exterior door for cleaning out the ashes. Talk to your landlord before using this, as sometimes these aren't properly maintained.

For your first few fires, expect to pay near-constant attention to the fire until you have it going on several small logs, something bigger than large kindling. You can start the fire with just paper and kindling, and add pieces constantly, as some have described, or pre-build the size or two of wood into your initial pile.

After the initial logs catch, you'll want to keep adding logs, and rearranging the logs, to maintain airflow and provide additional fuel, every so often, until you're ready for the fire to die down.

Use the spark screen or grate to keep fireplace sparks from starting a house fire when you're not actively working in the fireplace.

Figure out what your fire emergency options are before you light the fire. Is there an emergency telephone number to call? Can you call from outside the house? Do you have a fire extinguisher, or supplies that can be used for that? E.g., baking soda or salt can put out small fires. Water's fine for putting out wood fires; not so fine if you still have a waxy or oily fuel in there, or if the fire spreads towards electrical equipment. A wool blanket can be used to smother small fires.

You need ventilation into the space that the fire can draw from. Old houses tend to be drafty, which is plenty. If you're in a modern-ish, well-insulated space, you may find that you need to provide a draft by opening a window slightly to avoid the fire using up too much of the room's oxygen.

Do you have a smoke detector in your space? If the flue is closed, the fireplace smoke will fill your room, probably before you're able to get the flue opened or the fire put out. If that happens, do you know how to disable the smoke detector temporarily?

And lastly, enjoy!
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