How to Use a Wood Burning Stove

Written by: Paul Cathro

Updated on: December 22, 2022

In this tutorial, we look at how to use a wood-burning stove properly so you can get maximum heat whenever the weather gets cold. Learn how to use a wood stove efficiently, safely and effectively.

Wood fired stove

One of the best ways to heat your home or even just a single room is to invest in a wood-burning stove.

However, you need to know how to use a wood-burning stove properly, otherwise, you won’t get the most benefit from your purchase, not to mention potentially putting yourself and your family in danger.

How to Use a Wood Stove

If you’re ready to discover how to operate a wood stove of your own, there are several steps to follow. 

Choosing A Fuel

Make sure you’ve chosen the correct fuel. Dry, seasoned wood is the best option since fresh wood will contain excess water and so will produce too much smoke.

You can choose between softwoods and hardwoods. If you’re lighting a fire on a cool evening, softwoods are best because they’re less dense.

On the other hand, if it’s a very cold winter, hardwoods are best because the burn they produce is longer and hotter.

Open The Valves

Your fire will need oxygen to burn so open all of the controls so air can get into your firebox. The valves must all be opened fully when you’re lighting your fire.

Adding Kindling

You will get the fire started by adding kindling to boost the temperature in the firebox so the flames start to burn. You can do this by crumpling up 5-6 pieces of dry paper and placing them into the middle of the firebox. Put 15 small pieces of dry wood onto the paper.

burning wood

Lighting The Flames

Next, use a match or lighter to set fire to the paper under your kindling in several places beginning at the rear of the firebox and moving forwards. Keep the stove’s door open for 5 minutes as this will help the fire to get going.

Recommended: Find what the most efficient wood stoves are in this review.

Adding To The Fuel

One your kindling is burning, wait for the flames to die down before adding smaller logs onto the fire. Add 3, one at a time so the flames won’t be smothered.

Stack the logs loosely to allow air to flow around them and close the door but keep it unlatched for 15 minutes. This will ensure the fire can establish itself properly.

Keeping Your Fire Burning

Make sure you keep the stove’s door closed since each time it’s opened, heat will escape and the fire will be less efficient and cooler. Smoke will also get into the room when the door is open and this is hazardous to your health.

Only open the door when you add more wood to the fire. When you do this, open it slowly so fresh air won’t rush in and create smoke.

Add large logs to the fire once the small logs’ flames have begun to subside. Never add more than 5 logs at once to the fire since it will smother it partially, leaving unburned fuel that leads to creosote and smoke buildup.

After 20 minutes, partially close the stove’s air intakes. This will ensure the fire has sufficient air to burn well but it won’t blaze and burn too rapidly.

Recommended: Learn how to use a wood stove damper here.

How to Use a Wood Stove Efficiently

Although you may now know how to use a wood burner, the key to getting the most out of your stove is to use it as efficiently as possible. This is important since not only will the efficient operation of your stove help keep your home warm but it’ll also improve the cleanliness of the air.

Efficient wood combustion involves converting all the wood’s combustible material into heat, water vapor and carbon dioxide leaving only ash behind. When all of the combustible materials aren’t turned into heat, emissions occur including carbon monoxide which can be harmful to human health.

You can make sure your wood stove is burning efficiently every time you use it by following these simple tips.

Choose A High-Efficiency Wood Stove

Make sure that you’ve chosen an indoor wood stove that has an EPA certification. All modern models do, but models built before 1988 may not be sufficiently efficient.

Choose Dry Wood

Everyone knows that it’s easier to burn dry wood than damp wood, however, it isn’t so well known that dry wood provides more heat. Wood that has been properly seasoned and dried has around 12% more available energy then freshly cut wood.

Whenever possible, make sure the wood for your stove is properly stacked and kept under cover in a spot that is sunny and warm. If you’re cutting the wood yourself, allow it to fully dry before you use it – at least 6 months will be needed for this, but a year or two would be best.

Wood burning stove

Keep The Stove Hot

It’s very important to keep your stove’s combustion zone very hot at a minimum of 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (600 degrees Celsius). At temperatures below this level, the wood smolders which means the combustible gases will escape but not burn.

You can keep your stove as hot as possible not only by only using dry wood but also by refueling it before it has a chance to cool down. This ensures the fuel will be completely combusted.

Never Starve A Fire

It’s technically possible to control the heat of your stove by shutting the dampers to limit how much air gets into the stove. However, this will prevent the wood from being completely combusted.

The best way to control your fire, therefore, is to vary how quickly you feed your fire instead of trying to control its airflow.

Operating a wood stove efficiently and cleanly means that you should refrain from damping down your stove except when the fire is fully burned down to glowing embers and no more fuel will be added. At this point, you can close the damper partially so airflow is limited through your stove.

When the fire starts to burn down, it requires less air. Therefore, partially shutting the damper at this point will reduce how much heat gets drawn out of your property overnight.

About the Author Paul Cathro

Paul is an ex-HVAC engineer with 5 years 'in the trade'.

He acquired in 2022 and aims to make it the internet's most comprehensive HVAC resource for small homes in the next few years.

You can learn more about Paul's story here.

Browse his published work on the website here.

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