I’ve been wanting to write on this topic for some time now. It may seem trivial to some and probably humorous to my Irish friends, but learning to build a turf fire that actually burned was quite a feat for me.
It began last year after some friends were visiting my wife. They had come over to see our young baby and see how my pregnant wife was doing. A few days after their visit we received a delivery of a pallet of turf as a gift to help keep our house warm for the winter. Apparently the wood fire I had built did not quite meet their standards of warmth for a home containing a pregnant wife and soon to be two babies. It was a great gift and I found that turf (a.k.a. Peat) burns much hotter than the wet wood I had been using. After a winter of experience, the following is my humble opinion on how to build a great turf fire that will warm your soul, or at least keep your wife and kids from hypothermia.
Gather Your Tools & Materials
Turf also known as Peat is aged plant material gathered from the bogs of Ireland. It is dug up by hand or machine and dried in preparation to be used as fuel. It is a limited natural resource in Ireland, but it is still widely popular as a heating fuel. Turf can be purchased almost anywhere in Ireland. You can find it at your grocer, petrol stations, hardware stores and usually at your nearest convenience store. You can usually purchase it for 3 or 4 euros per stack or several hundred for a full pallet. A full pallet last more than a year for my family, but we also use oil heating to heat most of our house.
I like to use a long lighter to start the fire. The length helps me not burn myself and to get around pieces of fuel. I usually adjust the flame to full power for the quickest results.
Matches also work, but I tend to go through a dozen before getting anything lit.
You can find these plastic tubs at euro stores for five or ten euros. They make getting wood or turf from the garage much easier and it doesn’t look to shabby either.
Firelighters are brilliant! I had used something similar in America when lighting wood fires, but I never realized how awesome these are. They take the headache out of getting a fire going. I don’t recommend buying the cheapest you can find, because some of them are really rubbish, but you don’t have to buy the most expensive either. Like turf, firelighters can be find in most every shop. These ones are made in Ireland and actually have turf in them.
Clean Your Stove
We have a safe place that we dump our old ashes outside. Be careful if it is windy, you will be covered in ashes. It is also important to be careful of being burnt or starting a outdoor fire from ashes that are still hot.
Build A Castle
I add about three pieces of firelighter to my stove. You could use a third less if you use sticks, but I find that using a little extra firelighter is just as economical.
Adjust The Airflow
Early on I only shut the door part way in order to get even more airflow. This was a trick I learned for increasing airflow and the height of the flame, but be careful to always watch it because it can be dangerous if coals fall through the opening. I usually leave it like this for 5 or 10 minutes or until the turf has started to turn orange in places.
I then fully close the stove door. And adjust the ventilation on both top and bottom to the desired setting. I usually keep it at half-open for another 5 or ten minutes before closing the vents about 90% closed.
Enjoy a Cuppa’
You should start to feel the room heating up. Now is time to get out the biggest mug you can find for a nice mug of tea (cuppa tay). I like to sit down with your man John Wayne. Who better to enjoy a roaring fire in Ireland with than The Quiet Man himself.