Calling All Woodstove Owners

Do I adore that woodstove? Oh, yeah.

I’ve learned quite a bit so far through reading and experience with the individual “personality” of my particular stove. Mine is a non-catalytic box stove with two cook lids. It takes 24″ logs.

I still have a few questions, and I still have a few theories, but I seem to be clinging to the edge of the learning curve pretty well. I’m lighting a one-match fire every morning, without issue. The stove comes up to temp nicely. With this post, maybe I can share some information, and bargain for an opinion or two.

Okay, woodstove users! Ready to share some information?!

I have been proceeding this way – I build a nice, hot, roaring fire and let the thermometer come up to “burn zone” temp. Then I close the vent some, let the fire calm down. It’s at this point that I’m not totally clear. There’s an ideal burn temp. I get that. Now, I certainly can’t keep a fire going at the ideal burn temp, or I’d be driven out of the cabin in five minutes and all the snow within a two-mile radius would melt. And the dog would spontaneously combust. So, I’ve been building up to the ideal burn temp, letting it rip for a bit until the big wood is caught, and then closing the vent some and calming the fire down. Slow burn for the rest of the day. Yes? Correct? Seem plausible?

Generally, once you have your wood going nicely, I understand that you should close the flue a bit. That’s what people say. But I haven’t found that to be true. I have an old-fashioned box stove, not a modern air-tight house-heating model, so maybe this falls into the every-stove-is-different department. My stove likes plenty of air. I have been leaving the flue fully open, but closing off the front-vent a bit once I have coals. If I close down the flue at all, I start getting thick your-house-is-on-fire smoke coming out the chimney like mad. The coals start to extinguish. So. I leave the flue open and just control the fire with the front vent. I’m chalking it up to a stove personality thing. Yes? Correct? Seem plausible?

What say you, Stovers?

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Calling All Woodstove Owners

  1. I grew up with a 24×32 cabin. We controlled the heat with just the front vents, the flue vent was always left open. You will get a lot of creosote in the flue by turning the heat way down so plan to get a chimney brush.

    Sounds to me like you want to get a smaller stove or a larger house or just open a window. Maybe putting cinder blocks around the stove ala sugar mt farms would help also.

  2. (Update – I was thinking of the creosote issue. I wanted to adjust a section of pipe anyway, so I took the pipe apart just now and looked. After a few weeks of using it this way – blazing hot in the morning, cool thereafter – no creosote. Nuthin, It’s easy to check, so I’ll look again in a few weeks.)

  3. I lived in a 16×20 ft cabin for 6 years. I had a small wood stove, but was usually too hot. I quickly learned to leave a window partly open. Your cabin is tiny, so it’s going to be hot when you are using nice, dry wood. If you add one BIG hunk of wood instead of a bunch of smaller pieces, it will last longer and not be so hot.

    I’ve owned quite a few wood stoves over the years. I think the biggest reason your fire is so hot is that you are getting wood from folks that is well seasoned. Try using a mix of well seasoned (dry) and less seasoned wood. If you burn pine or another conifer, the heat will be intense, but brief. Mix in other woods like beech or maple. Play with mixtures of woods and dryness of wood.

    The amount you close down the flu usually depends on what sort of wood is being burned and how much you want to damp down the fire to keep it from going out, but still warm.

    It’s a lot easier for me to just do the fire than explain how. It’s like riding a bike…you just do it without much effort once you have mastered it. You should be fine as you experiment and pay attention….

  4. Okay, I’m generally a nice guy, but not when it comes to dangerous suggestions. Wendy, I’m assuming you are either out of your ever-loving mind, or a lover of taking chances.

    I’m going to make this simple. You know what causes chimney fires? Creosote. You know what causes creosote build-up? Unseasoned wood and a cool flue temp.

    This may be my first box stove, but it is not my first time burning wood. I’ve owned a tent stove, and I have had fireplaces. And burning less-than-fully-seasoned wood, and burning consistently at a lower temp is a recipe for a chimney fire. Period. And by the way – softwood like pine sucks for heating. No coals.

    Folks, you are welcome to call any fireplace, chimney, or woodstove expert to ask them what they think of burning less than fully seasoned wood. I guarantee you they will not be enthusiastic.

    Now. Are we all safe? Awesome. Back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

  5. gromit

    I think the learn-by-experience method always works best. With my stove, I control via the vent, never the flue, which I think should always be open. Re creosote, well-cured hardwood produces hardly any, while softwoods–spruce, pine, or hemlock–definitely do. The hardwoods produce more heat and burn cleaner, so except for the ignition phase, I burn only maple, beech, and yellow birch. More btu’s in beech and maple, but yellow birch is plentiful on my lot, and it splits well. Happy firing!

  6. Gromit – Thanks! The pile of wood I was given is beech, and as you say, it’s been burning beautifully. I have a load of birch I need to go pick up. Interesting how many people have said that they control with the vent, rather than the flue. Sort of nice that my experiences have been confirmed that way. Awesome.

