Building A Fire


Happy snow day to all of my fellow New Englanders.  Yep – the kids are home from school today.  Again.  Even though it always throws a big hitch into my plans, I can’t help but be swept up into the excitement of a snow day.  We didn’t have snow days when I was growing up in California, so to me, they are a reason to celebrate. To my kids, a surprise snow day is almost as good as Christmas.

My middle son, of course, thinks he made the snow day happen by sleeping with every single spoon in our house under his pillow.  The beau claims that sleeping with spoons is not commonly known New England snow day voo-doo, but NPR even acknowleges that it exists. I think he just had a deprived childhood. Does anyone know where this tradition originated?

Snow days are a gift of “free” time with the kids for me and I get so excited (that is, until they start driving me crazy) that I usually end up making cookies, which is a sure-fire way to throw a hitch into my plans to lose a few pounds before this summer, but I guess there is still time to work on that!

The other thing I do to enjoy the special feeling on a snow day is to make a fire when I get up in the morning. I stay in my pajamas and enjoy my tea and write until the kids get up.  Making a fire isn’t as hard a people think – here are some tricks that make building a fire really easy.


First of all, your fireplace does not have to be clean.  Fires do need air to flow up from underneath, which is the reason fireplaces usually have log grates to set the logs on, but they don’t have to be free of ashes.  I usually just shove the ashes and old cinders around and to the sides of the hearth until there are too many.  When there are too many, I wait until they are cool (at least 24 hours to be safe) and remove them.


Recently, I discovered that my fireplace had a trap door in the floor at the back of the hearth. This door is for ashes!  Brilliant!  Maybe your fireplace has one too?!?


With my fireplace shovel, I open the hinged door and shove the ashes right down the chute! Gone, No mess, no fuss!  No fear of my garage catching on fire from hot ashes in the trash can!


I sometimes use my fireplace utensils to move around my log grate and andirons to make it easier to push the ashes down the chute. Sometimes, I just leave them in place and do a quicky job of it so I can get on with making a fire.

Your fireplace does not have to be spotless – a plenty perfect cleaning job is just fine here!

Before you begin to build a fire – make sure your flue is open.  This flap of metal that keeps the warm air in your house from going up the chimney can be opened or closed by various methods depending on how your fireplace is built.  You can check to see if the flue is open, by craning your neck and looking up your chimney to see light at the top (during the day).  Another way to check if it is open, is to hold a lit match in the hearth and see if the smoke from the flame is drawn up the chimney or not.  If you don’t have the flue open, your fire will not be able to draw air up the chimney and smoke will fill your house almost immediately!  This is very important to check before building a fire!


Your fire will light easily if you can encourage the air to flow and the fire to grow up through your pile of logs, so it is important to build your fire well from the bottom up. I start by making a pile of kindling “logs” on the log grate by taking one sheet of newspaper at a time (or pages from my large newsprint planning tablet) rolled tightly in the middle and kept sort of loose at the ends.


Pick three pieces of wood – the smaller the better – to lay across your newspaper kindling.  Leave room between each piece of wood for air to flow through.


On top of the three smaller logs, place two larger logs on the diagonal, leaving room for air to flow between them.


Lay one bigger log on the top of the pile, straight across, to encourage the “draw” of air from the bottom of the pile of logs to the top.


Light your paper kindling starting at the back of the hearth first so you don’t burn yourself.


Have you ever heard the phrase, “where there is smoke, there is fire”?  Well, I love the satisfaction of watching as the smoke in my fire builds and builds until it “pops” into a flame.  If I can see a concentrated amount of smoke rising from one area of the pile of logs, I know I am on my way to a beautiful fire. If the smoke is just swirling around, I may need to adjust the logs to create better airflow and then light more paper kindling under the pile of logs to get it going.


Another tip:  if your flue is open and the smoke does not seem to have a strong draw up the chimney, open a window in the room just a crack.  Letting a small amount of cold air into the room will increase the draw of warm air up the chimney from your fire and help it get started.  You can close the window once the fire has created its own draw up the chimney.

Now, on to making cookies!

What are you doing on this snow day?

Related posts:


  1. Deb Reply

    Very interesting, Annie! Especially the secret ashes flap, love that!

    • annie kip Reply

      Thanks, Deb! A friend told me that the chute for ashes at her house has to be cleaned out periodically. I have not found a place to do this at my house.

  2. Jean Owen Reply

    The mintue I saw “Snow Day” I figured Charlie’s spoons under the pillow had worked !
    Thanks for the fire building pictorial, I will do it next time although without the snow !

    • annie kip Reply

      Yes, Jean – Charlie’s spoons seem to have done the trick! I think he will be banned from spoons for the rest of the Spring – just in case!

  3. Rita@thissortaoldlife Reply

    You didn’t have my favorite trick: You blow on the fire to fan the flames–that helps the wood actually catch fire. At least, that’s what I have to do!

    So glad you got a snow day. We haven’t had any this year, and I’m guessing the time has passed. The bulbs are all coming up and the sun is shining. My mind has turned to spring mode. Didn’t get enough winter this year.

    • annie kip Reply

      So glad to hear that Spring is springing in the Northwest! I love the blowing on the fire trick – thanks for the reminder! I try to get down low and blow at the cinders down low when I need to stoke the fire. There used to be an old-fashioned thing called a “bellows” which was used for this purpose. I wonder if they are still made…

  4. Kathryn Stratford Reply

    I don’t have a fireplace, but this is a helpful tutorial. It must be so nice to have a fire burning on a morning like this!
    I am amazed that it is still snowing. I live in Boston, and last night they were saying we would only get 3 inches. The one time they don’t over-hype it, and we get a lot more! Now they say it could be upwards of 12 inches!
    I used to love snow days. I am from New England, so I got to enjoy them every so often growing up. It does feel a lot like a holiday when it happens. Enjoy this snowy day!

    • annie kip Reply

      Hi Kathryn, I hope you were able to stay home and watch the snow today. It was a LOT more snow than we expected. Sounds like you can relate to the snow-day excitement! My kids loved it and then proceeded to drive each other crazy…oh well!

  5. John Capalbo Reply

    Thanks for the tips. good post Macgyver! :-)

    • annie kip Reply

      Hahaha! Yes, just give me a little bubble gum and a paper clip and I can build a blimp. I hope the snow on your street got plowed – or “removed” – as they had to do last time. Dealing with this much snow in the city is much harder!

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>