Wood burning stoves are commonly installed within existing open fireplaces to help increase the efficiency of burning wood in your home.
Wood stoves help to produce significantly more heat from each piece of wood, but understanding how to use wood stoves is key to getting the most out of them.
To use a wood burning stove:
- Warm up the flue if required using a heat source.
- Build and light the fire using newspaper and small bits of softwood kindling.
- Keep the fire going and bring the stove up to temperature by adding progressively larger sized logs.
- Control the air vents to help burn the wood as efficiently as possible.
- Maintain the fire by adding further logs and adjusting the air vents as required.
Wood stoves don’t quite work in the same way as open fires, and so this guide on how to operate a wood burning stove explains the following:
- Building a fire.
- Warming the flue
- Lighting the fire.
- Getting the fire going and keeping it going.
- Using your wood burning stove the most efficiently.
- Getting the most heat from the stove.
- Putting the fire out.
This guide explains how to use a wood burning stove.
I have another article here that shows how to use a multi fuel stove.
You can read how to tell if you have a multi fuel stove here, and see the complete list of differences between a multi fuel stove and a wood burning stove here.
We’ve been using a wood burning stove for a number of years and I’ve shown in detail below exactly how we use our wood stove for every fire.
How To Use A Wood Burning Stove
Building A Fire
A fire in wood burning stove should be built so that it helps the fire to get going as quickly as possible.
To build a fire in a wood burning stove you’ll need:
- An old newspaper or sheets of plain paper.
- A number of small bits of dry kindling.
Before building a fire in a wood stove, clear out any excess ashes from the previous fire. There should be around 1 inch of ash at the bed of the stove to help insulate the fire and improve its efficiency.
Take pieces of crunched up newspaper and place them at the bed of the stove. Don’t over tighten the newspaper and don’t pack them too tightly into the stove.
Add small bits of dry wood, preferably softwood kindling, on top of the newspaper in a crisscross arrangement as shown below:
Warming The Flue
Ensuring that the flue above your wood burning stove isn’t too cold helps to get the fire going more quickly.
If it’s a particularly cold day then we like to:
- Leave the door to the stove open for a while before lighting a fire, to help bring both the stove and flue up to room temperature.
- Hold a heat source below the flue outlet inside the wood stove to start the draft on the stove.
As wood burning stoves are enclosed systems that are connected to the outside, they can sometimes be much colder than the temperature of your home. Leaving the stove door open for a while helps bring it closer to room temperature.
A cold flue can prevent a fire from staying alight and getting going once lit. Cold air falls and hot air rises, and so a cold flue can provide a barrier to your stove to prevent waste gases and smoke from leaving.
Holding a heat source inside the stove helps to warm up the air inside the flue, which in turn helps to start the draft on the stove where air is pulled up the flue.
We like to take a rolled up bit of newspaper, light it at one end and place it under the inside top of the stove.
If you can see smoke from the newspaper rising up into the flue then it’s a sign that there’s sufficient draft on the stove to be able to light the fire with greater success.
Lighting The Fire
Before lighting a fire in your wood burning stove, ensure that all controllable air vents on the stove are fully open.
With the fire built and the flue warm, the fire should be lit at different points across the bed of newspaper to help spread the fire to the kindling quickly and evenly.
Once the fire has caught hold of the wood, the door to the stove should now be closed, and the air vents should remain fully open.
If the fire struggles in your wood burning stove once the door is closed then you can leave it open for a couple minutes longer while the fire gets going. It’s not recommended however to leave the door to your stove open for the duration of the fire because the air flow into the stove can’t be controlled.
How To Get A Wood Burning Stove Going
Understanding when to add different sized pieces of wood to the fire, and how to use the air vents on your wood stove is key to helping to get a wood burning stove going.
When lighting a fire, the air vents should be fully open.
As the fire spreads from the newspaper and takes hold of the kindling, the air vents should remain fully open.
Once the fire has stopped rapidly burning through the initial kindling, smaller sized logs can be added to the fire, and the air vents can slowly be closed down in stages until the fire is burning through the wood calmly.
Don’t use larger bits of wood too early into a fire. Bigger logs are harder to catch alight and so can smother a fire if temperatures within the stove aren’t hot enough.
The aim is to build up the fire progressively as temperatures increase, while slowly closing down the air vents in conjunction with adding more fuel to help control the rate at which the fire burns through the wood.
How To Keep A Wood Burning Stove Going
If the fire looks to be struggling, is smolder or is producing smoke, open the main air vent to increase the air supply to the fire until it’s calmly burning through the wood again at a steady pace.
Try not to fully open the vents on your stove as this will cause the fire to rapidly burn through the fuel and decrease the overall efficiency of the stove. You’ll also be adding wood to the fire much more often in return for a slight increase in heat output.
To help keep a fire going in a wood stove, periodically add one or two logs to the stove to ensure that there is always fuel to burn. Don’t let the fuel inside the stove run out, and equally don’t overload the stove with wood as this can lead to over firing of the stove.
Using The Stove More Efficiently
The aim of a wood burning stove is to increase the efficiency of burning wood.
To achieve this, the air vents on a wood stove need to be closed down to a point where the fire is steadily burning through the wood, without burning through the wood too quickly or causing the fire to smolder due to lack of oxygen.
With the air vents fully open, the fire will be rapidly burning through the fuel and the wood burning stove won’t be working as efficiently as it’s designed to be.
Therefore, to use your wood stove more efficiently:
- Close down the air vent(s) in steps until the fire is producing the most amount of heat for every piece of wood being burnt.
- Don’t leave the air vents open too far or the fire will be inefficiently burning through the wood at a faster rate.
- Don’t close the air vents down too far to a point where the fire is smoldering and struggling (and potentially producing smoke) as the wood will be burning inefficiently.
Getting The Most Heat
If you’re looking to get the most heat from a wood burning stove, then you’ll need to be maximizing the amount of fuel inside the stove and open up the air vents.
Getting the most heat from a wood burning stove is very inefficient, as you’ll be burning through the wood much more quickly for a diminishing return in heat output.
Larger sized hardwood logs should be added to the fire and the maximum amount of fuel allowed within your stove maintained. Don’t overload your stove with too much wood, and don’t build a fire higher than any air vents located inside your stove as this will reduce efficiency and heat output.
While efficient burning requires the air vents to be partially closed down, to increase heat output the air vents should be opened up to allow more air to be supplied to the fire.
With the most amount of wood achievable inside the stove, and the air supply to the fire maximized, the wood burning stove will be producing the most amount of heat possible.
How To Extinguish A Wood Burning Stove
To put wood burning stove out:
- Ensure that the door to the stove is shut.
- Don’t add any further bits of wood to the fire.
- Fully close any controllable air vents on the stove to cut off the oxygen supply to the fire.
If your stove has a damper, ensure not to close it, as the fire will continue to smolder for a number of hours after the fire has been extinguished and still produce waste gases and smoke.