By Julie Curnow

How to build a fire

There’s a cool change in the air and before you know it, it will be time to switch on your heater or light your wood fire. Although many people heat their homes using fireplaces, they don’t necessarily know how to build a great fire that warms the house efficiently and consistently.

This video shows you how to make your kindling as well as setting up a great wood fire in only a few minutes.

The heater featured in this clip is a slow combustion wood heater and, apart from damper use, the methods used also apply to open wood fires.


Things you need for your fire:

  • Slip lock pliers, if you make your own kindling
  • Log splitter
  • Block to cut the log on
  • Safety goggles
  • Fireproof gloves or log grabber
  • Propane torch kit or firelighters
  • Fire guard, for an open fire 


A few things to note about the video:

  • You don’t have to make your own kindling but it is a lot cheaper if you do. Instead of using untreated construction site wood you can split logs to make kindling.
  • In metropolitan Australia a propane torch kit with one small canister of propane will cost around $70. Propane refills will cost about $15. They are available at hardware stores. If you don’t want to buy a propane torch kit use firelighters instead. A pack of 24 will cost between $3-$5.
  • Fireproof gloves cost about $30. If you don’t have fireproof gloves or are nervous putting your hands in the fire, use a log grabber to move the log and a poker to finalise the log position. These are available in part of a fireplace tool set. There is a massive range of fireplace tool sets available to suit every style of home and budget. They are normally available from your fireplace retailer and hardware stores.
  • Once your fire is burning properly, I tend to add one log at a time so adequate air flow is maintained and you have wood at different stages of the burn process.
  • I only use the fan in my fire once the fire is established and I am first heating my home because it reduces the combustion heater’s efficiency as more of the heat blows up the chimney. Since our fire burns 24/7, the ambient heat builds up and heats our entire home so we don’t need the surge of heat a fan provides.
  • Fire safety, advise your family and visitors that the heater and flue are too hot to touch. Don’t leave any objects on the stovetop or anything combustible close to the fire.
  • Position a fire guard around any open fire to capture the sparks. Consider a fire guard around a slow combustion heater if you have young children who may try to touch the fire. 


Using Firelighters to Start a Wood Fire

  • I only start with the smallest pieces of kindling placed on the bottom layer of wood.
  • I also use some screwed up paper to help spread the flames so it comes into contact with as much kindling as possible. Put one or two loosely crumpled sheets of paper on top of the kindling because it burns rapidly, heats the flue and gets the draught going. Wood heaters rely on ‘natural’ draught to draw air from the loom into the firebox (i.e. they are not fan-forced). This natural draught depends on the temperature difference between the gas in the flue and the outside air. By warming the flue quickly with the burning paper, more air is drawn into the heater, stimulating the fire.
  • I keep the door ajar and stay by the fire for the first 10 minutes so there is more air to help the wood burn and so I can move and add wood as necessary. Do not leave a fire unattended with the door ajar.
  • When the fire is burning freely with the small and medium kindling and there are red embers I shut the door of the slow combustion heater and open the damper vent.
  • After a minute of  checking the fire is maintaining its burn rate I then add a couple of slightly bigger pieces of wood.
  • I repeat this process until I have built the fire up fully.
  • With firelighters, it takes me around 20 minutes to establish a fire from scratch to the point where I have built it up enough to close the vent (damper), have a couple of medium logs on it and do not need to touch it for a hour (i.e. the end point of the video).

Are you ready for winter? If you are still finding it difficult to build a great fire, remember that it might take a couple of tries for you to get the hang of it. They say practice makes perfect after all.

Julie Curnow and her husband Don own Air and Water Residential, an air conditioning and heating business, which supplies and installs quality freestanding and inbuilt slow combustion wood heaters across the Perth metro area. This blog was written from their own experience of operating their slow combustion wood heater.

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