Many of our father’s taught us how to build a fire. They were probably adamant regarding a “log cabin” style build to make sure the fire was sturdy and would burn properly. Unfortunately, for a top down burn, that style is no longer useful. If you are like me, when learning how to build a top down, you need to forget everything you ever thought you knew about building a proper fire.
This method of stacking wood is just as effective in a wood burning stove as it is in a fireplace. Actually, they have used a top down in Europe for longer than the United States has even been around! There is little doubt in how effective and safe it is to build a fire in this manner.
You will start by placing the biggest pieces of wood you have at the bottom of the stack. The pieces should be stacked back to front, meaning the front of the fireplace or stove should show the end of each piece of wood. From there, build your stack in multiple levels, using smaller pieces as you go higher. At the very top, there should be pieces of shaving and twigs that will easily ignite. The stack can be built about ¾ of the height of the opening of the stove or fireplace.
When lighting the fire, you will simply light the smaller pieces of wood at the top of the stack. Ideally, a single match will get the job done. As the fire burns, the smaller pieces will ignite the larger pieces below and the fire will continue to burn from the top down. The most important thing is that very little smoke is created when lighting a fire this way.
If you are using a mix of wood when creating your stack, meaning harder and softer wood, try to use the harder wood at the bottom of the stack as it will burn the longest. In addition, you will want to make sure all of the wood is dried out properly before adding it to the fire. Wet wood may not burn properly and create additional smoke.