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How to Build a Wood Stove Fire

Preheating the Flue is Key to Preventing Creosote Accumulation

A fast hot fire will preheat the flue and reduce the chance that creosote will accumulate. This preheating will also set the flue up to “draw” properly. Once airflow has been established in the flue, the intake ports on the stove will allow sufficient air to enter and to burn more completely. The key to low creosote build up is to have the chimney temperatures well above boiling to keep the wood’s moisture in the gas phase before it leaves the pipe. If the pipe is cold, these unburned gases, moisture and carbon products can condense on the inside of your flue.

Smoke and Coals

When a fire is first started it will smoke. These are the combustion gases that have not yet reached combustion temperatures. Sometimes you can watch this smoke “burst” into flames when it has become hot enough. On winter evenings, looking over my town, you can often see various plumes of smoke as people get their evening fires started. Once the fire is well established, there should be very little, if any, smoke. If your fire is still smoking by the time your kindling has been used up, your firewood may be too wet, or your air supply too low. When starting a fire in a wood stove, it is best to fully open all vents or even leave the door ajar to allow the fire to burn with the most robust exposure to oxygen.

Timing Your Fire Right

In my big stove, the start up takes about 15 minutes. We like to start with smaller bits of wood for the startup and then toss in the larger pieces. After about 30 minutes, a coal bed starts to form and we close down the catalytic vent and set the intakes to about 50 percent. Once the stove is in this state we can add large pieces every couple of hours. On really cold nights, or when the winds are cranking, we load up extra logs before bed. In the morning we can often resurrect a few coals and start all over again. Maintaining a shallow ash bed (about 2″) actually allows for better fires. We clear out the ash after a few weeks worth of fires. If your stove is running clean, the hot ash buildup should be minimal.

Remember to always place ashes in metal ash buckets, never in paper bags. Once or twice each year we read in the paper about some home fire due to improper ash storage.

Related:
Heating with Wood: DIY Wood Tote and Wood Rack
Clearing the Air: Heating with Wood
Home Fires Burning
14 Tips for Using Less Heat This Season

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40 comments

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12:02PM PDT on Jun 5, 2013

I lost my home because my neighbor followed stupid advice like this article. Here is some better advice:

DO NOT BURN WOOD.

It ruins other peoples lives.

And wood smoke is more toxic than cigarette smoke and causes death and diseases such as lung cancer, throat cancer, mouth cancer, cardiac arrest, stroke, emphysema, COPD, asthma.

In NSW, Australia it was calculated that the annual cost to the community if $2000 for each fire.

One every level such as neighborhood relations, pollution, health and cost to the community wood burning should be immediately banned.

SUPPORT THE BANNING OF WOOD BURNERS,

6:14AM PDT on Jun 5, 2013

CANCER
http://davisvanguard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3780%3Awood-smoke-causes-canceranother-nail-in-the-wood-burning-coffin&catid=53%3Aland-useopen-space&Itemid=86

4:16PM PDT on Mar 16, 2013

Everyone should know that The American Lung Association "strongly recommends using cleaner, less toxic sources of heat. Converting a wood-burning fireplace or stove to use either natural gas or propane will eliminate exposure to the dangerous toxins wood burning generates including dioxin, arsenic and formaldehyde” see http://www.lungusa.org/press-room/press-releases/cleaner-alternatives-for-winter-heat.html

Old wood stoves and fireplaces create as much pollution as one thousand cars - http://www.grreporter.info/en/fireplace_pollutes_air_much_1000_cars/8814

So, even though newer ones might be 70% to 90% cleaner, that means they still create as much pollution as 100 to 300 cars.

The Citizens for Environmental Health Website asks: "Why is wood smoke, a serious and deadly toxic carcinogenic neighbourhood pollutant, allowed? The answer: “Because people don’t know!” http://www.citizensfeh.com/sustainability_community.html

This website notes that the stove manufacturers are allowed to test and certify their own stoves and that independent testing found dioxin levels were 400 times higher than claimed.

My question to all readers of this blog is: Do you now that even if you follow the instructions to the letter and operate you stove as perfectly as in the lab tests, you will still cause as much pollution per year as 100 cars, and be the major source of toxic chemicals called PAH that a World Health Organisation review of air pollution and healt

2:36AM PST on Jan 31, 2013

Very informative post! Wood stoves can be best choice of winter if they are properly used and managed. They are cheap than other home heating devices as they utilize woods that is why this feature makes these appliances the best heating devices.

6:33AM PST on Feb 4, 2012

Interesting and helpful article - thanks for posting.

11:28AM PST on Feb 3, 2012

Thank you for writing this and sharing the information. I never understood why it is advisable to leave at two inches of ashes. Thank you for the explanation- I kinda thought this. This is very helpful- I use a air tight woodstove to heat my place.

6:57PM PST on Dec 17, 2010

So true!

4:48AM PST on Dec 13, 2010

Thanks for sharing.

9:13PM PST on Dec 11, 2010

Excellent article... I wish I had these guidelines when I moved into my log cabin and began heating with wood as a novice.

6:35PM PST on Dec 11, 2010

i wish i had a fireplace...

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