The upside down fire technique rocks. It’s a cleaner burn with far less smoke and better combustion, gives off more heat, needs less tending and uses the embodied energy in wood more efficiently than the tipi-esque fire method.
As an added bonus, the first time you make a fire like this in front of a ring of uninitiated folks, you exist in a ring of utter skepticism. Which makes your rockin upside down fire all the better when it works beautifully.
Paul (Speedy) Ward introduced this fire-making method to Milkwood Farm last year, in our campfire circle where many evenings are spent after a day of work or education, watching the sunset and waiting for yet another scrummy dinner to emerge from Rose’s kitchen.
As one of the ring of utter skeptics that day, I’m sorry to say that i didn’t believe it would work. But it has, that evening and ever time since.
Why it works:
Heat energy actually radiates equally in all directions from the point of combustion, not just upwards (it’s the displacement of gasses as they expand that sends hot air upwards, not the actual heat energy itself). So once combustion of the top layer of your upside down fire occurs, the heat energy is radiating down as much as it is up.
This in turn means that the wood below the combusting material is getting well heated before it catches fire, which in turn facilitates better and more complete combustion of the wood below when it does catch fire. And more complete combustion means less smoke.
More complete combustion also means a hotter fire, which is usually the point of the exercise.
And in turn better combustion also means better coals (when you get to that stage) which mean better campfire cooking (should you be looking to multi-purpose your evening campfire, which you should).
How to make an upside down fire:
Start with the logs that you would normally put on last, and lay them flat in your firepit (or slow combustion wood heater). Then cross-hatch successively smaller layers of wood on top, until you’re up to the kindling.
The more stable the structure of your upside down fire, the better it will be, as the structure won’t be compromised while burning which will lead to more complete combustion for all the wood, right down to those big logs at the bottom.
Place your paper on top, and light (a sprinkle of extra kindling on top is a good idea).
Trust the laws of physics, and light your fire.
The first 10-15 minutes will be somewhat unspectacular as the fire makes its way through the kindling and the combustion gets going. Soon though the flames will be roaring and the fire’s smokeless state will be apparent.
Collect whatever bets were placed upon your complete failure, and enjoy your upside down fire.
As said, this technique also works well in combustion wood heaters and indoor fires also, resulting in higher heat for a smaller amount of wood as well as far less smoke and ash, which is good for everyone and the Earth to boot.
*Of course only light fires when it’s safe to do so – i.e. not this week at Milkwood Farm, nor anywhere else in the midst of this Summer heatwave we’re having! And always put your fire completely out once you’ve finished with it.
First picture of upside down fire by Gianna Bonis