Wood fire enthusiast Vincent Thurkettle describes having a real fire in the home as similar to having a pet. You will need to tend it, feed it and clean up after it. As with a pet, the early stages with each fire you light are vitally important and will inform how healthy and happy it is for the duration of your time together. Here’s our step by step guide to creating a roaring, cheerful fire to make your holiday cottage feel like a home-from-home.
1. Locate your materials – each cottage will have these ready and waiting for you:
- Matches or lighter
- Pre-kindling (cardboard, paper, pine cones, birch bark – or firelighters if you are in a hurry)
- Kindling (well-dried small twigs)
- Basket of seasoned logs, preferably of different sizes and tree types
2. Make a “V” or “U” shaped log wall in the hearth or stove, with the cut surfaces of the logs facing inwards to help the fire catch quickly.
3. Place your pre-kindling in the centre of your log-walled enclosure and put one or two layers of kindling above this, leaving air gaps between each bit of wood to help the fire catch.
4. Kneel close to the fire, light your match and ignite the pre-kindling in several places. A well-laid fire of properly dried wood should light with just one match.
5. Once your fire is burning nicely, it is time to add some more logs. Feed the centre of your fire with small logs (50-75mm diameter), ensuring each one is a finger’s width away from its neighbour.
6. When you come to add larger logs later on, don’t put them right on top of the fire, as this is likely to smother the young flames. Push the hot, half burnt logs to the centre of the fire and lay the new logs towards the edge of your fire, giving them a chance to warm and dry before they actually become part of the fire itself.
7. Learn not to waste your firewood by using too much. Most of the time all you will need is a steadily burning, low, gentle fire. Piling up a lot of logs won’t generate much more heat but will squander your log supply.
8. Don’t poke and prod a wood fire unnecessarily. While coal fires actually benefit from being regularly agitated with the poker, it is likely to impede the burning of wood fires.
9. If you are keen to maximise the firelight from your fire (as well as bask in the heat), use dense, small-diameter logs from brightly-burning varieties such as ash, hawthorn and oak, and leave slightly larger gaps between each log when you build the fire.
10. If you have a wood burning stove in your cottage, be generous with adding logs to the fire for the first hour or so to ensure that the stove, firebricks and iron pipe become evenly hot. Once up to temperature, burn two large logs at a time, only adding the next two logs when the previous ones have almost burnt to embers. Whilst getting your stove to temperature, open the vents wide to encourage the flames to catch. Once the stove is hot enough reduce the vent opening by 50%. This will prolong the burn time of your logs, whilst also ensuring that there is enough air circulating to burn off the tar and creosote given off by the logs as they burn.
It is possible to write whole books on how to build the perfect wood fire, as it is an art in itself. We, however, are going to stop there and hope that these few pointers will help you to get the most out of your stay when staying at one of our luxury holiday cottages.