The top-down burn. Why a CSIA instructor says it’s the best way to use your firebox

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Seasoned firewood being prepared for a top down burn.

Ready to talk about top down burns? We are at the Chimney Safety Institute of America. Even though the heat of August and September hasn’t left us, some cool mornings are signs that Fall is just around the corner.

“It’s not pushed very much, but any of us that are around (expert mason/fireplace designer and CSIA instructor) Chris Prior know about this and use it. It takes a little longer to set it up but it definitely burns much better, much cleaner,” said Bob Fish, a CSIA instructor from Londonderry, Vermont.

So let’s get to it, with a fresh new video (featuring Bob) that will result in less smoke if you stack your firewood in just the right way, with just the right amount of wood.

VIDEO: Take it from the top; the best approach to firewood burning. A CSIA production.

Make sure that you’ve got your firewood ready, and that it’s seasoned.

1. Place your largest pieces of wood in the bottom of your fireplace or wood stove with the ends of the logs at the front and back (don’t let the logs run parallel to the fireplace opening).

Two large pieces of wood are stacked.
Two large pieces of wood are stacked.

2. After placing the bottom row, add levels of smaller logs on top of your large base logs until the wood is stacked to about half the height of the fireplace. Each layer of the wood is smaller than the layer below it.

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3. Now it’s time to add your kindling, stretching it across the top of your wood stack with the biggest pieces of kindling going first and working your way up to just wood shavings on top of the pile, stopping just below the fireplace opening.

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4. Light the wood shavings on the top of the wood stack – it should take just a single match or flame from an automatic lighter.

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You’ll notice less smoke by lighting from the top, and you won’t have large logs collapsing down into smaller ones as the fire burns, which will help keep embers and ash from being pushed out into your living space.

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The type of fireplace doesn’t matter. A top down approach, instead of log cabin style, should work very well. The trick that makes it work is that the volatile gases are forced to go through the fire before leaving the firebox.

The burn efficiency means less creosote in the chimney, long term.

The traditional method of burning firewood. We saw way more smoke, plus inefficient burning.
The traditional method of burning firewood. We saw way more smoke, plus inefficient burning.

Make sure that before you use your fireplace or wood stove, that you know the shape it’s in. That’s where a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep can come in handy. You can find a professional in your zip code by using the search engine locator on our website.

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