Skip to comments.How to build the perfect (real) fireplace fire....
Posted on 12/27/2006 4:12:16 PM PST by AnalogReigns
Ever wondered how to make a real wood fire in your fireplace, with beautiful tall flames, which draws nicely, and warms the room up too? Do the fires which you have made not look like those in the movies, photographs or in cozy paintings and such?
It's an easy task with this method I learned in a book written by a man who grew up in early 19th Century Loudoun County, Virginia. Joseph Janney, in his 90s in the 1890s wrote a little text for his children and grandchildren to read about his life as a child in frontier America. One of the things he detailed is exactly how they built wood fires in their shallow fireplaces--which kept them warm all winter--their only source of heat.
It's very simple and requires a minimum of fuss. First you need something to support the wood--NOT modern cast iron "coal grate" log holders, nor the worse iron grates which cause the logs to roll together....these just don't work well making a lasting fire. Old fashioned "andirons" (those things with tall posts, sometimes brass, in front and flat rails a few inches off the fireplace floor extending to the back) or even a couple of bricks will work fine. I repeat, get rid of the typical home's fireplace grate--great fires cannot be made using them.
Next it's best to have a layer of ash on the floor of the fireplace and inch or so thick...acts as an insulator, and is called an ash-bed.
Be sure (of course!) to make sure your flu is OPEN!!! Also that your fireplace and chimney are clean and in good shape. (writer bears no responsibility for smoky or dangerous fireplaces!)
Then you need 3 sizes of logs. A large diameter (8" + depending on the size of your fireplace) should be placed horizontally in the back, leaning, if it has to, against the back wall of the fireplace. This is your backlog, and protects the brick back there, as well as projecting the heat forward. It will burn from its frontside back. I have also used 2 medium sized logs stacked for the same effect.
Next you need a medium sized log (4" to 6" diameter) up in front, up against the vertical log holder of your andirons. In between the backlog and the front-log you should have an area of 6" to 10" or so. This is why standard grates typically won't work...as these logs will roll together, something you do not want. Traditional andirons work perfectly (even though they are hard to find these days).
Finally you need small kindling sticks in the middle. The easiest way to make these usually, (if you don't have sticks available) is to simply split some of your other logs into smaller pieces and inch or so in diameter. Place a loose handful of these in that area between the back-log and the front-log. Of course pieces of pine or other softwood are ideal for kindling, as they burn fast...but be careful, as pine-pitch can also throw lots of sparks.
Then you use crumpled newspaper, or whatever fire-starter you like to light up under the middle kindling pieces. These should be roaring in no time after lighting the paper...and after 15 minutes or so you can place normal sized logs (like the front-log) in the middle...and your fire is buring from the middle on out. You keep adding wood to the middle of the fire--keeping the backlog and front-log where they are.
Such a fire made this way will kick out plenty of reflective heat (the main way a fireplace heats) and if the backlog is big enough, can keep burning all night and more. The front-log will burn from its back forward, protecting you from sparks flying out from the center burn area...and the back-log will burn from its front back, keeping the hottest part of the fire from cracking bricks in the back of the fireplace.
Such a fire makes for the perfect beautiful winter fireplace, adding grace and beauty to the season. This method is how our great-great-great-great-grandparents heated their homes.
A classic fireplace fire, burning from the inside out, showing the andirons and the front-log and backlog.
Is there a way to somehow pipe the heat and join to the oil burner furnace heating sytem?
Probably not. In the old days they did hang pots over the fire though...
Hey, Gabz! Git over here! :)
Gasoline works for me.
My Father-in-Law one year shoved the entire Christman tree up the flu and lit it. That was the year of the BIG fire.
You are quite correct. My father built a log cabin (as a hobby I guess) and the fireplace had hinged arms that one could swing out over the fire or towards the floor. One attached pots on them (by their handles) and was able to cook or serve quite handily.
A fireplace insert is about the only way if you dont have the heat ducks built into your fireplace.
Fireplaces are not a good way to heat. To do any heating at all with them you must keep them going 24/7. Expect to use tons of wood if you do.
They do become better with an insert.
Thanks fer the glowing advise...My 1776 center chimney,3 fire place colonial remembers all of your procedure very well,but my Vigelent/Vmnt Castings(sp) woodstove has eliminated all the dangers associated with the old time procedure.....Stay warm and thanks for an interesting read...
And here I just went and bought an expensive new grate!
But I notice the old 'grate' which was very low, almost no legs, soldered together out of rebar, made a much warmer fire.
Well, so much for my new grate.
I got a beautiful antique pair of hand-forged iron andirons on ebay a year ago for 13 bucks...
Ebay always has the (cheaper, mostly ornamental) brass kind on there. They will work too though.
A woodstove shop or places that sell fireplace utensils can get real anirons for you. But like I said, they are hard to find, as no one seems to know how to properly make a fire these days.
Key is having the rails the logs sit on straight, not bent, or tilted backwards, like grates usually are, as you don't want the logs to roll together.
*SIGH* I'd really like a fireplace...but in a house like mine (1906 American Four Square) in "The Great White North" they are totally inefficient.
On a more positive note, I did get my natural gas bill today. After a high of a $317.00 CREDIT when they adjusted my budget plan in July, I finally owe the gas company $37.00 after a five month break. Dang! And I thought new windows and added insulation and weather stripping wouldn't amount to jack. ;)
Fireplaces ARE romantic, and knowing how to build a fire in the outdoors is a skill every Able-Bodied American should have, but unless your home is designed to work around a fireplace, they aren't the smartest use of your energy dollar.
And the best part about being an "Eeeeeeevil Conservative" is CONSERVING resources, is it not? ;)
*Ducking While Others Pelt Me With Rotten Tomatoes* :)
No, they are not........I found one at the local dump.....
This is great info, but it doesn't do me a bit of good for building a fire in the woodstove :(
take notes my pyro man ;)
You can have a good welder make a set for you. A blacksmith also.
All they are is two good heavy pieces of steel bent up 90 degrees at one end. 6 inch I beam would work fine. The upright end must not be beyond the throat of the firepit.
If you own wooded acreage and if you wish it to cleared of tree litter (broken or dead branches/trees) it is conserving to capture that energy source decaying away (and releasing greenhouse gasses in the process). You have the added plus of eliminating a fire hazrd on your property.
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