When you live in the walk in fridge that is our house, at some point you’re going to have to learn how to make a decent fire or you’ll end up on the DVD extras for The Day After Tomorrow. I always thought that it was simple: you got some kindling (otherwise known as old newspapers – not like we read them anymore; I am starting to believe that the Sunday papers are an Urban Myth…), some logs, a long match and physics took care of the rest.
Well, my Starbuck’s slurping pavement pounders, it ain’t that easy. No sir-ee.
One does expect, as a male, to be able to light a fire just like that; that after millions of years of evolutionary struggle man can now assume to have mastered fire (or God gave Adam a Zippo as a loosing-his-cherry present – I don’t want to offend any Creationists out there). So it does come as a slight affront to one’s manhood that creating heat to keep your family alive is not as easy as it looks.
One good thing is that many of the initial problems have been solved; notably we don’t have to use flint or two sticks and some twine. So I’ll presume that we all have the ability to use a match (otherwise, see my other how-to guides: How to Breathe: it’s All About the Rhythm! and Using Bins: Pedal and Swing Your Way to Happiness). So, hold onto your hats, here come the bullets:
- Your fireplace needs a good draw. What is a good draw? That’s how good your chimney sucks (there is a perfectly serviceable pun in there, but if you’re going to comment, I urge you: don’t). You need the chimney to pull air upwards and this is amplified when you light a fire – hot air, innit? Another important thing is that you need to have your chimney swept. Luckily DS is the perfect age (3 1/2) and size – so he’s practically paying his way…
- Use some form of accelerant. I know that it’s possible to make a fire using rolled up newspaper, and Ray Mears can make a fire out of some nasal hair and an Oyster Card – but I am a great believer in using petrol based products like firelighters. If I was doing an Into the Wild adventure I would bring a bumper pack of firelighters and some Claymores for hunting. ‘Ave it.
- Decent wood. Whole new subject, this. But essentially wood is spilt (eh! How ’bout that! They just keep comin’!) into two categories: hard wood and soft wood. Simple difference, hard wood is harder to light but once it gets going it burns for ages, softwood gets cracking straight away but you’ll be throwing new wood on all night. I don’t care either way, for me it’s split into one category: which is cheaper? Another thing is that the wood needs to be dry otherwise it’ll smoke like crazy and not burn very well. See previous post on logpiles.
- You need a grate. A fire grate is a big-arse metal cage that your fire sits in. They’re heavy and you buy them from shops staffed by people with social problems. You need a grate because fires need air and you need to control where the ash goes. Also, and CQ has helped me with this, you need to find the optimum height for your grate so that the air/draw ratio is just right.
- Stack it right. If you just lob the firelighter in, some kindling and the logs on top then chances are it won’t be a great fire. So, do what DW does and puts loads of firelighters in – no matter how you stack it, it’ll burn.
- Tools. The aforementioned shops also sell pokers, shovels, brushes, tongs – all that crap you see hanging around fireplaces in pubs that smell of dogs and old men – but forget about them, you can get asbestos gloves and reach into the fire like THOR. Yes! It’s true, you can handle burning logs like a god. Besides, they’re cheaper than all that ironmongery…
Well, that’s it. If you’re still conscious after reading this brain shrinking nonsense, then go get yourself some firelighters and burn up some of the Earth’s valuable, dwindling resources – or if you live in London, break up some furniture and stick it on the hob.