The Art of Kindling

by Marty Ross

A cozy fire is one of the great consolations of winter and laying a fire with just the right amount of kindling is fine, old-fashioned skill. I love to split firewood for kindling, filling a galvanized bucket with what I need to get a warm glow going in our little woodstove in the country, or in the open fireplace in Kansas City. A few minutes of splitting kindling outside on a cold day warms me up as much as the fire itself.

The Art of Kindling
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Where can you buy seasoned wood?

In Kansas City, we buy seasoned oak firewood from a woodyard that also supplies local barbecue joints — in fact, The Woodyard also sells barbecue. Frank delivers our wood every fall, and sometimes throws in a bag of kindling, but I don't really need it. The old maple tree in our front yard provides an endless supply of small sticks that are just right for starting a fire, and when I need more, I split a piece of firewood into kindling strips.

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The right axe for kindling

For years I used a small Swedish hatchet to do the job, but this year Fiskars supplied me with a new splitting axe, which has a longer handle than my old hatchet, an exceedingly sharp blade, and a satisfying heft. I set up a kindling yard in the garden and put it to the test.

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Setting up to chop kindling

Setting the kindling on a good-sized log placed securely on end raises it up and also provides a hard surface; if you split kindling on the ground, you'll end up driving your axe into the dirt, which dulls the blade. The area where you're splitting the wood should be clear of obstructions, of course.

How to cut kindling

I choose a piece of firewood without knots, set it on end on the log, and then bring the axe down on it. If the axe sticks in the firewood, pick the whole works up and drive it down on the stump a time or two until it splits. Just repeat this process as the pieces get thinner and thinner.

A medium-sized piece of firewood is good for half a dozen pieces of kindling, or more, depending on how thin you like the pieces to be. Since they are the same length as your firewood, they're just right for the fireplace or woodstove. Once you get warmed up, you'll make several days' supply of kindling quickly.

What else can be used for kindling?

We also like to use twigs and small branches broken into 12- or 18-inch lengths. Lumber scraps work well and are easy to split, and large pieces of bark will also help the firewood catch on.

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How to lay a fire

Everyone seems to have their own style and technique for laying a fire. My husband and I start with half-sheets of crumpled newspaper, a few pieces of kindling, with two or three logs of good, seasoned firewood on top. It's enough to get a crackling little fire going and take the icy edge off the weather outside. How do you make kindling?