How to Light a Fire in an Open Fireplace or Stove


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This article has not been written to offer the definitive guide to lighting a fire as we feel sure there are as many good fire lighting techniques as there are budding hobbyist domestic pyromaniacs amongst us. What the article will do is offer a number of ways of lighting a fire and highlight some the commonly experienced barriers and obstacles which can be encountered whilst trying to light a good homely fire and offer appropriate remedies and tips.

This article will cover :

  • Preparation

  • Laying the Fire

  • The Upside Down Fire

  • Useful Tips


Article How to lay a fire image 1

With little more ado lets break down lighting a fire into its component parts and small easy to follow steps.  


  • First ensure the fireplace or stove is clean. It may seem counter intuitive but do not remove all of the ash from your fire place or stove leave an ash bed of half an inch or so. This will help insulate the fire place or stove and helps to maintain a longer lasting warmer fire.  However, even with a wood fire never let the ash bed exceed more than two inches and you defiantly do not want excess ash chocking the air supply through the fire.  When removing ashes please do take care as hot embers can often be found buried deep within what appears to be cold ash.  Always place ashes in a metal ash can or bucket removing them from the fire place or stove with a fireside shovel found as part of most companion sets link to fireside accessories.  Wood ash can be beneficially sprinkled on the vegetable or flower bed, the lawn or alternatively added to the compost heap. 

  • Check for an upward draft in the chimney. If when opening the door or damper of your fireplace or stove you feel a downward draught of cold air then your chimney has most probably reversed itself. If you are sure the chimney isn’t blocked for want of being swept, nor has any blockages from fallen masonry or bird nests etc. Then follow the following procedures.

  • Open the window on the windward side of the room in which the fireplace or stove is located.

  • Place a balled up piece of newspaper above the draft plate in the case of an open fire or above the baffle plate in a stove and light it. The paper should be drawn up into the chimney, and as hot air rises warm the chimney, to reverse the flow of the chimney draft to its correct orientation.

  • Immediately proceed to lighting the already laid fire.

Do make sure your chimney is not blocked and is regularly swept. link chimney sweeps It is recommended that a chimney used to burn open wood fires or for a wood stove is swept twice a year.  The other causes of a poor chimney draft are discussed in our chimney related articles covering home depressurisation, chimney construction etc and can be found in our Knowledge Hub under the theme Chimneys and Flues.


 Laying the fire

Article  How to lay a fire kindling image 2


  • First, place your firelighter or tinder in the grate, half a dozen pieces of crumpled up newspaper will do. Plain news print is best steer clear of glossy finished paper. I have heard of people using small pieces of a candle or even left over prawn crackers as impromptu fire lighters.

  • Next, you must set the kindling. Place small pieces of dry wood over the paper or firelighter. The more small pieces of kindling you use the better the initial fire will be. DO NOT pack the kindling too tight as you need to leave room for the air to circulate through the fuel. It is often recommended to criss-cross your layers of kindling leaving plenty of air space. 

  • After, set more wood. Once you have an adequate bed of kindling over your firelighter or tinder start to add larger pieces of seasoned firewood, that has been dried for over a year, to set your fire. If it is a stove it is recommended you do not fill the fire box more than two-thirds full.  In the case of an open fire one or two   criss-crossed layers of wood should do.

  • 5,4,3,2,1 Ignition. Light the firelighter or tinder and stand back to appreciate the rewards of your efforts. Do not be in too much of a hurry to shut the damper of your fireplace or air controls on your stove.  In fact for some stoves it is recommended you leave the stove door ajar for a few minutes to allow the fire to really establish itself.

  • Finally, the fire may look and sound good as it roars a way but do remember it needs to warm the stove, chimney and establish a good bed of glowing coals before it has reached the critical mass of an exothermic self supporting fire giving off plenty of heat (for more information relating to the Science of Fire

  • Finally sit back, relax and enjoy. 


Laying a Fire With Coal (step by step)

Before you lay the fire, please read our preparation notes above.

  • There are many different products you can use to lay a base for the fire, here are just a few tried and tested methods.

  • If using firelighters which can be purchased online or in your local fireplace shop you will need to place one or two onto into your fireplace ready for the kindling to be placed on top. There are many different types of firelighters that can be used such as natural fire lighters, which are untreated fine wood shavings. Alternatively, you may use the most common type of fire lighters which are small fuel tablets.

  • Using newspaper is another good base of the fire. Newspaper is a simple but very effective option. It is important to always avoid magazine printed paper as the glossy paper doesn’t catch light easily or burn well. Roll the sheets into balls making sure they aren’t too small and tight but, at the same time make sure that these balls are not too loose. As a good rule of thumb a full sheet of newspaper can be scrunched up between your cupped hands. When it comes to how many balls of paper you should use then it varies dependent on how big of an area you have to light your fire. Always make sure that there is enough space to allow air to flow around the paper. Keep it one layer thin, dont stack them on top of eachother as it can make the whole stack fall after it is ignited.

  • Next up is a layer of kindling and small pieces of wood on top of the newspaper. This is essential as paper cannot set fire to coal by itself. The newspaper is for the wood to catch light. The most common and the best way to lay the kindling and wood is a criss-cross look, this will give it the look of a very small wooden-pallet. The whole point of setting it like this is so when the paper has burnt away into ash, the wood holds its position and doesn’t fall apart. When it comes to the sizes of the wood you need both thick and thin pieces are best. Thick pieces will sustain fire and will most importantly ignite the coal. The thin pieces will set alight first and provide flames and heat to get your fire roaring.

  • The final part of laying the fire is adding the coal. There is a wide variety of coals that can be used which all have the same impact in getting a fire burning efficiently. Adding a nice pile right in the middle, on top of the wood, will work perfectly. You don’t need to worry about the edges as they will fall off anyway after the fire is ignited.

  • The most important part is making sure the pieces of coal you use aren’t too big so that it won’t set alight but also isn’t too small as this can create a poor air flow. Pieces that are roughly the same volume as a ping pong ball or a bit bigger life a golf ball are perfect

  • Finally, light the fire! If you have built the fire correctly you should leave it for around 30 minutes for it to fully ignite the coal. After waiting for 30 minutes the fire should be fully lit and the coal should be on the bed of the fire. Poking the fire might help by getting rid of some of the ash that is collected at the bottom, which could be blocking the air flow.


The Upside Down Fire

Article How to set a fire: upside down fire

An alternative way to set a fire is to lay an upside down fire unlike the traditional way of building a fire where the fire lighter or tinder and kindling are laid at the base of the fire with the larger logs placed at the top. The up side down fire as the name suggests inverts the laying on the fire. 


  • Start by laying the larger logs at the base of the fire with no gap between them.

  • Again with no gaps stack smaller logs on top of the base of fuel sized logs

  • Then add the kindling with the tinder of screwed up balls of newspaper or a firelighter on the top of the stack of firewood.


Because smoke doesn’t have to pass through the cold logs but passes through flame the up side down fire should burn cleaner, longer and more efficiently. The practitioners of the up side down fire technique maintain it requires less fettling and upkeep with fewer trips to the log store or coal bumker to replenish the fuel.


Useful tips


  • Always keep a flame on your fire- a smouldering fire is a cold inefficient fire producing pollutants and creosotes to potentially gum up the chimney, damage your appliance and add to air pollution. (for more tips see how to achieve a healthy and efficent fire)


  • Add fuel before the fire dies down too far.

  • Hard woods burn longer and cleaner

  • Never burn inappropriate fuel



Let us know what you think and pass on your own fire lighting experiences and techniques!


By Phil Cleaver

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