Starting a Wood Fire in your stove, insert or fireplace

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Starting a fire is a crucial wood burning skill. The objective is more than getting wood in the firebox to burn; the process must “start” the chimney properly so that combustion and draft reach a selfsustaining level.
There are many ways to build a fire. In general, the basic principle is to light easily ignitable tinder or paper, which ignites fast-burning kindling, which in turn ignites slower burning firewood. Be sure the room is adequately ventilated and the venting system unobstructed. If the stove tends to smoke when first lit, a draft may be induced by burning one or two sheets of lightly crumpled newspaper.
Occasionally, this must be done two or three times to establish an updraft. It may also help to slightly open a nearby door or window.
With these preparations completed, fire starting can follow procedures such as these:

1. Place several wads of crushed or loosely knotted paper in the front of the firebox. Use plenty of newspaper since the objective is a quick hot fire that “starts” the chimney.

2. Lay small dry sticks of kindling on top, criss-crossing them if possible. Be careful to avoid blocking the lower primary air opening below the door. The size and dryness of the firewood and draft conditions determine the amount of kindling needed; it is better to use too much rather than too little

3. OPEN AIR CONTROL FULLY.

4. Light the paper and close the door(s). Cracking the door slightly open may be done with care to increase turbulence and startup speed, but NEVER LEAVE THE APPLIANCE UNATTENDED WITHOUT CLOSING AND LATCHING THE DOOR PROPERLY. Over firing and damage can result. NEVER LIGHT OR REKINDLE A FIRE WITH KEROSENE, GASOLINE, CHARCOAL LIGHTER FLUID OR OTHER FLAMMABLE LIQUIDS; BODILY INJURY OR DEATH CAN RESULT.

5. Once the kindling is burning quickly, add at least 3 full-length split logs of up to 3 to 4 inches across. Be careful not to smother the fire. Stack the pieces of wood carefully, near enough to keep each other hot, but far enough away to allow adequate air flow between them. It is often helpful to rest a log on top of the lower primary air opening. This procedure may appear oversimplified to people familiar with wood burning, but the addition of too few logs is a common problem for inexperienced wood burners. Some woodburners prefer an alternate method of placing small logs discussed here on top of the kindling before lighting the paper. This method avoids opening the appliance door and cooling the firebox, but it works best with relatively dry fuel.

6. Analyzing and evaluating startup is an essential skill. Knowing how much paper and kindling, when to add firewood, firewood condition, and anticipating weather and draft conditions, manipulating combustion air and turbulence comes with experience and analytical observation. The basic criterion for each step is its result in the firebox. If the paper and kindling fire is growing in intensity, logs can be added. If, after a minute or two, the fire is not growing again in intensity, the operator can increase the air by slightly opening the door. If the fire is still lazy, knotted newspaper can be added carefully and quickly to give the chimney quick heat.

7. Another basis of evaluating startup and operation is with temperature gauges. Surface or probe thermometers give an objective readout of fire building progress. The thermometer position (on the appliance or connector) and the significance of different temperatures must be known either from manufacturer or dealer’s instructions or from experience.
Startup is accomplished when the fire and draft are self-sustaining. The air control can be reduced to an efficient and comfortable burn rate. It is important to follow manufacturer’s instructions in and adjusting air controls. The less air supplied to the fire, the lower and slower the fire will burn, more air produces hotter fires. A thermometer is especially helpful in establishing clearly that startup has been attained. Some gauges also have alarms to warn of over firing.

Used with permission: HEARTH Education Foundation “Woodstove Specialist Training Manual”
©HearthStone Quality Home Heating Product Inc.
06/28/2002 TB73 – Starting a Wood Fire.doc
Technical Bulletin #73
General Information Tip
Publication Date: March 1, 2002
Re: All Woodstoves

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