A wood stove may seem like a rudimentary way to start a fire, especially when gas and oil furnace options are available. However, it is an economical option, and it does not necessarily have to be complicated.
One common mistake, when asked how to start a fire in a wood stove, is impatience. It is not like a conventional fire where there is free-flowing air. A wood-burning stove is in a confined space, so you have to be mindful of how it is set up.
The top-down approach pays off well. Larger pieces of wood are set on the woodstove floor with smaller pieces of kindling on top. That’s just part of it, though. The following are a few things to consider when building a wood stove fire.
Use dry wood
It would be advisable for the fire’s overall performance and efficiency to use only seasoned dry hardwood as fuel. Hardwoods not only allow longer bun times, but their flames are hotter and brighter.
It will also reduce the chances of smoking and harmful gases, leading to a chimney fire. Softwood varieties like pine trees with sap content make it hard to keep the chimney clean. Hardwoods like birch also burn well as it is less dense.
Check the wood-burning stove draft
Open the damper and let the inside of the stove reach the ambient temperature. Then check the draft to make sure it is going up the chimney. You can do that by lighting a match and observing how the wind blows it.
If it is going downwards, try to find a way to reverse the draft by using a starter block or a wax log. Do not start the fire when the draft is coming down. Before lighting the starter block, close the damper and put the block on the back of a fireplace shovel before lighting it.
Then slowly open the damper and allow the heat from the block to force the air up the chimney, which will reverse the draft. You may hear a sucking sound from the starter block, which will be the signal to start the fire.
Best fire starters and kindling
If you are using seasoned wood, the dry kindling does not need much other than scrunching sheets of newspapers. The newspaper should not be glossy paper but dry and easy to tear. It should be at the bottom of the fireplace but place the kindling on top of the fireplace, then light the newspaper.
The kindling could be laid down in a crisscross pattern around and over the lighter, leaving gaps for air. Twigs are also a good option for kindling. Get hedges, dried twigs, and other light materials that can catch fire easily to start the fire. When the blaze begins to light up, it should be covered with thick pieces of firewood to avoid a chimney fire.
The firewood should also be stacked in a crisscross pattern. A horizontal pattern leaves some gaps for air to pass through to make a draft. The firewood would only be stacked two-thirds of the height of the fireplace.
Once you light the newspaper, observe the smoke. It should not be thick if it is drafting up the chimney. To give the fire a bit of oxygen, leave the stove door to the stove open when the fire is up.
Build and spread the fire
Maintaining a wood stove fire is different from lighting and stoking a conventional campfire . The difference applies to the air supply and the knowledge you need to get the stove hot before it can burn efficiently.
The damper should also be open all of the time. That prevents smoke from funneling back to the room when starting the fire or reloading the stove. Wood stoves with a glass door should be open for at least half an hour before the wood fires burn so the interior can reach room temperature.
If the inside of the stove is colder than the room, the cold air will flow down the chimney causing a reversal of the draft. Opening the doors rather allows hot air from the room to go up the chimney.
Types of air supply for wood burning stoves
Lighting and operating a wood stove fire is something that needs patience. Every wood stove behaves differently because of the shape of the flues, cold weather, or fuel choices. Take time to understand as well how your cooking equipment affects the fire. There are three types of air supply in stoves.
The first is supplied to the fire box base through the ash pan to help get the fire going and warm up the stove. Secondary air supply enters the stove through air vents above the door or beneath the stove.
It can be utilized for air wash or secondary burning of gases. Tertiary air is the third type, and it goes into the fire box from the back, assisting with secondary combustion. It also reduces emissions.
Avoid Smoldering Fire
Once the fire is going, place larger logs in a crisscross pattern allowing air to come between the pieces. When you have done this, make sure there is a controlled air stream so the fire continues to grow. You do not have to give it a lot of attention after that.
Keep the door closed and attend to other things while the fire builds. It may be advisable, though, to keep the fire from smoldering. For one, you do not have to start again, and secondly, smoldering fires may create creosote buildup.
Creosote can plug a chimney which will bring smoke and other harmful gases into the home. Similarly, creosote accumulation can cause a roaring chimney fire because it is very flammable.