I guess there are two ways to take this title: Rules as in guidelines or Rules as in Rulez! I mean the guidelines one. (Although a burn pile can be a pretty rockin' thing, as you will see.)
I present these thoughts on a successful burn pile not because I think I know all about them and you don't, but because I need to learn some things over and over again before I really learn them, so I kinda codify them to make them stick.
I also hope others have interesting approaches, and will share them in the comments.
And so, Buck's Burn Pile Rules:
First make sure it is burning season where you live. Here at the Homestead, we can burn for two months in the fall, and three or so in the spring. In those windows, we can burn any time. But at our other place, 20 miles away, we have to call to check with the local fire bureau to make sure it is OK.
With the burn season so limited, all the summer brush piles up. Which leads to Rule 2:
If you have a lot to burn, don't pile it all in one place. If you are lucky and your fire takes off, it could get way too big. Once the pile in the actual burning spot gets big enough, I start making side piles. Far enough away that they won't accidentally catch on fire, near enough that they are easy to move to the blaze.
This year, I had a bunch of doug fir limbs, too rotted or small to be firewood. I also had a lot of rotted lumber from the barn restoration. A lot of brush and a pile of siding that was full of dry rot and termite holes.
If you don't have an established burn pile, think about the future use of the area. This burn spot has been used for decades. It is full of wire, nails, odd bits of metal. We don't plan to graze animals here, so we don't worry about cleaning it up. Anything with nails in it goes to this pile.
Conversely, when clearing brush up in the pasture, I use a clean burn spot there. It only gets material with no nails or metal. That way, in a few years, we can let animals roam there and not worry about it.
Next rule: start the fire on the up-wind side of the pile. This is kinda obvious, but it has literally taken me a dozen fires to get this in my head. I have 3 main burn piles, and all are approached from the down-wind side. So naturally, I light it from the side I walk up on. But when I do this, the wind blows the fire away from the pile, which does not help at all.
Oops, before you light your fire, make sure you have a hose at the ready. And make sure it is not buried under a big pile of brush you stacked up months ago. Remember, hose before fire!
Try to load any long burning material on early, so you are not left with big chunks of log at the end of the day. I had a half dozen hunks of rotted cherry tree, and got them on as early as I could.
Could do some fire walking. Or...
So, that is how I do it. I love a good burn, and the neat and tidy aftermath.
Anybody out there have any other tips or thoughts?