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New member with a few VC Vigilant questions

Post in 'Classic Wood Stove Forums (prior to approx. 1993)' started by larryz1, Jan 2, 2012.

  1. larryz1

    larryz1 New Member

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    Hello, name here is Larry. I've been reading several threads here, and although there is a wealth of information, I figured I'd run my questions by everyone just in case I may have missed something.

    First, I live in a Cape which was built in 1977. The chimney is brick/clay, and is about 28 feet tall. unfortunately, it's located on the steep side of the roof where the only access is via 32' ladder. Not that I'm afraid of heights, but the storms we get here in New England force me to clean the chimney on "good" days. Anyways, the flue comes through the brick wall about 6 feet from the floor of the 1st floor living room, and elbows down to the Vigilant. Forgetting about my questions for a minute, when this stove is running around 350deg, it heats the house very well, and both the wife (city girl) and myself enjoy the heat very much!

    I've noticed a couple of issues with the stove though. Supposedly, when the stove is up around 450 - 500 degrees, you're supposed to be able to close the damper on the stove, and that allows the heat to reburn the smoke and gasses for a cleaner exhaust. When I try this (even with a good bed of coals), the stove cools right down to about 250 degrees. Yes, I've had a problem with creosote building up on the flue because I would fill the stove for the long evening burns. As much as I like to have coals there waiting for the first morning log to be put on, I don't like the cold flue temperatures - and I have the creosote to prove why.

    My first question is - is it normal for the flue to cool down ~250 degrees with the damper shut? Is it adjustable internally somehow? I've even tried opening up the main and secondary air inlets all the way to see if that helps, but the fire just seems to smolder all night.

    I appreciate any help you may offer. I need to use the wood so I can offset the oil bill this year - I just don't want to burn the house down in the process!

    I also don't want to "overdo" my first post so I think I'll save the other questions for another time.

    Larry

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  2. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Welcome Larry. The stove should not cool down like that. If the stove is in good order it could be that the secondary passages are clogged with ash. Vacuum out the stove very well, then blow air through the secondary passages to clear them out. For obvious reasons, this is best done outdoors.

    Another possibility is the chimney throat is too large and it's spoiling draft. Do you know the approximate inner dimension of the clay tile liner? And another thing to check is air leaks in the flue system. The flue collar should be sealed around the edges with furnace cement. And be sure that the clean out door on the chimney is sealed. If the clean out door is leaky it will spoil draft. A quick test is to use duct tape to seal it completely. If that works, put a bead of silicone around the door edge, then close the door on the silicone to create a gasket.
  3. remkel

    remkel Minister of Fire

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    1st, welcome to the forum. You haave come to the right place for information qnd to have yourquestions answered.

    Is your thermometer on the flue pipe or the stove top? If it is on the flue pipe, then yes, you will see that kind of drop because the stove is holding the heat in rather than letting it escape up the flue. The thermometer should be placed on the stove top in the back right corner off the cooking plate and onto the cast. Stove temperatures will give you a better indication of how the stove is running. A 250 flue reading is not out of the ordinary with the Vigilant. My old one wo uld usually read around 280 on the flue (I used to have two thermos-one stove top and one flue)

    I used to get the Vigilant up to 600 before shutting her down. I think you may be shutting down the damper too early based upon a flue temperature which might be contributing to the creosote buildup.

    As for the items mentioned above, I agree allowing as little air as possible to enter the flue will help. Also need to make the obligatory mention of dry wood.
  4. larryz1

    larryz1 New Member

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    I'll try to answer both posts above here...

    The clay chimney pipe is what I would call a "standard" size - 6" by 10" (I'm guessing here). I bought cement today because the collar is NOT tight. It used to have cement in there, but after cleaning the pipe a couple of times, it all broke away. As far as the cleanout door goes, it needs to be replaced because it's so close to the ground that it's rusting away. Funny how the chimney sweep didn't mention that when they were here...

