Fires are primal, beautiful, symbolic and practical. During the deep wintertime, when the days are short and the nights are long, I love having a fire to warm my body and spirit. Yet, as much as I enjoy the warmth of flames, building a fire was something that used to really intimidate me. Before I learned how to structure a good fire, I’d get so frustrated, and often times it seemed that even with all the lighter fluid in the world, I couldn’t get anything to burn. Fires do take skill to start and tend, and working slowly, patiently, and deliberately I was able to learn. The steps for building a fire without accelerants are straightforward, and now that I have mastered them, I’m going to share my method.
Step 1: Start with a safe and clean fireplace. Only burn in a fireplace that has a well maintained chimney, and don’t forget to open the damper. Make sure that the hearth is clear of clutter and sweep out any old ashes or unburnt wood. Prepare your materials at this point as well. Use the hatchet to break some of the larger pieces of kindling down into small pieces of tinder. Chop any large logs into pieces that will fit in your fireplace.
Step 2: A strong fire relies on a good foundation of tinder and kindling. Ball up several pieces of newspaper and set them in the center of the fireplace.
Step 3: Place small tinder pieces over the paper in a pyramid. The objective is to make a shape that allows for plenty of air movement. You want the air current to draw the flames from the paper upward, thus catching it all quickly.
Step 4: Now build a new pyramid of larger kindling over the pyramid of you built of tinder. Balance the pieces against each other and lean them towards the center.
Step 5: Light the paper and adjust any pieces of wood. Watch your fingers! If necessary, blow very very gently on the burning paper to encourage it, but at this point it is very easy to blow out the flames! Let it burn until the pyramid is engulfed. Once the flames seem strong, add more air by blowing small and steady breaths into the center of the fire.
Step 6: Once the kindling pyramid has done its job and caught completely, it’s time to change the shape of the fire. Now we want to create coals and build a base that will support the larger logs, but still allow air flow. Use the poker to shift the pieces of kindling. I treat them as Lincoln logs at this stage, meaning I try to stack them on each other leaving room for air at the floor of the fireplace. You can also breathe air into the fire with more force now, to increase the flames during the transition.
Step 7: Once you have adjusted the kindling, carefully add the larger logs one at a time. Lean them on the base, the trick being not crushing the small and fragile fire down. Use your lungs as bellows, and really fan the fire with your breath. Once the flames are raging, grab your honey and cuddle up in the beautiful glow.