Woodburning newbie fans fickle flames

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

About a month ago, our new wood stove was delivered and installed. It was 70 degrees that day, but in the 40's at night. Looks great, I thought! Can't wait to use it.

Last week, our cord of wood was delivered and stacked. 65 degrees that day, 40's at night, but decided to wait on using the stove.

Yesterday, it was 70 degrees at noon. A front came through Wisconsin during the afternoon, causing temperatures to plummet over 30 degrees, and Brett Favre to apparently go blind. Winter has arrived.

Today, I decided to finally fire up the stove. I placed the kindling and newspaper just so, and lit it. The warmth from the initial flame was heavenly. Nevertheless, I decided to leave the furnace on.

The initial flame quickly faded to embers, and the kindling sat there, unfazed. More newspaper. Same result. Still more paper (the Sunday want ads this time--I wasn't fooling around any longer). Finally, the piece of kindling seemed to catch. I gingerly added the first log. Seasoned hardwood, dried for two years. I eagerly awaited the heat and the color.

Needs more newspaper. Why do I feel that I am being mocked now? Shake it off, it'll be great in a few minutes. Try last week's TV section. Now the flames are bluish-green (colored ink, I guess) and I smile a warm smile. Calista Flockhart, I think, has just gone up in flames. Sadistic delight.

But it's short-lived. The log is now most definitely mocking me. My teeth clenched, I catch my reflection in the glass window, and smile once again. Mock me, eh?!

I grab the Sunday transportation section. And travel (Brazilian cruise, anyone?). Sports (Favre deserves this!). It all goes up magnificently around the stubborn log.

It is now clear: this log will not burn. Two hours have now passed. There is some heat generated, for sure, but only if I am within one foot of the surface. I'm tempted to use lighter fluid now, but resist.

After yet another hour, I give up. The log has defeated me. I get no pleasure from the barely-noticeable glow which has formed on a 2-inch by 2-inch square outer portion of the log from hell. No, it's simply mocking me and revelling in its victory. I think I'll name it Holmgren.

I vow to return another day. The season is young. I'll lick my wounds, and come back stronger. But I'm feeling a bit clueless as to how to better formulate the game plan for the next contest. Anyone care to offer pointers to this rookie?

-- Flame away (ple@s.e), November 02, 1999


Use a furnace. I suggest natural gas with an electric igniter.

-- (duh@duh.duh), November 02, 1999.

Flame away, Give us a little background information. Are you experienced at starting fires from "scratch" outdoors? Or in the fireplace?

-- Puddintame (achillesg@hotmail.com), November 02, 1999.

Be sure to close the door to the stove after lighting the paper, but if there is a vent, leave it open. Remember, it will smother without oxygen.

-- Name (fake@address.com), November 02, 1999.

Oxygen was plentiful. I've used fireplaces before, but not wood stoves. The primary difference that I can see is the fireplace allows room under the logs for kindling/paper/etc., whereas that's not the case in the stove.

I'm typing this in my basement office, with the space heater going full blast. Feels great.

-- Flame away (ple@s.e), November 02, 1999.

I have a wonderful WESO Ceramic stove we use as an alternative to using the heat pump. Cheaper than electricity for our Virginia winters. Occasionally we get a "brain f_rt" and try to light it your way. Need really seasoned, dry firewood and lots of newspapers and time.

You need either kindling or a firestarter stick (sort of like a small version of those fake logs). Take out the log, put in ~3-4 sheets of crinkled newspaper. Put the kindling (or firestarter stick) on top of that. Put logs on top of that (2-3 works better than 1). Light 'er up. If the wood is dry, it should work fine. If the wood is wet, you might need to feed in more kindling.

Good luck.

-- ng (cantprovideemail@none.com), November 02, 1999.

Assuming the wood was dry (sounds as if it were), then insufficient kindling might be the culprit. Maybe you were too quick to add the logs?

A fast, convenient (though somewhat expensive) way to get your logs going is to buy the "fire starter' blocks (a pressed brick of sawdust & wax). These will burn long and hot enough to get logs burning. If you're handy, you can make these items from stuff around the house (dryer lint, sawdust, parafin, etc.)

But modern conveniences aside, the best way is to use LOTS of kindling. Start with lots of very small stuff and gradually add slightly larger pieces. make sure that you have a serious fire going before attempting to add a log.

The Boy Scout Handbook used to have several illustrations for starting fires outdoors. The key is to start will lots of small, thin stuff then add slightly bigger pieces until you have a real fire going. Patience and practice.