    I have 2 thermometers - one about 8" off of the stovetop, and the other about 3' from the stovetop at the elbow. I have used an infrared "gun" thermometer on the stove, and found that the cast is about 200 degrees hotter than the flue (~600) - but I don't remember if I shut the stove down after taking that reading. I'll pay closer attention to the "stove" temperature next time rather than the "flue" temperature by moving one of them down.

    The person I bought the wood from said it was seasoned at least 9 months. I actually think it's a good cord because it doesn't have the strong "green" smell. In fact, it doesn't smell at all! The bark falls off sometimes as well, but it's not rotted. I bought a cord 2 years ago from someone different, and that was very strong smelling and didn't burn too well.

    Since the stove is original to the house, I'll also vacuum/blow out the inlets because I have no idea how often the stove was used to heat this home, and what might be found back there!

    The next question is this...

    If the flue temperature is supposed to drop ~200deg with the stove shut for the night, should the stove stay at ~400deg while it's burning the gasses? I don't think that's happening, that's why I get the creosote buildup so fast. Not the tar - type, but the crusty, flaky type. I was given a heat reclaimer, but took it out after only a week's worth of use due to the sticky creosote it created. It ill not be going back in either after what I've read about them here!

    I'll get to clean the stove tomorrow & let you know how things go - it's supposed to get C O L D!!!

    Larry
  5. remkel

    remkel Minister of Fire

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    Yup, sounds like your baffles may be. Bit clogged with ash. If you remove the pipe at the flue collar there is a plate just inside the collar tht can be removed to get access to the upper baffles. You will have to either pull the ash out of the bottom through the secondary burn chamber or if you can get a hose in there you can vacuum it out- just be certain the stove is cold when you do this...you don't want to suck hot coals into your vacuum. I used to find quite a bit of ash in the lower baffles after a good burning season.

    The other question I would have is if your primary air vent on back of the stove is opening as the stove cools to allow more primary air into the stove. These are supposed to automatically open but they do fail once in while.

    Although the Vigilant is a good heater, it older technology and the secondary burn may not be as efficient as the newer technologies, the result being that they tend to create creosote. My father's Defiant has the same issues, especially in the shoulder season (which seems to be lasting forever this year). One other thing is be certain that your secondary air is open (that is the little round hole on the left side of the stove).

    Keep us posted on the progress.
  6. larryz1

    larryz1 New Member

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    Hi Remkel,

    Funny that you mention that plate for the upper baffles - when I took the reclaimer out this past weekend, I noticed that that plate was loose IE - I thought it could easily come out. However, after messing with it for a while trying different ways to get it out, I didn't have any success. Short of dismantling the stove, how else could that plate come out? I'm sure there's stuff in there because there was a bit of soot sitting on top of it that was removed.

    Although the stove is cold right now, it's too late in the evening to get dirty, never mind firing it up! But as soon as I come home tomorrow afternoon, I'll get to working on a thorough cleaning of the baffle area.

    Yes, the primary air vent is working fine - if I close it when the stove approaches 450, it will open up as she cools back down, then close again (I hear the "clinking" sound of stainless on cast) as the temp increases some more. With the damper open, of course!

    Larry
  7. remkel

    remkel Minister of Fire

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    It should come out without having to dismantle the stove beyond removing the pipe from the collar. It is a bit of a puzzle piece as you have to lift and twist at the same time. Play with it a bit and it will come out, just pay attention to how you remove it and how it places back in.

    Good luck with it.
  8. mransmith

    mransmith New Member

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    X2 on vacumming out the passages. I used my vigilant for the first time a few weeks ago, it would not maintain a high enough temp on with the dampner closed. After vacuuming all the ports and passages, it works perfectly!!

    The upper plate baffle was a little pain to get out, as Remkel says it's kind of a puzzle piece that you have to lift and twist. Also remember the way it came out, so its easier to get back in.

