How to Start a Fire with Wet Wood in a Fireplace

Do you have to start a fire with wet wood?

Obviously this isn’t ideal, but starting a fire with damp wood is easier than you might imagine…

In short, if you want to start a fire with wet wood then you will have to cut away the wettest parts of the wood, use more newspaper than usual, and make sure there is a greater oxygen supply than usual. Below we will explain how to start a fire with wet wood in a fireplace.

Let’s look at the specifics of wood moisture content, why it matters, and what to do when you’ve got no other choice but to use a wet wood supply.

Why dry wood is best

It’s a well known piece of common sense that you should only ever use dry wood, where possible, to create your fire. We’ve highlighted on multiple occasions that your wood should contain no more than 20% moisture content at the time of burning; otherwise, it won’t burn efficiently and could release dangerous or unpleasant smoke into the room (this won’t matter in an outdoor fire pit but becomes a huge issue indoors).

The reason that wet wood is bad for burning is a simple one. Wet wood is not a great burning material because energy is required to evaporate the water. As a result, this energy won’t be used to heat your home or strengthen the fire.

If you can, avoid starting a fire with wet wood.

Why your wood may be wet

We understand that there may be some circumstances where wet wood is unavoidable.

Wood supplies can run low, you may have been sold poor quality firewood (unfortunately more common than you might suspect), your storage facilities may have gotten damp or experienced a leak, or you simply haven’t had the time required to dry your firewood properly.

Whatever the reason, starting a fire with wet wood is a common issue but thankfully one that can be solved with the right fire-building techniques, a bit of know-how, and some good old-fashioned persistence.

How to Start a Fire with Wet Wood in a Fireplace

1. Start with a newspaper base

The first part of starting a fire with wet wood is to crumple up some old newspaper. If you don’t have newspaper handy (we know an iPad is more common nowadays!) then you could supplement with old bills, junk mail etc. With most fires, the newspaper or junk mail will act as the ignition as it catches fire incredibly quickly. Without this starting point, none of your wood will catch alight.

However, because you will need more energy to burn through the water content in your wet wood, you should add more newspaper than usual.

Remember, at this point we’re building our fire…but not starting or lighting it!

2. Stock up your wood

The next step is to add your wet wood to the fire structure. Try to use the least wet lumber that you can get. In some cases this will mean cutting away at the wetter parts if the outside of your wood is particularly sodden.

However, even if you cut away as much moisture as possible, there will inevitably still be some remaining.

The first thing to do is make a square structure around the newspaper base. Place two pieces horizontally and two pieces vertically to the paper. Then, place more wood on top until you have about four layers. Think of this like building a picture frame around your newspaper.

3. Open Oxygen supply 

Next, you need to make sure that your fire gets plenty of oxygen when you light it. A fire always needs a fuel source (wood in this case) and oxygen to burn.

Thus, the most important thing to do now is to ensure a constant supply of oxygen. If there is no oxygen, then there will be a lot more smoke, and the fire won’t last very long as the energy used to evaporate the water will die out very quickly.

Almost all fireplaces and stoves will have some kind of oxygen control system, usually in the form of operational vents. It’s also worth opening doors and/or windows to create a strong draught if you’re fireplace sits within a small confined room.

4. Light the paper

The next step is to start the fire!

As always, you will need to be extremely careful at this stage, as you’ll be dealing with flames. The fire will light quickly as a result of the newspaper base.

For normal fires the newspaper you add at the start will be enough, but unfortunately this is not the case with wet wood. You’ll have to add more and more newspaper until the wood starts to burn. You’ll know when you’ve reached this stage when you hear the wood crackling and you see it either in flames or starting to create embers.

For safety, when you add more newspaper, use metal tongues, so you never have to touch the fire.

5. Destroy the structure

Once some burning happens, you will now need to destroy the wooden structure you created. This might seem like a strange turn after spending time and effort building a solid foundation for your fire but the goal here is to reduce the space between the wood so that there is better oxygen flow and as a result evaporated water and smoke can quickly escape through the chimney.

Use either a metal poker or a spare piece of wood to knock the structure down.

6. The final touch 

Then, light a final piece of paper or kindling, preventing the fire from dying out. Put this paper under the wood, and step back. You should now have a fire that can sustain itself and is strong enough to cope with any further wet wood added.

Just remember, even if you do everything perfectly, a wet wood fire will still be smokier and less efficient than a dry wood fire.

We hope this helps. As we mentioned, burning wet wood is a reality that most of us have to face at some point. For everything else home heating, stick with