Burn it Slowly or Burn it Bright, But Always, Always Burn it Right!

Follow our top tips for building, lighting and maintaining a fire in your wood burning stove...

Lighting a fire in a wood burning stove

Before getting the matches out, it is helpful to understand some differences between ordinary fires and wood burning stoves. Like any skill, the best way to learn how to successfully light a wood burning stove is by doing. You'll learn by trial and error how to get the best from your own particular model of stove.

Here are the main differences between lighting and maintaining a fire in a wood burning stove and an open log fire:

  • The wood burning stove is in an enclosed metal box. It therefore takes a lot of heat energy to get it hot (particularly if it is made of cast iron).
  • Air intake is controlled by one or more valves.
  • The design means you can preheat the air so the stove burns much hotter than a conventional wood fire.
  • The wood stove is much more efficient in terms of converting fuel to heat energy than an ordinary fire.
Air Input Controls

Your wood burning stove may typically have both a primary and secondary air input control or valves. Generally the primary control is at the bottom of the stove, the secondary being at the top part of the stove. When lighting the wood burning stove these should both be open in order to get as much oxygen to the fire as possible. Until the fire really gets going, it may help to keep the door open too. Never leave the door open when the stove is unattended.

The primary air input valve brings cold air from the room under the burning wood. The Secondary Air Input Valve takes air which has circulated around the stove and over the front viewing glass (helping to remove soot and keep it clear). This means the secondary air is already very hot when it meets with the hot gases from the burning wood. The gases therefore ignite in the upper part of the stove making the stove much hotter and releasing more heat energy from the wood than with a conventional, open fire.

Making the Fire
  • Like a conventional fire, you can either start your wood stove fire with firelighters or old newspaper. With a wood stove it is a good idea to light the new fire on a bed of ash so don't remove all the old ash when preparing the fire.
  • Open the stove door and add several sheets of scrunched up paper to the top of the ash. Some people prefer to roll the paper into a cylinder then twist the ends together.
  • Next add small bits of kindling on top of your paper or firelighter, typically arranged in a 'wigwam' pattern. Kindling is an easy burning material, it’s typically a soft wood like pine chopped into thin pieces with a hand axe.
  • Firelighters are normally made of paraffin wax. Some manufacturers add small amounts of kerosene or other light fuel to the wax in order to make them burn better. This means they have an odour compared to newspaper but are slightly easier to use and are more efficient at getting the fire started.
  • Have larger pieces of dry, seasoned wood ready to add as the fire catches hold.
We Have Ignition!
  • Light the newspaper in several places or the firelighter and gradually add larger pieces of wood as the fire burns. Beware of putting on too much wood at once as this will lower the temperature.
  • The goal with a wood stove is to get the stove itself up to working temperature as quickly as possible. Ideally you need to end up with a bed of glowing red embers before you add more wood.
  • Ensure the wood is seasoned (has been stored long enough for the wood to dry out fully). Seasoning typically takes about a year for newly felled wood. It is a good practice to keep a few days’ supply indoors; this will dry out further and warm the wood slightly. Using a Valiant Moisture Meter will allow you to test whether wood is adequately seasoned.
  • Generally, build up the temperature of the stove using soft wood such as Pine (which burns easily) and burn harder woods such as Oak once the stove is really hot. Once the fire has warmed up you can close the front door.
More on Those Air Intake Valves

As the stove is warming up it makes sense to keep both valves fully open and get as much oxygen to the fire as possible, Once it is really hot you may close the primary (cold) air input and use only the secondary (hot) air valve to control the fire. This makes the fire operate at a higher temperature and means you get more heat energy from the wood you are burning. Hot air ensures flammable gases are burnt and not lost up the chimney as is the case with a conventional, open fire.

If your fire is burning too quickly or is too hot you can reduce the secondary air flow. Note that if you completely close both valves the fire will quickly go out as it has no oxygen supply. If the fire isn't burning well enough, open up the primary valve for a short period of time and/or open the front door slightly to get more oxygen into the fire.

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