How to Build an Upside-Down Fire: The Only Fireplace Method You’ll Ever Need

How would you like to light a fire perfectly and have it burn for 3-7 hours without touching it or putting on more wood? It can be done, every time, but it requires forgetting everything you’ve learned about starting fires…

I have — as most boys and men do — fancied myself quite a fire-maker.

I can make a raging furnace like the world has never seen, a crackling and screaming banshee of life-giving heat that springs to life. This lasts for a euphoric five minutes. Then the real fun begins: the fiddling and fussing, poking and prodding, every five minutes thereafter for the next hour to keep the charred remains clinging to life.

I was in the Boy Scouts and learned the ropes from men who repeated the steps like religious commandments: tons of paper and tinder at the bottom, building up like a tipi (teepee) with the smallest kindling at the bottom and the biggest logs at the top. It’s how fires are built, right?

Let’s call this the “tipi” fire.

Here’s the problem: sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work at all. It requires dry wood. I needed a fire-building method that worked every time with all types of wood, whether dried like an octogenarian in Palm Springs, or bordering on waterlogged, like most of the wood we had at home, which had been rained on due to a punctured tarp.

Enter the Upside-Down Fire.

To learn the manliest of the manly arts, it took one of my most feminine readers, Marcie, who also happens to help moderate the forum. She was looking for the best method of starting fires for her mountain-side cabin, and the final result was as odd as it is effective.

Even I couldn’t believe this one until I tried it.

The method is simplicity itself: do exactly the opposite of the tipi method.

1) Put the largest logs at the bottom, ensuring there is no space at all between them.

2) Put a second layer of smaller logs on top of the largest, again ensuring there are no spaces between them.

3) Repeat until you get to the top, where you will have strips of crumpled paper and — at the very top — 3-5 fire-starter squares (my preference) or fire-starter oil sticks. My favorite sequence from bottom to top is large logs (unsplit), split logs, sapling wood, cedar shingle wood, then paper and fire-starting squares.

Here’s what it looks like in photos, which you can scan through quickly, taken here at Christmas 2008 at home on Long Island. The embers this fire produces are unlike anything I’ve ever seen:

The final construction after three minutes of assembly. Following lighting, I wouldn’t touch it again for about three hours:

The steps:

The second successful experiment, with about 50% less wood and almost equal burn time:

Other benefits:

Much more heat – Once it’s about 3/4 through the shingle wood — in my example sequence above — it will start to give off a LOT of heat. The upside-down fire produces and projects much more heat than a standard tipi fire. The fire from the top warms the air in the flue and creates a more efficient current of air for cross-ventilation, and there is little warmth wasted.

No smoke or minimal smoke – this is related to the thermodynamics of the flue air being heated faster, based on explanations I’ve read. Since most fireplaces aren’t actually very well designed for fires, this is a huge benefit. No backdraft smoke into the house.

No management – once it in process, assuming you don’t have gaps between logs, it will burn beautifully for 3-7 hours, depending on the amount of wood used. This alludes to one potential drawback: you must start with a substantial amount of wood. It’s less than you’d use over 1/3 the total burn time with the tipi method, but it makes it largely impractical for outdoor survival purposes.

No ashes – this amazed me. It all burns down to nothing. No waste at all as every fiber is converted into heat. Beautiful, in fact.

There are a few things to keep in mind:

1) The upside-down fire will take longer to produce large flames, and it might not look like much for about 20 minutes. Be patient. The goal is to create embers that then fall to the layer below, which is why there cannot by any spaces between logs.

2) This is important: ensure that the paper strips are bent or otherwise prop the fire-starting squares/sticks a bit off of the shingles or layer below. If you don’t have this slight elevation for the paper to catch, you will have trouble starting the fire and get frustrated.

Don’t let fire tending turn into another full-time job. Enjoy the warmth and reap the rewards of a better method, as counter-intuitive as it might be.

###

There are some great suggestions from readers in the comments below, which also address modifications for survival use and outdoors, plus tipi-style fires for cooking:

From Kalavic:

“For outdoor application, I recommend doing a mini “log cabin” on top of the fire-starters with a small gate surrounding them to prevent a draft from snuffing out the fire in it’s infant stages.” (also see JBB’s points)

From Andy, even if you use a tipi-style fire:

“One tip for a smoke free start is to light the end of a rolled up newspaper hold it up the chimney for 10 or 15 seconds before lighting the fire to get the airflow moving and avoid any back draft.”

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238 Replies to “How to Build an Upside-Down Fire: The Only Fireplace Method You’ll Ever Need”

1. Robert (from Lafayette, La) says:

*Dupree

2. Henry H. says:

It’s not the same thing adding logs to the fire, that adding fire to the logs…

Thanks for the info, I will try it

😉

3. Rick imby says:

The joy of tending a fire comes naturally. You will find even the little kids just love to poke and prod. We are not that far evolved from being hunter gatherers. I really like the idea about the larger logs on the bottom catching the coals of the smaller logs.

Rick

4. Rusty - Fitness Black Book says:

Tim,

That is hilarious. I have always done the whole tee-pee method and then spend the next 15 minutes or so adding bigger and bigger logs. I never knew of a better way. I thought my approach was the only “logical” approach. After 39 years…I still can learn “new tricks”.

