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Four ways to have a Log Burning Fireplace

Updated on December 9, 2012

An Introduction to Log Burning

It's that time again! No I'm not just talking about Christmas, though that is part of it. I'm referring to the fact that this is the time of year when every red blooded male in the northern hemisphere decides that he needs to light a fire!

It's essential! A man isn't a man unless he has a roaring log fire to toast his bum in front of. To mull his ale and roast a passing Elk on!

You can see how enthusiastic I am and its not really surprising that log fires and log burning stoves are all the rage at the moment but you don't need an expensive grate or stove to join in the fun. Sometimes the simple ways are the best.

I will discuss here the four basic ways of burning logs in a home fireplace. Each method has it's advantages and disadvantages.

We will start with the simplest and most primitive method of having a log fire and work our way towards the twenty first century.

Let's start by explaining a couple of facts about burning logs - not always well understood.

Point number one: A log fire does not require a flow of air from underneath in the way that a coal or coke fire does. In fact fire grates and stoves with vented grating on which the fire burns are not entirely suitable for log fires.

A log fire with a constant draught running through it will burn hot and fast. True, this will create a very attractive fire from a cosmetic point of view but will burn through your log pile at a frightening rate of knots. This indoor 'bonfire' will also generate a terrific updraught straight up the chimney carrying most of your valuable hot air with it. A correspondingly fierce inbound draught, will pull cold air into the room from the Arctic conditions outside to feed the fire.

Needless to say this rather defeats the whole idea of having the fire in the first place. Hoh hum!

Log fires burn best and most efficiently on a flat bed or solid tray with little or no draught. Logs burn well in this way and really only need a bit of a draught occasionally to get them going.

Better by far to have a gently slumbering fire radiating warmth steadily into the room.

Point number two is what we fire freaks call a bit of a bummer. I'm sorry but the simple fact is that, in general, the more efficient a log burning fire is, the less attractive it will look.

It would be well to bear this in mind as we discuss the four basic ways of burning logs.

However, do not despair! There are ways and ways and "compromises"!

The Stoneage Way Of Burning Logs

Method number one is the simplest and most primitive. But not the least efficient of our methods!

If you have ever had a secret urge to wrestle a Sabre Tooth tiger, or eat roasted Woolly Mammoth round an open fire, this is the way for you!

Simply build a flat base or shallow dish into the base of your fireplace opening and burn your logs on that. All you need is a chimney with a good draught.

The base should be fire-brick or soft mortar.

The fire in the photo is my brother in law's, and shows the shallow tray where the fire lays. It works Brilliantly, slumbering steadily and giving out plenty of heat. It does not seem to use a great deal of logs, but the heat it gives out does need to be "topped up" by the central heating. The fire base is formed with fire-bricks laid as a shallow trough.

Basket Fires.

Method two is the traditional basket grate. Made of either wrought iron or cast iron. Each material has it's merits. Cast iron grates are generally more ornate and can be designed with curved shapes and embossed back plates. Wrought iron grates can often be "made to measure" from a local blacksmith.

Basket grates need to sit directly under the flue opening, so much of the hot air will go straight into space. These grates usually have a vented bottom grate and so can burn like, well, wildfire!

This makes them the least efficient but also the most attractive, exciting and risky type of log fire.

If you fancy living the Dickensian type dream, you know the one...

Mr Picklewickle lifted the tails of his frock coat with one hand and toasted his ample rear in front of the roaring log fire, he sipped gingerly from a steaming goblet, his eyes closed in delight as Mrs Wiggins spiced ale gently exorcised the tribulations of the day..... Then this is the fire for you.

Convector Fire boxes.

The third option is that most magical of things, a compromise. Convector fire-boxes are a cross between an open fire basket and a closed type stove. The convector box itself is usually constructed from welded plate steel. Has a grate tray for slow burning the logs and a hollow air jacket built within the wall of the firebox. This hollow jacket is vented top and bottom to encourage air flow behind the burning area of the fire. This creates a convection current which draws cool air at the bottom and pumps out hot air at the top.

These boxes have a smallish, controlled flue outlets and very little underdraught.

The burning logs are open to view at the front so giving a wonderful open fire feel. The slow burning log tray and the convector box ensure a reasonably efficient transfer of heat back into the room.

Convector boxes are for the careful - those who crave the excitement of an open fire, dream of dancing round a blazing fire dressed as a Comanche warrior and throwing on the odd haunch of venison - but are too darn sensible. People who also reckon the cost. People like me!

The firebox in the picture is my Jetmaster convector firebox. In fact as I peck away like an old chicken at this article. I am warming the cockles of my toes in front of it!

Convector boxes are far more heat efficient than the preceding open fires, but not as efficient as a closed log burning stove.

The Efficient Stove.

And thereby lays the rub. Closed stoves are more efficient because they are closed.

Closed stoves are without question the most efficient and the safest type of log fire.

Slow burning and with small flue vents these stoves will extract the maximum heat out of your logs. The small amount of air used in the burning process means only minimal draughts to feed the fire. The freestanding design will radiate the heat throughout your room in a way that no other fire can match.

But, and it's a big lumpy but: The flames and logs of the fire are hidden behind the closed doors of the stove. Stove doors are usually see through glass but its just not the same thing as an open fire.

So there you are, you pays your money and you takes your choice.

I currently have the convector hotbox, and I do love it! However I am thinking about installing a closed stove. In an age when oil and gas prices are spiralling ever higher, I do think the greater heat efficiency of a closed stove just has to be considered.

I have only been able to touch briefly here on the four methods of burning logs. I will explore each method more fully in later articles.

For now I hope this article will encourage you to think about different ways of having a log fire.

Whichever route you take, enjoy every crackling moment of it!


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    • profile image

      Felix 2 years ago

      Its nothing compared to a real fire, but a video like this one can help me withstand the winter too.

      Hope I can have a real log burning next winter.

    • profile image

      daniel 3 years ago

      Hi there, you still going? I came across this intetesting article and wondeted if you were still burning?

      We have a 'convector box', and am looking to stop using coal and use logs, bur the actual burning space is quite small due to the sloping of the back of the box. I wad going to remove my grate and jyst burn logs directly on the base of it - well, in an ash pan. That will give a few extra inches of height.

      Do you think that'll be ok...?

      Great article! Thanks very much!

    • profile image

      bill muttter 4 years ago

      If you have a traditional open coal fireplace with a grate and you want to burn wood instead, simply don’t empty the ash pan, instead leave the ash until it to cover s the grate.

    • profile image

      Angela 5 years ago

      Were just in the process of installing a fire and this article was really helpful. Thanks

    • profile image

      Al 7 years ago

      this wasreally helpful info - and well written too. Have been speed burning logs for too long. am going to try them directly seated on the hearth this evening with a temporary brick front