Woodburning Fireplace - How to get a #@$#!> Fire Go'in!

I never used a fireplace before, then for the first time last night - I try to burn a fire and failed.
I have a zero-clearance fireplace with a damper at the top o' the chimney. So, I opened the damper and fireplace doors and stuffed some crumbled newspaper on the grate, topped with some skinny sticks (criss-crossed) followed by smaller logs and larger ones. Sparked up the newspaper in various locations with a long match.
The newspaper and twigs burned great, but the logs never caught, ried this for over two hours - relighting twigs and newspaper, shifting logs, moving logs, etc. No luck keeping the fire going. The small and big logs finally glowed after several hours but no flame. I tried keeping the fireplace doors opened, then closed - all different things.
The sticks and logs were purchased from The Home Depot and they looked really pretty (nice bark and cut clean). They were wrapped in a plastic when I bought them and had a Maine company logo on it. I stored the logs indoors and kept them dry.
Why is it so hard to catch logs on fire? Could it be the wood? If so, they should build homes with this lumber.
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HD , Wet wood, or not split small enough, Get wood from a guy that sells just wood ,
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You can't go from twigs to unsplit logs. It sounds like your main problem is that you don't have enough different sizes of wood. You start with paper and kindling (small stuff) and then lay larger split pieces (about 1") on top of that. When that gets going add about 2" split stuff, and finally when that burns good you add the logs. Don't add unsplit pieces in the 2-3 inch and larger without a good bed of coals or fast burning split pieces.
If the twigs burn, you don't have a draw problem. However, you may be letting too much air through. Normally one would close the doors and adjust the air flow by moving levers that are part of the door frame.
Billy wrote:

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yep, increase the size of the wood more gradually. big logs need lots of hot coals. You might look into getting your firewood from someone who sells just firewood or look for cabinet shops that have ***non-particle board*** scraps that you can have. Lots of cheap wood can be found if you look in the right places. . Never bought firewood from Home Depot, but can imagine that it is expensive.
Billy wrote:

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Last time I checked the price at the supermarket, it was about $400 a cord Ed
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wrote:

[snip]
In addition to the other advice you have received in response to this post, do a Google search on this newsgroup http://www.google.com/advanced_group_search for articles about starting a fire in the fireplace. There were some excellent articles a year or two ago -- the topic comes up *every* year, about this time, for some reason.
-- Regards, Doug Miller (alphageek-at-milmac-dot-com)
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Billy wrote:

The amount of flame depends on the amount of volatile compounds in the wood. As they are heated, they "gas" and burn...that is the flame you see.
As an example, pine is full of rosin and will flame a lot (not good for your chimney though - creosote). Oak has very little and will just sit there and glow.
-- dadiOH _____________________________
dadiOH's dandies v3.0... ...a help file of info about MP3s, recording from LP/cassette and tips & tricks on this and that. Get it at http://www.gbronline.com/xico / _________________________________
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Billy" writes:

Sound good, but I put the crumpled newpaper under the grate, directly on the firebrick. Then on top of the grate I set sticks, small logs, and only one or two larger logs to start. The twigs will draw anywhichway, the small logs won't if they're packed too tight, ditto if you put too many larger logs on at the start. Sounds like you didn't get much of a draw.
Also, to help start the chimney drawing, take a sheet of newspaper and roll it corner-to-corner into a twist. Light it and shove it right under the damper. This will start the chimney drawing. When the twist is about 2/3 burned use it to light the crumpled newspaper.
[snip]

The really big blaze is at the beginning, the low flames are what heat the house. You can have a great big roaring fire or one that warms the place, not both. The big flames shoot the heat right up the chimney.
[snip]

The wood is not a problem contrary to what the others have said. What you bought in HD is goes under the trademark "LeBundle" here in Northern Virginia, where most folks who buy wood buy it for the esthetic value of a fire, not heat value.
It's thoroughly dried, I've used it on occasion at friends' places.
Doesn't make much sense for sub/urban folks to buy a cord, or a half cord when they'll probably have a fire once-a-week, the cord will rot before you get to the bottom of it.
Or you can do what I do, throw a wood maul in the back of the car and look for arborists at work on your way home from work, especially after a storm. Split a half-dozen logs and your esthetic sensibilities will be satisfied for a winter.
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Another trick is to hold a piece of newspaper across the top 3/4s of the fireplace opening. This forces the draft under the grate and up thru the fire.
In our case, we close the doors almost all the way. Which will get quite a draft whistling thru the fire. Once the thing is thoroughly caught, then close it all the way and adjust the air intakes.
--
Chris Lewis, Una confibula non set est
It's not just anyone who gets a Starship Cruiser class named after them.
  Click to see the full signature.
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I don't understand all this about draft, down-draft, air intakes, etc. What is all this about fireplace door draft and chimney draft? Should I be adjusting the chimney top damper, doors, or levers to compensate or limit air intake on the fire?
I had a chimney sweep cut out an old rusted damper at the tope of the fireplace/bottom of the flue and replace it with a chimney top cap/damper at the top of the chimney. I don't know if maybe this is affecting "draft".