Love it,

Rusty

5. John says:

I’ve been using a variant of this for decades in our “Large Regency” woodstove: pack the back of the stove to 3/4 full tightly with wood, and load in tinder wood at the primary air inlet at the front bottom. Mid-size wood on that and on top of the main chunks. Light, and after 5 minutes take the draft back to it’s ‘long-burn’ setting. That’s all there is to it.

Note: I might have it easy, as I heat with hardwood skid lumber. Generally don’t get the 8-hour burns I can get with dry maple, but the BTU’s are definitely there, and the wood is free and easy to get and deal with. And of course, it packs in REALLY tight. I can get 5-6 hrs if I am not too greedy for heat. Been heating my house (St Catharines, Ontario, Canada) this way for over 20 years.

6. Ben Peterson says:

Tim (Prometheus),

If you like playing with wood you should explore gasification. Gasification allows us to extract the burnable hydrocarbons in wood and convert them into gaseous motor fuels. You can literally run an engine on wood!

Its been done during every oil crunch during the last 100 years and then promptly forgotten when cheap oil comes back. I got started just over a year ago and built a social network on ning to help spread the information. Its ridiculous that we buy oil from around the world when nature has given us what we need in our own back yard.

The fire starting method in your video is really alot like the inverted downdraft gasifier camp stoves that are use for campers and in third world countries for healthier cooking.

Keep the great posts coming

7. Jeremy says:

My family and I burned an upside-down fire in our new firepit tonight…my wife was skeptical (as was I) and I don’t think I would’ve believed it unless I’d done it myself. I posted a video here:

Enjoy and Thanks, Tim!

8. matty g says:

Wow thanks for the info. For the past week i have been trying to get my pool hot by building a sort of water heater with copper pipes and a brick built cooker. It was driving me mad having to go and check every 30 mins. I am going to try your idea later. Im sure it will be better than mine. Mine was more firestarters than wood lol.. ( I was joking then btw )

9. Sarah Flu says:

Hey Tim. Thanks so much for sharing this knowledge! I tried several times to build a fire in my fireplace at home and it did not work very well. This method works like a charm. Now my living room is nice and toasty.

10. Mark says:

Built my first upside down fire tonight. It was amazing. The heat is fabulous and absolutely no smoke. It took about 15 minutes to really get going but has really been steady ever since. That is what really impresses is how steady and consistent the burn is.

I plan to use this method from now on. Can’t wait to teach it to my friends.

Thanks for the post.

11. Ron Romero says:

Thanks for the tip, and the photos of who to do it. that is the real plus in this case.

12. David says:

Here’s a link to an insightful “how to use your wood stove” video: http://www.ec.gc.ca/cleanair-airpur/videos%5CWoodstove_mgt-Eng.wmv (Windows Media), which includes the top-down method of starting your fire. For those with wood stoves, it also shows you how to keep your fire going efficiently.

I found this video last year, right after we bought a new wood stove. The methods work well, and we are consistently able to keep ours going for 8 – 10 hours between additions.

13. Luke Barry says:

Thanks for sneaking money out of me on your “new expanded” four hour work week. Maybe you should have a double money back guarantee on that product. You can’t because it is the same book you sold us the first time.

14. Richard says:

Love it!

Would this work in a wood burner?

15. Ethan says:

Thanks for the tips! I tried this out today in my built-in wood stove. I didn’t have the fire starter sticks or squares, so I used extra newspaper on top and some very thinly sliced chunks of 2X4 left over from a construction project. They burned easily and did the trick to get the next layer lit.

The built-in wood stove is a smaller unit, so couldn’t get as much wood in there, but it burned without fuss for 3 hours. I’d highly recommend checking out the Canadian video that David posted for a lesson on raking coals. I am now on round two after raking coals like they show in the video and the fire is once again burning with zero fuss. Video: http://www.ec.gc.ca/cleanair-airpur/videos%5CWoodstove_mgt-Eng.wmv

Check out pictures from my upsidedown fire experience:

Pre Lighting: http://twitpic.com/vlbfp

Just Lit (5 minutes): http://twitpic.com/vlbwr

Second Layer (10 minutes): http://twitpic.com/vlf9v

16. Andrew Hill says:

Hi Tim, great blog post, I wanted to point out a few things. In scouts (I’m an Eagle Scout) You are taught to use a tipi outside to get the fire going and to get a quick pile of coals because this is what helps sustain the fire, tipis are supposed to burn quickly. Once that gets going you generally have a “log cabin” which is logs generally stacked on surrounding the whole thing in a square with cross hatching going on across the top as well so it is essentially just a box of wood as described above. So the tipi has its place for sure when used correctly.

Also. Do not burn corrugated cardboard, pressure treated wood, painted wood, rhododendron or mountain willow please… the fumes are toxic due to the glues and processing and saps and can damage your lungs.

Just used this technique at my inlaws. Everyone is impressed. Fire sputtered out around 3 hours.

Also, an even better replacement for newspaper is dryer lint. We used to use this when I was in boyscouts. Put a bag by your washer/dryer and start saving it.

