Many people become enthusiastic about building a fire in the fireplace, only to find their best efforts literally fizzle out. There is a science to building a fire effectively, taking into account the three categories of fuel.
The first category of fuel that should be taken into account when preparing to build a fire is tinder. Tinder is the first part to be lit, and then lights the rest of the fire. Therefore, tinder needs to be highly flammable. Newsprint, wood chips, brown bags, and dead pine needles all make excellent tinder. Newspapers can be rolled up and tied into knots to be kept by the fire.
Kindling is the next type of fuel that is used to make a fire. Kindling includes branches and sticks of varying thickness. The sticks and branches can be as thin as a finger or a little thicker than a wrist. Kindling is lit by the tinder and in turn, lights the logs.
The final fuel category includes logs. The best logs to build a fire with are hardwoods such as ash, birch, maple, oak, and beech. Wood which comes from fruit and nut trees is also good to burn and let off a pleasing odor while burning.
Softwood, such as spruce, or pine are easier to light and can be used for tinder and kindling, but should not be used as logs. Softwoods contain resin, which forms creosote as it burns. This creosote remains flammable, and can endanger the house if caught on fire.
Logs which are used to make a fire should be dry and ideally aged for 6 to 12 months. Green or freshly cut logs tend to burn unevenly, smell bad, and produce excessive smoke. To see whether wood is aged, check for tiny cracks along cross sections.
When you build a fire, remember that it also needs oxygen. The oxygen needs to be able to circulate through the burning pieces of fuel, which must be close enough together to light each other but not crushed under one big log, stopping the oxygen from circulating.
Next time you build a fire, try this. Build a pyramid, beginning with a layer of newspaper, All around and on top of the newspaper, add wooden tinder, then kindling. Be sure you crisscross the pieces of wood so that air can get through. Light the paper, and once the kindling catches on fire, place some small split logs near the flames but not directly on top of your pyramid. When the fire is going well, add more logs, but always leave at least an inch between them.