To use a wood burning stove first read all the instructions. Then open all the air intake valves, lay the base of small logs, cardboard and kindling, and light the paper. Next add larger split logs, close the door fully, and close down the air intake valves in stages.
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Learning how to use a wood burning stove the first time can be a huge hurdle. Wood burning stoves are much more efficient than open fireplaces, and will produce more heat for a longer time from a single log. Here is a handy guide for those just starting out using a wood burning stove, and also for seasoned users who need a refresher:
Steps to Use a Wood Burning Stove
- Read the Instructions: Though boring, reading the instructions for your wood burning stove before attempting to light a fire in it will help a lot. The manual will help you identify where the intake valves are located for the stove and what each one does.
- Open All the Air Intake Valves: Before starting a fire, open all air intake valves fully. This will allow a maximum amount of oxygen into the firebox, speeding up combustion.
- Lay the Base: Place a few small logs with kindling, cardboard, and newspaper on top.
- Light the Fire: Light the edges of the paper in multiple places. Close the door 95% of the way and watch as the kindling and small logs catch fire. Never leave your wood stove unattended with the door open.
- Add More Logs: Once the small logs are all on fire, add larger logs to the firebox. Once again close the door 95% of the way
- Close the Door: After the large logs are lit, close the door to your wood stove completely.
- Close the Air Intake Valves: After 10-15 minutes, when you are confident that your fire will stay lit, begin closing down the air intake valves in stages. Begin with the “start-up” valve. Once this valve is closed fully, the size of the fire can be controlled with the secondary valve. Never close all valves completely as this can lead to creosote build-up in your stove and chimney.
How to Keep a Fire Burning
Congratulations on getting your wood burning stove lit! Keeping a fire going is much easier than starting it in a cold stove. There are three main tricks to keeping a fire burning in a wood stove: keeping the door closed, adding larger logs, and controlling the fire with the intake valves.
Keep the Door Closed
When you have a fire going in your wood stove, try to keep the door closed as much as possible. Opening the door will flood the firebox with oxygen, causing your wood to burn cooler and faster than it would otherwise. Splitting logs is a lot of work, and you want to maximize the heat from each one you burn.
Add larger split logs
By building your fire with larger split logs, the fire will burn more slowly than if you use small logs and branches. Split logs are easier to light than whole logs. They are also denser, meaning you get more heat for the volume of wood in the stove. Read more about choosing the right firewood here.
Use the Air Intake Properly
Use the air intake valve to optimize the size of your fire. If the fire looks like it is struggling (smoldering or producing a lot of smoke), open the air intake valves to allow more air into the firebox. Leave the air intake valve open until the fire is steadily burning through the wood again, then close it down. Leaving the air intake open all the time will cause the fire to burn through the wood too fast and decrease the overall efficiency of your stove.
How to Reload a Wood Burning Stove
Reloading a wood burning stove is much easier than getting a fire started in a cold stove. Follow these steps to easily build a small pile of coals back into a fire. The key is to reload the stove before the stove and chimney go cold.
Remove the Ashes
To begin reloading your wood burning stove, remove the ashes. I use an ash shovel and remove them to a metal container with a lid. Cold ashes are most likely to be in the front of the stove, so start scooping there. If you have a coal-saving shovel like this one, remove all ashes and coals from the stove, then sift hot coals out of the ash bucket and place them back into the stove.
When all ashes are removed from the stove, sprinkle the top of the ash bucket with water and put the lid on tightly.
Open Air intake valves
Next, fully open all air intake valves on the stove. This will draw air into the stove and force smoke up through the chimney instead of back into the house. It will also help the fire catch more quickly than just relying on a partially open door.
Heap coals near the air intake
Heap all remaining coals near the air intake for your stove. In most stoves, the air intake is toward the front of the stove. I use my ash shovel to pull the coals from the back of the stove to the front. At this point, there are few ashes in the stove, the back of the stove is just firebrick, and the coals are in a line across the front.
Add paper and kindling to the front of the stove
Place twisted sheets of newspaper and a handful of kindling on top of the coals at the front of the stove. Close the door and watch as they ignite. If the paper starts to smolder but does not produce any flame, light the edges with a match. Once you become confident in reloading your wood stove, this step can be skipped if the coals are hot enough.
Note: I put on my fire gloves before adding the paper and kindling to the fire. I prefer ones that go up and protect my forearms as well as my hands.
Add logs to the stove
After the kindling is burning nicely, open the door and add a single layer of logs to the bottom of the stove. Close the door, and you should see flames roar up around the logs. This is due to the airflow in the stove created from the air intake valves and up out the chimney.
Typically, the front log is the first one to catch fire and begin burning. Once you see this happening, open the door and add the rest of the load of wood. When reloading my stove, I place all logs horizontally with the split edges facing down. Fire burns from the bottom of the log up through it, so I want the split side facing down to give the log the easiest time catching fire.
Close the door
Now it is time to close the door one last time. After this, you shouldn’t have to open the door until it is time to reload the stove again. Opening the door to move logs around decreases the overall efficiency of the wood stove and will cause the wood to burn more quickly than necessary.
Close the air intake valves
After the door is closed, you can begin to close down the air intake valves in stages. Before closing a valve, look at the fire and see how it is burning. If the logs are flaming and you see a blue secondary burn, it’s time to close the valves. If the fire is smoldering or producing a lot of smoke, it is struggling and the valves should not be closed yet.
To close the air intake valves, begin with the “start-up” valve. Close it halfway and observe your fire for a few minutes. If the logs continue to produce flames, you know that it is getting enough oxygen to keep burning. Close the start-up valve fully before moving the secondary valve (if your stove has one).
Once the start-up valve is fully closed, the fire can be controlled with the secondary (sometimes called “air-wash”) valve. This valve should never be closed fully. Closing all the valves fully can lead to creosote build-up in the chimney.
- Aim to have the valves set to a point where the fire is slowly burning through the logs, producing flames. The firebox should not be filled with white-hot flames, nor should the logs be dark red and smoldering.
- Leaving the valve open too far will cause the fire to burn inefficiently. The fire will burn through the wood quickly and not maximize heat output.
- Closing the valve too far will cause the fire to die down to a point of smoldering and possibly smoking. This type of fire does not produce much heat and also uses wood inefficiently.
Understanding how to use a wood burning stove comes with a steep learning curve. If you are new to wood burning stoves, I encourage you to read all you can on the subject and also be patient with yourself. You will probably go through wood faster than optimal at first, but soon you will be a seasoned pro at heating your home or workshop with wood.
To learn more about using a wood burning stove, check out these articles on the topic:
Thanks for coming along on the journey,