How to Start a Wood Fire
If you asked the average person how to start a wood fire in a stove, they would most likely say just throw the logs in with a match, and the deed is done. However, how to properly start a fire in a wood-burning stove or insert is an exacting science. Great fires start out slow and steady, winning the race and our hearts on chilly evenings, and frosty mornings. In this article, we will focus on wood-burning stoves and inserts, and the procedure that works best when lighting a roaring fire.
It All Starts With a Good Seasoning
If you’ve read our article on the spectacular science of stacking firewood, then you know that the best type of wood to use in any wood-burning fireplace is seasoned dry wood. This is very important, because you want your fire to burn clean, with lots of heat and little smoke. Seasoned wood is commonly used indoors, but some like to use it outdoors for bonfires and regular fire pits. This firewood becomes very light in weight, due to the lack of moisture. This is what you want. A log that is too dense will not light easily and will cause smoke and an array of scents to disperse through your home.
1. Building Blocks
Traditional newspaper is best for kindling, because it is dry, thin, and most importantly flammable. You don’t want to throw magazines or catalogs into a fire because they have thick paper that smokes easily and burns slow, resulting in lots of poisonous fumes. Scrunch the newspaper up and make a layer on the bottom of your stove, before laying the fire. Make sure that you are using split wood when laying a fire, and not round logs. Split wood is easier to light, and it is easier to add round logs after you have a fire going. Round logs are very slow burning and won’t ignite easily so you want to save those for when you have a steady flame.
2. Stack 'em High
You want to lay the wood in what I like to call a Jenga pattern. Depending on the size, lay the first layer of logs (as many as can fit) vertical, with space in between each log. On the next layer, stack logs horizontally so it looks like this:
A Jenga pattern or “log cabin” as some call it is a great approach because you want lots of exposed area of kindling to ignite when lit. This ensures your fire will rise at a steady pace, and not go up in flames right away like with a teepee style structure. With a log cabin layered fire, it is easier to control how much wood you need to add to your fire gradually, making it last longer and burn brighter.
3. Put the Cherry on Top
If you have wood chips (not the barbecue kind) or spare wood kindling, sprinkle this on top of your stack of wood, and even around the bottom in order to feed the fire. You can do this step as many times as you feel it is needed throughout using your stove or insert.
Tip: When cutting wood for future “seasoning” store the leftover wood bits and smaller pieces in a dry, warm area to use in the future as kindling.
4. Light 'er Up!
Do a check over to make sure your stove is set to allow the maximum amount of fresh air into the box. Napoleon Wood stoves have a single lever burn control that regulates the air, establishing a clean burn. You want oxygen because flames are attracted to it and will seek it out. Light the newspaper that you crumpled up at the front. Leave the door open for 3 to 5 minutes while everything is settling in. If you close the door too quickly, the fire may be snuffed out. The same goes with a wood burning insert; make sure the flue is left slightly open, allowing the fire to rise. If you have a screen or doors on your insert, leave them open for a little before closing all the way.*
Close the Door, and Let it Go
Once your fire has been burning for a good while, close the door and wait until the fire is really going.
At this time, let it get to at least a steady 400° F; this is a good temperature to maintain your fire. Before starting to shut it down, monitor how your fire is burning. It takes a minimum 10 to 15 minutes to reduce the heat, and have your fire die down. Make sure your fire has been established before you start reducing the air, this way no smoke will bellow into the room. Another important factor is to resist keeping a wimpy fire going. You want a strong, hearty fire roaring. If it isn’t cold outside, light your fire before the temperature drops at night, so your home can heat up nicely just in time for cool nighttime. Smoldering fires (when it isn’t strong) are dangerous and pose health hazards to your home, from both creosote and smoke. You also don’t want to waste your firewood.
Ashes need to be cleaned out of your stove or insert before using your fireplace, every time. Wait a full day before sweeping them up; ashes are hot and take a long time to cool off. With extreme caution, a set of gloves and a sweep brush, place the ash in a metal bucket, and put it far away from the fireplace, hardwood flooring, carpet, or walls. This is a safety precaution in case the bucket contains any still hot ashes. You also don’t want a bucket of ash laying around for pets or the kids to get into. Rather than keep it in the house, bring it outside and place in the garden or yard. Or learn how to use ash in your home.
*Never ever leave an open wood stove or insert unattended!! This is a serious hazard and a fire, much like a toddler, must have a close eye kept on it. Kindling can spark, and newspaper can fly, so it’ s best not to leave that to chance.
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