2/6/15 – FUN FACT FRIDAY – The Forgotten Art of Building A Long Lasting Fire

by Raymond W. Dyer.  Old Farmers Almanac 183(1975) pp 80-81.

You may think your method is best, but do try to keep an open mind . . .

From generation to generation, the fire on the hearth is one of the very few things passed on from primitive man to modern man.  In every age of architecture the fireplace, or stove, has been very much in evidence.  Even the school of modern architecture with all its insistence on functionalism has been unable to preclude the beautiful, but so considered unfunctional, fireplace from its functional sterile homes.
The fireplace warms all, the room the conversation, and the people about.
However, all too often we have many fireplaces but all too few fires burning in them.  This is probably due to the fact that we have lost the art of building a long lasting fire without constant and bothersome attention.
Most people begin with no ash in the fireplace, and proceed to build the fire with paper and dry kindling wood laid directly on top of the andirons.  This explodes into a large scary blaze.  As soon as this dies down, so that one can get close enough to it, larger logs are thrown on top and another large uncontrollable blaze is quickly lived and dies out.
All of this results in a fire constantly needing attention, either too hot or too cold, too large or too small.  It can also result in a scorched mantle or a second good fire up in the chimney flue.
All of this amateur nonsense is the result of too much draft due to the improper use of the andirons.  One should not think of the andirons as a grate but simply uprights to prevent the logs from possibly rolling out of the fireplace.
To build a fire properly, for one of good steady heat with a small blaze and minimum use of wood, the whole fireplace should be covered with a good bed of ashes about one or two inches above the andirons’ legs.  If ashes are not available sand may be used.
Now place a large log, called the back log, about eight or ten inches in diameter, against the brick back of the fireplace with a little smaller log balanced on top of it.  Then place a log about four or six inches in the front of the fireplace just rear of the andirons.  This we call the fore log.
It is essential that these logs be well bedded down in the ash as the point is to keep the flames and draft out from under the logs so only their tops and faces burn.
Now one proceeds with paper and kindling to build the fire in between the back and fore log gradually building it up to four and six inch size logs.
Eventually, the fore and back logs will burn through, as this happens they should be moved into the center of the fire and replaced with new logs, once more well bedded in ash.
This results in a fire of little high blaze, burning with a hot blue flame and red hot coals.  The face of the back log burns red hot, reflects the heat of the fire and also keeps the bricks from burning out.  The fore log holds the fire in and prevents the air from passing to directly under the fire.
If one wants less fire it can be dampened by putting a shovel of ash on it.  If one desires more blaze, a few small sticks of kindling can be added to the top of the fire.
In fact, when retiring for the night and a good fire still remains, cover all of it with ashes from the side of the fireplace.  This will hold all night and when uncovered the next day, or even next evening, a good bed of red hot coals will be found upon which a new fire can be laid.
In this way one can understand how heat and fire were maintained from day to day in the Colonial homes when such fires were a hard necessity.
It goes almost without saying that good hard wood such as oak, maple, cherry or birch is the best to burn.  This must be cut in late winter or early spring so that it has the hot summer sun to dry and cure it.  It seems a drying and curing period of at least six months is necessary for this.
However, even though we learn how to construct a hot and economical fire, I am not sure the lover of an open fire is out of the woods yet.  One still will have to hope his favorite ecologist will forgive and forget the little smoke that curls from the chimney.

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