-- Arnie Rimmer (Arnie_Rimmer@usa.net), November 02, 1999.

Is the damper open?

-- hot stuff (keepinwarm@thewoodburner.com), November 02, 1999.

Try this way to start your fire...

Top Down Fire Starting

If you still have troubles, do a search on the excellent Q&A's at this site...


Have fun.

-- John (jh@NotReal.ca), November 02, 1999.

They make a thing called a fire starter. It is a wax/particle type thingy. About $7 at home depot for a case. That will last you for years. Just put it under some twigs or SMALL piece's of wood and you are in business with one match.

The REAL.......

-- FLAME AWAY (BLehman202@aol.com), November 02, 1999.

Flame away - (no pun intended?)

See http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=001ZkL

My overall suggestion is that you need a bunch of heat initialy in order to heat up the stack, to get good draw. Use a bunch of kindling and paper. Wait a few minutes befor putting the log on. Make sure flue is wide open. It also often helps to open a window or door when starting out, to encourage good draw.

-- cat (ccordes@ashland.baysat.net), November 02, 1999.

The pun was intentional. I won't use the handle again.

I will check out the starters. I'm sure it'll help. Thanks for the tips, all!

I'll let you know how it goes next time. If the Bears beat the Packers next week, however, I may burn down the house!!

-- Flame away (ple@s.e), November 02, 1999.

Got an instruction booklet?

Really have to watch the damper vent openings. Especially building the fire on the bottom (no grate). I'm a newbie woodstove insert owner and discovered that the damper opening valves work somewhat differently than a regular fireplace. Need a good draft!

-- (not@regular.here), November 02, 1999.

Open the damper. Fire needs air.

-- Smokey the bear (I@hate.fire), November 02, 1999.

And what's with Brett leaving the field with a bag! over his head?!?

Last winter we bought and had installed a Vermont Castings stove. Took some tweaking, but does it throw the heat!!! Your new best friend will be the magnetic thermometer which you will hang on the side of the box. That temp reading dictates everything that you do * after* you get the fire going. We just ball up alot of newsprint (the Journal Sentinel works great) and put a bunch of logs on top of that. No prob.

With a 27 degree night predicted here in Milwaukee, it's time to stoke!

All advice above is true and good.

-- have q's (answer@here.com), November 02, 1999.

Flame away: Your problem is that you're trying to go from a few flames to a burning log. The "thermal distance" between those two is much too far.

First, make a great, blazing <> fire, then gradually make it larger. Use more kindling...the add some bark and larger twigs...then very very small logs, then a somewhat larger log.

The wax firestarters are good. So are Fatwood sticks. But, in general, start small and work up slowly. Good luck!!

-- doug (dclapp@uswest.net), November 02, 1999.

You cannot light a log with newspaper. The fire starting order is tinder or paper, small kindling or lighter split, small limbs or twigs, small split logs, or slightly larger limbs. Once all this is laid, open the damper to the chimney tube, open the air vents to full open, and light the paper or tinder. Close the stove door, and let the laid wood burn. Once the fire is well established, you may add slightly larger split log portions (1/4 of a log) as required. When the stove is hot, choke down on the air vents to control the heat. After a good hot bed of coals is established, you can let the stove really do its work. Load that puppy up with big split logs or maybe even a small whole log. Choke way down on the air vents...it will heat all night. The next morning, or anytime, as long as you still have a bed of coals, you can add wood, open the air vents and your stove will soon be back in business. Good luck. And if you don't have split wood, I suggest you buy a wedge and 20 lb. hammer or perhaps a spliting maul. Regards, Buddy

-- Buddy Enbalz (Y2kmannkyman@netscape.net), November 02, 1999.

Get a grate. The $7 fire starters at HD, try getting the wax coated paper bathroom dixie cups, use a double boiler to melt parifin into the cups, same thing, works great and much much cheaper.... Need kindlin, look around shipping docks and get old pallets, chainsaw them up and it's the best I've found.

-- BH (silentvoice@pobox.com), November 02, 1999.

Flame away mentioned

"Today, I decided to finally fire up the stove. I placed the kindling and newspaper just so, and lit it. The warmth from the initial flame was heavenly. Nevertheless, I decided to leave the furnace on."


The carbonmonoxide will be sucked into your house and you will be in heaven alright.

Cat is right, you should have a updraft first or the smoke will not go up the flue. Then I would advice chopping the "log" up. :o) One would use a "log" only on a good bed of embers with the dampers down. Also you could have two air intakes, once a fire developes close the door and close the upper intake and open the bottom. This will provide air directly to the fire and increase the airflow where it is needed. For a real fast warm up of a house you can use a sheet of tin over the fire and the heat will be kept lower. The resulting heat will be at least %50 higher (my guess :o) but it really kicks ass. You will burn wood at a higher rate though.

