How-To: Operate a Wood-Burning Stove
The first thing we need to establish when discussing the right way to light a fire in a wood-burning stove is that there is no right way to light a fire in a wood-burning stove. The way that works best for you is the only one that matters. The important thing is that the technique you choose is reliable and effective. It would be nice if it didn’t take forever to accomplish too. Luckily, we created this handy little guide to make your life a little easier.
Wood-burning stoves are lined with heat resistant materials to keep the fire inside from reaching out and destroying your home. These materials are designed and manufactured to reflect the heat, or absorb it, to better warm your home. So, just like with a fireplace, we want to create a reflective, insular layer underneath the fire with an ash bed. This will create a much hotter fire than can be achieved without it, but requires air holes to be punched through the ash in the ashpan to the grate so that air from underneath can reach the fire.
Wood stoves need oxygen almost as much as they need wood. Fire can’t exist without oxygen, and most wood stoves are designed with air controls to allow users to fine tune the supply. So, open up the air controls. There are usually several depending on the model of stove you are using, so check your owner’s manual for the exact locations.
Now, we can begin getting our fire burning in the wood stove. Take several sheets of newspaper and wad them up being careful not to wad them too tightly. Arrange the wads of paper in the bottom of the wood stove, and add a few pieces of scrunched up cardboard if you have it. The cardboard helps get the fire going because it burns longer than newspaper. It’s not necessary, but it is helpful. For kindling, we need to split some dry softwood into small pieces. Size and regularity aren’t important here, but anything too large will just cause problems later on. Twigs and pine cones that have dried out are an excellent option. Once this has been arranged, we find adding a single slightly larger piece of wood on top of it all, being careful not to smash it, helps to stabilize the fire’s early moments.
When you are ready, light the newspaper wads at the bottom of the pile, and close the door to your wood stove. After perhaps 4-5 minutes the kindling will have caught fire, and will be burning consistently. Now is the time to add your first logs to the fire, but be gentle so that you don’t crush the life from the newborn fire. In another 10-15 minutes, the logs will be blazing cheerily, and you can adjust the air controls down to reduce the oxygen available to the fire. Watch the fire as you turn down the air controls. At the first sign of the fire dying or smoke filling the firebox, stop turning the air control down, and adjust it back up until the situation resolves itself normally. A lot of the fine-tuning of the air supply will depend heavily on the make and model stove you are using. Familiarize yourself with the owner’s manual, so that you can properly diagnose any issue you may have, or call McSweepy’s Chimney Service for help!
Finally, after 30-45 minutes your stove should be burning well. It’s giving decent heat to the room, and the deposits on the glass have all burned away. This should be the case until it is time to refuel, so keep an eye on the fuel as it burns. When the logs have all become embers, and are still producing some flames, it is time to refuel. Open the door to the stove slowly so the fire has a chance to adjust to the extra air from the opening, or you could end up with a face, and a room, full of smoke. Add a few logs and open the air controls back up until the logs catch then turn them back to their down positions.
At the end of the evening just let the fire go out. It’s best to close off the air controls as much as you can without closing them completely to retain what warmth in the stove you can. Never load the stove and “turn it down” overnight. This is an easy way to fill the chimney with tar, create a lot of smoke, and potentially burn your house down.