In the first part of the series, we talked about using two wood stoves for heat. Now we continue the series with basic fire starting and include our best bonus tip too!
Starting your wood stove for heat on a cold day is very important. Getting it done quickly and efficiently in another story. Too often I’ve seen Jackie start fires on cold mornings that just didn’t “take” and needed a couple re-starts until the final call comes in from the house to the office shed, ” Marshall, start the fire please”.
Getting a good fire started is a combination of three things; the right wood, the right kindling or helper material, and finally the arrangement or technique of the initial setup.
Fuel and Kindling
Lets start with the wood. Your firewood works best if it is aged and dry. Green logs do not burn or light up very well, except in the intense heat of a forest fire. Lighter woods like firs and pine work well for starting the fire. These logs should be split into small 1 to 2 inch kindling pieces.
Out here in Apple country, we burn a fair amount of hard woods, like apple, cherry, and walnut wood. These are great for their dense heat rich qualities in the fire. These woods, are our all night logs that leave a great bed of hot coals in the morning for easy building. The main drawback to the hard woods is the fact that they are very difficult to get started burning in a sustainable way. These logs should be avoided for the initial starting set of wood.
Through the years living with wood heat we have experimented with many different materials for fire starting. Some work well, and others not much. First, there are good fire starters available for purchase at any home or fireplace store like Home Depot, Lowes, or others. If you use the various starters cost can add up quickly. Always save your old newspapers, and offer to take them from friends. Nothing replaces newspaper for any of our fire starting techniques. Here is quick survey of items we have used in addition to the wood.
- Pine Cones: Little ones, big ones, and ones dipped in wax. While these are decorative to have around the house, they are only moderate or weak depending on size for fire starting. They tend to burn hot and for a short time, and are more like well crumpled news paper.
- Colorful wax cups: These work a little better, and last longer than the pine cones. You must make sure they are on the top of your starter fire so that the wax will melt and flow over the small starting wood. The wax doesn’t burn, just its fumes when it is heated.
- Tree Bark: Depending on the thickness and variety, bark can be very useful as it burns moderately hot and longer than paper. The challenge, is that bark will not light directly and needs newspaper to get it started.
Everyone has probably seen or lit campfires before. Starting the fire in your wood stove is very similar. The goal is to build it up enough to get the larger wood to burn well. After that, tossing another log in every couple hours will keep things warm all day. Putting the small starter material in the center and surrounding it with progressively larger material is the basic technique. I like to lean everything against a medium size stick, since you want a clear path for air flow underneath the pile.
Make sure there is some newspaper on the bottom as well, since blowing on burning paper can create intense heat for a short while necessary to start the next size material.
The most important thing before striking your match: crumple newspaper and stuff it in most of the empty space in your stove! When you first light the stove, light all the newspaper and close the door (with vents open). This will heat up your stove pipe or chimney so that air is drawn outside. As air is drawn out the stove pipe, it starts the natural convection of air going across your fire, so you don’t have to blow on it (as much)!
Our Super Bonus Tip:
A couple years ago, we had some leftover charcoal from a kids “winter blast” event where we grilled hot dogs and hamburgers. The charcoal was the newer “match lit” type, and Jackie set it next to the stove kindling. Now everyone knows not to use charcoal grills indoor, but using the charcoal to start fires was a hit! The match light kind starts up well with a little newspaper around it, and charcoal burns a long time!
Next in the series, we discuss how much wood do you need?
Do you ever have challenges getting your fireplace, or wood stove started? Share your best fire starting tips below so everyone can enjoy the warmth!!