    Good luck!
  9. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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    Welcome to the Hearth.com and especially to the brotherhood of VC Vigilant burners. I would suggest that you get a thermometer that will sit and stay on the griddle top, as recommended in the back right corner. Do not be afraid to get this stove hot. I have often hit 750 to 800 degrees stove top temps. I like to get a full char of all the wood in the box and a high temp before I switch from vertical to horizontal burn. Don't get too wrapped up in burning smoke and secondary burns. This is not a high tech/EPA stove. It is a fire monster that puts out tons of heat. It is not unusual for the stove to cool down a bit after switching into horizontal burn. You can keep the temp up after switching to horizontal by making sure the thermostat flap is wide open. I maintain a very high stove heat until bedtime when I top off the stove with more wood get the fire roaring again, then switch to horizontal and close the thermo flap to where it just touches the body of the stove. When I get up in the morning I usually have hot coals and a stove top temp of 300 or better.

    Small hot fires are better than big, cool smoldering ones if you only want a little heat.

    Don't EVER trust a wood vendor when he tells you his wood is 'seasoned.' The only way you're ever going to have really dry wood is stock up and maintain a two or three year supply. Pick up a $30 "General" Moisture Meter at Lowes and check your wood. Wood must be tested on the newly exposed face of a freshly split piece of wood, NOT the ends.
    The Vig will burn pretty much anything if it gets enough air and the draft is really good but you'll likely have a smoldering mess and a ton of creosote while not getting much heat out of the wood. Wood readings in the lower 20% to under 20% is good. If you have to, mix wetter wood with known dry wood.

    Learn how to do a "top down" burn to get your fire started. There are many threads on the subject but basically, here's what I do:
    Put a couple of larger splits on the bottom. Tuck in a few newspaper knots or wads. Add a few medium size splits, possibly short ones that can be laid crosswise to the larger ones. Add a few more newspaper knots. Add several smaller splits, sticks, bark, chunks on top of that mixed with a few more newspaper knots or wads.
    Light the newspaper wads beginning at the lowest you can reach. In a few seconds all the newspaper will be burning and the smaller sticks will start catching.
    The benefit to this is that you almost instantly create a strong draft. I keep the left door closed and the right one open only an inch or two, creating a venturi effect.
    The draft really starts kicking in. In ten minutes I'm hitting 600 or better on the stove top. (I have never monitored flue temp.) At this point I close the doors tight but leave it in vertical mode for a while. What I am trying to do is get some supper hot coals going from the big splits on the bottom of the pile. When the wood has burned down some, I reload and get the new wood charred in a roaring fire and the griddle temp up high again. Then I'll switch to horizontal, leave the thermo flap open a bit and leave it alone until bedtime when I close the thermoflap and maybe partially close the keyhole for the secondary air.

    For what it's worth, I burn about 95% oak but use a little bit of very dry pine for starter wood.

    I heat a nearly 4000 square foot house with my Vigilant.
  10. larryz1

    larryz1 New Member

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    Gentlemen,

    Well, I removed the top plate covering the baffles after a struggle. What I found was very little ash & soot, but I cleaned everything out as best as I could using a shop vac (stove stone cold). The baffle went in the same way as it came out - with a struggle :). Thanks for the tip on removing it!

    Another thing I was doing wrong was having the magnetic flue thermometer only about 6" from the top of the stove. I've since learned on this site that 18" is recommended, so that's where it will stay. I'm now going to be running the stove a little hotter because of the erroneous readings I was getting before - read on...

    At one point tonight I had the flue temp at ~500deg to burn some of the creosote off the flue which may have accumulated from last night's burn and decided to take a stovetop temp reading - I was quite surprised when the IR gauge told me it was only ~315 (I measured right in the back left corner where the inlet thermostat is located). However, when I measured the middle of the griddle, I saw above 600deg - the meter maxed out. At this point I got a little nervous & shut the damper to cool things off a little, and then noticed the crackling sound of the creosote cooling off - maybe breaking apart? I'll be cleaning the system again this weekend to give myself a fresh start with getting the stove working properly.

