making a fire outdoors
Begin by choosing a suitable spot. Appropriate beds for fire are sand, gravel or bare soil. Do not light a fire on flat rocks (the heat cracks them and leaves ugly black marks), peat or near bushes and trees. You can put stones around the fire you are building. Use dry sticks and branches for the fire as far as possible. In a forest you will always find dry sticks to light with – even when it is raining – like at the base of spruce trunks.
Birch bark is also excellent as kindling, but remember never to strip bark from a living birch! Start lighting with smaller sticks and build up with larger sticks as the fire takes hold.
Before you leave, extinguish the fire carefully, preferably with water, and restore the ground as much as possible if it is just a temporary place for a fire.
Respect any bans on lighting fires. These are particularly common during dry springs and summers. Also bear in mind that the Right to Roam does not permit you to break off or cut down living bushes and trees. A Teepee Fire Lay (vertical firewood) gives you a quick burning fire, while a Crisscross Fire Lay (horizontal firewood) gives a more prolonged fire.
making a fire in a fireplace or stove
Check that the damper is open. Place the firewood close enough together that the burning logs will warm each other, but far enough apart that the fire is still aired. Pack balled-up newspaper or a piece of birch bark as kindling under the firewood. In a wood stove you should start by burning some paper or bark in the soot door just before you light the fire. If you are worried that it might smoke, you can check the direction that the air draws in the stove by holding a lit match in the upper part of the stove opening. If the flame draws out of the stove, you should make sure that your kitchen extractor fan is turned off.
If you still have cold air coming out from the chimney you can open a window in the room just when you light the fire. The quick influx of air generally goes up through the chimney, making it draw in the right direction. You can use the same method to ‘turn’ a stove or a fireplace that is smoking. Do not choke the air supply too much once the fire has taken. Check the air supply by going out and looking at the smoke. A correctly burning wood fire emits only carbon dioxide and steam, and therefore you should hardly see any smoke at all. If it is very cold, the smoke may be white.
pitchy wood and ash
You will sometimes come across yellowish-red and strong smelling pitchy wood, particularly in old damaged trunks and stumps of pine. Dried, this resinous wood is one of the best things you can use to light a fire with. Saw the wood into lengths of about 10 cm and then split these into thick kindling. Just one split of pitchy wood can light the most impossible fire.
Ashes raked out of the stove or the fireplace too early can cause a fire. Ashes ought to be kept a couple of days in a fireproof container for remaining embers to cool off. Ash from a wood fire can be saved and spread over the lawn or flower beds, but not on a potato patch, as the potatoes can end up shrivelled. Wood ash contains some useful salts, above all potassium bicarbonate, known as potash, and raises the pH value of acidic soil. You can also mix a little wood ash into your compost.