How to light a fire pit: get it right every time with these simple tips

With our advice on how to light a fire pit, you'll be able to cozy up your patio or deck quickly and easily

fire pit on decking with festoon lights
(Image credit: svetikd/E+/Getty Images)

Learning how to light a fire pit properly is crucial if you have one of these must-have features in your backyard. It's one of those tasks that can be trickier than expected, but once you've got the know-how, you'll be able to whip up a crackling, cozy fire in no time.

Bringing fire pit ideas into a garden has had a real boost in popularity and it's to no surprise. Offering an instant focal point to a patio or deck, they provide the perfect social hub when entertaining alfresco. And there are tons of stylish designs to choose from, including chimineas and rustic fire bowls.

Whether you're thinking about buying one to upgrade your plot or you already have one, our advice will come in handy for a safe and snug fire, every time.

6 steps for how to light a fire pit in your backyard

Picked your favorite design from our round-up of best fire pits? The next step is learning how to light a fire pit – and these tips make it simple.

1. Consider the best position for your fire pit

Before you light your fire pit, you'll want to make sure it's in the optimal position on your plot.

Consider which way the wind's blowing, so that smoke doesn't blow into your guests' faces or straight into any open windows of your home (or your neighbors', for that matter). Of course, safety is a priority too, so ensure it's well away from any flammable objects, such as outdoor furniture or overhanging branches. 

Also, be aware of what your fire pit is placed on – again, ensuring it is non-flammable. Investing in a fireproof mat, available on Amazon (opens in new tab), can be a good patio or deck fire pit idea to protect it against potential damage.

people sat around fire pit

A fire pit creates an instant focal point in a garden

(Image credit: Cultura Creative RF/Alamy Stock Photo)

2. Use the right wood

Choosing the right wood for your fire pit is a very important factor in getting the best burn.

First things first, you'll need to make sure it's dry. Ideally, opt for kiln-dried logs with a moisture content below 20%. Damp wood is much more difficult to start a fire with and also, will smoke excessively – an instant way to spoil a relaxing ambiance. There are lots of stylish log store ideas you can try to keep it in good condition and ready to use.

The type of wood you use is also important. The experts at FirepitsUK (opens in new tab) recommend ash, oak, birch, hazel, and hawthorn as the best to use. Ash, for instance, 'has a low water content and can be burned green. It is still best when seasoned and will burn at a steady rate,' they explain. If using birch, they suggest mixing it with slower-burning woods, such as oak, as it burns easily but quickly.

Some woods also emit a particularly pleasant smell when burned, such as apple or pear.

Woods to avoid include spruce (which spits when burnt due to its sap, explains FirepitsUK), poplar (which produces black smoke), and larch (which also spits and produces a lot of soot).

fire

Some woods provide a better fire than others

(Image credit: Naomi Rahim/Moment/Getty Images)

3. Choose your firelighters

Reaching for a pack of chemical firelighters may seem like the obvious approach, but there are eco-friendly alternatives you can try – particularly beneficial if you're learning how to cook on a fire pit and want to avoid using the toxic chemicals around your food. These are usually made with wax, wool, and wood. For extra sustainability points, look for types made from recycled materials.

For a quick DIY approach using materials you may already have, try lightly coating balls of cotton wool in petroleum jelly. Some people turn to scrunched-up pieces of newspaper, too, but this can be trickier as it burns very quickly. 

If you've got a bit more time on your hands, you can make homemade firelighters by tying small pieces of string around pinecones and then dipping them in melted candle wax – these can also make lovely gifts.

natural firelighters

Natural firelighters are often made from wood, wax, and wool

(Image credit: Veaceslav Cernat/Alamy Stock Photo)

4. Build your fire's structure

As well as logs and firelighters, you'll need some kiln-dried kindling. Nic Snell of Certainly Wood (opens in new tab), friends and partners of FirepitsUK, says that 6–8 sticks should be enough. He recommends laying them on the base of your fire pit, stacking them into a square shape with a gap in the middle (this is where your firelighter will go). 

Then, surround the kindling with some of the smaller logs, laying them at a vertical angle to create a tipi shape. Nic suggests putting quite a lot on to ensure you get a really good fire to start with.

fire pit on deck

Cozy up a deck with a fire pit

(Image credit: svetikd/E+/Getty Images)

5. Light it carefully

When your base structure of kindling and logs is in place, carefully light the firelighter using a long match or firelighter tool. Wait until the kindling and logs are well lit before adding any further fuel.

If you're using your fire pit as a focal point for your garden party, 'light it at least an hour, if not more, before your guests come,' says Nic. 'That will make it a much easier fire to manage.'

Remember to closely supervise any children or pets near a fire pit, and never to leave it unattended. It's also wise to keep a bucket of water nearby in case of any accidents.

teenagers sat around an outdoor fire pit

Fire pits are the perfect addition to a garden party

(Image credit: MBI/Alamy Stock Photo)

6. Keep it topped up

Once your fire pit is lit, it's time to sit back, relax, and enjoy that cozy glow. 

You can keep it going long into the evening by adding extra logs – just a few at a time. Try to avoid allowing the structure to collapse when doing so – you want to encourage plenty of airflow for a good burn.

When you're finished with your fire, be sure to extinguish it safely. Allow it to burn down naturally, then you can carefully sprinkle cold water on it before mixing it in with the embers using a long stick. Alternatively, use a special fire pit snuffer, or throw on a few spadefuls of dirt or sand. Be sure it's cool and completely out before touching the ashes or leaving it unsupervised.

For a show-stopping fire every time, it helps to keep your fire pit in top condition – our guide on how to clean a fire pit has all the tips you need.

DIY stone fire pit

Keep adding small amounts of fuel at a time to keep your fire going for hours

(Image credit: SchulteProductions/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Why won't my outdoor fire pit stay lit?

There could be a good few reasons why you're struggling to keep a decent fire going in your fire pit. 

For starters, check that the logs and kindling you're using are dry. The fire pit itself should be dry too, before you start your fire.

How you arrange your firewood is also very important in keeping your fire ablaze. A tipi-shape structure will allow it to get enough oxygen. Adding too much fuel at one time, or allowing the structure to collapse, can smother the flames and cause it to die out quickly.

Holly Crossley
Holly Crossley

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion. But, she loves all things digital too. She joined the team at Gardeningetc after working as a freelance content creator for a web agency, whilst studying for her M.Sc. in Marketing. Now she feels lucky enough to combine both digital and botanical worlds, every day.