Let your fire starting skills become fail-proof with our step-by-step guide to making the perfect fire, no excuses. Here’s how:


Dry Wood
Paper / Newspaper
Clean Fireplace


You have to have the right ingredients and know-how to get a fire going, as you’ll find that without the right tools, you’re going to be struggling to keep your fire alive. Dry Wood – It’s important that your wood is as dry as possible (otherwise it will just smoke up your home and never light). If you keep your wood outside, be sure it’s protected from the snow and rain, and if you buy your wood, store it somewhere dry. Paper – Newspaper without colour/gloss is the best. Magazine pages are not good for this.

Kindling – Kindling is really any small scraps of dry wood that will combust easily. Foraged twigs and sticks from the yard will work (once you’ve dried them out), or you can DIY your own kindling by splitting logs into many small pieces. Clean Fireplace – If you make a ton of fires, your fireplace might be full of ash, and as a result, won’t help you get a fire started. Before building your fire, shovel out the ashes into a metal bucket. It is imperative that you keep ash in a metal container outside and away from any structure, because even if a fire has stopped burning for weeks, the ash might still be flammable and can catch back on fire if given any fuel.


Now that you’ve cleared any ash out of your fireplace, it’s time to prime the flue so that you don’t end up with a house full of smoke. Priming the flue really just means replacing the heavy cold air in your chimney with lighter warm air before starting a fire—which is especially important if your chimney is built on the outside of the house. To do so, roll up a piece of newspaper into a stick shape, light one end of it with a match, and hold it way up towards the open damper. Repeat this until you feel the flow of air reversing, as the warm air starts getting sucked up the chimney. If that doesn’t work, leave the damper open for about a half hour, letting some of the warm air in the room do the trick for you.

Now onto the fun! If you have a grate, set it in the fireplace. Grab that bucket of cleared away ash and sprinkle a little in a neat layer under the grate, to act as fuel and insulation for your fire. Next, loosely ball up pieces of newspaper—you still want some air to be able to move through them, so not too tight—and push them under the grate on top of the ash. If you don’t have a grate, just layer your ash and newspaper balls in the center of the fireplace. It depends on how big you want your fire, but you want to usually do this to 15 or so pieces of paper.


Now, you’re going to stack up your kindling on top of the grill (or on top of the paper if you don’t have a grill). The most ideal technique is to lay them in a criss cross arrangement, which allows for air to move between them. If you’re using brush, twigs, or bark pieces peeled off your logs, you can just bunch them up in an airy mound. Once your kindling is in place, ready your logs and another stack of newspaper beside you and get those matches out! Light the paper that’s under the grate in a few places (I usually do both ends and the middle), making sure that all the paper catches.

It’s going to look impressive, and will appear that a fire has started, but it has not! All that paper will burn in about a minute and then you’re left with a pile of ashes and some sad, cold kindling. After lighting the balls of newspaper, keep pushing new balls of paper in from the sides of the grate, to keep the flames going long enough to catch the kindling on fire. Once that has happened you’re cooking with gas! On to the next step: logs.


Now that you’re kindling has caught fire it’s time to add the dry logs. You can either lean them together, upright on top of the kindling like a tepee, or in another criss cross (like a tic-tac-toe board) stack as you did the kindling. Both arrangements have their merits (some people even swear by the upside-down stack, in which the logs go on the bottom with kindling and newsprint layered on top), and you’ll have to light many fires to see which system suits you best. The key is to keep enough space between the logs so that air can get through. If your fire is dying at this stage, I can almost guarantee it’s because no air can get between the logs!


If you’ve followed these steps and your logs are sufficiently dry, your now-blazing fire should stay strong. If the logs don’t catch before the kindling starts dying down, try folding over a few pieces of newsprint to make a small fan and waving it—in tiny flicks, very carefully and gently—to get the embers glowing. Once the logs catch, it’s just a matter of adding new ones on top when the others start sputtering out. You can also poke around the wood to keep the air flowing. Once your tepee of logs has caught, put a screen up, pour some wine, and enjoy. If you’ve followed these steps you should have a blazing, popping, sputtering fire.