Starting a fire

Basics of combustion

Fire is a chemical chain reaction between a fuel and an oxidiser (usually oxygen in the air).

For this reaction to initiate, fuel needs to be heated until the "flash point", the temperature at which the reaction initiates. This is usually done with another flame, such as a match or a lighter.

After the initial ignition, the reaction needs to generate enough heat to ignite the surrounding fuel, have enough oxygen, and have enough fuel. This is not always an easy balance to achieve.

Too much air

More air is usually good and means accelerated combustion, faster fuel burn and more heat generation. In most stoves, fireplaces and bonfires increasing the amount of oxygen means opening air intakes, or spread logs apart to allow air circulation.

However, if there is too much airflow, temperature will drop due to the passing cold air - Especially if the area is cold, like when you first arrive to the cottage on a cold day. The excess airflow will cool down the wood, and put out the fire, very much like blowing out a candle.

Too much fuel

Adding lots of wood makes sure there is enough fuel, and heat will likely be well kept in between the logs. However this comes at the cost of having insufficient airflow. Too much fuel will likely result in insufficient oxygen for the combustion to be sustained.

Fuel moisture and temperature

As mentioned before, wood needs to reach the flash point to burn. Everything that makes this harder is a problem for starting and sustaining a fire. If the wood is cold, or the area has significant a cold mass (like cold water in water boilers), it's going to be harder for the the wood to reach the flash point.

Another factor is wood moisture. If the wood has high moisture content, and since water does not burn, all water needs to be heated and evaporated before the wood can ignite. If you combine high moisture content and low temperatures, you will likely struggle at starting and maintain a fire

Note Carbon Dioxide (C02) and Carbon Monoxide (CO) Whenever fire burns with insufficient oxygen it produces carbon monoxide, instead of the usual carbon dioxide. Carbon monoxide is odourless (it might not smell like smoke) and is toxic to animals, including humans. Any fires burning in living spaces should be monitored.

Starting a Fire


To do

Log Cabin

To do

Lean to

To do

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