Living How to Build a Clean Fire: The Top-Down Fire

Published on November 24th, 2011 | by ziggy

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How to Build a Clean Fire: The Top-Down Fire

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and there’s more than one way to build a fire. But that doesn’t mean they are all equal: the top-down fire (or upside down fire) is perhaps the most efficient and cleanest way to build a fire.

You can use this method when you build a fire in your small wood stove, your big wood furace, at a campsite, or basically any place you would have reason to burn wood. Here I will describe how to do it.

How to Build a Clean, Top-Down Fire

Remember all of those smoky attempts at getting a fire going during those camping trips? Or do you ever struggle to get a fire going quickly when you light your wood stove? Well, I can guess that, in those cases, you were probably trying to light your fire from the bottom, stuffing kindling and paper under a pile of heaping logs.

The top-down fire is basically the exact opposite of that mess: a bed of bigger logs, with smaller wood placed atop that, and kindling and paper at the top, where the fire is lit, and then burns down the pile. Simple. Effective. Clean.

A top-down fire is superior in that it is much more clean-burning than any other type of fire building. It enables complete combustion of the gases, resulting in less smoke, less wasted heat energy, and faster (and thus, hotter) burns.

The more technical reasons why top-down fires are cleaner burning can be read here. It’s worth a read! But all you need to know boils down to this: top-down fires are more efficient, because they allow for complete combustion of the wood, and thus, less smoke.

Here’s a (slightly wordy) video that describes how to build a top-down fire:

Image credit: flickr via RichInMN



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About the Author

I'm a 26-year-old currently living at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeast Missouri, an intentional community devoted to sustainable living and culture change. Things you might find me doing here (other than blogging) are building with natural materials, gardening, beekeeping, making cheese, candlemaking, and above all else, living simply. You can read about my on-going natural building projects at: http://www.small-scale.net/yearofmud



  • KindleAFire

    We tried the top down method in our wood burning stove and found following result:
    Pro’s:
    If the fire wood is really very dry this method actually works.
    Contradicting to the top down idea you have to place the fire starters underneath the kindling wood.
    If you are lucky and your fire wood is extremely dry you will get a nice slowly burning fire which due to slow burning rate also create little smoke and the fire wood will last for a long time.
    So if you only want to watch a nice fire this method is suitable for you.

    Con’s:
    With the top down method the fire burns very slowly and mainly in the center. Therefore much of the heat does not reach the walls of the stove and your room will hardly be heated because most of the heat will escape through the chimney.

    Conclusion:
    If you want to enjoy a fire in a wood stove quickly and you also want to heat your place there is a different method much more suitable:
    - you use a kindling cradle and fill it with wood pellets
    - then you add some fire starters, ( fastest result would be provide by using some fire gel)
    - then stack your fire wood on top and light the fire starter.
    This will take just one single minute and your will be done.
    - Just after a few minutes the fire wood will have caught fire and you can enjoy the fire.
    Because the wood pellets burn faster than the fire wood, they provide plenty of heat which will dry your fire wood and make the wood burning very ecological.
    More information regarding the kindling cradle you will find at http://www.smartgoods4u.com/

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