No winter trip to AMC’s Maine Wilderness Lodges would be complete without spending an evening huddled around the wood stove, warming chilly toes and sipping hot chocolate. JP Krol, a longtime winter caretaker for both AMC and Randolph Mountain Club, has spent many a night doing just this. “Caretakers wear many hats, but one of the most important and fun jobs is that of fire starter,” Krol says. Use his tips below to safely start and maintain a fire on your next trip to Maine or other frosty frontiers, and you’ll be toasty in no time.
1. Locate the damper, a metal plate used to regulate air flow, on the stove pipe. Open it by turning the handle to the vertical position. If there’s a damper on the bottom front of the stove, open it, too, by sliding it horizontally.
2. Krol recommends organizing your fuel into three categories before you even light a match: 1) easily lit materials, including newspaper or seasoned birch bark; 2) split, seasoned kindling or twigs (think silver-dollar-sized in diameter or smaller); 3) large split, seasoned wood. Be a good Leave No Trace practitioner: Don’t peel birch bark directly from the tree; always forage for dry pieces on the forest floor.
3. Crumple newspaper into a couple of loose balls and place them in the stove.
4. Lay four to six pieces of kindling loosely on top of the newspaper in a crisscross or square-shaped, Lincoln log-style orientation.
5. Light the newspaper with a match. “You can gently blow on the paper to encourage oxygen flow,” Krol says. “If you’re having trouble, add more newspaper and make sure your kindling is dry and well-placed atop the flammable items.” Krol underscores that you should never use flammable liquids—kerosene, gasoline, alcohol, or lighter fluid—in a wood stove.
6. Push the stove door nearly shut but don’t latch it. The door needs to be slightly ajar for air to circulate up the stove pipe.
7. Once the kindling catches fire, add larger logs on top in the same orientation as step 4. Leave the door ajar with an opening of less than an inch.
8. Once the logs catch fire, turn down but do not close the damper, so it isn’t drawing quite as much air. Close the stove door completely and latch it.
9. When it’s time to add more logs, open the damper and slowly open the stove door. After you’re done adding logs, turn down the damper and close and latch the stove door.
10. When you’ve got a nice, hot, smoldering bed of coals, usually in an hour, close all dampers.