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Old 08-09-2017, 11:06 AM   #1
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Campfires

In a thread about etiquette, some mentioned that smoky fires bothered them. Well, they would bother me too and I suggested folks need to learn how to build a fire without lots of smoke.

As one who very much enjoys campfires, of which I have had a few thousand while camping from the time I was a wee kid, feel that for me it is a big part of the experience. I would bet to date, at least 95+% of nights camping saw us sitting around a fire. It's it necessary, no. It's it desired, heck yes.

I realize that many of you are likely very adept at maintaining a campfire, I just thought I would throw a few pointers I have learned over the years and hopefully we can see more smoke free fires out there. Maybe ad some pointers that work for you too.

I have seen a few smoky fires, usually ones not regularly attended to, or one where folks do not know to build and maintain them, or understand how they perform best. A few mistakes are not splitting wood small enough to give more surface area, especially when getting it going. Even with a well built fire, smaller logs will always ignite and burn better, but a good not fire will consume just about any log put on it. Another is playing with the fire instead of leaving it alone to burn naturally, and throwing too much wood on at a time where feeding one stick at a time, at the right time, works best.

What is needed is to get it going hot right from the start, which burns off the vast majority of combustibles which when unburned can create smoke. By adding a log (or two) at a time right when the flames from the last one(s) are near their peak you get quick and clean combustion of the new wood. Putting too much on knocks coals of the burning loss and comes off the air supply, causing smoke. Playing with the logs to knocks off the coals, resulting in a cooler burning, and smoke.

I like to spilt lots of kindling, you can never have too much. Besides it is quick and easy. Using a good ignition source is important too, whether a whittling father stick or dry wood, or a crumpled wads of newspaper. Avoid waxy paper and wet kindling.

Using a teepee shape to start the kindling works best as it creates a natural chimney effect which draws in fresh air and spread the flame up.

This is a fire less than a minute after lighting. See any smoke?

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This is it a bit later with a group around it. We only had 15 friends and family members around it last weekend, so it was easy to fit everyone. See any smoke?

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One fun thing to do is to buck up standing dead poplar which is blow in the center, and place the log on end on lots of wood and coals. This really shows the chimney effect well, as you can watch it draw Flames from below and shot them out the top.

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BTW, this is a firepit that I built four years ago.
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Old 08-09-2017, 11:09 AM   #2
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And PLEASE, let's keep discussion to how we all build and maintain our own properly burning campfires, and no flaming of those who do enjoy them.
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Old 08-09-2017, 11:21 AM   #3
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Also, it is best to use well seasoned wood. If the wood is too green it will take a lot to get it burning. I too enjoy a good fire. In college, we had a fire place, and all the wood we wanted. I was elected the dorm "pyromaniac" and was to keep the fire going in the evenings. It was a lot of fun. Still enjoy a good fire in the evenings.
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Old 08-09-2017, 11:27 AM   #4
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I throw the scrap wood from projects around the house in a large plastic tub ( Kiln dried dimensional lumber and hardwood). I take the scraps and run them through my table saw and cut them into small strip or pieces of kindling . I have a small tub in the back of my truck where I store the dried kindling , newspaper and a couple of packs of fire starters.
I am surprised by how many people try to start a campfire out of wet logs when all they are really doing is making a lot of smoke.
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Old 08-09-2017, 11:31 AM   #5
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Good point, Steve. Wood scraps from your shop, or picked up from a construction site make excellent kindling. I use this much of the time too. A buddy has a monster pile of old cedar shakes at his place, and can get a good fire going in a heartbeat with them.
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Old 08-09-2017, 11:35 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by EricAllyn View Post
Also, it is best to use well seasoned wood. If the wood is too green it will take a lot to get it burning. I too enjoy a good fire. In college, we had a fire place, and all the wood we wanted. I was elected the dorm "pyromaniac" and was to keep the fire going in the evenings. It was a lot of fun. Still enjoy a good fire in the evenings.
Seasoned wood is definitely the way to go. Most of the wood you see in the fire I showed was cut about 4 years ago. We still have many cords of spruce and poplar to burn. Some campgrounds are good with the wood they supply, while others not so much. You can put wood that is aged, though not long enough, on a super hot fire and burn it, but it is near impossible to light one properly with it.

I prefer to take a bunch of my own wood along, but it can be a pain at borders.
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Old 08-09-2017, 11:42 AM   #7
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I too like to take the leftovers from the shop with me. I like to work in oak, so it makes a good fire. and it seems like I always have a lot of little stuff since I often start with random width wood, surfaced three sides.
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Old 08-09-2017, 11:47 AM   #8
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Old 08-09-2017, 12:07 PM   #9
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I also take with me some "fat wood" a nice starter. I usually mix a piece or too into the kindling and it helps keep it all going.
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Old 08-09-2017, 12:22 PM   #10
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I sincerely apologize to the person who first showed me this for not giving credit where it is due.
I have been using the "TeePee" method for years with great success, but this year at Sebring someone suggested the "log cabin" method which was to stack the wood like building a simple,open, square "Lincoln log" structure.
It worked much better and made for a clean fire which started quickly.
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Old 08-09-2017, 12:44 PM   #11
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Camp fires are best enjoyed with others. They inspire a social gathering. Am I right?
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Old 08-09-2017, 01:19 PM   #12
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Mike--Yes, I'd agree with your statement 100%. They do inspire socializing. But are also wonderful in solitude....

