Monday, May 5, 2014

A Little More Colonial Williamsburg Creeps Into My Backyard

This Friday I finally got my cresset put up that my wife had gotten me for Christmas. I put it at the beginning of the brick walk out to my shop. Loaded it up Saturday night with nothing but fat wood and lit it up for the first time. I don't know that I've ever felt a fire so intensely hot in such a small area. It burned really bright and hot, but it was done in about ten minutes. I can't find anything on-line about what or how you're supposed to burn a cresset so I'm just experimenting until I find a balance between a nice fire and one that last longer than a few minutes. Last night I split up a short piece of oak that I had on the firewood stack into pieces about 3/4" square or so and put a little fat wood in the cresset first and then the oak on top. It burned good and lasted longer, but still not long enough for my liking. Next time I'm going to start out pretty much the same, but I'm going to split some pieces of oak about  2" square, add those after the fire gets going good and see how long it burns with some larger pieces of wood. Eventually I'll find the right combination. Meanwhile, it's fun to experiment with it and it adds a pretty cool look to things out there after dark.


neuseriversailor said...

Wow, you can do that legally where you live? I need to move...

Jamie Bacon said...

Hmmm. Never thought to check whether or not it was legal. But we live in a pretty rural area and since the fire is more or less contained in the fire basket, I can't see where it would be an issue.

neuseriversailor said...

I know, just being facetious. I live in town and if I put something like that in the yard the fire trucks would be out in a minute. Reading up on the old-time cressets, it seems they used to use oil-soaked rope as a fuel. Since the days of manila are about over, that option is probably out - oil soaked nylon might be pretty rank. Old shop rags soaked in paraffin might make a good substitute.

I've enjoyed reading your blog and you've got some great links, too.

Jamie Bacon said...

Glad you're enjoying the blog. It's been fun to do; just to document things for the future. And sometimes I actually use it to go back and remember what finish I used on a project or something like that.

Funny you should mention fire trucks coming out. When I first lit it Saturday, it was durning a cookout we were having and it burned so hot and was billowing out so much black smoke that a comment was made about fire trucks seeing the smoke from miles away and coming out.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jamie,

Nice. I like to use gnarly oak and maple bits from splitting out blanks. The ugly stuff that can't be used or doesn't split clean burns great after it dries out a bit. My biggest concern is the wire mesh getting too hot and parting, but it hasn't happened yet!

Enjoy the return to olden days....there's just something about open flames, no?


An Historical Lady said...

We light fires in our outdoor cressets regularly and never have black smoke, etc. We just use some of our regular firewood, but cut into smaller pieces. It burns for as long as you want, and you don't have to add wood too frequently if you have the right size pieces and the fire is established.

Lenore D said...

HI...I may ask my talented son-in-law to fabricate a pair of cressets for me. What do you use to line the basket? In the Williamsburg photos I've seen it looks like some sort of wire mesh.

Thank you,

Lenore D

James Maxwell said...


Love your enthusiasm regarding the Cressett's. As the Inventor of the Colonial Cressett (, I think I can comment on few things that are out on your blog.

- The black smoke you are commenting about is likely due to using too much fat wood. I too use a few pieces of fat wood to get the fire started BUT, using too much will make a billowing black smoke event and defeats the ambiance that you are wanting. Use less fat wood or none at all to get the fire going.
- The Cressett's have a limited diameter of the fire basket so your thought of using oak chips or such is a good idea. You can use regular length wood BUT, you'll need to tend the fire to move them inside as you should anyway in watching over your fire. I'm looking into a briquet sized fuel source but, do not have it available for sale yet.
- Our fire basket uses 304 Stainless Steel, one piece screening which is an upgrade from some of the original Cressets that used swatches of copper screening that would burn out over time. Stainless Steel screening does not burn through and is guaranteed for life. Our beta test product is over 8 years old and going strong.
- Our 2' length poles allow you to display your fire OR plantings at multiple heights which gives you an added option in displaying as does the integrated base for use on hard surfaces.
- We display our Cressett's at our two condominium/villa communities and have had zero concerns of ember escapes or calls to the fire departments. You MUST be prudent however, in responsibly watching over your open fire as you would anywhere. There are no doubt places in the world that restrict such open fires that you should be attentive too and compliant.

Without being too much of a commercial, check out the web site and see for yourself. Our product is 100% USA sourced and made by hand craftsman in Missouri that represents the yesteryear of our forefathers. It truly is a unique way to celebrate the yuletide, holidays, family get togethers or just for fun. The ambiance of a wood burning lighting device is second to none.

Hope this helps. Enjoy!

Alan said...

Does anyone know where Cressets can be purchased today? Colonial Williamsburg no longer sells them.

James Maxwell - the website listed is down, but please respond if you are still making them.

Mary Beth Shelangouski said...


The black smoke is coming likely from the fat wood - or using too much. As the comments said, you need a balance of real wood and fat wood or fire starter bricks. Oak is generally what they use in Colonial Williamsburg. Ideally, if you can cut it down it will fit more nicely into the fire basket. I generally overlap the wood and place the starters in the middle of the bottom. As always, you need to tend your fire and use caution when children are present or adults that are unfamiliar with it.

As for the basket lining - Our product Olde Colonial Products - The Original Cressett ( uses a 304 SS mesh screen that generally keeps the embers within and will NOT burn out. The older products sold thru Colonial Williamsburg used a copper mesh as I recall that was layered and likely would not hold up over extended use. Hence, why we went to a better product in our offering. 304SS mesh screening, welded wrought iron, (3) 2’ foot poles that allow variable heights and an integrated optional base. Check us out online.

You can reach us at;

Olde Worlde Products LLC
(314) 920-1624

Mary Beth Shelangouski
President OWCP

James Maxwell

Alan said...

Thank you!