Wood Stove Fire

What A Wood Stove Fire Should Look Like (With Pictures)

In Indoor Fireplaces, Multi Fuel Stoves, Wood Burning Stoves by James O'KellyLeave a Comment

Depending on how much air and fuel is being supplied, a fire in wood stove can have many different variations in what it looks like.

Too little oxygen getting to the fire can cause it to smolder, while allowing too much air into the stove will cause intense flames that are rapidly burning through the wood.

Both of these variations of a stove fire can signal that the fire is burning through the wood inefficiently, so what should a wood stove fire look like?

A fire in a wood stove should look like it’s calmly burning through the wood at a steady pace, without looking like it’s smoldering or smoking, or has large roaring flames. A fire in a wood stove where the flames are visible, but not too large, is a sign that the wood is being burnt the most efficiently, where the most amount of heat is being produced from every piece of wood.

I’ve explained below in more detail what a fire in your stove should like, showing what a fire in both our wood burning and multi fuel stoves should look like, and what it shouldn’t.

What Should A Wood Stove Fire Look Like?

A wood burning stove helps you to get more heat from burning wood in your home by allowing you to control both the amount of wood on the fire and amount of air being supplied into the stove.

When having open fireplaces fires, you can only control the heat output by adding more wood to the fire. You can’t restrict the airflow to an open fireplace fire, and so the fire will the burning through the wood as fast a possible thanks to a constant and large supply of oxygen.

The air vents on a wood stove can be controlled so that the amount of oxygen getting to the fire can be restricted, which helps to adjust how fast the flames are burning the wood, and in turn the heat output.

Our wood burning stove has one controllable air vent that’s located underneath the stove. Opening or closing the vent increases and reduces the amount of air getting the fire respectively.

Wood Stove Air Vent Handle
The vent control handle on our wood burning stove, used to control the amount of air getting to the fire

I’ve explained here how to use the air vents on a wood stove to control a fire.

You should also ensure that you’re not putting too much or too little wood inside your stove at any one time. You should be putting logs in the stove so that there are always around 2 or 3 pieces of wood on the fire at a time.

Depending on the size of the pieces of wood, we typically burn 2-3 logs on our wood stove:

There’s two logs at this point inside our wood stove, which is about the right amount. The amount of wood inside the stove isn’t too little for the size of the stove, and the stove isn’t overloaded with wood.

You shouldn’t build and maintain a fire that is too small for the size of your stove as it will underperform, and may not reach operating temperatures where the most amount of heat will be produced from every log.

Similarly, you shouldn’t put too much wood on the fire at once as this can cause ‘over firing’ of the stove (more about over firing wood stoves here).

If your stove has air vents at the back of the firebox, try not to build a fire any higher than these vents, or higher than the baffle plate located near the top of the firebox.

Baffle Plate
Don’t build a fire any higher than the baffle plate or any vents inside the stove

By controlling both the airflow into the stove and the amount of wood on the fire, you can create the right environment where you’re maximizing the amount of heat your stove can be produced from every piece of wood consumed.

But what should a wood stove fire look like?

The fire in your wood stove should look like this:

Wood Stove Fire
How a fire should look in a wood stove

The picture shows the type of fire that you should aim for: one where the flames are steadily burning the wood, without the fire smoldering due to lack of oxygen, or without the flames roaring inside the stove.

Here’s a few more pictures of how a wood fire should look in either a wood burning stove or multi fuel stove.

Wood Stove Fire
The embers are burning hot but there’s still a constant and calm flame
Stove Fire
An efficiently burning fire in our multi fuel stove

A calm and constant burning fire, along with the right amount of wood in the stove, should give you a temperature that’s within the ‘best operation’ temperature range when burning wood.

Stove Operation Temperature
Aim for a fire in the best operation temperature range

A wood stove within the best operation temperature range is producing the most amount of heat from every log.

This type of fire is can be seen between a smoldering fire and a roaring fire, and I’ve discussed both of these types of fires you don’t want to be seeing below.

Smoldering Fire

If there is too little wood on the fire and/or you’re allowing too little oxygen to the stove because the air vents are closed by too much, then the fire can smolder. A smoldering fire is one where there are little or no flames visible, but the wood and embers may still be burning  hot.

Smoldering Fire
The fire is struggling due to a lack of oxygen so we opened up the air vent

A common sign of a smoldering fire is smoke being produced as a result of the wood burning inefficiently due to a lack of oxygen.

A fire that is smoldering may not be producing enough heat for the stove to be running at the best operational temperature. If a stove is running at a too low of a temperature it can produce creosote (a substance that lines the flue) at a faster rate, as shown by our stove thermometer below.

Stove Thermometer
Low stove temperature can cause the fire to smoke due to lack of wood or oxygen

If your fire is smoldering, open up the air vents until the flames are more visible. Adjust the vents so that there are flames, but they aren’t roaring. Also ensure that any wood you’re burning is dry enough. Wet wood can’t burn effectively and the fire can smolder and release smoke as a result.

Roaring Fire

If there is too much wood in the stove and/or the air vents are open by too much, the fire can be roaring with large flames.

Wood Stove Fire
A roaring fire in our stove because the air vents have been opened too far
Wood Stove Fire
A roaring fire doesn’t necessarily mean the stove is producing more heat, and increased airflow can mean heat is leaving the stove more quickly

More wood and more oxygen can mean that your stove is producing more heat as a result, but you’ll be adding more wood to the fire much more often, making it an inefficiently burning fire in your stove.

A roaring fire is needed at the start of a fire when you’re trying to bring the stove up to operational temperature. However, if you want to produce the most amount of heat without having to top up the stove regularly with wood, ensure that the fire isn’t roaring for the remaining duration of the fire.

Multi Fuel Stove Fire
A roaring fire after lighting the stove is ok because we want to bring the stove up to temperature as quickly as possible

A stove that’s running too hot because it’s burning through the wood too fast can be identified on a stove thermometer:

Multi Fuel Stove Too Hot
A roaring fire can lead to a stove that’s running too hot

If your fire is roaring, close down the air vents until the flames are calmer, without closing them down too much that it causes the fire to smolder. Also ensure that you’re not putting too much wood on the fire.

I’ve explained how to use a wood burning stove throughout each stage of a fire here.

What Should A Wood Stove Fire Look Like?

In summary, you’ll want a fire in your stove that:

  • Is producing the most amount of heat from every piece of wood burnt.
  • Is steadily burning through the wood at a constant pace, where the flames are moderately sized and calm. In this situation the fire is burning through the wood the most efficiently.
  • Isn’t roaring with significant flames due to an increased supply of oxygen to the stove. The fire will be burning through the wood at a much faster rate and you’ll find that you’ll need to add more wood to the fire much more often. Large flames due to rapid air supply can lead to an inefficiently burning fire because the wood it being burnt too quickly.
  • Isn’t smoldering or smoking due to a lack of oxygen, where smoke may be produced as a result. A smoldering fire that’s releasing smoke means that the wood is being burnt inefficiently.
  • Is sized correctly for the size of the stove. A fire that is too small for the size of the stove will cause the stove to underperform, and may not be running at operational temperature. On the other hand, too much wood inside the stove at any one time can cause over firing of the stove due to high temperatures.

Further Reading

How To Use A Wood Burning Stove

How A Wood Burning Stove Works

How To Build And Light A Fire In A Wood Stove

Parts Of A Wood Burning Stove Explained

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