If you have a home and hearth, chances are you’ve built a few fires and developed your own methods for the best way to stack wood in a fireplace. In our opinion, the best fire-building technique is the Upside Down Fire.   

In this post, we compare different fire-building techniques as shown:

  • Method #1: Upside Down Fire 
  • Method #2: Top-Down Burn
  • Method #3: Traditional/Standard
  • Lastly, we do a Comparison of our two favorites

We all have our favorite ways of doing things and building fires is no different!  Here are 3 different ways to make a great fire in your fireplace. This article reviews a few select methods and you can choose for yourself what works best.

Wood Burning Fireplace Adds Ambiance to Home Hearth

This is an example of the beautiful flames of an Upside Down Fire Burning in our Fireplace.

What is an Upside Down Fire?

An “Upside Down Fire” is a simple technique that burns from the top to the bottom using less wood with a longer burn time. The pieces of wood are arranged by stacking back and forth in opposite directions. Add tinder and kindling on top and light to allow the flame to catch the lower half.

In our experience building an upside-down fire is your best bet every time for sparking a nice flame AND keeping the fire burning for longer.

Video #1 Transcript

Method #1: How to Build an Upside Down Fire Video

“To build an Upside-Down Fire as easy as 1-2-3! First, arrange a parallel set of logs on the grate, and then at 90-degrees add another parallel set of logs.

Go up yet another row or two laying the logs criss-cross “log-cabin-style” until you eventually have it of adequate height. This is where the fun begins! Now we’ll prepare a platform and begin to put our kindling in. Make sure plenty of air can circulate around each piece and use only one starter brick.

At this point, you’ll light the fire. Heat will immediately go into the chimney and you’ll have a successfully built Upside-Down Fire for your family to enjoy.

Follow these easy simple steps and you’ll be an expert fire builder in no time thank you for visiting us here at Full Service Chimney.”

Get Your Full Tutorial FREE

If you’re interested in a step-by-step walk-through with complete image examples. Visit our in-depth tutorial lesson that covers everything you need to know about starting a fire using the Upside Down Method. Read more… 

What is a Top-Down Burn?

A “Top Down Burn” is a method of building a fire that burns from the top to the bottom. The pieces of wood are arranged by size. The largest logs are placed directly on the bottom of your fireplace and built up to the smallest pieces at the top of the stack.

Check out this video to see how it’s done. 

Video #2 Transcript

Method #2: Stacking Wood in Your Masonry Fireplace for a Top Down Burn video

“Hire a qualified CSI a Certified Chimney Sweep for your annual chimney inspection because it’s where you live. My name’s Ashley Eldridge I’m the Director of Education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America and we’re here at the CSI technology Center using one of our training fireplaces that we’re going to demonstrate creating a Top-Down Burn. The first thing that we want to do is to separate the wood by size so we’ll be putting the largest pieces of wood on the bottom followed by slightly smaller pieces until we get to the very top at the top we’ll have the kindling followed by the tinder these very small pieces we call tinder.

This you can simply light with a match and then the fire will continue to burn. Most people build a fire starting the fire at the bottom, and the heat has to go through all of the wood and prepare it so it tends to be a much smokier fire.

Starting the fire on the top of the pile this way makes it burn much more cleanly and prepares the wood below it for burning. You’ll notice that the wood fuel doesn’t go all the way to the side walls or all the way to the top of the fireplace opening. We don’t want the flames to go above the fireplace opening and enter into the chimney so having a small fire at the top will keep our flames below the lentil area here at the top of the fireplace opening and prepare the wood below it and it’ll burn very nicely.”

Visit the CSIA Website to view the original post and more helpful educational content.

The Traditional Method

The traditional way to build a fire is to use crumpled-up newspapers underneath your grate or in between the logs as shown in the video.

Watch this helpful animation by Allstate [1] for details on a standard method to spark your fireplace flame. They also add in a nice list of safety details… on the original post. Enjoy!

Video #3 Transcript

Method #3: Traditional Fires in a Fireplace

“On a cold winter’s night, nothing’s cozier than curling up near a warm fireplace. But do you know the best way to build a fire? Here’s a step-by-step guide. Before using your fireplace and chimney for the first time in the season, you’ll want to call in a pro to Inspect and clean and never use your fireplace without first following these safety tips. Remove any flammable objects from the fireplace area and be sure nothing is hanging off your mantel.

Make sure the room with your fireplace is well-ventilated and free of any flammable fumes and gases. Now it’s time to gather your supplies. You’ll need extra-long wooden safety stripe patches, dry wood or twigs for kindling, sheets of newspaper for tinder, seasoned firewood, an iron fireplace grate, and a poker. Before building the fire, check that your fireplace damper, which is the vent, is fully open. Start by placing two pieces of firewood on the grate in your fireplace.

Now crumpled newspaper, which is your tinder, and place it between the firewood. Place the kindling on top. Add one or two more pieces of firewood on top of the other logs and be sure to leave enough room for air to circulate around the locks. Be careful not to add too much wood. Before you light the fire be sure you have important safety tools close by. Now it’s time to light the fire. Twist a single sheet of newspaper and hold it in your fireplace. Carefully light the paper while holding it up as high as you can in the fireplace. This can help establish a nice draft allowing the smoke to travel upward and out of your chimney.

Next, light the kindling with the burning paper. Once the fire starts, add firewood as needed but make sure the top of the flames do not reach the top of the fireplace opening. Place the screen in front of your fireplace to help stop any flying sparks from leaving the fireplace and to help prevent logs from rolling out. All that’s left is to relax and enjoy the toasty fire and remember to put out the fire completely before going to sleep or leaving the room.”

Visit Allstate’s website to view the original post.

It’s easy to see the difference when looking at the traditional method, but let’s compare the other opposite techniques. 

Top-Down Burns vs Upside Down Fires

What is the difference between an Upside Down Fire and a Top-Down Fire? Well, to be honest, they’re almost the same thing. Although there are variations to the way you stack your logs in a fireplace or woodstove but the concept is fundamentally the same general idea. Each can vary per person and the method you prefer.

So you can develop your own way and that’s okay. Both methods are opposite the traditional way to light a fire. 

Whether we choose to use newspaper or firestarters as opposed to the tinder and kindling method is also a personal preference. We highly recommend taking a look at our article that goes in-depth about how to build an Upside Down Fire complete with images and a step-by-step breakdown of the full method including how and why to use tinder and kindling. 


Lighting a fire from the top instead of the bottom seems counterintuitive however it allows the small, faster burning sticks to catch fire and help to prepare your lower logs and maintain a longer burn.

While the traditional method of lighting a fire from underneath using newspapers does work, we prefer the upside down fire technique as our #1 choice. The Top-Down Burn Method is a close runner-up, and Traditional way comes in third place.

But who are we to decide?! Do what works best for you.

We’d love to hear how to you do it!

Send Us Your Favorite Fire Methods

We’d love to see how you spark your flames!

Share your methods with us on Facebook Messenger. 

Send us your name and email along with how you build your fires and why it’s your favorite way to do it! Who knows we may even use it as a featured story!

Disclaimer:  [1] We are not affiliated with Allstate in any way. Just sharing a great video. Thank you.

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