In this installment, we will talk about how to get the fire started. This can be fairly basic in theory, but can provide some challenges practically. I have found a few things that may come in handy as far as both starting the fire from the start, as well as getting the fire going from a nice hot coal bed.
To begin with I will assume that we are starting the woodburner from a “cold start.” As a definition, let’s define that as no active coals, stove at room temperature, flu and stack at room temperature and likely a downdraft. Starting from this point requires a quick flash of heat in order to establish an updraft. With a downdraft present, the smoke that is initially produced will be forced into the room, which is undesireable to state the least. I have found that the following strategy is beneficial:
1) Keep the upper flu damper closed
2) Keep any air inlets closed as well.
3) Crumple up a bunch of newsapaper before opening the tinderbox of the wood stove.
4) Stuff the tinderbox relatively full. For my tinderbox, this takes about 8 to 10 pieces of newspaper.
5) OPTIONAL, place a few small pieces of kindling or thinned down wood in order to get the initial fire started, but keep in mind that the desire here is a quick burst of heat.
6) Light the paper and close the door
7) Monitor the fire, resisting the temptation to open the door if the fire begins to falter a bit
8) After about 10 to 15 seconds open the upper flue damper.
9) I have noticed that a few puffs of smoke will form at the junctions of the piping as the flu heats up. This does not amount to much smoke in the room, and I often see the smoke being sucked back into the flu as the updraft is established.
10) Though I can not effectively describe it with words, you will note the sudden increase in the intensity of the fire once the updraft has been established. At this point I open any air inlet areas all the way open.
Once the paper is mainly consumed, I then build what I will call a secondary fire. It is best to start with some form of smaller wood. This is due to the fact that it is easiest to get smaller pieces of wood burning. At this stage the goal is to get a sustainable fire and to heat up the sides of the wood stove, as well as the firebricks.
I will usually place one shorter piece of wood that has about 4 inches across at its maximum point. I the place smaller sticks, small logs or thinned pieces of wood on an angle between the bottom of the wood burner and the piece of wood. Then I stuff newspapers in the pocket that forms underneath the smaller sticks.
As an aside, I often “shave” thin pieces of wood off the sides of the logs. I do this using my ax, but be careful where you do it as I have hit the concrete before, which both dulls the ax and chips the floor.
Once the basic structure for the fire is established, light the newspaper. As the smaller sticks begin to ignite you are on your way. I leave the door open for a bit for maximum airflow, meaning maximum oxygen. Make sure that the dampers are all open. On our wood stove, the airflow is regulated by a slide out damper that is underneath the coal bed.
Once the fire is heated up all the way, I then check the magnetic temperature guage that is located on the side of the stove. This gusts allows me to keep the fire heated to a level hot enough limit creosote buildup, as well as keep the fire from overheating the tinderbox and causing damage. Once the fire is in the regulated zone, you are on your way. The fire can now be controlled using whatever dampers that are in place. There are two types of dampers that I know of. The first is from below, the second from above.
Now let us assume that the fire has died down and there is a nice warm coal bed in place. The first step that I take is to rake over the tops of the coals. This exposes the hottest coals to oxygen. I can generally get the fire started by just placing logs on top of the coal bed. I have found it useful and necessary to elevate the log gently above the coal bed to allow some air to flow underneath the logs. Otherwise the logs will eventually light after smoldering.
I hope that this article is helpful. I appreciate any comments or tips that can be shared. I am planning on a few more installments.