1. Have The Flue Cleaned As And When Required
The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) states that the National Fire Protection Association recommends that you should have your chimney or flue cleaned as least once per year to ensure that the passageway for waste gases and smoke to leave your stove is clear.
The flue also provides the draft on the stove required to help suck air up from the stove and out of your home, which in turn sucks more air into the stove to feed the fire. A dirty flue can reduce the draw on your stove.
A flue that is dirty or blocked due to a build up of tar (creosote) or debris that has fallen down can inhibit how well your wood stove operates, and how much heat can be produced. A blocked flue can also prevent smoke from efficiently leaving your home and may cause the smoke to enter the room when you open the door.
It’s also recommended to have your flue swept more often than annually if you’re using your stove regularly. Burning softwoods over hardwoods may also cause your flue to block up at an increased rate.
You can read more about how often your flue or chimney should be cleaned and why here.
2. Bring Wood Inside Before Each Fire
Cold wood can be harder to burn in your stove because it can take longer for the logs to warm up to combustible temperature.
As our wood is stored outside, we therefore like to bring in our own firewood from outside the day before being burnt in our wood stove. This gives the wood plenty of time to warm up to room temperature before being used on one of our stove fires.
This helps to ensure that any fresh logs being added to the stove catch alight as quickly as possible, and don’t cause the fire to struggle and reduce heat output.
3. Leave The Stove Door Open Before Use
If you struggle with getting enough draft on your wood burning stove then leaving the door to the stove open before starting a fire can help reduce the possibility of the fire going out.
The inside of our stove can be much colder than the room temperature of our home and so we like to open the door to our wood stove at least 30 minutes before using it, to help bring the air inside the stove nearer or up to room temperature.
4. Warm The Flue To Maximize The Draft
If leaving the door open on the stove isn’t sufficient enough, you can use a heat source to help warm up the air inside the flue to maximize the draw on the stove before starting a fire.
We like to use a rolled up piece of newspaper that’s lit at one end. Simply place the newspaper under the inside top of your wood stove for a short while to help warm up the air inside the flue as the heat rises.
If you can see smoke from the newspaper disappearing up the flue then you can have a better chance of a fire in your stove to get going without any problems.
5. Leave A Layer Of Ash At The Base Of Your Stove
It many cases it can be more efficient to leave a layer of ash at the bottom of your wood stove between each fire.
An inch or two layer of ash can help to insulate the hot coals formed after the initial bits of wood have burnt through, and also help to transfer the heat back onto any further logs added to the fire.
The instruction manual for your particular model of wood stove should mention whether a layer of ash should be left in the stove, and how much.
Wood burns more efficiently with a source of air from above the fire, and so a layer of ash won’t be blocking air from getting to the fire. There are no air vents on our wood burning stove feeding air to below the fire, and so we leave about an inch of ash in the firebox before each fire.
If you have a multi fuel stove, which allows you to burn other types of fuel such as coal, then it can be fine not have a layer of ash as any ash created during a fire will fall through into the ash pan.
6. Check That The Wood Is Dry Enough
It’s important to ensure that the wood you’re using is dry enough to burn efficiently on a fire.
Wet wood can be one of the biggest causes of wood stove fires that don’t catch alight, don’t burn properly, don’t produce much heat, and produce more smoke than usual.
The magic number for wood that will burn efficiently is 20% moisture content or lower. As this number increases above 20% is gets exponentially harder for the wood to burn well because more energy is required from the fire to burn off the excess moisture content.
I therefore highly recommend getting a moisture meter for your wood stove if you don’t already have one. This moisture meter is my current favorite and will help to read the exact of moisture content of your wood to ensure that you’re not burning wood that is too wet (I recommend this moisture meter of you’re in the UK).
Wood that is ‘well seasoned’ or ‘kiln dried’ should be dry enough to use on your wood stove, but a moisture meter can be used to confirm the actual moisture content as in many cases it isn’t quite dry enough.
Dry wood will help you to have a more successful fire and for your stove to produce more heat.
7. Use Newspaper To Spread The Fire To The Wood More Quickly
The aim when lighting any fire in your wood burning stove is to get the fire to spread to the wood as quickly and evenly as possible.