18. Sowinski says:

I am just sitting in front of the fire and it works!

As a boyscout I also knew just the traditional method considering it the best.

As you wrote one must be patient because at the beginning it looks like fire does not want to start.

Thanks a lot!!!

19. neers says:

Right chief! And, this is exactly how the cremation thing goes on in India. I am indian, trust me… i know! And then again, this here is a very patient post, kudos!

20. Jennifer says:

Wow…that’s all I can say.

I have a wood stove in the basement that has gone unused for several since we moved in because I could never keep a fire going. I tried this and I’m shocked it worked so well. Like a few previous posters, I have a really small stove and had to scale it back. Worked beautifully! I’m counting on it for the ice storm predicted for the weekend.

Thanks for the great tip!

21. Paolo says:

Hi Tim,

after reading your post here I decided to try it for myself and I made a few videos to show to the world that this upside down fire really works.

Congrats

Paolo

22. James Schipper says:

Finally had reason to try this. We went camping at Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine, FL. I built the fire this way using only a stack of about 6 log wedges. It looked like it was going out at one point, but it didn’t. The fire lasted longer than usual, and there was nothing but ash left in the morning.

Did the same thing the next night and got the same results.

Thanks for the great method. It works very well!

23. hosed88 says:

Thanks for the great tutorial.

24. MotorolaVE440 says:

Great idea for our next camp. But better i try it once at home, so that at last moment it won’t be a flop.

25. Daniel says:

Been doin this for years in New Zealand, just makes sense.

26. Daniel says:

it works in wood burners but dnt use dry pine off cuts, just burnt out a new baffle, by off cuts i mean 4×2 or what ever, fire glows white hot, my advice would be light it that way then stoke it with bluegum, doesnt mater if its dry and 1 or 2 4×2 cuts on the side, it will keep ya warm guys n girls

27. Matthew E says:

Wood fires are extremely polluting. They produce about 100 times as much particulate pollution per minute as a gas fireplace.

That pollution causes about \$100 billion in increased health and other environmental costs. Click my name for a link to a website (not mine) with this info.

“The chemical composition of wood smoke, especially from low-temperature fires, is really nasty. It’s no different from cigarette smoke in particle size, and the loading of methylated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) is about the same.”

Wood burning emits 30 percent of the Bay Area’s wintertime air pollution,

including fine particulate matter which is especially dangerous to health. In colder

valley areas such as the South Bay, pollution from wood burning can exceed emission

levels from vehicle exhaust. Wood smoke also contains high levels of toxins and

carcinogens such as benzene, formaldehyde, dioxin, and carbon monoxide. Using a gas

fireplace or stove can reduce these emissions by up to 99 percent.

“Wood burning pollutes not only the outdoor air, but the indoor environment as

well,” said Jack Broadbent, Executive Officer of the BAAQMD. “Switching from wood

burning to burning natural gas is a great clean air choice to make, not only for our

families at home but also for our neighbors. -from the BAAQMD site.

1. fnord says:

Right they are.

Of course, this is because of inefficient burns. a good stove with an efficient secondary burn makes all the difference in the world. People in general don’t know how to do this, especially in moderate climes.

28. Jeff says:

I just did this the past weekend and it works like a charm!

After the fire was started, my friend and I just stood there…amazed at how easy and effective it was.

29. Rory says:

Yep….I have to agree with most others on this way of getting a good fire going…….but I have tried it this evening and all I can say is that I am now a complete convert!

It took around 25 mins to really get going but, 4 hours later and its still burning bright and very hot.

Am now looking forward to some lovely warm evenings here in Kamloops, Canada, during the impending cold winter.

30. jordan says:

31. Joe Gassner says:

So I asked my old man about this and he said yes that it would work, and work well but cautioned that if there wasn’t enough weight on the newspaper from the kindling, the flaming particles could be drawn up the chimney and cause a chimney fire, especially if it hadn’t been swept in awhile.

32. Lhen says:

I haven’t tried making Upside-down fire. But since I got convince with your blog…. Ill try it now. Hope I’ll be successful. 😀

33. Lee Ann Fisher says:

I was sooo skeptical but desperate. I have a small woodstove and was spending lots of time poking and coaxing a fire in it. I tried this method (not believing for a minute that it would work) and guess what??? Success!!! A wonderful blazing fire that doesn’t need to be poked. Yay, thank you very much.

34. Robin says:

I tried this method last night and it worked like a charm, mine didn’t look exactly like your demostration but still worked great! I barely had to touch it all night. I didn’t think it was going to work at first, but after a few minutes it took off. Wished I had heard of this method a long time go. Saves ALOT of time, and it does put off more heat.

35. Mart says:

Nice one Tim,

weve had nothing but a smoke filled room with the bad design of our chimney/fireplace. But I have heightened the chimney stack & tried the upside down fire & lo & behold I could sit back & enjoy the fire for a while & not get stressed about smoke & poking it every 5 minutes!!

Thanks..

36. Christi W says:

Wish I would have googled this last night! Tried your method this morning and it works like a charm! Can’t wait to impress the hubby next time we are all at the lake house!

