With the new season, now is the time I love to make an outdoor fire. Nothing beats watching the glow of a fire with a nice drink in hand, basking in the warmth of one (or both). No one checks their phone around an outdoor fire. They sit and talk quietly: a necessary respite in a hectic world. 

When I was younger, I liked to build fires by bringing in big wood, some paper, maybe some pine straw, and lighter fluid if I had it on hand. I would gather it all together, lump it up, light a match, and BOOM – fire.

But, I have since learned that this is not the best way to build an outdoor fire. Beside the danger associated with large, sudden fires, the fire inevitably goes out too soon. Then you are spending time rebuilding the fire, the excitement dies down, and sometimes you run out of wood – a suboptimal result for sure.

Now, I take a more deliberate approach to outdoor fires, focusing on starting small. Getting a good base flame is paramount. To do this, I find small branches no bigger than a pencil. These are all over – in the undercover, in other fallen branches, or, more often than not, just laying around. Get a couple (or three) handfuls of sticks smaller than a pencil. Have them ready to use. Accumulate some larger sticks for the fire – ideally a fallen branch that you can break off into several smaller sticks as needed. Finally, get something that will light. Yes, you can feel manly going au natural, but in reality, some rolled-up paper or a charcoal lighter stick is probably going to be necessary. 

Also, I like to gather some larger logs. I prefer chopped firewood – for indoors or outdoors, it makes no difference. Preferably, the wood is seasoned, e.g. dried under a shed out of the rain. The wood shouldn’t be dried too long – the wood gets rotted — and the wood should not be dried too quickly – it takes some time. About six months to a year of time out of the rain makes these logs the ideal choice for building outdoor fires. These seasoned logs burn so much better. 

Once you get a flame going with the smallest branches, slowly add the larger wood. Start small to get a base fire going, gradually adding increasingly larger sticks. If you add too large of a log, you might snuff the fire out. It is important to go through each step, getting a little bit bigger each time, but not too big so that the fire is snuffed out the fire. On the other hand, not going fast enough leaves you without fuel and a sustainable fire. You have to add the right size sticks at the right time. You have to be smart. You have to go through all the stages – one at a time, but you can do it. Soon you, too, will bask in the warmth of a nice fire.

Enjoy. A good outdoor fire is a great way to find relaxation, pleasant company, and perhaps a way to enjoy a nice beverage. For me, the flames provide a meditative glow. I think of past fires and future fires and savor the present. Yes, you have to tend the flame, but a good outdoor fire has a hot bed of coals and requires only a log every now and then. Don’t get carried away – you want a controlled fire. You cannot build a fire forever: you might burn adjacent buildings or use lawn furniture as firewood. This is bad. A good fire is a safe fire.

Thank you to all the entrepreneurs out there who make the great fires.