Fire – Decorative or Necessary?

Before I moved to the rural community we live in now, I thought of the fireplace as more decorative than necessary.  I enjoyed having a fire in it, but didn’t really rely on it for heat.  

A fire burning in the fireplace on a chilly day is always welcome. Whether it is for the atmosphere or the warmth it provides is necessary, knowing how to quickly build a fire is a must.

Now that we have lived in our small town for 6 years, I definitely see it differently.  Both of the houses that we have lived in, in this mountain home have used the fireplace to provide a significant amount of heat during the coldest winter days. 

Growing up, I remember my dad going on campouts with the Boy Scouts, who he was a leader over very frequently.  He also took his family, which consisted of more daughters than sons. I’m sure he taught us the proper way to make a fire, but I have always needed the reinforcement of repeating an action several times before I learned it…and a once-a-year camping trip just didn’t cut it.

David, luckily, was a Boy Scout and excels at making warm fires for us in a minimal amount of time.  But…he has to go to work, which leaves me to build a fire so our little ones can be warmer (and also to try to save on the insane cost of propane, but that’s a different story…).

Practice Makes Perfect

It took me months to get the fire building down.  I spent countless hours trying to coax the spark I had created to just catch onto the wood and spring to life.  Finally, after living here for 6 years, I feel like I can “whip up” a fire. Here are some tips and tricks that I have learned along the way:

Steps For Making a Fire in the Fireplace

First – Make a Base

First, make a base for the fire using several papers crumpled up into balls, all packed close and touching each other.  You can use any paper, but I like to use the magazines and catalogues that get sent to our house weekly.

Paper catches fire quickly, but burns very fast. Once the paper is burning, it will then catch the cardboard and kindling on fire.

Also, my kids have an unending stream of papers coming home from school that work very nicely for this purpose.  After I have looked at it and talked to them about it, these make ideal fire starting materials as well.

Next, Use Plenty of Cardboard

After you have a base of paper, the next thing to do is get strips of cardboard and place them at angles over the paper.  We ALWAYS have extra cardboard lying around. You could use cereal boxes, granola bar boxes, Amazon boxes, any kind of cardboard that you would normally throw away or recycle.  Other things that work great for this step are egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, and paper towel rolls.

Cardboard is necessary because paper burns extremely well, but it doesn’t burn for very long. When the paper catches on fire, during its peak of burning, it will cause the cardboard to burn as well. 

Creating a base of paper and cardboard will provide the fuel needed to get a fire burning effectively.

This is a really important step. Cardboard burns fast and hot, but not as fast as paper. This will be imperative for catching the kindling on fire.

Kindling is Key

After you have laid several strips of cardboard onto the paper, lightly place kindling on top.  Small pieces of bark work really well for this or thin pieces of wood like this.

Next, look at your available wood and choose the smallest pieces of pine as seen below, and have them at close access.

Set Aside Fuel For Burning Kindling

A newly started fire can be quite temperamental. It is helpful to have a few pieces of quality wood that will burn easily and quickly set aside to add at the beginning to get the fire going quickly and easily.

The kind of wood you are looking for will be light colored, very dry, and have horizontal lines visible throughout, meaning that it could break apart easily. See below for an example.

Notice the horizontal lines on this log. These will easily catch on fire and burn hot so that other types of logs will eventually catch too.

Below is the type of log that you should add after the fire is established and burning hot. Notice the difference between it and the log shown above.

These logs (this one is oak) are circular and burn longer, but are harder to catch on fire. They are best added to an already established fire.

Time To Light The Fire!

Now it is time to light the fire!  Use a match or lighter and start the paper on fire in several different places. 

You can use a match or a lighter to light the paper at the bottom of the pile.

Provide Oxygen

This next step is probably the most tricky, but the most imperative. Use a straw to gently coax the flame.  You have to be careful not to blow too hard or it will go out. If you don’t blow hard enough, it won’t fan the flame enough to catch the bigger pieces on fire.  

I use a regular straw to coax the flame and add oxygen to create a roaring fire.

Once the cardboard is on fire, you are almost there!  Providing extra oxygen to burning cardboard will GREATLY increase the strength of the flame and this is a really important step.  Blow very forcefully on the cardboard until the kindling lights on fire. You will be able to see the cardboard glowing as seen below.

Don’t let up…once the kindling catches on fire, continue to blow the flames.  Try to get all of the kindling completely burning.

Add Larger Logs

Once this happens, place one of the smaller pieces of wood you had set aside earlier on top of the burning kindling.  Continue blowing the fire until the large piece of wood is burning on its own.

Once the kindling is burning, place a larger, quick-burning log on top to really get the fire going.

Continue to Fan Flames When Necessary

The thing about a wood fire is that it does need consistent attention. If you get a pretty good flame with a few logs on it, you can usually leave it alone for 45 minutes at a time. It is necessary to continue fanning the flame, turning the wood, and adding logs at least hourly.

When the fire starts to calm down and you want it bigger, use your straw to forcefully blow on the embers at the bottom like those shown below.


Congratulations, you have made a successful fire!  Be sure to check it every half hour at first and then every hour once it has been going a while to see if a new log needs to be added or the embers moved around.

A step by step tutorial on how to make a good fire in the fireplace.