Quickly making a roaring fire is a fine art and in these plummeting temperatures the art form becomes a necessity when you’re starting a fire in an extremely cold cabin.
Materials pictured above from left to right: paper, tinder, kindling and thin, light logs of “starter” wood.
The real secret for great tinder is a certain type of egg box made with compressed paper or cardboard that is a strong enough structure to support the pyre while it’s burning, but light enough to burn easily. Paper alone is too light and burns down quickly. Once it has burned down, the embers can dampen your fire. Egg boxes burn slowly and cleanly. You can also use paper towel tubes, but the issue here is that you need to have saved them in advance.
The trick is to keep a column of space down the centre of your pyre so that the fire can flow freely upwards. You can also use wood shavings for tinder, but they tend to fly out of the fire if you’re making your fire in a fireplace. Newspaper or grocery bags work well for the paper element because these are common items that are often on hand.
Essential tip for a cold stove that has not been in use: it may have cold air sinking into its chimney. If you light a fire in a cold wood stove, the smoke will be pushed into the room by the sinking cold air, so you have to warm the stove up with a hairdryer first. Be sure to aim the hairdryer AWAY from any old ash, otherwise you’ll end up with old ash all over your face!
Instructions for building a fire in a cold wood stove:
- Roll up the newspaper tightly lengthwise into long stick-shaped bunches and slip it into the grocery bags.
- Scrunch up the newspaper and bags and lay them inside the outstretched egg box:
3. Turn over the egg box and lay the kindling over it in a hashtag formation:
4. Add two lighter, thin logs in the same formation:
5. Transfer the pyre to the wood stove. Light the paper and corners of the egg box.
If you’ve built the pyre correctly, the smoke will start to billow and fill the stove. Allow it to billow for 20-30 seconds, then open the wood stove door an inch or so and close it gently a few times. This will bring air into the stove, allowing the smoke to be sucked up the chimney and fan the flames.
Once the fire is burning cleanly, add more, light logs diagonally across the pile to keep the some air in the center of the fire.
You won’t have this problem if the wood stove has been in use. These instructions are for a cold wood stove only. So NEVER use the hairdryer if there are embers smoldering. If there are warm ashes and coals, stir them gently with a narrow poker and open the wood stove’s vent. The embers will light up and warm air will rise slowly up the chimney. Wait until the stove is much warmer, then build your pile quickly in the wood stove to prevent smoke from entering into the room.