How to Start a Fire - several options
Learning how to start a fire on this site will not include techniques like rubbing two sticks together. I'll leave that for the outdoor survivalists.
What we will explore are several approaches to starting fires in wood stoves, and a little discussion about outdoor wood fires and how best to start them.
If you're not familiar with the elements of combustion and fuel sources, this would be a good time to take a look. Knowing how wood burns is helpful in many respects.
Once you're satisfied that you know a thing or two about how fires start and sustain themselves, then let's talk about how to start a fire in a wood stove.
How to Start a Fire in a Wood Stove
Here are the methods that I use to start a fire in my wood stove inserts. These are listed in the order of preference.
Hot coals are best to use. That means placing fresh fuel on coals that are already established. Hot coals provide high heat over a prolonged time, so they are able to ignite even larger pieces of wood.
Placing fresh fuel on hot coals that have just stopped flaming will allow you to start the fresh fuel very quickly.
For coals that have had no flame for a while, a nice draft will help bring them back to life and will increase their temperature to the point where the new fuel will start "off gassing." You may have to close the stove up and let it smolder for a while before providing a nice draft to raise the temperatures sufficiently to have the gases ignite.
To provide a draft, I crack the front door of my stove open just a bit. If this works for you, then never leave it unattended when the door is cracked open a bit.
That's how to start a fire with hot coals.
Fire starter is best for new wood fuel in a cold stove. Fireplace starters can be made at home or you can purchase commercial fire starter at many hardware stores.
The benefit of fire starter is that it provides a sustained hot flame, something that's necessary to get cold fuel in a cold stove to "off gas" sufficiently to burn.
The key to fire starters is to place them where the flame will "lick" up between or under the wood so it's exposed to maximum surface area of the fuel. Thin wood like kindling will start easiest, so make certain the flame from the fire starter is positioned for maximum effect
Sometimes I simply prop up a piece of wood and place the fire starter underneath it. The long and hot burn will start dry split wood with ease.
Once the fire starter is up and running well, then allow a draft that encourages the flames to propagate between and across the wood.
Newspapers are a second best choice for starting fires. Crumple one page at a time and insert them loosely inside a "tunnel" or a sizable overhang of thin wood pieces such that they are burning against a large surface area and many narrow interfaces between pieces of wood.
Use 4 or 5 full sheets of newspaper, and provide sufficient draft to fan the fire so the newspapers burn with intensity.
If you tightly crumple or jam the newspapers in place, they won't burn well and will provide less heat, so don't ball them up too tightly.
Propane torches can serve as a standby means of starting a fire. They allow you to position an intense flame for an extended time over interfaces of thin pieces of wood, thus encouraging it to "off gas" and ignite into a more serious fire.
The advantage of a torch is that it allows you to shoot the flame where you need it. The disadvantage of a torch is you'll have to hold it there for a while until the wood catches fire sufficiently.
Kindling by itself can be used to start a fire with a match. Some of the most effective kindling can be made by shaving off wood with a knife. You can also use a hatchet if you're good at "splitting hairs" with one.
This is my least favorite method because it's very sensitive to drafts that can knock out the fire before it gets going sufficiently to start larger pieces of wood "off gassing."
For success, make a large pile and give it plenty of breathing room for the flames to move from one shaving to the next to create more intense heat. Place thin wood on top and arrange wood so flames from the shavings or finely split kindling will "lick up" through the interfaces of the large pieces of fuel.
Apply a draft on the kindling only after the area of flame is about the size of your fist. Otherwise, you risk cooling the fire sufficiently to blow it out.
If the use of fine kindling is how to start a fire in your book, then I suggest collecting splinters and thin wafers of wood that are common while splitting wood. When I split my cedar power poles I get a 33 gallon drum full of fine kindling.
General Guidelines for How to Start a Fire
Regardless of the method chosen, remember to envision where the fire is going to go so you can position easily ignitable fuel in its path. Certainly the flames will go upward, but be aware of which direction the draft will naturally take the flames as well.
As always, use care when starting a fire. Remember, whether you're starting a fire or enjoying a fire, it's still a fire inside your house.
Done with How to Start a Fire, back to Heating with Wood.