Choosing Firewood and Laying a Fire in a Fireplace

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 23,697
    Rob Neale, Deputy Superintendent of the United States Fire Administration, talks about choosing firewood and laying a fire in a fireplace.

    Rob Neale: Hi! I am Rob Neale, Deputy Superintendent of the United States Fire Administration, in Emmitsburg, Maryland. We are talking about how to build fires that you can enjoy and have them be very, very safe. Now, one of the key points for building a fire in any fireplace or in a firebox or in a wood stove is making sure that you have the right wood. Creosote from unseasoned wood is the leading cause of chimney fires and house fires related to wood stoves and related products.

    Now, this is a good piece of seasoned hardwood. Now, what do I mean by seasoned? Generally, seasoned wood is wood that has been down, has been cut, and has been stacked outdoors for at least a year. That allows the excess moisture to get out of the wood and reduces the likelihood of their being creosote built up when the fire is actually burned.

    Now, there are two types of woods that you need to be familiar with. The first is what is called hardwoods. Hardwoods are those like deciduous trees such as maple, ash, walnut, and alder. They drop their leaves every winter and they burn in a nice dry condition. Softwoods, on the other hand, such as pine, cedar, tamarack, some of these other trees have a very high pitch content, and it's very important for them to dry even longer to make sure that the materials that are in them, that will create creosote, are evaporated out before the fire is set up. And so what we look for, I can say is, we look for good piece of dry wood. This is a good piece of walnut that's been laying around a while. We also have some additional larger chunks here, and we want to make sure that the piece of wood is easily handled, it's not too large, because when you get the piece of the wood that is too big, it won't burn as efficiently. So this piece, I can get both my hands around pretty easily and that makes for a good piece of firewood, and a nice size, and it's easy to handle.

    Now, when we start the fire, we are going to be using kindling. Any type of dry hardwood will work very well. One of the things you want to make sure is, if you are using scrap wood or scrap lumber from around the house, make sure that it hasn't been painted or stained or treated with some other type of material on it. You want to have as good, clean a material as you possibly can, because those sorts of coatings end up creating toxic smoke and it's not good for the fireplace to have that, so just a good, clean piece of wood.

    Now, there's a couple of other things that you need to be aware of when you are talking about fireplace wood. One is, you always want to store it outdoors, away from the house, especially if you are in an area that's prone to wildfire, such as the Desert Southwest or the high deserts in the Western United States. You get those woodpiles too close to the house, and if you get a grass fire or wood fire burning through there, it can really risk damaging your house.

    Now, you should also though, on the other hand, have maybe a two to three day supply of firewood in the house, because if you bring firewood from outdoors and put it right in the firebox, particularly when it's cold, it's going to reduce the efficiency of the burning. So if you have a two day or three day supply in the house, that's probably enough to keep it going for a while. So that sort of wraps up the different types of woods and material that you might want to burn in your fireplace.

    Next, we will talk about how to lay up and start a fire within the fireplace itself.