Dear Jim: I plan to use my fireplace often this winter to lower my heating bills, but I have never been very good at getting a fire started and keeping it going. Is there a proper method to build a fire? – Chris R.
Dear Chris: If you ask a hundred old-timers about the best method to build a fire, you will likely get a hundred different answers. There actually are many effective and efficient ways to lay a fire and get it started, but most have basic fire-building concepts in common.
First, if you plan to use your fireplace often, have the chimney inspected by a certified chimney sweep. Many houses burn to the ground each year from faulty or dirty chimneys. This is particularly true if you have had problems getting hot fires going in the past. A smoldering fire creates much flammable creosote which builds up inside the chimney.
Most methods to build a hot, long-burning fire use newspapers, kindling or firestarters, some softwoods, and mostly hardwoods. The newspapers are used to start the fire and to get the kindling burning. The kindling holds the flame long enough to get the softwoods and hardwoods burning.
The teepee and the English methods are two common ways to lay a fire. Both use newspapers under the andirons or grate. With the teepee method, place kindling on end or firestarters in the center. Place several logs on end to form a teepee. This method creates channels of hot gases up between the logs to quickly get them started. Once burning, additional logs can be added in any fashion.
The English method is better when using andirons. Place two logs across the andirons. Place the kindling across these two logs and then place a third log on top of the kindling. It sometimes also helps to place a few pieces of kindling vertically down into the newspapers and up between the logs.
With any method of laying a fire, place some uncrumpled newspaper over the logs after the fire is laid. Before you light the newspapers under the logs, light the top newspaper sheets to create an upward chimney draft. If the smoke goes up the chimney, light the newspapers under the logs from each side.
You may often hear the term “backlog.” A backlog is a large log laid at the back of the fireplace. It will eventually burn, but its main purpose is to keep the fire on the andirons and protect the firebrick. Also, the front surface of the back log will glow red and radiate more heat out into the room.
There are several easy methods to make fire starters and newspaper logs. Fill condiment cups with sawdust and then pour in melted paraffin or old candle wax. For more decorative starters, place a pine cone in a cupcake paper, add a wick and fill it with candle wax. Newspaper logs can be made by wrapping sheets of newspapers around a broom handle, wetting them with a water-flour solution and allowing them to dry.
Dear Jim: I use a dehumidifier at times to reduce allergy problems for my son. How pure is the water from a dehumidifier and can it be used in a steam iron, car battery or in my son’s goldfish bowl? – Al D.
Dear Al: A dehumidifier is somewhat similar to the last stage of a water distiller where water vapor condenses into water. There are no hard water ions in the dehumidifier water so it should be fine for the steam iron. There are chemical vapors in indoor air from cleaners and synthetic products. These may or may not also condense into the dehumidifier water, depending upon their boiling point. I would not put it in a battery or the fish bowl.
Send inquiries to James Dulley, Bangor Daily News, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.