If you build fires in a woodstove, fireplace or outdoors, you know that you can't just hold a match under a log and watch it burst into flame. Fire needs to build up over time, and for this it needs some intermediate sizes of wood between the match and large logs. The smaller pieces of wood that burn underneath the logs until the logs catch fire are called kindling.
Stages of a Fire
The best way to build a fire is to include tinder, kindling and the main fuel. Tinder is the first thing to catch fire from the match. Most people use newspaper, but you can also use dry grass, birch bark or dead, dry leaves. The next stage is the kindling: small bits of wood that catch fire quickly. To build a fire that includes all the necessary elements, stack kindling in a log cabin style: lay two pieces of wood parallel and about 12 inches apart, then two more pieces perpendicular to them and on top of their ends to create a square. Build up the sticks in a manner similar to the logs in a log cabin. Fill the space in the middle with tinder, then lay sizable logs on top. Light the tinder with a match. The tinder will ignite the kindling, which will eventually ignite the logs.
The most important element of good kindling is dryness. Many campers in rainy conditions have been driven to distraction trying to get wet kindling to burn. Softwood species such as pine and spruce make excellent kindling because they have a lot of pitch in them. Create a good store of high-quality kindling by splitting pine and spruce logs into pieces 1-inch square or smaller, then stacking them in a dry place where they will lose all of their moisture.
Having good kindling increases fire safety because it reduces the temptation to use something like kerosene or gasoline to help get your fire started. With good, dry fuel, there shouldn't be any need for accelerants like these. Keep your store of kindling well away from any fire sources such as heaters or open flames. When you start a fire, be sure to remove anything that you don't want burned from the general vicinity. Don't let kids start fires unsupervised.
Some types of scrap wood make excellent kindling. Cabinetmakers often work with kiln dried lumber. Scraps from this work make outstanding kindling because their moisture content is extremely low. You may be able to get scrap lumber from your local cabinetmaker, although many of them save it for their own stoves. Don't burn anything that has paint or finish on it; these substances could harm both your woodstove and your lungs.