37. John says:

I like this idea. it follows with the articles I’ve been reading about clean burning wood fires. The gasses relaesed from the logs should pass through embers or flame to give additional burning and be used. the standard TIPI fire doesn’t do this. the gasses go through unburnt material and are deposited on the walls of the flue, causing creosote build up.

I didn’t take the time to read EVERY post, but one replier said to use a rolled up piece of newspaper to get the draft started, and the basic construction method used here caused me to think SAFETY. Ceosote is the unburnt part of most wood fireplaces and it is very flamable after it’s come up to it’s starting point. I would use caution when putting any flame past the damper or past the smoke chamber. If a chimney fire DOES start… you’ll know it!!! Just be sure to have a chimney cap/spark arrester installed so the insurance company will pay to rebuild your house… just in case.

I have been looking for something to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of my fireplace (without looking like a goiter). My wife and I are most interested in the range of fireplace accessories available from HastyHeat.com. Maybe you could help make up our minds, what is it that makes a good fireplace grate heater (heatilator we have heard it called)?

Hasty Heat has quite a variety of tube blowers they can custom fit for us. If we knew better what we were looking at, we could pick the best grate heater for us. What can you tell us about the effectiveness of:

Naturally Convected tube type grates?

How about Fan forced tube blower grates?

I am not sure what these are called but take a look at Hasty Heat’s “McHeartly” that fits underneath brass bi-fold doors, how would that compare to a full insert with heat exchanger and blower?

39. chris says:

I just started a fire with your method in my fireplace insert. It started great. It is burning nicely right now. It was easy and clean. Thanks!

40. Mr A says:

I was skeptical, but tried it anyway. I have a medium wood stove, so can’t fit as much into it as shown. I put 2 good sized split logs on bottom, layered peices of 2X4 lumber over, then layered some split 2X4 on top of that, then I use the pages from all those telephone books they keep dropping in my driveway, does anyone need a telephone book anymore? Then I cut a dura=flame log into 2 inch peices with my miter saw, and then cut each peice into 4 peices. I put 2 peices on top of the paper and just sat back and watched. People tend to want big flames right away, but it is the embers that keep the fire hot. it’s been about an hour and a half. My living room is already warmed up, and the logs on the bottom have just started to burn with a nice pile of kindling embers on top

41. Daniel Schutzsmith says:

I tried it and its totally working. I’m floored because I totally didn’t expect it to work but its burning EXACTLY as you described it would. Awesomesauce!

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43. Regina says:

Will this method also work in a wood burning stove? And, on another topic, my husband insists on adding diesel fuel to the wood before it’s ignited. He claims this makes the fire last longer and burn hotter. Rubbish, I say. Please, please, please, provide me with a link or info that will inform me if it is safe to use diesel fuel INDOORS!.

44. Joe says:

I came here about two months ago and learned this new method from you. I came back today to tell you that your method is fantastic! I used to spend a ridiculous amount of time playing with my fire (in a simple, smallish fireplace) and this method is amazing. I’ve been experimenting to see just how little prep and material I really need for a fire, and have found that you don’t need to criss-cross the wood and that a simple layer of big wood, then kindling without newspaper, will suffice. As for firestarters, so far I’ve used one packet of Ignite-o or one half of a Duraflame Firestart – in the past I’ve needed at least two to even keep the fire going. Now, as you said, I light it and forget about it – it only gets better as time goes on. Plus, the heat is more noticeable and when I throw on an additional log, it burns without my having to constantly adjust it. I bought two boxes of the artificial (Duraflame) logs for the season because I don’t like fiddling with a dying fire when I have company – that’s no longer the case and I haven’t used one artificial log since trying this new method – thank you for a great artlcle!

45. bethany says:

Just tried this in my woodstove out of sheer frustration from all the time I’ve spent babying smoky fires. It works amazingly well, thank you!

46. Tim says:

This rocks! Just stumbled upon this post looking for a better way to build a fire in my fireplace and it’s blazing away as I type. I built it with two big logs and a split log on the bottom, then three smaller splits on top followed by some twigs and strips from a magazine. Since I’ve forever disallowed myself to use commercial starters…etc. (feels like the easy way out!!), I rolled up a brown paper bag and rubbed it with vegetable oil for the crown jewel. Burned exactly as you described!! I’ll never go back to tipi again. Thanks!!!!

47. Eric says:

Forgive me if you’ve already answered this, but after the 3-7 hours when the fire is starting to die down, what do I to keep it going? I want to burn 24/7 but what do I do to keep the fire going once it hits that bottom layer? Or do I not let it get to the bottom layer?

48. Suzann Foerster says:

I just bought a house with a real fireplace and have had subpar fires to say the least. This absolutely works- I’m still glowing with pride at my accomplishment!

And so is the fire!