roll it

damper.
use it

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I'm not an expert on fireplace design, and it's beyond the scope of the group anyway.
But, very roughly and simplistically:
1) You need something to keep the rain, birds, and sticks out of the chimney, and sometimes to arrest sparks. [Usually a chimney cap, screening etc] 2) You need to have something to keep the air from whistling into the house through the chimney when the fire is out (or worse, when it's on!). 3) To maintain heating efficiency it's best to control air intake. You're not going to get much heat staying in the house if you blow all the air you've heated out the chimney.
If you have a traditional open fireplace, you don't have (3), and you have a flap damper for (2). Heating efficiency sucks. Many installations _lose_ more heat then they produce. While you can sometimes improve things with an adjustable damper, you gain heat at the increased risk of smoke getting into the house.
With a fireplace insert or wood stove, you (should) have (3), and you don't need (2). To start a fire, you generally want strong air movement right where the kindling is to ensure it starts properly. With our stove, we close the doors (almost), and the air blast from the crack makes the kindling go up like a blowtorch.
If you have an open fireplace, you can simulate partially "closing doors" by holding a sheet of newspaper over the top 3/4 of the opening to cause the air draft to concentrate where the kindling is.
Once the fire is going properly, you choke back (3) to provide "just enough" air to keep the fire burning (cleanly[*]). Thus you have minimal heat loss of heated air being sucked out of the house. And you get more heat radiated off the stack because it's hotter. And the stove is hotter too.

If it's stuck, maybe. But didn't you say you had an insert? You don't really need a damper with an insert. It may even be counterproductive.
[*] Low efficiency fireplaces often draft so much air that the fire isn't very hot, and there's a lot of incomplete burning. In some areas, you need catalytic converters on fireplaces for this very reason. Properly run high efficiency woodstoves and inserts burn very hot and thus very cleanly.
--
Chris Lewis, Una confibula non set est
It's not just anyone who gets a Starship Cruiser class named after them.
  Click to see the full signature.
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What is meant by "draft" is a motion of "fresh" air towards the direction of the fire. The fuel (in your case, firewood) requires oxygen to continue to burn. The wood is sufficiently hot to continue combustion, so it will consume any oxygen present. Once the oxygen immediately surrounding the burning wood is depleted, more oxygen is needed to continue the burning process. If the air in your fireplace is stagnant, the remaining oxygen-free air (essentially nitrogen) as well as carbon dioxide / monoxide, ash, etc. will remain in your fireplace and, lacking any place to go up your chimney, move into your room and throughout your house, drawing just enough oxygen from the air in your room to keep the coals hot (but not putting out enough heat). This can create a dangerous situation for breathing, and make for a poor fire.
Alternatively, if you have a good "draft," then your fire will burn nicely. If you have a clean chimney and good flume (flue ? I never knew the correct word), air will rise through it (hot air rises). Since the hot air is leaving the fireplace, air from your room will move in to replace it (balancing out the pressure), which means more oxygen will reach the fire and the fire will continue to burn. This is a good thing if you are staying in the room with the fire; it could be a bad thing for the rest of the house. If the air in the room is moving into the fireplace, then the air from the house must move into the room to replace it. Once the air from other rooms move to your living room, the pressure outside will likely force air inside any cracks in your home, and your other rooms could get cold air drafts. This is a good thing because fresh air (and oxygen) will be replenished in the house to allow you to breath, but bad because you are still getting cold air into the house.
I have also been told that some wood burning stoves should have pots of water over them to keep the house humid (fires pull all of the humidity out of a house and can make your skin very dry).

What
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Here is a painless recipe that always works.. Buy a few fire starter logs. They can be small just for starting fires, or those that mimic a log for those who want an artificial fire without wood. They sell them in grocery stores, garden shops, drugstores, etc. To start a wood fire, you only need one of either kind. Lay it on your grate. Crumple newspaper beneath the grate. Lay your split logs across the grate above the starter log. Arrange them so there is plenty of air between them. Use about 3 or 4 pieces for this operation, of small to medium diameter split logs. Make a torch of newspaper to first warm the chimney. Light it and warm the chimney until it is drafting well. You may need to have a second standby torch. Then when the chimney is warm, light the paper under the starter. Add more paper beneath there until the starter log is burning well. You are finished. The paper lights the starter which then lights the logs. The starters burn a long time. When the logs you have on there are burning well, rearrange them so there is just a sllight air gap between any two of them and the flames will rise between them and keep both going. As your fire burns, coals will accumulate. Then you can move up to your biggest logs. Over time, you will have to adjust to keep the air gap close. If the logs get too far apart, they may eventually go out. (It takes two to tango even among fire logs. )We burn nothing but split hardwood and NEVER burn pine. The chimney is clean after years of frequent use. One other thought, don't accept "rounds" that the firewood sellers will try to foist on you. They are cut up limbs. Get split, seasoned wood. Look at the end of the log, If it is not obviously cracking from drying out, it is probably too wet to burn. Open a window a few inches to let some fresh air into your room and allow the fire to draft.
Also, another tip I saw somewhere that sounds like it would be good for all of us: Make a reminder that will hook on the handle of your damper and descend into view in the fireplace opening when the damper is closed.. When you close the damper, if you don't want it on there all the time, hang it and it will remind you to open the damper before the next fire, and its absence will remind you to close it when your fire is out cold to save heat.
Stoney
Billy wrote:

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