The warmth of a crackling fire contained safely inside of a woodburning stove is something that all of your friends and family can appreciate, but who is the one who has to do all of the hard work of getting it fired up, and take all of the abuse if it doesn’t light? You, of course.
The best thing to do is to make sure you know how to light your woodburning stove and keep it lit. It isn’t rocket science, but there are two major ways that you can approach it.
However, before you put anything into your stove, have you taken anything out of it? Have all the messy ashes been cleared out? If so, that is a huge mistake. That is because wood stoves need to have a nice and consistent bed of ash of about 1 to 2 inches. So, go ahead and empty the ashtray along with any clinker (although if it is burning right there shouldn’t be any) and level the loose ash off, but don’t clean it completely. Go ahead and clean the glass and then buff the outside of the stove, but don’t empty out the firebox floor completely.
Beginning with the raw material, do not put any unseasoned wood in. You only want to use wood that’s been cut, stacked and dried for a minimum of one year, with three years being ideal. It’s even better if you can leave the wood inside and let it warm up and dry out before you use it.
The traditional way of lighting a fire is screwing up knots or balls of newspaper (at least 10), or you could use firelighters if you wanted to cheat (just don’t ever use liquids). You then can place kindling over the paper in a tent-like arrangement. Your kindling can be something like dry twigs or maybe offcuts from pallets or woodwork. Then on top of that, place 3 to 4 small logs. Also, make sure that you don’t overload your floor pan. There needs to be space around the fuel for it to breathe.
Fully open the bottom and top vents of the stove. If your machine has great electric turbo fans attached to it, put them on fully and light the paper in several places. Leave the door ajar slightly for a couple of minutes to get the fire lit but don’t leave it unattended ever and if you have your fire well that shouldn’t be necessary.
Maintaining a clean flame is the key to having a good stove fire. After the initial burn settles down and there is a good base of red embers, you should have no or little smoke. Don’t let it settle down to the point that you don’t have a flame. Turn any fans off, and how it’s time to add logs. It is best to have a mix of different sizes.
It is large, but not clever
Just a few words about logs: it might be nice to look at round, chunky logs but it will probably be really tough to burn. It is all about the surface area. The reason your kindling catches quickly is due to the fact that it has plenty of surface area. Your logs will burn most easily when you seasoned your split wood and have a good log splitter.
In terms of types of wood, softwoods like pine burn easily but they are resinous and have a tendency to cause the build-up of tar inside the chimney, so it is best to leave it for kindling. Hardwood is ideal as the main fuel. If available, newspaper logs and wood pellets are green, good alternatives to traditional wood.
If you are concerned about the carbon footprint you are leaving, then if you simply follow these basic tips and burn cleanly then you can rest assured that wood is a type of renewable resource which at point of use is carbon neutral. It is among the cleanest heat forms since it emits less carbon dioxide or sulfur dioxide compared to burning coal. Efficient modern stoves circulate heat for the room’s benefit, so in contrast to an open fire, it isn’t mainly going up and out of the chimney. There are many stoves that have been approved to be used in smokeless zones.
When logs are added it will cool things down so make sure that your vents are kept open until they are well underway. The top vent is the most effective one for allowing air in, which lets warmed air in the firebox. So make sure you close the lower vent completely or partially when everything is going well, and use the top flap to control the fire. If the fire cools down too much then open them both up at the same time.
So you now have the total traditional version of how to become a happy and warm wood burner.
However, there is another way to do this.
It is completely counter-intuitive, and you won’t believe it until you try it for yourself, but the smartest way to live your stove which will impress your friends is doing it upside-down.
Lay down 3 to 4 smaller logs on top of the ash base. The make a bird’s nest of dry kindling on top of them while leaving air around the structure. Then top them off about 10 or more knots or balls of newspaper. Open the vents up, light and then watch as the paper burns down in among kindling while nicely crackling which creates the heat layer that enables the logs to catch. The vapor surrounding the hot wood catches fire so it is actually the most efficient approach.
Blowing cold and hot
Your biggest maintenance issue as a stove owner is your chimney. If you use your stove on a daily basis, then you and your local sweep will become friendly, since you will be calling him about 3 times per year. If you just use your stove occasionally normally you can get away with one preventative clean per year. Do that toward the end of summer. You can eliminate obstructions that way, clean out tar deposits, and your sweep will probably be more available for you in the winter.
Wood burning causes tar build up. If you have smoky fires it will be much worse. That is caused by leaving your stove vents closed or you have a poor draft (potentially due to insufficient chimney length or bends in the flue). You can help to minimize the amount of tar by having hot clean flames that help to creosote deposits off. And to lengthen the amount of time before visiting the sweet, the Chimney Cleaning Log can be used, and when it burns it helps to loosen deposits inside of the flue.
The final word is ultimately it isn’t a good idea to allow your fire to continue to smolder. It’s nice to revive it, however, in the absence of flames your fire will generate a lot more tar and wastes a lot of fuel. It is better to allow the fire to die out at night from a strong burn and then start fresh the next day.