Fireplace grates, typically made of steel or cast iron, increase air movement around the fire, allowing it to burn more evenly and efficiently. But this doesn't mean that you can overload the grate to minimize adding logs later; even with the added air movement, proper fire starting and maintenance is required. If you plan to build daily fires, opt for the thickest, heaviest grate you can find, preferably of cast iron. As the fire matures, add progressively larger logs, reserving the smallest for the next fire. Put on gloves before you start filling the grate to protect your hands from splinters and heat.

fireplace
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Sweep the ash out of the firebox before it’s high enough to touch the underside of the grate.

Step 1

Base the size of the grate on the size of the firebox: The width and depth of the grate should be 6 inches less than the opening width and total depth of the interior of the firebox. For example, a 42-by-16-inch firebox requires a 36-by-10-inch grate.

Step 2

Wet the ash with water, sweep the firebox floor at least 24 hours after your last fire and dispose of the debris. Position the grate in the center of the fireplace so that the long side faces the opening. You should have about 3 inches around the grate on all sides.

Step 3

Position two small seasoned logs parallel to each other on the grate, one towards the front and one towards the back. Fill the area between the two logs with tinder; crumpled newspaper or dried bark work well. Add a healthy amount of kindling 1 inch or less in diameter over the tinder and the logs. Twigs or leftover wood splits from cutting firewood are ideal.

Step 4

Top the tinder, kindling and logs with two to three small logs angled between the back left and front right corners of the grate. If you have a narrower fireplace or grate, two logs will suffice. This allows for ample air movement, maintaining space for the fire to breathe and grow.

Step 5

Open the damper. Roll a piece of old newspaper lengthwise. Hold it below the opening to the flue and light the top end of the roll. Let the smoke waft up the chimney for about 10 seconds.

Step 6

Drop the newspaper onto the logs and let it burn out. Position a fireplace lighter underneath the grate and light the tinder. Close the screen or place the standalone screen in front of the firebox opening. Add additional logs as necessary to maintain the fire.