Sometimes simple things make the difference

If I were so bold as to offer advice, it would be this: don't use liquids to start wood fires. Not only is it dangerous and smelly, it is also bad form. Use newspaper.

Newspaper has just the right properties to start a fire. It comes in big sheets. There is most often too much of it around. It bunches up easily. It lights easily and burns without leaving much ash. Plus plain newspaper doesn't produce a lot of toxins when it burns like some other paper products do.

One technique that seems common among people who know their way around fires is to lay down two fairly large firewood pieces side by side with a good space between. Crumple a few full sheets of newspaper and stuff as much as will comfortably fit between the logs. Put a bunch of light kindling on the newspaper and some heavy kindling on those. Light the newspaper. The gap between the large logs tends to keep the newspaper and light kindling from being smothered by falling heavy stuff. Seems like a good strategy.

Personally, I build fires top down. There is a drawback, however, to the top down technique when it comes to the newspaper. Since the paper is put on top of the rest of the fire ingredients, there is nothing to hold it down. And, when you light bunched newspaper, it has an annoying habit of unbunching and rolling off the kindling. That is where creative newspaper management comes in.

I learned this from Dorothy, a nice lady with an English accent who had also found a place to sit around the kitchen table during the closing stages of a party. On the subject of woodburning, which I tend to bore people with at parties, I had just finished a quick description of the top down technique. After disclosing that her husband couldn't start a wood fire to save his life, Dorothy mildly chastised me for bunching newspaper and said I should be tying it in knots. Take a full sheet, she explained, roll it into a sloppy tube and tie it in a knot. When you light it it will burn nicely and won't move around.

That was all I needed to hear. I've been tying newspaper in knots ever since.


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This page on rolling newspaper caught the attention of some of our visitors. Here is some of the mail they sent us

Robin has done more research

I wrote many years ago about the knots firestarter subject and wanted to update you with one more piece of the puzzle about where the term Nantucket Knots came from. I did find a single reference to it in a book of conversations with Robert Frost, recorded by Robert Francis.
(From Dec 11, 1950): "My fire was more successful than the one Frost remembered in May. He had me demonstrate a Nantucket Knot* for [Charles R.] Green.
"* Nantucket Knot, ten full sheets of newspaper rolled into a long tube and tied in a double knot. Serves a sulking fireplace fire by providing long-burning kindling and by holding up logs for circulation of air."
Hi again Robin, and thanks for the further information. I have two comments: first that is some big knot (10 full sheets) that Frost and Green construct; and second, I love the term 'sulking fireplace'.
Also, we have a great Robert Frost poem on the site: The Wood-Pile



Fond memories of the 'Nantucket Knot'


I came across your article today "How to Use Newspaper" that refers to the procedure of tying newspapers in knots and using them as fire starters. As a child, I remember my father referring to this technique as that of making Nantucket knots. I have no idea where the term came from, but always thought it was from somewhere in something by Henry David Thoreau. My dad was a Walden Pond fan.

I have done several searches of the web, but with no success. Even the Nantucket Knotworks folks never heard of the thing.

However the "nice lady with an English accent" seems to have perfectly described what I was looking for, and the photos on your web page indeed show the knot. My father introduced the term to me and our kids now use the term all the time, but NOBODY seems to have an inkling of the source. Has anyone else heard of Nantucket knots?



Hi Robin,

I haven't heard the term Nantucket knot, but maybe one of our visitors has.


More on the Nantucket Knot

Searching for the derivation of this name I came across Robin's query to find if anyone else has heard of (or uses) Nantucket Knots. Our family does!  All the time.  And we proselytize . . .

I looked at the photos and have only one suggestion based upon our use: make the loose roll from a corner of the couple of sheets of newspaper.  This allows an easier knot. We use 8-10 for a nice fireplace starter that requires no kindling.

I learned about Nantucket Knots from Capt. Wm. Phillipson, a retired submariner now deceased (rest his soul). He had all sorts of practical ideas! The utility of the knots so fascinated me that I neglected to seek the origin. I thought it had something to do with the lack of kindling on the Island and lots of newspapers-- necessity being the mother of invention; perhaps someone else knows the reality. In any event they are great for starting fires!


More still . . .

Well well!

I live in the UK and again, my father taught me to tie these newspaper knots to light a fire but he called them something different, Anna Cracks. I don't know where this name comes from either but it seems that the technique has been around a long time and across the globe.

Still, wherever it comes from it seems to work!