Providing a bed of crunched up newspaper below the kindling can help to ensure that the kindling and initial logs catch alight more quickly.
We like to crunch up single sheets of newspaper into a ball and place them across the bed of the stove. The pieces of newspaper shouldn’t be too tightly squashed to ensure that air can still get in between. The same applies for when packing the newspaper balls into the stove.
For more information on how to build and light a fire in a wood stove you can read our other article here.
8. Use Smaller Bits Of Dry Softwood As Kindling
Smaller pieces of wood with less surface area will catch alight much more quickly than larger ones, especially during the early stages of a fire.
As it’s important to help get the fire going quickly for a successful fire, the kindling placed on top of the newspaper should be small, and laid in a crisscross pattern to help with airflow.
Softwoods typically catch alight quicker than hardwoods and so are great to be used as kindling. It’s also important to ensure that the kindling is dry enough to burn efficiently as well as the logs.
9. Fully Open The Air Vents Before Starting A Fire
To help the fire get going quickly, all of the air vents on the stove should be fully open before the fire is lit. Maximizing the airflow into the stove will help the fire take hold of the initial bits of wood more quickly.
We find that with the air vent(s) open on our stove we can close the stove door without causing the fire to go out. You can leave the stove door open for a short while to help with airflow, but the door shouldn’t remain open for the duration of the fire.
10. Use Long Matches When Lighting The Fire
Using longer matches when starting a fire in your wood stove will help you to light more areas of the newspaper, and in turn help spread the fire more evenly to the wood.
11. Don’t Use Larger Logs Too Early Into A Fire
It’s important not to place your largest logs in your stove too early into a fire, as it can smother the fire and cause it to go out.
Smaller pieces of wood can catch alight more easily than larger ones, and so smaller sized logs should be used when lighting fire, and progressively larger sized logs used as the fire heats up.
After your initial bits of small wood have burnt through, a bed of hot coals should have been formed, which will help larger bits of wood to catch alight with more ease.
As temperatures within the stove continue to rise to optimum temperatures, larger sized logs can be added to the fire without causing it to struggle.
12. Burn Hardwood Logs For Increased Heat Output And Longevity
Hardwood logs are typically denser than their softwood counterparts and so can produce more heat over a longer period of time. Hardwood logs can also have an increased burn time meaning fewer loads of logs needing to be added to the fire.
We always burn hardwood logs in our wood stoves as they help the stoves to produce the most amount of heat. Burning hardwoods logs can also help to reduce the buildup of tar in the flue compared to burning softwood logs.
Softwoods should still be used when lighting a fire in your wood stove as they are generally easier to catch alight and burn quicker, meaning that you can typically get your fire going more quickly than when using hardwood as kindling.
13. Use A Stove Thermometer to Measure Temperatures
A stove thermometer is a great bit of kit for your wood burning stove. They can be placed on the flue of your stove and will read the temperature of your flue based on how hot the waste gases leaving your stove are.
It’s important to understand how hot your stove is operating because it helps you to understand how well the stove is performing.
There’s a general temperature range for wood stove where the most amount of heat will be produced from every log. This can be seen on our stove thermometer, labeled as the ‘best operation’ temperature range:
Within this temperature range a wood stove is operating its most efficiently, where the most amount of heat is being generated by the fire without burning through the wood too quickly.
A stove thermometer also helps you to identify if you’re running your stove too hot. Temperatures hotter than within the ‘best operation’ range are shown to be within the ‘too hot’ temperature range on stove thermometers, as shown below:
When your stove is running too hot, it’s a sign that the fire is burning through the wood too quickly for it to be efficient. You may find that you’re adding logs to the stove more often than if you were to bring the temperature of the stove down to best operational temperatures.
Furthermore, putting too much wood in your stove compared to its size can lead to over firing of the stove, where too much heat is being generated for what the stove was designed for, and can lead to permanent damage of key components such as the baffle plate over time if regularly over fired.
On the other side of the scale, a stove thermometer can also show whether temperatures within the stove are too low. At low temperatures the fire can start to smoke due to smoldering from inefficient burning of the wood. For secondary combustion to occur (more about secondary burn here) temperatures within the stove need to be within the ‘best operation’ range for waste gases to burn more cleanly, and for more heat to be produced.
