There’s nothing quite like being greeted by a warm open fire on a cold winter’s day, but getting one started takes some degree of ‘know how’. Here’s a handy guide for all our guests booking into holiday cottages this Christmas to help get the home fires burning.
Whether you’ve got an open hearth or wood-burning stove there are a few basic things you need to get right.
Firstly, make sure the chimney has been well swept of soot and clinker by a reputable chimney sweep. If you’re a guest in a Toad Hall holiday cottage you can be sure that this has already been taken care of.
If you’re burning wood, it’s important to make sure your logs are dry and well-seasoned. Unseasoned logs (often referred to as ‘green’ logs) won’t burn very well because of their sap, which can also clog the chimney or flue and increase the risk of a chimney fire. It’s wise to avoid burning Scotch logs on open fires as they can spit out hot resin which could damage rugs and carpets.
Before you attempt to light your fire remove any old ash from the grate or ash pan into an ash bucket, checking first to make sure that it’s cooled – it’s advisable to wear gloves when doing this. If possible, use an ash lid to keep the ash contained. Make sure the damper is fully open to enable a steady updraft, helping the chimney pull up the combustion air.
Place scrunched up old newspaper in the middle of the grate and cover with a neat stack of bone-dry kindling. If you’re using firelighters, place the brick, pieces, or scrapings on top of the newspaper before you add the kindling.
Strike a match, preferably an extra-long fire lighting match, and ignite the newspaper. When the kindling has taken, gingerly add a couple of smaller logs, using log tongs if you have them. Continue to add logs once the fire has taken, being careful not to overload the grate. If you’re lighting a fire for a log-burning stove, once the fire has taken you can close the fuel door and adjust the draw of the fire using the bottom dampers.
If you are burning coal, follow the same process only adding the coal instead of logs. Smokeless coal or fuel is the popular choice as it’s said to burn longer as well as being kinder to the environment. It’s important to use a fire safety guard if you have inquisitive small children, heat-loving pets, or to protect your carpets from spits.
Here’s an old poem by an unknown author about the golden rules of log burning:
Logs to burn
Logs to burn, logs to burn,
Logs to save the coal a turn
Here’s a word to make you wise,
When you hear the woodman’s cries.
Never heed his usual tale,
That he has good logs for sale,
But read these lines and really learn
the proper kind of logs to burn.
OAK logs will warm you well,
If they’re old and dry.
LARCH logs of pine wood smell,
But the sparks will fly.
BEECH logs for Christmas time,
YEW logs heat well.
SCOTCH logs it is a crime
For anyone to sell.
BIRCH logs will burn too fast,
CHESTNUT scarce at all.
HAWTHORN logs are good to last,
If you cut them in the fall.
HOLLY logs will burn like wax
You should burn them green
ELM logs like smouldering flax
No flame to be seen
PEAR logs and APPLE logs,
They will scent your room.
CHERRY logs across the dogs,
Smell like flowers in bloom.
But ASH logs, all smooth and grey,
Burn them green or old;
Buy up all that come your way,
They’re worth their weight in gold.