Flame Colorers for Firewood

Most of the woods used in the fireplace will normally burn with a yellow flame. This is due to sodium chloride (table salt) and calcium chloride contained in the wood plus the semi-burned gases from the fire. For an “everyday” fire most people are content with a good, cheerful, flaming fire even though the flames are yellow. On special occasions such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, however, the more knowledgeable fireplace owners prefer to create an unusual fire with colored flames. In addition to watching the flames as they lick their way around burning wood, it is fun and exciting to see a changing color pattern. It is like watching a miniature display of the “northern lights” right in your home.

Driftwood, especially from the oceans, will produce a blue and lavender flame. Applewood, when it is aged four or five years, will burn with rainbow colored flames. These woods are usually not available in sufficient quantity in most areas of the country so it is necessary to resort to chemical treatment for producing the desired flame colors. This is not difficult, nor expensive, and the results are well worth the effort. Try it.

A word about the chemicals, then the methods of application. Flames of various colors can be produced by the chemicals as shown below.

Blue Copper chloride
Carmine Lithium chloride
Green Copper sulfate
Orange Calcium chloride
Purple Potassium chloride
Red Strontium chloride
Yellow Sodium chloride (table salt)


These chemicals are either chlorides or sulfates and are available in a dry powder form. They are relatively cheap and easy to obtain if you are near a chemical supply house. Look in the “Yellow Pages” of the telephone directory under chemicals, and give them a ring to determine availability and price. The chemicals are sometimes available at fireplace stores or the fireplace section in the larger department stores. Ask for “technical grade” chemicals since they are less expensive than the “purified grade” and every bit as effective. A pound of each would be a good start. There are usually enough sodium and calcium salts in firewood to give the yellow color so you can probably skip these unless you want an intense yellow color–then just use table salt or rock salt. Be sure to insist on the chemicals shown–DO NOT ACCEPT NITRATES OR CHLORATES AS SUBSTITUTES.

As is the case with all chemicals, some ore or precautionary measures must be taken in handling them. Common table salt–which is one of these chemicals–will “sting” if it contacts a raw cut in your finger. In a strong solution, salt will also be a discomfort if you swallow it. So use common sense and some precautionary measures when handling any chemical.

1.Chemicals should be kept away from children and pets.

2. Store the chemicals in airtight glass or plastic containers.

3.Rubber gloves should be worn when handling the chemicals.

4. Burning of the chemicals or the materials treated with them should be done only after the fire in the fireplace is providing a good draft.

Well. now that you have the chemicals and know how to handle them, what are the methods of application or how do you obtain colored flames! There are three methods of application:

1. Sprinkle the chemical directly on the fire.

2. Mix the chemical with paraffin and place the cakes on burning wood.

3. Dissolve the chemical in water then treat wood chips or other material in the solution. After drying, the treated wood will produce colored flames until it is consumed.

Sprinkling the dry chemical directly on the hot fire is certainly the easiest method of application but unfortunately it is not the best. A small amount (pinch) of the dry chemical will give a short burst of very colorful flame but it will last only a few minutes. in spite of its short life it is still an

interesting experiment and will help in deciding which colors you prefer. Sprinkling the dry chemical on a hat fire will produce an exciting display for your children or guests; you can add the chemicals separately or mix them together for a rainbow color effect.

The second method of application is to add the chemicals to hot paraffin, then pour into small paper cake cups and after cooling, place one or several cake cups on the hot fire. The fire then melts the paraffin, releasing the chemicals which color the flame as the wood burns. When melting the paraffin do not melt In a pan over an open flame (the paraffin would probably catch fire) but instead use some type of double boiler where the paraffin is melted in a water bath. Since the chemicals will attack metal it is best not to use your wife’s double boiler but you can easily make one suitable for the purpose. A coffee can or similar can placed in a pan of boiling water will be fine. First melt the paraffin, when it is liquid add the chemicals. Stir until it begins to cool. While it is still liquid, pour into small paper cake cups.

An evening’s work will produce enough cups for the holiday season. The amount of chemicals added is not too important; if you like a lot of color add a lot of chemicals. You can use just one chemical colorer per batch of paraffin to obtain cakes of a single color or you can mix several of the chemicals together to obtain a batch of rainbow colored cakes. If you think it is too much trouble to make the cakes, you can buy them at many fireplace stores; you might want to try this source first.

The third and best method for producing colored flames involves soaking wood chips or other materials in a solution of the chemicals. It requires a little more effort than the other two methods but is well worth the time. Wood chips, small pieces of kindling, small wood blocks, pine cones, charcoal (regular charcoal is better than briquettes) and even cylinders of tightly rolled newspaper can be impregnated with the color producing chemicals. The lightweight hardwoods or lightweight softwoods are best for this since they will absorb more of the chemical.

Each of the chemicals listed previously is soluble in water. The solution ratio is one-half pound of chemical to one gallon of water. It is preferable to use only one chemical per batch but if you want to experiment, there is nothing wrong with mixing several of the chemicals in one batch. Mixing of all chemicals should be done out-of-doors, wearing rubber gloves, and exercising care not to spill the chemicals or solution. Since the chemicals will gradually attack metal it is best to use a plastic or glass container for mixing. However, a discarded five gallon paint bucket serves admirably as a treating vat, mixing no more than a couple of gallons of solution at a time. No need to clean the vat thoroughly between changes of chemical solution.

The material to be treated can be placed in a mesh or porous bag and submerged in the solution. A rock or brick is used to weight the material down. A day or so of soaking should be adequate. Lift out the material and drain over the container, then spread the treated materials out to dry. If the materials are allowed to dry on newspapers, the newspapers, when dry, may be rolled and wrapped tightly to burn in the fireplace. They will produce beautiful flame colors.

For an unusual fireplace fire, especially during the holiday season, you should give the flame colors an honest try.

Let's get experimenting!

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