At low stove temperatures, more creosote (tar) can be produced by the fire as a result of inefficiently burning the wood, as shown on our stove thermometer.
A poorly burning and low temperature fire in your wood burning stove can be a result of under utilizing the stove by not burning enough wood.
14. Don’t Leave The Air Vents Wide Open
Although the air vents on a wood burning stove should be left open when lighting a fire, they should be closed down as soon as possible after the fire has caught hold of the initial bits of wood.
Wide open vents will result in the fire is being supplied with the maximum amount of air, and can lead to the fire burning through the wood at an increased rate.
To help improve the efficiency of a fire in your wood stove, and to help increase the amount of heat produced from every piece of wood consumed, the air vent(s) on your wood stove should be closed down until the fire is calmly burning the wood, without smoldering due to lack of oxygen and without burning furiously as a result of too much air being supplied. I’ve shown what a fire in a wood burning stove should look like here.
As multi fuel stoves work slightly differently to wood stoves, you can read our guide to using the vents on a multi fuel stove here.
Furthermore, the door on a stove shouldn’t be left open during a fire as you aren’t able to control the fire using the air vents if air is getting through the door.
15. Don’t Let The Fire Smolder
A smoldering fire is a poorly burning fire. When a fire is burning the wood inefficiently, it can start to produce more smoke.
A common cause of your fire smoldering is due to lack of oxygen. If you see your stove smoldering (like in the picture of our stove below) simply open up the air vents until the fire is being fed enough oxygen and the flames are visible but calm.
16. Don’t Underutilize Your Stove
Your wood stove will have been sized accordingly with the area it’s required to heat. If you underutilize your stove by having too small of a fire it can prevent temperatures from reaching high enough for the stove to be burning the wood efficiently.
An underperforming stove can lead to less heat being produced, more smoke being released by the fire, and an increased buildup of creosote in the flue over time.
17. Use The Airwash To Help Keep The Glass Clear
Many wood burning stoves have airwash systems built in that help to keep the glass on the front of your stove clear during a fire.
Air wash can operate as part of the normal airflow into the stove, typically as part of the secondary airflow into a stove (more about primary, secondary and tertiary airflow in stoves here.)
The stove will provide a flow of air down the inside of the glass door during a fire, and help to prevent particles forming on the glass that would cause it to stain.
As our wood burning stove only has one air vent control, we simply need to ensure that the vent isn’t closed too far to allow for the airwash to occur.
Our multi fuel stove has two controllable air vents, and so we ensure that the secondary air vent located underneath the stove is open far enough during a fire to help keep the glass clear.
Here’s what our wood burning stove looked like when we weren’t using the airwash properly:
Our airwash on our multi fuel stove works very well and keeps the glass clear through the majority of fires:
18. Maintain The Stove To Maximize Heat Output
A well maintained and looked after stove will help to ensure that it will produce great amounts of heat for your home for many years.
Over time, some components of a stove can wear out and become damaged, leading to the stove being unable to operating as effectively as possible.
One of the main components on a wood stove that can need replacing every so often is the door gasket (door seal). The gasket helps to ensure that when the door it shut all of the air getting into the stove is through the air vents. A damaged gasket can lead to surplus oxygen getting to the fire and the fire burning faster and inefficiently as a result.
New door gaskets for your stove can be purchased for a reasonable price and can be installed without professional help.
Another component that can become damaged over time is the baffle plate located within the top area inside your stove.
Located right above the fire, the baffle can take the brunt of the heat and can deteriorate over time. Over firing your stove can lead to permanent damage of a baffle due to high temperatures, where the baffle plate may sag or crack.
The baffle helps to keep waste gases inside the stove for longer and at hotter temperatures, allowing a stove to produce even more heat from burning wood.
It’s therefore important to ensure that your baffle plate is well maintained and kept in good working order. Depending on the model of stove many baffles can be replaced if required.
You can read more about baffle plates here.
19. Always Use Gloves When Operating A Stove
As wood stoves are enclosed systems they transfer heat into the room through the body of the stove, meaning that they can get extremely hot during fires.
It’s therefore important to ensure that you’re always wearing gloves when opening the door to the stove.
If you need a set of gloves for your stove then I recommend looking into getting these gloves here.