"Ooo, there's a fireplace!" That's usually the first comment made by anyone who walks into a room with a fireplace. The idea of a cozy, warm fire on a cold winter's night holds a lot of appeal. The question then becomes, can you get your fire started? Sure, you can drop in one of those pre-fab logs that will instantly go to blazes. The problem with these "logs" is that they leave a creosote build-up in your chimney (which is bad) and they smell like burning candle wax. Forget the shortcuts.
Here then is the only guide you'll ever need to build the perfect fireplace fire every time. Spoiler Alert: you'll be turning this fire upside down.
Step 1 - Clean Your Chimney
If this is the first fire of the season then you want to make sure you've cleaned out the chimney before striking a match. There's no telling what kind of bird's nests, leaves, and other debris could have gathered over the summer. Best to have it cleared by a professional sweep.
Step 2 - Open Your Damper
Every fireplace has a damper. This keeps the cold air out. However, if the damper is closed when your start your fire then it will also keep the smoke in. It's a rookie mistake.
Step 3 - Prime Your Flue
This is primarily for chimneys built on home exteriors, but it's a step even veteran firestarters might not know. When the temperature drops, those chimneys can get downright frigid. That chilly air flows into your home when the damper is opened. To reverse the effect, light a rolled-up newspaper and hold it up into the damper. You'll know you've warmed up the chimney when the draft starts flowing up instead of down. What you've got then is a primed flue.
Step 4 - Keep Your Ash Bed
Yes, you should clean out your fireplace but leave behind a 1 to 2-inch ash bed for proper insulation. If you're starting clean, don't worry. You can either make a go without the ash for the first fire or "borrow" some ash from your BBQ.
Step 5 - Build Your Upside Down Log Pile
You read that right: upside down. The traditional method of building a fireplace fire is to place kindling at the bottom, light it up and then pile heavy logs on top. Forget that. Instead, place your heavy logs in the bottom of your fireplace. Push them tight together without any space. Add a layer of smaller logs on top running in the opposite direction.
On top of that, place your kindling. This can be the same kind of twigs, paper, or sawdust. Light that. What happens next is those embers will drift down to the other logs and set them ablaze. This is why you want to keep everything tightly packed. You have to be a little patient with this method as it might take up to 20 minutes to get the fire going. Once it does start, you won't have to touch it for hours.