You must have lit fires when you were young and out in the country.
It’s frowned upon by adults but you have to do these things to learn.
The first lesson is that wet things do not burn. The second is that there is nothing as satisfying as something cooked on your own log fire.
Only two matches
Everyone knows that Boy Scouts are only allowed two matches to light a fire. Make sure you hold the match head down so that the stick catches fire. If the first match does not work you need to re-arrange the fire, get some more flammable stuff in place, before striking the next one.
Even on a wet day dry stuff can be found. There is always some dry wood or leaves in the bottom of a hedge.
Dry leaves will burn but the flame is not concentrated enough to set light to twigs. You have to keep the leaves compressed together and blow on them. Then the little twigs will catch and then the larger ones and so on until there is a ripping log fire.
Beware of lighting fires where flames could spread. We children once set fire to a gorse bush which gave us all a fright. It was out of control in a flash.
Do you remember the Two Ronnies sketch? One relates how he was driving a tanker full of beer and came across a house fire. “We had to put it out with the beer.” Says one. “What a waste.” Says the other. “Oh no, we drank it first.”
The best wood
Which woods are best?
Some woods are better than others. An early lesson is that Holly is useless until well dried. Ash will burn, even when green.
I once helped myself to logs from a sequoia tree, a Redwood, expecting it to be good. It burned well but so cool that there was no heat.
A number of woods produce little heat; Alder, Elder, Fir trees, Willow. When it comes to the old Christmas tree you will find spruce burns quickly and with many sparks.
Spitting is a problem. Any green wood will spit but the worst culprits are Firs, Pine, Horse Chestnut, and Larch. Some woods have a wonderful scent when burning; Apple, Cherry, Walnut and Yew.
Old seasoned oak, Blackthorn, Yew and the wood of fruit trees are those which burn hot and slowly with little ash.
Around Hiltingbury there are many beech and silver birch trees nearing the end of their lives. They burn well if dry. Birch burns up very quickly. Best of all is old oak and Rhododendron is worthy of praise although one rarely gets decent sized logs of it.
Logging is hard work
Logs burn better if they are split. Use a log splitter rather than an axe.
The axe will embed itself into the wood and be difficult to remove. Wedges hammered in with a sledge hammer are useful for large logs but avoid the conical shaped ones which tend to get stuck. Better still use an electrically driven hydraulic splitter. These will split logs with branch points in them and they make life easier.
Logs need to be stored in a pile, covered on top to keep off the rain but open at the sides to allow drying air. They will be home to insects and small mammals during the year or more it takes them to dry. One of those mammals may be rats so keep an eye on the pile if it is close to the house.
Stay in control
Open log fires burn too quickly if set on a coal grate where the ash drops through. They need to burn on a pile of ash.
Closed wood burning stoves are popular. These allow control of the flame from roaring to smouldering so slowly that the fire remains lit all night. I keep a pair of bellows which will liven up a dying flame quickly.
Every year you need to have the chimney swept. Burning conifers produces a very tar like clinker which can catch fire in the chimney.
The fire service will put out a chimney fire without making a mess of the house. They will check that the fire has not spread into the roof timbers and that the chimney has not cracked. They will charge you for the service unless you can show them the certificate that your chimney has been swept.
To be safe, keep a small metal shovel nearby in case a log rolls out onto the carpet. The sets of fire irons you can buy are mostly more decorative than functional. A spark guard is essential for when the fire is unattended. Also a carbon monoxide alarm is a life-saving precaution.
I love an open fire. It is good to gaze into it while meditating and sipping a Whisky. Much more relaxing than television.