49. Sara says:

Great post! I have a question that I am hoping you can answer for me. We use the duraflame logs in our fireplace and saw something quite strange the other day. The fire was still going strong and all of a sudden, we saw the embers higher up on the back wall of the fireplace. The weird thing was that there was a bunch of them and they were lined up like ants and moving slowly in unison. This creeped me out to say the least! The embers moved upwards and then as if pulled by a magnet, crawled into the space between the bricks on the back wall of the fireplace. Have you ever seen this strange phenomenon? If so, can you please explain what it is? Any info will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

50. Nico says:

Thanks Tim. This method produced great embers for me, but since there was nothing above the embers to burn, after about an hour there wasn’t much in the way of flames. Did you have a similar result or am I doing something wrong?

Many thanks,

Nico

51. Kim says:

We tried this last night and it was amazing! No tending, blazing hot fire. Who knew fire starting advice had been wrong this whole time!

One question, however: when the fire starts to get low, is there any way to keep the upside down fire going? We just added more logs and it went back to the normal, smoky fire.

Thanks!

52. Scott Zachary says:

Tried this last night as well. It was *awesome*. Started the fire and sat back to enjoy it. No tending necessary. Only had to poke at it once a few hours later to pile the log-ends into the middle. They flared to life and the fire kept going for another couple of hours.

Best. Tip. Ever.

53. Nick says:

Great tip!! This makes a really nice fire. I was surprised how fast it catches fire, once it burns you don’t have to touch it anymore.

54. Chuck says:

Wow, it really works! Don’t even have to be that precise. I did a small fire, 3 logs wide. Just put big stuff on bottom, make sure no spaces like he said, and layer per directions. My top layers after 1″ logs were cardboard strips, then crumpled paper logs, on top of that was about 6 pine cones and a few hardwood scraps I use for kindling. We keep the thermostat at a debate-ably comfortable 68, but the room now registers 77 degrees! Nice. And it really is maintenance free, keeps going all by itself. Thanks for sharing!

1. Chuck says:

Still got a couple fists full of embers, look at the time from our first post, very nice long burn, even temp all evening. Many thanks!

55. Jake Young says:

I’ve spent the past 25 years tending a multi-fuel stove, until this winter always burning anthracite-based manufactured solid fuel. Last March, a grate-bar was replaced, but the fit was too tight and the expansion cracked the grate frame after a couple of days. An expensive mistake!

I tried using a grate from a normal small UK domestic fireplace, but it wouldn’t hold enough smokeless fuel to keep going. Ordinary coal was more successful, but dirty, and I was pleased to get a CO alarm and realize the extra maintenance required for safe operation.

I allowed ash to build up around the sides of the small grate, which improved matters immensely, with a sort of rocket stove effect, but then found a replacement grate of about the right size, which would allow a full charge of smokeless fuel once again. However, the bars are only 5mm thick, so it would no doubt burn through in no time, when burning the hotter manufactured solid fuel.

As an insurance measure to get through this winter, I tried a sawdust briquette and then ordered in two tonnes, to burn during daytime and evening. A 5kg charge of solid fuel would slumber overnight, producing plenty of ash and not much heat, but at least having sufficient red coals to ignite the briquettes in the morning. The cost of firelighters could otherwise be equivalent to a quarter tonne of fuel per year!

The hourly tending of the stove was irksome and I had intended to replace the stove last year, or in a few months’ time. Stacking the briquettes three deep would could give a burn for half the night, but they are dirty enough, even when burned with plenty of air (my stove doesn’t have secondary vents at the top, just bottom air).

With the upside-down technique I’m back to having the flexibility (perhaps more-so) of using manufactured solid fuel, with convenient storage of the easily stacked briquettes.

Several briquettes burning in one fire will expand somewhat, so I allow 50mm clear on either side. The ones I use are 15x10x6.5cm and weigh 1kg each. I use six or eight, laying them two flat (one above the other) at each side and one or two on edge, in the middle. If there’s just one in the middle, it will create a depression for a firelighter and another briquette is placed over the top. The briquettes are smooth and dense, so they need a lick of flame from underneath to get started, but will then ignite the lower layers (or courses) of briquettes.

If there are two briquettes on edge in the middle of the stack, then the top one will project above the ones on either side, and another two briquettes are laid like sloping eaves of a cabin, with firelighters placed in the attic space.

I do a bit of Dutch oven cooking on the embers, so it’s useful to get in a routine and know when the stove will need refuelling in the “conventional” way, which is less likely to cremate the meal!

To re-lay the fire for another upside-down burn, the embers are scraped to one side and half the stack of briquettes put in position. A small coal shovel is used to place the embers on top of the stack, and the embers are redistributed when the rest of the stack has been built, not forgetting to top the embers with a briquette.

Many thanks for bringing this technique to my attention. Bananas are best dealt with upside-down, too!

56. Andy Noddin says:

I always used a different method, I laid the wood in layers changing the direction for each layer, kindling & paper at the bottom, I am going to give your way a go and see how it works, that’s thinking out of the box!

57. Sue says:

Woodstove with a small firebox?

