Knowing to start a fire quickly and efficiently is key to enjoying your backyard or campsite fire pit.
As someone who has built my fair share of fires—in optimal conditions and not so optimal—I can tell you there are many ways to get a fire burning. But if you want an efficient fire that lights quickly and continues to burn long into the evening, you’ll want to keep reading.
In this article, I’ll share with you what I have found to be the easiest way to start a fire in a fire pit. I’ll also tell you everything you need to know about the different types of wood you can use and how to stay safe while enjoying your fire pit.
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How to Create the Perfect Fire In a Fire Pit
The perfect fire pit fire comes down to three elements: the fuel, how it’s built, and its maintenance. By following the steps below, you can create the perfect fire whether you are out in the woods or hanging out on the back patio.
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1. Gather Your Fuel
Starting your fire will require you to gather three different types of material.
The first thing you’ll need is a small amount of tinder. It is anything that lights quickly and burns fast.
Some examples of suitable fuel include:
- Dry leaves and grass
- Paper, newspaper, and paper towels
- Wood shavings
- Dry pine needles and small twigs
Next, you will need kindling. It consists of thin branches and larger twigs. You can also use large splinters from logs. Anything that catches fire relatively quickly and burns longer than tinder will work.
Lastly, you will need logs. You will want to start your fire with logs that are about 3 to 6 inches in diameter. Once the fire is going, you can use up larger logs that take more convincing to light.
2. Build Your Fire
To build your fire, make a small tinder pile in the center of your fire pit. Next, grab your kindling and build a teepee structure over the tinder or firestarter. Leave small gaps between the bottoms of the tinder so air can get through. You will need one opening that is large enough to fit your lighter through as well.
Then, take your logs and build a larger teepee structure surrounding the smaller one. Again, you’ll need to provide some space between the logs and access to light your tinder.
Learn more: The different types of firewood.
3. Light Your Fire
Once you have the double teepee, it is time to light your fire.
A long-reach lighter is optimal for this firewood setup. But if all you have is a standard lighter, you can light a small twig and use it to reach your tinder pile inside.
Bring the flame to the tinder and let it catch. It should light up quickly and catch the larger kindling above soon after. If the fire fails to spread to the kindling before it goes out, try adding more tinder to the middle and start again.
As the kindling burns, it should create enough heat to light the larger logs on the outside.
4. Maintain the Flames
Your job isn’t over yet! As the larger logs of the teepee burn down, you will need to continue to maintain your fire. Add a few larger logs once the wood inside the pit collapses and continue to stir the burning logs around so that all sides have a chance to burn evenly.
Once you begin to see embers at the bottom of your pit, your fire will be hot enough to burn even the largest hardwood logs.
Keep adding logs at a steady pace until you are ready to put the fire out.
What Is Best to Burn In a Fire Pit?
Often, you will have to make do with building a fire out of the material available around you. But if you do have the option to source specific types of wood for your backyard pit, it helps to understand how each type burns and which is best to use in your fire pit.
Hardwood trees have a denser structure than softwoods, which means they take longer to burn. If you have a choice, save your hardwood logs for maintaining your fire.
Some hardwoods are better choices for the fire pit because they contain less pitch and sap than others. These include:
The fibers in softwood trees are farther apart than those in hardwoods, making them faster to burn the fire pit. These types of logs are suitable during the initial building process. You can use them to maintain your fire as well. Just expect to have to add wood more often.
Some of the best softwoods to use in your fire pit include:
Kiln-Dried and Manufactured Logs
Most people build their fire pits with logs and branches from the surrounding area or use split-log bundles sold at local stores. But if you are serious about building the perfect fire, you may want to consider buying kiln-dried or manufactured logs instead.
As its name suggests, kiln-dried logs are processed in a large kiln to remove moisture. Since moisture is non-existent with this type of logs, they offer a cleaner burn, less smoke, fewer sparks, and an overall more enjoyable fire pit experience.
Manufactured logs are made of wood fiber and wax, often from recycled sources. Although they are super-dense, they are easier to light. Plus, have a clean burn and will last for hours without much tending. You’re only supposed to burn one manufactured log at a time. Thus, manufactured logs don’t give off as much heat as a traditional fire. But they are easier to light and don’t produce a lot of smoke.
Fire Pit Safety
Whether you are building your perfect fire pit in your backyard or the middle of the forest, fire safety should always be the top priority.
How to build a fire in a fire pit safely comes down to where you choose to place the pit and how much attention you pay once the fire gets going. To assure your fire stays safe, always:
- Set or dig your fire pit on even ground
- Assure there are no trees or structures within ten feet of the flames
- Light a fire only if the weather is calm and there isn’t a lot of wind
- Check your local fire restrictions and abide by local laws
- Supervise children and pets near the flames
- Put only approved material in the pit—no accelerants or trash
- Continue to monitor your fire until it is 100% out
How to Put Out a Fire In a Fire Pit
A single hot ember can cause a fire if the wind picks up or something flammable falls into your pit when no one is around. For this reason, your fire needs to be completely out and cool to the touch before you retire for the evening.
Here are the steps you should follow to put your fire out:
- Allow the flames to die down naturally. Do not add any more wood if you sense the night’s festivities are coming to an end.
- Slowly add water to the fire to extinguish the flames and prevent splashing embers on the ground. If you have above-ground pits, it’s important to pour water slowly as excess water and sudden temperature swings can compromise the integrity of the metal bowl.
- To ensure all the embers are out, use a shovel to mix the water around. Continue mixing until you stop hearing any hissing sounds.
- If needed, add dirt or sand to the mix to further suffocate the embers.
- Once you believe all hot spots have been extinguished, hold your hand over the ash to assure everything has cooled.
- For above-ground pits, shovel the ashes into a fire-safe container as soon as possible to prevent the excess moisture from ruining the metal bowl.
Sit Back and Enjoy!
Knowing how to start a fire pit fire is only the first step to enjoying your campsite or new backyard space. You’ll need to understand what burns best in your pit, how to stay safe, and what’s the proper way to put out the fire as just crucial to fostering an overall positive experience.
Have questions about using your fire pit or creating the perfect fire? Let us know in the comments section below.