Monday, December 7, 2009

The secret of the flame -- Part 1

Last week's snow (above photo), even though it's just a lingering memory now, has inspired me to delve into the Secret of the Flame, or, in other words, how to build and keep a good fire in a stove.

When I was in the newspaper business, a fellow publisher had a sign on his desk that said something to the effect that everybody thinks they can build a fire and run a newspaper better than you. We'll leave the newspaper question for the ages, but I'm going to hold forth a little on fire building.

Starting a fire seems so simple. Throw a few logs in the firebox and strike a match. Would that it were that uncomplicated.

It goes without saying that you have to start with dry firewood. It's best if the wood has cured for a year after being split. I'm rushing that a little this season, but I'm still managing to coax along some good fires.

One secret of the flame is to use firewood that is substantially shorter than your stove's firebox. For instance, if your firebox is 30 inches, a 16-inch log will burn better than a 20-inch log. I was told this by a family that made it's living harvesting trees, and I've found it to be absolutely true.

Here's the method I use for starting the fire:

Use a flat stick of firewood as the foundation for a fire. On top of that stick, make a lattice work of kindling about three rows high. Place a couple of fire-starter pellets inside the lattice work. On top of the lattice, place a second stick of wood.

Open up all the air vents and light the pellets. Close the door and grab a cup of coffee. If your wood is dry and the kindling is strategically placed, you'll have a roaring fire in 15 minutes.

I find that I have to clean the ashes from the stove about once a week if I keep a fire going 24/7. If not, the ashes will smother the bottom stick of wood before it can turn into coals.

TOMORROW: The secret of keeping a fire going all day and night.

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