Some good and varied responses here, but as stated the method will depend on your particular pit. I use a cheap Brinkmann SFB for the back yard and after much fighting here is what works for me: Build a fire with 4 of 5 pieces a foot long and -3 inches in diameter. Once a good fire is going, knock 'em down and add 2-3 more, and close the cook chamber door to preheat the grill. When the added wood is burning good I shut the firebox door. It will bring the cook chamber up to 350 or so and at that point I clean the grate with the wire brush or foil wadded up. Chimney cap is full open and at this time I turn the FB damper to 1/4 open. Wood burns down to a good bed of coals, the temp drops to 225 and I add a split a foot long and quarter to 50 cent in diameter. After that, all I have to do is add 1 small split every 30-45 minutes to maintain the temp between 225-245.
The key is keeping even the smallest of flame going to burn the gasses coming from the wood. Flame goes out, white smoke boils out. If a new split isn't wanting to catch or come up in temp as meeded, I have a cheap set of spring tongs, use the end of it to prop the FB lid open, giving a 1/4 inch or so gap. The extra air gets the split going and temp rises. Hit the target and remove the tong. This keeps me from playing with the FB damper and overshooting or smothering the flame.Sounds like a PITA, and it is at times, but that's what an entry level SFB using nothing but wood requires: Some work and lot's of attention.
Dedicated Stick Burner, Pitmaster @ All About The Q, facebook.com/itsallabouttheq KCBS CBJ