Building A Fire

Though Toronto winters are mild and short in this millennium, heat inside homes is needed for the bouts of sub-zero weather that may be harmful to children and the elderly, especially in homes poorly insulated as they were built in the 1900’s. As well, heating will provide the ability to cook food, sterilize materials, can foods for preservation, and purify drinking water.


When burning a fire in a woodstove, keep some basic principles in mind:

~ A stove must have a 3-foot barrier of space between it and any objects or materials that can heat up and potentially ignite (curtains, clothing, paintings, furniture, firewood, kindling, etc).

~ Burn fires hot and clean to prevent a buildup of soot in the stove pipe, allowing plenty of oxygen into the vent.

~ Do not burn pine wood or other woods from coniferous trees as these are sappy. Burn wood that has been air-dried for half a year or more, and that is not wet or damp from rain or snow.

~ Do not burn wood foraged from collapsed buildings or scrap yards as they may have been treated with chemicals. Only use these woods for burning outdoors and for purposes such as boiling water for washing or making soap.

~ Inspect and clean the stove pipe regularly, such as monthly. Brush the pipe with a metal brush on a long extension rod along the entire length of the pipe.


STEP 1: Gather a few handfuls of tinder. Tinder is any kind of fine material that can easily catch fire, including paper, dry pine needles, fine dry grasses, birch bark, dried moss, mouse nests, cotton balls, and wood shavings.

STEP 2: Gather half a bucket full of kindling. Kindling must catch fire within a few seconds from the burning tinder, but only needs to burn for a few minutes. Use any dry twigs, including dry small pine branches with needles still attached.

STEP 3: Collect half a bucket full of small dry sticks, up to 2 inches thick.

STEP 4: Collect a bucket full of wood pieces 2 to 12 inches thick.

STEP 5: Build a small pile of tinder and light it with a match in several places. Layer a bit of kindling gentry on top.

STEP 6: As the kindling catches fire, pile on more kindling and gradually add larger pieces of wood. Forming a “teepee” or pyramid shape with the larger kindling and wood allows air to circulate and feed the fire.


Ideally, matches are the best resource. To waterproof matches, dip individually into melted wax and allow to dry. Store in a waterproof container.

If matches are unavailable, flints are the next best option. Flints can be readily found in various institutions, such as in high school and college chemistry labs.

If neither matches nor flints are available, you can always start a fire with a magnifying glass, concave mirror or even a pair of eyeglasses. A bright sun is essential. Hold the glass towards over the tinder, with the point of light (focal point) on the surface. Slowly the point will heat up, smolder, then turn into a small flame.


With the massive shortage of hardwood in the city, and in efforts to conserve precious wood materials, paper bricks make an adequate substitute as fuel for fire in woodstoves.

STEP 1: Collect scrap newspapers and other combustible materials, including sawdust, twigs, cardboard, scrap paper, etc.

STEP 2: Tear or break into smaller pieces.

STEP 3: Soak in greywater or unpurified rainwater for at least 24 hours or up to 1 week.

STEP 4: Strain and place handfuls of the scrap mixture into a brick press*, piling full and high, and press firmly to remove all liquid. Collect extracted water as greywater.

STEP 5: Place bricks to dry in full sun for 1 month or longer, to ensure the bricks are thoroughly dried. For this reason it’s best to press paper bricks early in the summer and store in a dry place until needed in the fall and winter.

*Alternately, follow steps 1 to 3 and then simply use hands to press scrap mixture into balls. This is convenient in the event that a brick press is not accessible, and also reduces drying time, though the paper balls will burn much more quickly.

Read the next section, Stoves & Cookers...

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