For me, my firestarters are homemade from cardboard eggcartons, dryer lint and melted wax. Love 'em. Never had them fail. Usually only need one "pod" ripped from the dozen to get a great fire going.

And another definite asset to our firemaking has been tongs, purchased at Lowes, to grab onto the logs in the fire. Made it so much safer and easier than using a stick , as we did in years past. Great purchase for less than $7.
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Old 08-09-2017, 02:26 PM   #13
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"I prefer to take a bunch of my own wood along, but it can be a pain at borders."


In the midwest there is so much trouble taking wood into campgrounds especially if it is from another state, sometimes even a different part of the state. Ash Boar is a main problem in IL and most campgrounds won't let any wood come in.
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Old 08-09-2017, 02:32 PM   #14
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"I prefer to take a bunch of my own wood along, but it can be a pain at borders."


In the midwest there is so much trouble taking wood into campgrounds especially if it is from another state, sometimes even a different part of the state. Ash Boarer is a main problem in IL and most campgrounds won't let any wood come in.
That's just 'cause they cain't tell their Ash from a hole in the ground!
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Old 08-09-2017, 02:40 PM   #15
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We are asked not to bring firewood from home due to the possibility of spreading diseases, and that means we are pretty much stuck with what's available for sale in or near the campground. A lot of wood in the NW is softer and doesn't burn as hot or as cleanly. So fires may smoke more as a result. Alder is a favorite firewood around here but it is prized for its aromatic smoke!
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Old 08-09-2017, 02:43 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by floyd View Post
I sincerely apologize to the person who first showed me this for not giving credit where it is due.
I have been using the "TeePee" method for years with great success, but this year at Sebring someone suggested the "log cabin" method which was to stack the wood like building a simple,open, square "Lincoln log" structure.
It worked much better and made for a clean fire which started quickly.
Well Floyd, I will have to offer a challenge to you as I did a good friend who claimed the best way to light a fire was a log cabin stack. We held a challenge at our property, and it was not even close. The heat created with the teepee style setup along with the chimney effect it produces won by a mile. To be fair, at a campground another time we recreated the challenge with the supplied firewood there, and yeah, he lost big time again. He now uses the teepee method as does just about everyone I know. Just check out my photo of a freshly lit fire. There is no way you would get the log cabin thing going that hot in a minute, even with all the wood you wanted.

Heat is key not only to lighting a fire, but to keeping it going good. Anything that encourages the fire to be hotter is good, anything that diminishes the heat is detrimental. This is one of the biggest key factors in a smokeless fire.

The same logic works with wood added to the fire, we now always lean the wood in against the middle, keeping with the chimney effect as we go.
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And another definite asset to our firemaking has been tongs, purchased at Lowes, to grab onto the logs in the fire. Made it so much safer and easier than using a stick , as we did in years past. Great purchase for less than $7.
We had a set of those, and they definitely work better than a poker, BUT alas, we had to banish them along with the poker, as a few people could not resist "playing" with the fire, thusly knocking it down, with it losing heat and wanting to smoke. Folks have learned that adding select pieces at the right timing will see everything burn fully. Our fire pit in the morning is never anything but ashes.
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Old 08-09-2017, 02:53 PM   #17
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I carry a sawdust and paraffin fire log for building a core fire. I chop it into thirds and stack the kindling over it. Of course, I've been carrying it around for six years now and still have two thirds of a log left.
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Old 08-09-2017, 03:03 PM   #18
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Get an old golf club ($1 at a thrift store) use it as a poker.
The head will come off in a couple of minutes, then cut the end off the rubber handle. You can then blow through it into the base of the fire to encourage the flames and reduce the smoke.
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Old 08-09-2017, 03:08 PM   #19
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Well Floyd, I will have to offer a challenge to you as I did a good friend who claimed the best way to light a fire was a log cabin stack. We held a challenge at our property .
I would love to accept your challenge should we ever meet in person! Only a couple of conditions... You use your method every night for the first couple of weeks so we can sit around it and swap stories, then when its my turn I'll prolly have to leave for home? Deal??
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Old 08-09-2017, 03:25 PM   #20
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I would love to accept your challenge should we ever meet in person! Only a couple of conditions... You use your method every night for the first couple of weeks so we can sit around it and swap stories, then when its my turn I'll prolly have to leave for home? Deal??
I suppose you have a fence that would be great fun to whitewash, right Tom...errr, I mean Floyd.

You know, I would likely be willing to be the fire wench if we camped together for a while. ;D
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