Wood Stove 101: The perfect way to build a fire, top-down.

Video top down fire method


Have you ever struggled to start a fire in your wood stove? The problem might be how you are building your fire. The traditional method of fire building is bottom-up, where kindling and small logs go on the bottom to light the larger wood on top. But if you build a fire the opposite way, or top-down, it is infinitely better. While it may seem counter intuitive, if you give the top-down a chance, you will find that your wood stove fires are much easier to start with fewer false starts and dramatically less smoke.

In a top-down fire, the larger logs are placed on the bottom, with progressively smaller logs, kindling and then newspaper added on top. The newspaper is lit, and the fire slowly burns down to the large logs below. It can take a little practice to get a top-down fire right, and you do need to use seasoned firewood, but the end result is cleaner, easier to use, and by far the best way to start a fire in a wood stove.

What follows are simple, step-by-step instructions for your first top-down fire in your wood burning stove.

1. Place the largest pieces on the bottom of your wood stove firebox

When you start to build a fire, it is important to start with a good base. These should be the largest pieces in the load, 3” to 5” in diameter

2. Place a second layer of smaller pieces crossing on top of the main logs.

These pieces are smaller than the large logs, half to three-quarters of the size of the main pieces.

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3. Place a third layer of even smaller pieces crossing on top of the second layer.

These pieces should be small, no more than 1” to 2” in diameter.

4. Spread some fine kindling on top

We like to use thin split sticks or even cardboard.

5. Push several newspaper knots on top of the kindling.

Rip off long sheets of news paper, roll loosely, into a rope, and tie into a quick knot. Stuff four or five knots on top of the kindling, spread out across the width of the fire box.

Second Layer Wood Stove 101: The perfect way to build a fire, top-down.

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6. Light the newspaper

Make sure your stove damper is open or your combustion fan is on high. Then light the newspaper. We like to use a stick lighter to quickly light several pieces of the newspaper and then quickly shut the door.

top down build a fire

7. Enjoy your fire

As the newspaper burns, it will ignite the kindling, and begin the slow downward climb through the logs. Depending on how many logs you loaded and how thick the logs are, you can count on a one to three hours of beautiful flames. You’ll soon see why this is the best way to start a fire in a wood stove.

A beautiful fire is easy to find. For information on the best way to start a fire in a wood stove and other tips and tricks for your wood stove, read the rest of our Wood Stove 101 series. We’d like to thank woodheat.org for their excellent advice and images.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>