A wood burning stove is no different to any other home appliance or equipment you buy in that it takes a little time to learn how to get the best from your purchase. No two stove installations are the same so there may be some trial and error in the first few days to understand what works best and how to light a wood burning stove. On first use, owners can be disheartened if they struggle to establish a fire, kill the flames off or fail to achieve a good heat output. There are many factors at play and the following is a checklist to give you the best chance of establishing a great fire.
Allow Run-in Time
Wood burning stoves won’t achieve peak performance out of the box. The paint and other materials need heat to cure and may be smoky and smell during the first few firings. A competent stove installer will always conduct a burn demonstration to bring the temperature up slowly and to ensure the stove operates correctly. You will also need a few burns to establish a nice bed of fine insulating ash at the bottom of the stove. Wood burns most efficiently on a bed of ash from previous fires so avoid clearing all the ash after every fire.
Fully Open Air Controls
Wood burning stoves can have anything from one to five air-controls to allow air into the firebox. A good air supply is essential to establish a fire so the controls should be fully open at the start. Some stoves may need the door to be left ajar a little for a few minutes to help the fire to establish. Consult with your user manual to determine the correct lighting procedure and remember that some or all of the air controls will need to be adjusted down once the stove is at full operational temperature to avoid over firing.
Don’t Skimp on Kindling
To start a fire, it is best to lay down a nice multi-level lattice (think Jenga) of dry kindling. Don’t penny pinch here; while it can be rewarding to build up and establish a fire from a few sticks, it is far quicker and easier to establish a solid base from generous good quality kindling. Stuff scrunched up newspaper or a couple of firelighters into the kindling lattice and ensure there is space between for air to circulate. Prior to lighting the fire, put one or two good quality logs on top of the kindling bed.
Know Your Moisture Content
It can be easy to fall into the trap of treating a stove like an old open fire where pretty much any and everything was thrown on to burn. A stove is more like a car engine insomuch that it needs the correct grade of fuel to function well. Moisture contents refers to the percentage of water in the wood and the desired moisture level is 20% or less. The most likely cause of poor heat output from a stove is poorly seasoned or damp wood with a moisture content above 20%. If you haven’t established a supply of seasoned wood already, you may need to purchase seasoned or kiln dried wood for the first year or so until your own stock has properly dried. You can purchase an inexpensive moisture meter on Amazon or eBay to test your fuel.
Give it Time
Your stove will start to give out some heat after 5-10 minutes but it can take anything from 25-45 minutes to establish a strong bed of embers and get the flue and metal work up to full operational temperature. Build your fire up over this time and look for a nice bed of embers and white ash forming on the logs before turning down the controls down. Remember that running your stove all day with all the air-controls open will consume fuel quickly and over-heat the appliance which, in turn, can damage it and invalidate your warranty.
The following 11-minute video provides an excellent explanation on how to establish a strong fire that will allow efficient operation and great heat output all day. Credit to Eco Fires & Stoves for this excellent video content.