i was out with some friends recently who burn wood in a fireplace and they were raving about an “upside down” fire technique they read about in timothy ferriss’ book “the four hour chef” which was originally posted on his blog, “How to Build an Upside-Down Fire: The Only Fireplace Method You’ll Ever Need”.
with the upside-down method you put the largest logs on the bottom ( make sure there is no space at all between them ), tut a second layer of smaller logs on top of the large layer with no spaces between them anbd so and so forth until you top with a layer of kindling and paper.
as a card carrying member of the traditional “tipi” method of building fires ( with the kindling at the bottom and logs at the top with plenty of space for air to flow through ) this method sounds like nothing short of heretical craziness.
THE BIGGEST LOGS ON BOTTOM?! YOU HAVE NO AIR FLOW! WHAAAAAT?
but my friends swore by the method and best of all they said it was very easy to maintain which would revolutionize building fires for the sauna. because while i love having sauna, starting a fire with the tipi method means committing yourself to tromping down to the sauna every 20 minutes or so for the first 90 minutes while you slowly build up a bed of coals and bring the sauna up to proper temperature.
could it possibly be true? with an “upside-down” fire could you really “set it and forget it”?
to put it to the test, i stocked the sauna stove chock full of full with the largest logs on the bottom, layered with very little space between logs and layers and a modest amount of paper and kindling on the top.
at this point i was skeptical that it was going to keep going after it burned through the kindling.
clearly there’s not enough air flow.
after about 15 minutes, which is about the time i’d normally have to go back down to the sauna and tend to the fire, it’s burned through the kindling and looks like it has a good start on the layer. and doesn’t need any stoking or poking!
after 30 minutes, it’s really starting to go. the middle layers are fully engaged but i’m still skeptical there are enough embers to keep it going and that the bottom logs will do anything other than smolder.
well, whaddya know, after 60 minutes even the large logs are fully engaged and there’s a solid bed of coals going! all with no tending! i probably could have let it go for another 30 minutes of so without needing to add any logs.
so, from a “set it and forget it” standpoint the “upside down” fire is an unmitigated success!
i’ll experiment more in the future and see how i can boost the heat output of the fire. at this point it was about 70°F in the sauna which is a long way from the 190°F-210°F you want for a proper sauna ( at least in our sauna, according to our temperature guage ). timothy claims the “upside down” method produces much more heat than a traditional “tipi” but i didn’t find that to to be the case.
it didn’t produce any less heat per se and generated a nice bed of glowing embers which made it easy to throw more wood on and quickly get it to temp but it’d be awesome if i could find the perfect combination of wood to “set it and forget it” and get it to temp all at once in about an hour.
the upside-down fire was so successful, i think i might have to check out “the four hour chef” to see what else i can learn 🙂