Dear Crabby, Please advise to the best of an Indoorsman’s ability. We have a wood-burning fireplace. The wood is dry. I’m not sure what kind of wood it is or if that matters. What I need to know is: What is the best way to split wood and build a fire? I have had my ax stuck in the log with no hope of seeing the blade again. When I am fortunate enough to get a few chunks small enough to fit in the fireplace (some people call this bark) the only thing that burns is the newspaper I used in the futile attempt to light it.
Frustrated Fire Master
Dear Frustrated, What a happy coincidence that I’d respond to your question on the same week I write an Indoorsman column about finally turning on my oil heater. I’ve built about a hundred fires in my fireplace so far this year. That would probably lead you to believe I know at least a tiny bit about how to make a good fire, one that burns through the night, heating your home and providing the sort of comfort — not just physical but emotional and psychological — that we all need to make it through the winter. Sadly I do not.
My basic technique is as follows: Arrange pieces of kindling in a crisscross pattern, twist up some sheets of newspaper and layer those in, throw a firestarter log on top, light it, and then throw all your remaining wood on there, suffocating the whole thing and filling your house with smoke. It is usually at about this point that my girlfriend, Alana, who spends summers camping in Yosemite National Park and other ridiculous things like that, steps in and rearranges all of the logs. Then they burst into glorious flame and I spend the next two to four hours tending the fire as though I had any part in getting it started or any idea of what the hell I’m doing.
So, I guess my best advice, dear Frustrated, is that you find yourself someone like that, someone woodsy. It makes the whole fire-building process much easier and allows you to pretend that you played some role in it.
As for splitting the wood, I really don’t know what to tell you. It helps to be strong? Get yourself a good, heavy ax? Those seem like solid bits of advice. I didn’t split any wood this year. We burned all of the scraps that previous tenants had left outside the house. And when that ran out, we paid some sketchy dudes $150 to show up and throw a cord of chopped wood from the bed of their pickup onto our driveway.
One of them talked constantly (and wheezily); the other just grunted a lot and laughed this vaguely sinister laugh. But we hadn’t put any oil in our oil heater yet, so they basically saved our lives, those sketchy dudes. They were angels sent from some weird, booze-smelling corner of heaven. Here’s to those sketchy wood-delivery dudes and to wood-delivery dudes everywhere. Their scruffy, social awkwardness and ability to efficiently split and deliver wood is the engine that keeps civilization running smoothly. I recommend them highly.
Hope that helps.