Print this Article
Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006 02:39 pm


Techniques for building a hot fire, and reducing creosote build-up

Photo by James Dulley
Dear Jim: I plan to use my fireplace often this winter to lower my heating bills, but I have never been very good at getting a fire started and keeping it going. Is there a proper method of building a fire?

Ask a hundred old-timers about the best method to build a fire, and you will likely get a hundred different answers. There actually are many effective and efficient ways to lay a fire and get it started, but most have basic fire-building concepts in common.

First, if you plan to use your fireplace often, have the chimney inspected by a certified chimney sweep. Many houses burn to the ground each year because of faulty or dirty chimneys. This is particularly true if you have had problems getting hot fires going in the past. A smoldering fire creates much flammable creosote that builds up inside the chimney.

Most methods to build a hot, long-burning fire involve newspapers, kindling or fire-starters, some softwoods, and mostly hardwoods. The newspapers are used to start the fire and to get the kindling burning. The kindling holds the flame long enough to get the softwoods and hardwoods burning.

The teepee and English methods are two common ways to lay a fire. In both methods, newspapers are laid under the andirons or grate. With the teepee method, place kindling on end or fire-starters in the center. Place several logs on end to form a teepee. This method creates channels of hot gases up between the logs to quickly get them started. Once they’re burning, additional logs can be added in any fashion.

The English method is better when you’re using andirons. Place two logs across the andirons. Place the kindling across these two logs, then place a third log on top of the kindling. It sometimes helps to place a few pieces of kindling vertically down into the newspapers and up between the logs.

Regardless of the method you choose, place some uncrumpled newspaper over the logs after the fire is laid. Before you light the newspapers under the logs, light the top newspaper sheets to create an upward chimney draft. If the smoke goes up the chimney, light the newspapers under the logs from each side.

Perhaps you’ve heard the term “back log.” A back log is a large log laid at the back of the fireplace. It will eventually burn, but its main purpose is to keep the fire on the andirons and protect the firebrick. Also, the front surface of the back log will glow red and radiate more heat out into the room.

There are several easy methods for making fire-starters and newspaper logs. Fill condiment cups with sawdust, then pour in melted paraffin or old candle wax. For more decorative starters, place a pinecone in a cupcake paper, add a wick, and fill it with candle wax. To make newspaper logs, wrap sheets of newspapers around a broom handle, wet them with a water/flour solution, and allow them to dry.

Dear Jim: I use a dehumidifier at times to reduce allergy problems for my son. How pure is the water from a dehumidifier, and can it be used in a steam iron, car battery, or my son’s goldfish bowl?

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, depend upon their boiling point. I would not put it in a battery or the fishbowl.

Send questions to James Dulley, Illinois Times, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or go to