Upside down is the way to go–I’ll never do it any other way. I don’t know if anyone has touched on how to do this with a small woodstove. I’ve got a lovely little Buck stove in my fireplace with secondary burn tubes, a blower and glass door. But the firebox is small. I have to ask the supplier to save up the shorter pieces of wood for me–length of 15″ max. I can’t really even build up two layers of it because after adding the medium pieces and kindling it is up against the secondary burn tubes at the top. So I get 7-8 straight wedges and lay them in a row along the bottom–thinking of the wedges as like a V on the ends, it looks like this: V^V^V^V except they are all about the same size, of course. Then I lay 4-5 one-inch cut branches into any crevices, and in a layer on the top. Then a layer of smaller kindling. I put one firestarter in among the kindling and lay the newspapersheet on top. Light the firestarter and paper to get the draft going. It gets the whole pile going every time. After a few hours, I’ve got a blazing hot “floor” of burning logs so that I can add wood one piece at a time through the night to keep it going. Next morning there are very few small chunks of charcoal, the rest is ash.

It’s so counter-intuitive–why does it work? Dunno, but perhaps it’s because if you put the kindling on the bottom there will be large air pockets as the larger pieces fall at angles and burn unevenly–and then you get isolated ends that peter out later. Not so with this system!

58. Smith says:

so this would work outside as well and is it possible with no fire start sat a survival method could it be done with just wood and some paper?

59. Mark Ifi says:

a job? fire tending is pleasure!

60. Taj Moore says:

Dunno if anyone mentioned this parallel, but this is basically a miniature pyre.

I tried my first one today and it burned HOT, but only lasted a a little over an hour. I think I had too much gapping between the logs, and it burned hotter.

I thought i knew how to build fires, i was wrong!

Was with the wife at a B&B which had a natural fire place. The first one i made fizzled out in 10min. Thank God for the iphone! Took my battered ego and went searching to find the best way to build a fire and came across this website.

It’s been an hour now and the fire is still raging! Wife was concerned i made the fire too big! Thanks alot for posting this, now i can have my man card reinstated and look good in front of the wife!

62. Brian says:

Great way to start a fire, thanks for the information

63. ray says:

Taught this dog a new trick! Thought I knew it all, regarding fire-building. Taught classes, everything. Then read Four Hour Chef, just a few pages into it… and there, Tim had the AUDACITY to challenge my perfect fire-building technique! NO WAY was that going to work….

…. but just had to try it. So, following the entirely-too-simple (and illustrated) instructions, I built a fire in my large fireplace at home.

It started slow, and I thought, uh huh, another nice uselss idea that can’t make it in other-than-ideal circumstances. Nice try, Tim.

And then… about 20-25 minutes after ignition, I started to back away. 40 minutes after ignition I was a good 4-5 feet away from the freaking towering inferno. UNBELIEVABLE. There were a good 15 logs on that thing, and they were all involved. In 40+ years of making fires (and some pretty big ones, too), this was, without question, the HOTTEST fire I have ever built.

Not only that… it burned that way for over two hours. I poked it once… only ONCE, mind you… during that period (vs my continual tweaking and adjusting that I’ve had to do with every other fire I’ve built). For the first time, the fire actually warmed the room (most of the time 90% of the heat goes up the chimney).

And in the end… I had a tiny (36″ x 48″ x 48″ stack of wood) to a 6″ x 5″ x 3″ pile of ashes… the fire was so efficient it burned nearly everything! Again… unreal.

Okay… so one success doesn’t make it, in my book. Repeated it, a few days later. Same result.

A couple of months later, a Cub Scout camping trip presented an opportunity to do this “in the field.” Told some of the other adult leaders that I was going to have a very different fire-building class. Some real doubting Thomases were present when I started in with the construction… but a half-hour later they were stepping back from the heat being kicked out by the fire. Repeated it in the morning. Have quite a few believers now.

Tim has quite a few very impressive things in that book (along with his other book), but that fire-building recipe takes first prize with me, simply because it challenged me in an area where I considered myself an expert.

Keep an open-mind, folks, and give Tim’s stuff a try!

And Tim, if you read this… very cool (well, hot) stuff in all your books, much of which I’ve incorporated in my personal and professional life. THANK YOU!

64. Jim Clemens says:

Kinda neat. I built an upside down fire tonight similar to your method. It worked great. The smaller wood was dry, the larger pieces had already been rained on. I figured the small dire on top would defy out the underneath larger logs. I wasn’t sure it would work. Did a search. Found your page. My fire is going strong.

Jim

65. Jim Clemens says:

Sorry for abrupt typos. Hopefully last post was unserstandable

66. K says:

Amazing! My boyfriend watched me start it and very nicely told me what I was doing wrong – and then saw it roaring in a few minutes – and still going full on after an hour! Thanks for that 🙂

67. Kirk Rogers says:

This is one of the wonders of the internet. My wife and I tried it two years ago and we do not have fires any other way. 100% genius.

68. Keith Williams says:

Bang goes my understanding of the universe !!! The sun is about the revolve around the earth again

69. Sonia says:

Is it ok to leave a fireplace burning all day. does it do damage to the home with the smoke

70. JayR says:

I respectfully have to say you are both right and wrong about the Boy Scouts teaching methods for fire building. What YOU want is a pretty fire that lasts and lasts for hours with no intervention so your method is correct. But, what Boy Scouts want is a cooking fire and for this you want a lot of coals in a hurry. The last thing we want is a lot of flames shooting up and over our pans for hours on end so we build the log cabin fires. They burn hot and fast and provide a lot of coals in a hurry. So both methods have their place.