    As far as the reburn goes, last night I filled the stove up, let it burn for a few minutes, then closed the damper (horizontal burn). Although the fire lasted all night, the stove temp was the same - about 240 all night (and that's with the thermo 6" above the stove). I don't know what the griddle temp was, but there were enough coals inside to get the next set of logs going before I went to work today.

    I think what I'm trying to accomplish here is a good burn that lasts most - if not all - of the night, but without the creosote buildup. When the stove is at 450, it heats the house very nicely (almost too well) - maybe I should forget about the reburn on this stove since it's going to give me creosote problems? I understand that I won't completely get away from that stuff, but I don't want to clean the flue out once a week, either. To those of you who've been burning for years - how much creosote do you accumulate over the season, and where's the limit for dangerous amounts?

    Thanks for your time,
    Larry
  11. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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  12. larryz1

    larryz1 New Member

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    UPDATE...

    After the last post I went back to the stove to check things. With a flue temp of 300 and the rear griddle temp of 400, the house is a nice 72 degrees. The problem now is I want to go to bed, but load the stove up for the night. If I get a good fire going & close the damper, things cool off. This is where I get nervous - I don't want the creosote building up overnight, but if I leave the damper open, I don't want the stove to "take off" on me in an hour into dreamland if the thermostat fails (or not set properly). Trying to attach a pic of the setup...


    ...Don't mind the elbow on the floor - its "extra parts" from when I took out the reclaimer...

    Attached Files:

  13. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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    You just have to plan ahead a little bit. I load up at bed time and leave it vertical with the front door open an inch until the fire with the new wood is roaring for a while. Ten minutes max. Switch to horizontal with thermostat flap open full while I get ready for bed, brush teeth, etc. Then I come back and close the stat flap and go to bed without another thought.
  14. mransmith

    mransmith New Member

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    Similar process here, I'm a couple months in now, have done it wrong a few times, and have read tons on the forums.

    I usually load it up for the night burn, keep it vertical until it pulls up to 550/600 griddle temp with thermo open, flip to horizontal and turn down the stat flap. I keep the keyhole on the side 3/4 to 1/2 open.

    Most mornings I wake up to 200-275 degree griddle temp stove and a warm downstairs. (no need for the furnace to kick on)
  15. mransmith

    mransmith New Member

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    Here's my setup, thimble though the wall into a double wall insulated stack. Looks similar to yours. -Matt

    Attached Files:

  16. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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    Sounds like you've got it down, my friend.
  17. mransmith

    mransmith New Member

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    It took some time getting used to it and also feeling comfortable in letting it burn overnight. Larryz1 I know what you're going through!

    Before "reading the directions"..... I started life a month or so ago with my vigilant trying to burn it from the beginning in horizontal burn mode. Why I don't know, thinking about it now it defies logic. It made for a very smelly house and two very frustrating days.

    You're further ahead if you didn't start like that! :)
  18. defiant3

    defiant3 Feeling the Heat

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    I see that you've reduced from an 8" flue down to 6". This restricts the draft considerably. Though it does work, this likely contributes to the problem of not drawing well with damper closed, and resulting low flue temp.s and corresponding creosote build up. Others have tried running the stove without the smoke shelf (the thing you removed to clean behind the fireback) in an effort to let the stove "breath better". Easy thing to try, anyway. And you may see better performance. Ideally there should of course be 8" pipe to the flue, andan 8x11 or 8" round liner. That's in the perfect world, you know...
  19. larryz1

    larryz1 New Member

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    Well, I had another "good" night burn last night (I think). I had a good bed of coals when I made my last post here yesterday, so I filled the stove right to the top with big, heavy split oak. I left the damper on vertical for about 10 minutes. Although it was going, it wasn't a strong enough burn to close her up yet, so I opened the door a crack. Within 5 minutes the fire was roaring, so I closed the door and watched the flue temp rise to about 400 (might have been a bit higher) and the stove top reach about 300 in the right-rear corner. At that point I went to horizontal burn, and watched the flue temp drop to about 325, and the stove top increased to around 350. When I got up this morning, the flue was still ~300, the stove top was ~325, and there was a nice bed of red-hot coals waiting for that morning refresher! I'm not sure how the flue is doing with the creosote problem, but I'll be looking into it on Saturday to see what's accumulated since last weekend.