Also never use a flamible liquid to light the fire in a airtight, it could go bouncing around the room.

Also you can go to the local building supply store for cutoffs, if the wood is KD it will be good for kindling and starting material.

Hope you enjoy your woodstove,

Just turn off the furnace.

-- Brian (imager@home.com), November 02, 1999.

You keep saying "log". If in fact, you are trying to burn 1 log, you will not be successful. You will need 3, 4, etc to get a good fire going and after you have a bed of coals you can add 1 or 2 as needed.

-- D Martin (martind9@nationwide.com), November 02, 1999.

Be aware that if you have a catalytic element to reburn the gases, those starter logs should not be used.

My woodstove procedure, extra large 700 lb. wood stove:

1) Make sure damper is open. Open intake vents.

2) Put down some folded newspapers to spread the flames.

3) Cover the newspaper with one solid layer of pinecones.

4) Cover the pinecones with several inches of small kindling, varying from 1/4 inch to 1 inch diameter.

5) Place 2 or 3 good logs on top of the kindling (whatever will fit)

6) Light the newspaper, close the door. Roaring fire in 5 minutes, but stove not too hot to touch for almost half an hour.

7) After a half hour, add a few more logs. When stove reaches about 400 degrees, close the damper and cut back the air intake.

8) Add a few logs every 3-4 hours (or one 6-7" log at night) until Spring. Shovel out ashes every 3 days or so. (Shove hot coals into corner of stove, shovel out what you can get to, move coals to middle of stove and put logs on them. So long as the firebox itself is still 350 degrees or hotter, the fire will just keep on doing its thing).

9) When fire is allowed to go out next Spring, clean the chimney (or stovepipe).

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), November 02, 1999.

Fires from a cold start are always more difficult. You need to build a large enough fire with kindling (split pieces of old dry lumber work well) to heat up the fire chamber and flue. Until the chimney is warm it will not draw properly and will not pull fresh air into the fire chamber. As the weather turns colder you'll be using the stove 24 hrs. a day and will just have to add more logs two or three times a day.

Every stove has its own quirks. You will learn about your own stove and it never hurts to read the instructions.

-- Evelyn (equus@barn.now), November 02, 1999.

Sorry guys but this is one of the most hilarious threads yet!!!

Why not try rubbing your 2 heads together????

Survivalists R Us hard at work......


-- Deano (deano@luvthebeach.com), November 02, 1999.

I used wood stoves for years, for cooking as well as heat. An old ranger trick was to put some (rough) sawdust soaked in kerosine at the bottom of the kindling, then the larger pieces above that. It started very quickly. DO NOT USE GASOLINE TO SOAK THE SAWDUST. (I did once, in a warm stove, and the resulting explosion was close to spectacular...) We stored the sawdust in a covered coffee can. I suspect that wood chips would work as well...

-- Mad Monk (madmonk@hawaiian.net), November 02, 1999.

Hi, Flame Away. We heat a 2100 sqft house with firewood every winter, using a QuadraFire wood stove. Someone mentioned using a grate...I essentially do the same thing by placing two 3" split logs on either side of the firebox, front-to-back. Between these, I put 4-5 crumpled sheets of newspaper. Laid across the two logs, athwartships, I put 8-10 kindling pieces split from old cedar shakes. On those kindling pieces, fore-and-aft, I put three 2" pieces of split conifer. Finally, above the conifer I put several pieces of hardwood; oak, madrone, or cottonwood. Light the newspaper, and let 'er go.

-- Norm Harrold (nharrold@tymewyse.com), November 02, 1999.

I have serious difficulty believing that anyone doesn't know how to make a fire... A lot of you folks are going to be in trouble soon, unless you inventory your missing skills and get yourselves informed. This is not to denigrate anyone, but it is awfully late in the game here.

For the record, start with tiny pieces and shavings, go to twigs, then sticks, then bigger sticks. Logs won't burn well until the coal- bed is growing. Also... you have to stack what you're burning so the air will still go through it. Get busy learning, because ultimately, you're learning not to die.

-- Patrick (pmchenry@gradall.com), November 02, 1999.

Flint mentioned

"My woodstove procedure, extra large 700 lb. wood stove:"

Holy smoke in the arctic Flint!@! Southern states and you have a 700 lb wood stove?

