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How to Start a Fire in a Woodstove

Country Hearth Woodburning Stove

As gas and electricity prices continue to soar, modern wood burning stoves prove to be cheaper to operate and highly efficient thanks to improvements in manufacturing processes, quality materials, and better understanding of airflow and combustion. Generally wood burning stoves are constructed of either steel or cast iron. A steel wood stove will heat up quicker but also cool down just as quick resulting in increased reload times. A cast iron wood stove will take a little longer to heat up but it will retain heat for a longer period of time. Before igniting a fire in your wood stove, there are a few things to remember that will ensure safe operation, increased efficiency, and longer burn times.

Proper air flow.....

In order to create proper airflow and circulation, you should always make sure that the damper on the wood stove is open first and foremost. This will prevent smoke from funneling back into the room while you are starting a fire or reloading the stove. If your wood stove has glass doors, it is suggested that you open it at least 30 minutes before you start the fire to allow the interior of the stove to reach room temperature. If the inside of the wood stove is cold, the chilled air will flow down the chimney and into the fireplace where it remains trapped by the doors. Opening them will allow warm air from the room to rise up the chimney and jump start the draft to get it moving upwards.

Check the draft.....

Once you have opened the damper and let the interior of the wood stove reach room temperature, you must check the draft and make sure that it is moving up the chimney. To check the draft, light a match and see which way the flame moves. If it is moving downward, you must find a way to reverse the draft. Under no circumstances can you light your fire with the draft coming down. A suggested method to reverse your chimney draft is to use a starter block or a commercial wax log. These will stay lit with little smoke and create some warmth inside the firebox to redirect the draft in an upward motion. Before you light the starter block or wax log, close the damper, place the block on the back of a fireplace shovel, light it and place it inside of the fireplace near the flue opening. Slowly open your damper again and allow the heat from the starter block to force air up the chimney and reverse the draft. When the draft is fully reversed, you will hear the air sucking the fire and heat from the starter block letting you know that it is now safe to start your fire.

Use Fire Starters...

To start your fire, you will need to have some newspapers and kindling on hand. Fatwood, fire starter squares, and cedar fire starters are all great kindling replacements to aid you in getting the fire going. If there are leftover ashes in the wood stove don't clean them out just yet. An ash bed can actually be a good foundation to start a fire in your wood stove. If you're not using a wood grate, place two large logs in a parallel direction about 15 inches apart, perpendicular to the pane of the closed glass door, or the fireplace opening. Place one cross-bar (about the diameter of your forearm) across the two large logs, parallel to the pane of the glass door or opening of the fireplace. Crumple up some newspaper (not glossy paper) on the bottom of the fireplace. Place the kindling on top and light the newspaper. Make sure the kindling starts to burn then place some logs in between the large logs, parallel with them on top of the cross-bar, keeping this arrangement at all times: two logs, one cross-bar on top and firewood held by the cross bar. If you are using a wood grate, put the kindling on the wood grate first, with crumpled up newspaper under the grate and mixed in with the kindling. Stack your wood on top. Be careful not to use too much newspaper as it will produce a lot of smoke. Be sure to stack the fire wood in a crisscross pattern. A horizontal pattern leaves too many gaps for air to pass through and can create a draft. At most, firewood should only be stacked 2/3 the height of the fireplace. Light the newspaper and pay close attention to the smoke for the first half hour. The smoke should be nearly undetectable if it is drafting right up the chimney. To provide the fire with a little bit of oxygen, leave the wood stove door open for a little bit when the fire is first started.

Fire Starter Squares Fatwood Fire Starter Super Cedar Fire Starters  One Match Starter

Be Selective with Firewood...

It is very important in the performance and efficiency of your wood stove that you burn only seasoned, dry, hard wood. Not only will it produce longer burn times, hotter fires, and brighter flames, it will also prevent creosote build up and the release of harmful gases that could potentially cause a chimney fire. Stay away from pine or other pine type trees that have a heavy sap content to keep your chimney clean. Birch also burns well because it is a less dense wood that will burn faster. To safely put the fire out, stir the wood down at least a half an hour before you want it to go out. Break up the burned down logs and spread the ash out as much as you can over the area of the firebox. The thinner it's spread, the quicker it will burn up and go out. Be sure to check after the fire is out and make sure that all of the coals and embers are dead. If so, close the damper to keep the heat inside.

Ratings for Different Types of Firewood

Hard Woods

Species Heat Value Easy to Burn Easy to Split Heavy Smoke Sparks General Ratings

Ash, Red Oak, White Oak, Beech, Birch, Hickory, Hard Maple, Pecan, Dogwood

High Yes Yes No No Excellent
Soft Maple, Cherry, Walnut Medium Yes Yes No No Good
Elm, Sycamore, Gum Medium Moderate No Moderate No Fair
Mesquite High Moderate No Moderate No Good
Aspen, Basswood, Cottonwood Low Yes Yes Moderate No Fair-Good Kindling
Chestnut, Yellow Popular Low Yes Yes Moderate Yes Poor
Soft Woods
Species Heat Value Easy to Burn Easy to Split Heavy Smoke Sparks General Ratings
Southern Yellow Pine, Douglas Fir High Yes Yes Yes No Good-But Smokey
Cypress, Redwood Medium Moderate Yes Moderate No Fair
White Cedar, Western Red Cedar, Eastern Red Cedar, Juniper, Piñon Pine Medium Yes Yes Moderate Yes Good-Excellent Kindling
Eastern White Pine, Western White Pine, Sugar Pine, Ponderosa Pine, True Firs Low Moderate Yes Moderate No Fair-Good Kindling
Tamarack Larch Medium Yes Yes Moderate Yes Fair
Spruce Low Yes Yes Moderate Yes Poor