Paul Warford teaches you how to burn shit.
Have a few table legs you’re not using for anything in particular? Are you sick of pretending to recycle your cardboard and old copies of The Scope?
Why not burn ‘em?
Being born of the wood stove, I have learned how to comprise and maintain a respectable fire. So, toss on your old shirt and your cleavin’ gloves, because by the time I’m finished, you’ll be able to light a fire worth standing in front of.
First, the materials.
I know it seems obvious. If you’re burning it, you’re using materials you’re not overly attached to. But let me elaborate. You’re going to want paper or cardboard, some small fragments of wood or other quick-to-incinerate objects, as well as a good ol’ log of some persuasion or another. If you’re a self-respecting Newfoundlander—and I’m sure many of you are—refer to the wood fragments as ‘splits’ and the log as a ‘junk.’ Make sure your junk is a manageable size.
I consulted my father and brother, who are far more qualified woodsmen than I. They said juniper and spruce burn well, and that “nothing burns like birch.”
Also, if your wood is wet it will take at least a month or two to dry out well enough to burn optimally. However, they say if you’re in a pinch, the wood will burn somewhat after being aired out for a week or two.
I tried to research some wood that doesn’t burn well around here, but there’s only one type I can mention. I have only ever heard my brother or father refer to it as ‘old var.’ I’m not sure what that may be, but if you ever encounter someone selling it by the cord for a price that seems too good to be true, I suggest you move on.
Unless you’re using an empty oil drum under a bridge, I’m going to assume you’ve got some sort of a fire pit, wood stove, or fireplace on the go. Ensure your flue, flute, chute, or whatever you refer to the opening as, is, in fact, open. Nothing gets a fire riled up like a bit of oxygen. But you knew that. On our stove I’ve been taught to call them ‘drafters.’
Whatever the moniker, make sure it’s open to capacity.
Starting the fire is more challenging than maintaining and bragging about it. First ensure the area is clean of excess ash and debris. The key to starting a good fire is surface area. Begin by placing your quick-to-incinerates at the bottom of the whole operation. You don’t need a great amount of material. No need to burn the entire Globe & Mail when the business section, separated and torn, will work just as well.
Your splits come next. Make sure these are broken into pieces a foot or so in length, and ensure they’re relatively thin. Next, place your splits ‘in and around’ the paper, so that both are intermingled and cozy with one another.
That done, (deep breath), grab your matches.
Individually light the scraps of paper, and then grab your hot chocolate with booze in it, or your snifter of brandy, and sit and wait. The paper should flare up, catching the splits ablaze, so that the whole package is burning admirably. Then, and only then, do you finally add your junk(s) to the top of it. There’s no need to jam your stove or pit full of logs, either. One average piece of birch will give off a great amount of heat in a sealed room, and it can easily burn for hours. Don’t waste wood.
Besides that, there’s little else to tell. Once your junk is burning, be sure to grab the poker from time to time so that you can open the stove, prod at the fire a little, and then close the stove again. This will give an air of professionalism regarding your ability to work a good fire to any others who may be in the room. The combination of using such a sharp implement combined with the sudden flare of embers will make you seem very capable to anyone who is paying attention. Close the drafters if things get stifling. As your initial junk or junks simmer down to embers, repeat the process again until the book club, or dinner party, or hockey game is over.
Illustration by Kira Sheppard.