Nothing says the long, cold months like spending some much-needed quality time around a fire with family, loved ones, pets, and a winter cocktail or two. All that lovely proximity is greatly augmented by the presence of a fire in the fireplace, but, unfortunately, it can lead to a situation where you’re getting up every five minutes to relight the damn thing. Bad fire building is a shortcut to bad ambiance—the smokey end of all those dancing yellow flames and pleasant crackling sounds. So, instead of endlessly tearing up old newspapers and turning over the logs in the hopes that either of those actually work, here are a few tips from Tim Ferris, autodidact and author of the Four Hour Work Week, to help your fireplace stay lit for hours at a time.
Most people will tell you that the foundation for a good fireplace fire is the tried and true “teepee style,” placing tinder at the bottom and then stacking your logs in a style that vaguely resembles a teepee. But besides having a slightly problematic name, the teepee method also isn’t as effective as most people think. It turns out the real secret to a strong and effective fire is turning everything upside down. Instead of waiting to put the big logs on top with the hope of the tinder and kindling catching on fire and subsequently spreading the flames to the logs, you actually want to put your big unsplit logs in first and make sure there is as little space between them as possible.
Once your base level of logs has been established, you’re going to put some of the smaller logs right on top, once again leaving as little space between the wood as possible. Then, you repeat the process, intermittently stacking big and small logs tightly on top of each other until you feel that your wood pile has reached a sufficient height to start your fire. As a final touch, place whatever fire starters you have (newspaper, fire-starter oil sticks, fire-starter squares) as the top layer. To get your fireplace going, simply light your fire-starters and watch with amazement as your fireplace fire burns like it never has before.
Instead of the usual 20-30 minute burn you are probably used to, the upside down method, if done properly, can keep a fire burning for more than three hours (and allegedly even up to seven hours) without you having to maintain it in any way. And it’s not just the length of the fire that improves. Upside down fires also produce more heat than traditional fire-starting methods while greatly reducing the amount of smoke caused by the fire, which can be one of the more frustrating aspects of fireplaces.
One thing to keep in mind is that the upside down fires do take longer to really burn than your typical fireplace fire, so it may take around 15 minutes for flames to really start popping up. But with a little bit of patience, a lot of firewood, and some unconventional stacking, you’ll finally be able to watch that Criterion Collection movie that’s been on your list for months without having to pause every 15 minutes to restart the fire.