How to Light a Fire in a Wood Burning Stove
Come On Baby, Light My Fire!
Lighting a fire may sound old-fashioned but there are many reasons, including the need to save money, why the sale of open fires and wood burning stoves in particular, are currently booming across the globe.
This article explains the differences between lighting a wood burning stove and an ordinary, 'open' log fire. It also contains tips about how to successfully maintain your fire once lit.
If you want to know more about wood burning stoves or the reasons why wood burning stoves are cost effective and environmentally friendly then read: Wood Burning Stoves and Ten Reasons Why Now is the Right Time to Burn Wood
Features of the Wood Burning Stove
Before we get down to lighting the fire in a wood stove, it is helpful to understand some differences between ordinary fires and wood burning stoves:
- 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 into the stove is controlled by one or more manually operated valves
- The design means you can preheat the incoming air using the stove heat, so the stove burns much hotter than a conventional wood fire
- The wood stove is therefore much more efficient in terms of converting fuel to heat energy than an ordinary 'open' fire
Preparing the Fire
Like a conventional fire, you can either start your wood stove fire with Fire Lighters or old Newspaper. With a wood stove it is good to light the new fire on a bed of ash so don't remove all the old ash when preparing the fire.
I only use fire lighters when newspaper fails to get the kindling alight. 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 fire lighter, typically arranged in a 'wigwam' pattern. Kindling is any easy burning material but typically dry twigs or a soft wood like pine chopped into small pieces with a hand axe.
Fire lighters are normally made of paraffin wax and are a useful standby if paper fails to get things going. Some manufacturers add small amounts of kerosene or other light fuel to the wax in order to make them burn better.
Have larger pieces of dry, seasoned wood ready to add as the fire catches hold.
Air Input Controls
Your wood burning stove will typically have both a primary and secondary air input controls or valves.
In the photo of the Morso Squirrel (right), the circular control on the front is the primary control and there is a slider control for the secondary valve under the ash box at the bottom 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 is also advisable to keep the door open too.
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.
We Have Ignition!
This is the exciting bit. Light the newspaper (in several places) or the fire lighter and gradually add larger pieces of wood as the fire burns. Beware of adding 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.
Also make sure 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.
I keep my firewood in my garage so I bring it into the house before burning and stack it next to the stove. This ensures it is already warm and dry before it is added to the fire.
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 can 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 then the fire will quickly go out as it has no oxygen supply.
If the fire isn't burning well enough then 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.
Light My Fire
Lighting and maintaining a fire in a wood burning stove is, in some respects, different to lighting and maintaining a conventional open log fire.
The main differences are the need to control the air supply and the understanding that you need to get the stove itself hot before it will burn efficiently.
There is nothing quite like a real log fire on a cold winter's day. And one of the many advantages of the wood stove is you can leave it burning while you go out knowing that the fire is safely enclosed.
Like any skill, the best way to learn wood burning stove lighting is by doing. You'll learn by trial and error how to get the best from your own particular model of stove.
If you enjoy an open fire then you'll find a wood burning stove even more satisfying. Its hotter, more efficient and safer. So now you know what to do - Get that wood burning stove lit and then keep that fire burning!