71. Deborah byrd says:

Thanks for sharing this info. We are on the gulf coast and tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, it will be in the low 20’s. Hasn’t been that cold here since the 1930’s! Most of us down here don’t even own an ice scraper and I do not know anyone with a snow shovel. I’m making the fire this afternoon to prep for tonight. Hope we stay warm!

72. Tim says:

Tim,

I doubted this method at first, but I just tried it and was blown away. One of the easiest and best fires I’ve ever built! Thanks for the tip!

-Tim

73. laura says:

Do you light the paper first or the little blocks of the fire starters?

1. Ray says:

I have always lit the firestarter on top first.

74. Jacksknife says:

First off, yes this will work and i already have done it.

But only in a situation where you have; paper, different kinds of wood and fire starters.

The tinder and fire starters square work because they are rich in resin. Top or bottom doesn’t really matter because the resin will melt, catch fire and drop.

You can pull the same thing of with an oil gasoline mixture next to a burning candle on top of the wood stack. Or even synthetic clothing. Animal fat is also a great tool in a pinch. Don’t forget humans are animals too. 🙂

The thing to remember is that fire is a breathing eating living animal. It will tell you what it needs if you pay attention to it.

I am a pyromaniac and have been since I was born, I have started a lot of fires with only a knive and magnesium stick as tools. Some fire burnt hot and large and others i kept small and smokeless. Fire is one of the most obedient pets you can have once you start to learn how to listen to it.

75. Kathi says:

Nice firedogs!

I’m excited to try this method tonight. Thanx!!

76. Elaine says:

Bought seasoned (supposedly) wood- very white. Had dificulty starting it unless I had some old wood. I also constantly poke and prod. Have been making fures for 25 years. Last night I decided to try your method . Vavoom! Never had to get up once. Burned all evening. Hope it isn’t just beginners luck.

77. Elaine says:

I got a new delivery of wood, hardwoods that are supposedly seasoned , but I have difficulty getting a fire, and I have been making them for over 25years. Tried your method and I never got out of my chair oince, Hope it isn’t beginners luck!

78. Elaine says:

Got a delivery of supposedly seasoned hardwood. Very difficult to get a fire going, so I searched and found your site. Tried it and it worked! Didn’t get out of my chair all night. Only problem, where do I get cedar wood shingles?

1. Ray says:

I don’t think you need cedar wood shingles… I’ve build the upside-down fire with several different types of wood, even using fairly green wood on the bottom. I’ve used fire-starter on top, and also build a small standard “log cabin” on top to get the thing going. Everything worked. The only real variance was how long it would take to really get going… you’ve got to be patient!

79. Jolie says:

Wow Thanks! Very interesting. Kind of makes sense though when I think about how they burned yule logs.

80. Matthew says:

Wow that is awesome, what amazing tip, I love fires but nevre thought about it this way..

Thanks Tim

81. Markus Dan says:

This is amazing!

Have to try this out next time. Anyone tried this in the woods?

Marry Christmas

Markus

82. Steve D'Aquila says:

Gonna try it Thanks

83. Daniel McPhee says:

DOES NOT WORK!!!!!

Eliminates air flow! Without AIR, NO FIRE!!!

1. Jordan says:

So, with all the posts here saying it works great, do you think maybe it’s you that might be mistaken?

2. Ray says:

Since I first read about the upside-down fire in The Four Hour Chef, I have built eight of them. Three of them were done at a Cub Scout campout, with some very experienced outdoorsmen watching me with very skeptical eyes (30 minutes later they were backing away from the blazing fire, and asking me where I learned this method?). This method has worked EVERY SINGLE TIME.

“No air flow.” Well… there’s just no way you’re going to eliminate air flow around the logs, even if you wanted to. Jam them in there as tight as you can, and there’s still pathways for the air, especially when the heat starts to build.

I wish I could post the pictures and videos I’ve taken. All five layers are blazing. Truly amazing.

Daniel… I’d suggest you not over-think it, and just give it a try. And then…. step back. It’s gonna get hot!

84. Amy says:

I tried this method this evening to light a fire and it worked wonderfully, even though my fireplace has less than perfect ventilation. Usually, I have to close the glass doors on the fireplace to keep the smoke from billowing into the apartment, but I had no problem with smoke using this method. I suspect the secret to its success is the fire starter so I am curious to try it again without one. Anyway, thanks for this idea.

85. Elaine says:

I wrote in Dec.2013, thinking it was beginners luck. As I mentioned, I have been making fires since my husband died 25 years ago. Almost 80, I make a fire everyday all winter long, preparing it every morning for the evening. Thinking I had an unseasoned cord of wood delivered I sought and found your sight – tried it and it worked! I had 30 people for Christmas day, set the fire and it roared beautifully and every day since, and I do not have to attend to it until I need to add more logs.I praise you to all my friends,Thank you so much.

1. Elaine says:

an added fact – I was able to buy a package of shingles in Homedepot

86. terry says:

What about the airtight fireplace..would this work as well?..I’m having problems with mine..works great when its hot..but smokes me out when I light it. My house has two fireplace each with its own chimney.. The traditional one has no issues its on the main floor. Airtight is in basement.