  7. Corky

    For a beginner you ain’t so dumb my Friend.
    Very seasoned wood. Always!!!
    Flue wide open. Always!
    Hot fire to start burns any buildup out from the slow fire of the day.
    Still check it often. That type stove builds up quickly sometimes.
    Always adjust heat from the front.

    My Chimney sweep said that new stoves, not this style, no longer have dampers in them.
    No longer allowed.
    Mine has one. It is an old model Pacific.
    I have a lever that adjusts the air from the front.
    We use that.
    You seem to know what you are doing.

    Lots of folks still mix green and dry wood to make them burn longer.
    Thats why there are still so many flue fires these days.
    Let in a little outside air to replinish the oxygen in the room and help cool it some.

  8. You got it right, SP,… using green wood is always a “no-no”… I think you have it worked out just fine.

  9. themac

    Never green. Never pine.

    I know I open something but our stove is a German Wesson therefore the “au” and “ut” means very little to me. 🙂

  10. I have used both old-fashioned cook stoves, box stoves and the new-fangled air-tight stoves. In each and every one of them, you need to play with the vents. The front ones as well as the pipe one. As you have discovered, your pipe one wants more air. If you use little wood to start the fire, it will burn quickly and hot, then put the big stuff on for slow burns. You’ve got that right …. and if you need to get hot again, quickly, put on more little wood. I use pine as a starter but other than that, I use hard woods as much as possible. It’s the pine that causes most of the creosote …..

    You will probably find that sometimes you can NOT get your stove started. It ain’t you, friend … it’s the weather. A “heavy” day means a hard-to-start fire. (Also is not a day to bake bread as the yeast doesn’t like a heavy day, either.)

    Keep us apprised of your stove “work” …. I envy you – I’d give my right arm and maybe even my husband for a wood stove, especially on a day like today.

  11. Thanks guys! This is awesome!

  12. Marie (adktricollie)

    I do know one thing, my hubby has made it very clear to me when having an inside fire & it goes like this: “never ever burn any pines or spruces unless you’re into chimney fires”.

  13. Lots of good advice here, and it sounds like you’re already doing all the right things, Pines. We have an eight-inch stovepipe that goes straight up so we have few if any creosote issues. We took out the damper years ago and ontrol by the vents. Larry uses a chain to clean the chimney and it works well. Seasoned wood is always best, green just steams and makes creosote and give little in the way of heat.

  14. Gary

    It’s so exciting to find a group of wood burning freaks like myself. I am in my 2nd winter of heating my well insulated precast foundation. I put a lid on it till I can rebuild a 200 year old hand hued log cabin. A life project for sure. But let’s get back to heating with wood. I have an airtight newfangled non catalytic tight wood burner. I bought the best I could with the cash I had and I don’t regret spending one dollar. Between the stove and the pipe to go up only about 12’ I spent near $4000. Half for the stove and half for the pipe. But I know it’s safe and sound and will probably out live me.
    After spending hours on the Internet and at my local stove stores I came to several conclusions.
    1 Don’t buy a stove that’s too big for your space.
    2 Buy a stove thermometer.
    I learned several key things about the elements of a fire. When you get a simple thermometer you know that a stove temp between 300 and 600 degrees is optimal burn temp for any fire in any stove. Below 300 will create creosote and over 600 is unsafe for a number of reasons. Mostly it’s just too hot for the fire box and flue pipe. So the point is if you keep your fire between 300 and 600 no matter what type wood your burning you will be creating little or less creosote. Let’s also remember the environment if your fire is putting out lots of smoke you are causing pollution and creating creosote. Creosote travels in smoke! So a fire burning at a proper temp will create very little smoke. OK back to the reason you don’t want a stove too big for your space is that if you have to damp it down all the time as to not heat yourself out you will be burning a too big stove at less than 300 and you know what that causes.
    In my opinion the key to any fire is a thick bed of coals. Thick enough to be able to burn whatever sticks you throw on them. While I generally concur the green wood is not good to burn I have been guilty of burning some wood that’s not at its prime state of curing. My problem with uncured wood is that it’s a bitch to keep a fire going with it and that’s no fun. I have out of necessity burned wood that was cut and left at the edge of the woods and because of weather conditions I was unable to get back to it and split it for several months. When I was finally able to split and stack it I didn’t’ have any idea how much moisture was in because it was frozen and out in the cold it looked and felt just fine. Only when I brought it inside and it thawed did I find how wet it was but it was too late it was all I had and I had to burn it. By mixing it with properly cured wood made it much easier and safer to burn. Another fact that I read early on was that until you split and stack it wood will not be fully cured. Just cutting it is not always enough.
    Properly dried wood is just so much more a joy to burn. But I swear the fire gods play with us mere mortals and some days I can’t get a good hot fire burning for love or money. Same wood supply as the day before and it just will not get burning. And that’s what I love about it, no matter how smart you think you are the fire will show you whose boss.
    Toss a log on for me,

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