    BTW... I have the primary inlet control set to close at about 500 FLUE temp and the secondary inlet fully open. I don't touch anything other than the damper because I'm hoping that if the stove were to "take off", the primary thermostat will close before things get too hot.

    When I open the flue up this weekend, I'll take another pic & post for you to see.

    Defiant3 - I didn't think of the reduction contributing to a problem, and it does sound logical. Unfortunately, I don't think there's anything I can do at this point without creating a major project! That's just how the stove layout was when I bought the house 2 years ago. If that becomes the #1 cause of my troubles, I guess the Vigilant will go up for sale so I can install a stove which uses the 6" flue. I don't want that yet...
  20. larryz1

    larryz1 New Member

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  21. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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    Larry, I think you can overcome the smaller flue issue and potential creosote buildup by letting the stove run hotter. That might take more air from the primary and keeping the front stove door open a wee bit (vertical mode only) while you get a really high griddle top temp for a prolonged period of time. That will burn off a lot of creosote build up and give you higher room temps that you want. I have no experience with single wall flues so I hope some one will speak up as to how hot you can allow it to get without worries.

    It seems to me that if you have to keep the stove as low as 450 to keep the flue lower than 500, you're going to always face a big creosote problem and you'll never get the heat out of the Vig that it is capable of producing.
  22. larryz1

    larryz1 New Member

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    An issue I seem to be creating myself here in the forum is that when I quote a temp, it's what I see at the moment - which may be inaccurate. Right now the stove is running out of wood, but with some good hot coals in the bottom. The flue temp is 300, and the stove temp is 400 (actual readings), and the house is a cozy 75 degrees. I'm running in vertical mode as well. I'm thinking that when the flue was 500, I may have just added some wood and the griddle didn't quite make it up to temp at that time - I might have rushed things on that one. When I've been able to check it tonight the stove temp has ALWAYS been hotter than the flue by about 100 degrees, which is a good thing (I hope). When I close it up in a few, I'll open the primary to see if that raises the griddle temp any. I tried that once before, but it didn't do anything. That was before I cleaned everything out in the stove, though.

    Isn't learning fun???!!!
  23. littlalex

    littlalex Member

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    Larry - I can identify with the overnight dilemma. This is the first year of almost 24/7 with the Vig. I had played around it for a couple of winters and read a lot here.

    In my moderately experienced opinion I think you're going to have to trust the stove a bit more and let the temps get to the 450-600f stove-top and 300f flue most seem to agree is the ideal. In my first year burning I had done almost no maintenance and one night decided to try an overnight burn by top-loading with wood that had been left here from the previous owner that was at least five years old and woke about 3 a.m. with a scary burning smell in my nose and run out to the stove room and see my flue temp pegged at 900f. The hearth was too hot step on with bare feet and almost too hot a foot away from the hearth on the flooring.

    I was too spooked for the last two winters to attempt another overnight. This spring I did the necessary maintenance, had a real sweep check out the install and cleaned and regasketed the old girl.

    To summarize - Most important thing I learned I think applies to any stove, you must have air control over the old girl (which I do now but didn't with leakage at the gaskets). When I go through my daily burning now I have temps at flue 250-400, stovetop 350-500 during the day (stove little big for this space) and bedtime I crank the stovetop to 500-600, flue 350-450 and flip the the damper and sleep like a baby. I can probably tell you within 50f at any time of the day what my temps are without looking from experience and the stove control working like clockwork.

    I don't think many people can get past the one eye open nights for a while until they feel the stove is a trustworthy tool and that they have control. You're pretty much there so it won't be long with the help of these great folks.

    Relaxed Burning,
    Littlalex
  24. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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    What Littlalex said...

    Even my bride totally trusts the stove (and me) on overnight burns and leaving the house with hot coals in the stove. Regardless... you should have plenty of smoke and CO detectors around the house.

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