1. Tom says:

Hey Terry, be sure your airtight fireplace isn’t just for clean burning natural gas burning logs, pretty sure that type is not made for wood/coal fires.

87. Shane says:

The lay is also called a counsel fire and has been in use for several hundred years. The lay is constructed to burn so that during a counsel one needed not to tend the fire constantly. Royal rangers and Frontier Camping Fellowship still use these at every event for night time meetings and services.

88. Russell Love says:

Hey Tim, hope all is well in your world! Just wanted to say we had a little gathering last evening in the backyard, and I used your upside down fire method, and it worked flawlessly!! Of course all my “know it all” friends told me that the way i was building the fire was completely wrong, but i just stayed the course and after it burned nicely for about 3 hours without any intervention whatsoever, they all were converted into believers!!! Thanks for showing us how some of the time its the exact opposite of what we were taught that is the best method for achieving our goals!! Cheers!

89. Andy says:

You learn something everyday. A genius idea that I have never seen before.Thanks going to try this:)

90. Eli says:

I can’t believe it, but it actually worked. I used to big logs on the bottom and did the 50% stack, it flamed initially, flames died down but stayed red. So I figured, well, didn;t work but about 30-45 min later the 2nd row was flaming and didn’t stop flaming for over an hour. All in all I started my fire around 1:30 pm, it died down to minimal ember around 12am that night. The next morning it was pretty much dead, but I still heard random crackle because a small portion of the center was faintly, dimly red. Also because the bottom logs were huge, only half of it burned up so I used it again tonday and it actually made the fire even better, since the wood was already ashed over on the bottom.

Thanks for the video and explanation! Question: where do you get you kindling, e.g., your sapling and cedar shingle wood?

92. Michelle Brennan says:

Thanks for the great info! I tried this tonight and it worked great. However, we did not have split logs, so it wasn’t quit as neat looking. But it still burned for about 3-4 hours and we didn’t need to do anything to it. Thanks again. 🙂

1. Eli says:

I didn’t use split logs, which is probably why mine lasted all day. The bottom I used 2 big round logs, the 2nd row was medium round logs and the top was small round logs. By morning all I had left was half of the bottom logs which ironically burned in half so I was able to use those on the bottom still the next day and they burned even better since they were ashed over.

93. Rex says:

I have been building fires in my fireplace for the past three months, using this method exclusively. I had mixed results with the paper layer, having to restart a few times. I realized that was because my top layer of wood was course in comparison to the pictures here (1.5-2 inches in diameter)–certainly courser than cedar shakes, and I don’t have the patience to split wood to that size.

I have made the following substitution: lay two pieces of fat wood across each other on the top layer of wood, and cover them with a small, rather vague, tipi of twigs–3-4 inches long, perhaps fifteen twigs total. I then break a fire-starter stick (the sawdust & wax kind) in half, light both pieces and angle them onto the twigs. No failures with this method so far. It takes right off and never slows down.

I love the look of this fire, with glowing embers in the center of the fire

After three hours or so, when the bottom tier is all that’s left, I drop a few more logs across them. The bed of coals keeps it all going with minimal effort. We have a great fire for four or five hours, and I spend a total of about ten minutes tending it, which includes the original build.

94. Joe says:

I use a very similar method to light my wood burning stove daily, and find that it does require less attention once light. Allowing me to get on with my day without having to remember to load logs into my stove.

Thanks for the tips.

95. James Paul says:

96. Bonnie W. Speeg says:

First: I’m 67 and consider myself self-sufficient…lived with no running water or indoor plumbing by choice…or central heat. I’ve ground wheat…raised goats and worked in an art museum as a coordinator. I’ve lived on a boat… I’ve lived in at least 10 homes with functioning fireplaces. My parents owned some too, and other relatives. I’ve seen every fire (or so I thought) made by mostly men, that ever could be made in fireplaces (not to mention the camp ones)…and this day in February, 2015…in my fireplace to beat all gorgeous fireplaces I’ve been using a year (it has the best draft ever)….For the first time, I made YOUR fire…I’ve never seen anyone make a fire like this (lived in 11 states, and 2 countries). Where have I been?

I started the fire at 7:00. I built it nearly to your example. I did have any more fire-starter chunks or paneling: I used base of firewood like you showed, the the smaller limbs, instead of paneling I used plain brown cardboard box ends the same size as paneling shown, then paper and then kindling…and honeysuckle brush combined with shredder confetti. It took one light…and it burned exactly as you said it would, slow then faster and continuous. It burned down to the final giant logs like I’ve never seen a fire do. The logs burned on so I continued to gently put a bit of wood kindling, then another log on top of the seriously hot embers. It’s nearly 12 midnight, and I’ve been babysitting an active 4-year old all these hours, in and out of the room….and still the fire goes on. It’s just like in the movies! 😉

Why say all this? To thank you…that’s why. You’re just the kinda guy to pick for a road trip: your fire-building lesson was that good!

Thank you forever.

97. Sushy says:

Is it possible to light this sort of fire in the barrel?