I do get a chuckle out of that :o)

-- Brian (imager@home.com), November 02, 1999.


Yeah, it sounds like overkill. But I'm in the mountains, and I need to heat 2600 sq.ft. of space. The temperature around here averages mid 30's during the 4 coldest months of winter, but every winter it goes down into the teens for a couple of weeks. When that happens, I need to open 'er up about halfway to keep the house at the desired 80 degrees. It's hard on a wood stove to keep it wide open for months on end, reduces the lifespan AND the efficiency a whole lot. As it is, I go through about 4 cords of wood per winter, which isn't bad at all. Remember, this isn't an emergency-only heat source, it's my only source (by choice).

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), November 02, 1999.

If your wood stove is new, you may need to "break it in" by lighting a fire and letting it go our several times before you get a real blaze going. Read the manual!

-- Sally Strackbein (sally@y2kkitchen.com), November 02, 1999.

Screw this stuff about expensive fire-starter bricks and such - go to the local lumber yard and buy some cedar fence boards (1x6 or so) then cut them in convenient kindling lengths (mine are 10") and then keep a small hatchet by the fireplace.

Cedar boards split nicely and one length, split into 5 or 6 strips, will light a fire very well. Cedar burns very easily - enough to make you really wonder why people use it to make their roofs!

The fence boards are a couple bucks each for 6 or 8 foot boards. You can get enough "fire starter" this way for 10 fires for $2. Never fails.


-- Jeff Zurschmeide (zursch@cyberhighway.net), November 02, 1999.


Your average temps are around the same as where I am (Vancouver Island, Canada). Kind of shocks me. Mind you it is a nice temp range. Up here the kids don't even where jackets during much of the winter.

Of course you keep your house at 80 f. and I like 65 f for a approx. nice comfort level. We heat with electrical in the house and the airtight is in the "carving shack". Would love to have a stove in the house but the expence to meet code is extreme. You have to rip out the wood studs now and put in steel studs, concrete panels, double insulated flues (and they won't go up the chimney) and what not adds up. Since the trailer doesn't need to be insured it gets the wood stove.

Oh well when I right the book you'll get it. But wood stoves are life itself.

-- Brian (imager@home.com), November 02, 1999.

off topic...

As a Chiefs fan, I wish you had attempted to light a fire under Farve's butt..maybe he could have at least "tried" to defeat the Seahawks so we wouldn't have to share 1st place with them...uggg Green Bay let us KC folks down...

(we now return you to regular programming)

-- RainMan! (Chiefs@nohelpGB.com), November 02, 1999.

Dear flame away,1st. clean chimney----should be done yearly. Leave door when when lighting----check draft to see if open-----if stove pipe or chimney is lower that roof peak your stove won't draw . if this is the problem get 2sections of 6in galvanized pipe and extend chimney higher, use a china cap to keep rain out. furnace cement placed around base of extension on chimney top to seal air spaces around pipe or if you have metalbestus pipe ---better than galvanized but way more expensive extend pipe 2 feet above roof peak to have the stove draw,this should solve your problem---stay warm and get at least 10 cords of dry wood---should last for most of the winter(remember settler build big fire ,sit way back,Indian build little fire ,sit very close.

-- merek(ex Alaskan homesteader) (merek@aloha.net), November 03, 1999.

Wow, flame away, that's a lot of good advice for fire starting. Turns out what I was going to post was said exactly by Norm Harrold. By interesting coincidence, I use the same stove and the same starting method, It keeps the heavier stuff on top from squshing and smothering the newspaper and kindling before it has a chance to start the medium sized stuff. And pay attention to what D Martin said about two or more logs. They will keep each other going down to nothing but ashes, while a single log will radiate its heat away and go out.

Never heard of the top down method before, but will try it next fire.

-- Joe (paraflyr@cybernet1.com), November 03, 1999.

80 degrees, Flint?

Hahahahah! I'm picturing you running around your house naked and sweating. Put some clothes on, and close that monster down to about 70, and you'll save at least one of those cords for next year.

Godspeed, from high up in the Rockies, where it gets really cold.

-- Pinkrock (aphotonboy@aol.com), November 03, 1999.

If you use a fire log, one that is saturated with parafin, don't add firewood to it. I had some in the house for firestarting and my wife set the whole parfin log in the fire box plus two almond logs on top of that. I woke up a while latter to an eerie glow coming from the living room. The stove was red hot from front to rear, top to bottom and the stack was glowing close to the ceiling.

Be careful with the parafin logs.

-- Mark Hillyard (foster@inreach.com), November 03, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