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new stove user w/ an old VC Vigilant

Post in 'Vermont Castings & CDW Dutchwest older Models' started by rawlins02, Feb 19, 2012.

  1. rawlins02

    rawlins02 Member

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    I have some questions about an old Vermont Castings Vigilant (1977) that came with the house I just bought. I only use it on weekends as a supplement to lower energy cost. I've learned a lot in the past few weeks by reading the manual and these forums, but want to be sure I fire it correctly.

    How much hotter is it likely running given that door and griddle door gaskets are worn? I plan to replace them next week. Today the stove ran up to 650F after I filled the firebox, even though the air inlet shutter in the back was closed and the damper was as well. I know wood type and moisture are significant factors, but assuming an average hardwood well seasoned, how much lower should I expect temps to be with those closed settings. Also, I'm aware that 450-550 is optimal temperature, but just curious if occasional runs up to 650-675 are fine if I need the heat.

    I'm now thinking that a full load in firebox will lead to higher temperatures for a short time, even with the air restricted, all else being equal. Is that correct?

    In addition to new gaskets on the front and griddle doors, I've read that seams may need to be sealed with refractory cement. If there's no strong odor of smoke now, how do I determine if that needs to be done? I'm not too keen on taking the stove apart as some people do.

    I've been told that folks in some towns in our region can get vouchers for $1500-2000 toward the purchase of a new stove. I'd likely buy one if our town were eligible. In the meantime I'm hoping to keep the old girl going for a while as she seems to be working OK.

    Mike

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  2. remkel

    remkel Minister of Fire

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    Welcome to the forums! You have a fine heater there and as long as you take care of it and run it hot it should treat you just fine.

    As for your questions:

    650-675 a not worming temperatures for tht stove. I used to get mine up to 600 plus before closing the damper. Once it is shut down you will probably see a drop into the 500s or so.

    You will not smell smoke from the stove throughout the gaskets when the stove ia running for the stove will be pulling air into the stove. You may smell smoke if there is a back puffing situation, but this would be the case even if the gaskets were fine.

    Yes, those stoves do require a rebuild every few years to reseql the joints with cement. The rebuild is really not that bad and there are people here who can provide you the rebuild manual ( I had it but mistakenly deleted it after I got the new stove this past summer)

    If you want to see if the joints are open, you can put a flashlight in the stove to see if any light is escaping. Another way I would check every so often is to run
    a match along the joints- if the flame is sucked in, then you have a joint open.

    Good luck with the stove and enjoy the tremendous heat it provides!
  3. BrowningBAR

    BrowningBAR Minister of Fire

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    It is more than fine. With a good draft and cold weather, this stove can run hot even with the air shut. With the stove in horizontal burn I have had the griddle temps in excess of 700 with the front doors touching 800. I wouldn't shoot for those numbers on a regular basis, but it can handle them just fine.
  4. rawlins02

    rawlins02 Member

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    Thanks for the replies folks. Good to know that 650-675 F is not excessive on occasion. Those temperatures yesterday concerned me because I'd just slapped a thermometer on it for the first time, and when she climbed up to 675 I had no idea where she would top out! My house is not really well sealed now and with the gaskets well worn I suspect the stove is drawing plenty of air even when all closed down.

    I'll definitely soon test for leaks in seams using a flashlight and/or incense stick. It's not clear to me how it comes apart so I will ask for a manual when I want to rebuild, perhaps this summer.

    One challenge I have right now is that a warped fireback is causing the damper to flop open if I don't prop the handle with something. Therefore I would never run this stove overnight. I've seen photos of a sling one user placed on his stove to hold the damper handle in the down (closed) position. I've been placing the metal firewood caddie close to the stove and propping the handle against it. It was right around 675 F yesterday when a piece of light dry firewood in the caddie near the stove started to smoke. Firewood now is on the far side of the caddie! Rigging a sling for the damper is on the to-do list along with resealing gaskets. Thinking about it, might I be able to replace the fireback that the damper sits atop?

    Mike
  5. remkel

    remkel Minister of Fire

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    The warped fireback can be replaced, however, they do not make the one piece fireback any longer. There is a two piece fireback kit that can be ordered that includes two new sides for the stove with it. If you are going to tear down the whole stove you may as well replace the fireback while you are at it.

    When you have time, take a look at the fireback lower right corner near the secondary combustion chamber- it is very likely that you will see a crack in the fireback going right to left from the secondary burn chamber. This is not uncommon on the Vigilants.

    Although it is not too difficult rebuilding the stove, you may want to seriously consider your option of upgrading to some new technology.
  6. rawlins02

    rawlins02 Member

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    I certainly am considering a new stove. I'm a bit cash poor right now having just bought this house, so I'll probably keep this stove going another season or two.

    Do newer stoves require disassembly every few years? Something tells me most folks would be reluctant to tackle that kind of work.

    Another question: What is the secret to getting this stove quickly up to 450-500 F? It's been crawling along at 350 F for nearly an hour now. I've got everything open and the doors slight ajar. It got to 300 F in about 15 minutes. I then added a couple 6 inch or so splits. To date I have not had 2-3 inch pieces to add to my small initial fires. Is that key? Another factor is there's absolutely no wind and it's sunny and nearly 40F right now. Guess draw is holding it back. I've read that these stoves should get to 500F in about 30-45 minutes.
  7. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Many modern stoves can go 10+ years with little more than cleaning and maybe a new set of gaskets every 5 years or so. But this is not true of all new stoves. In general, downdraft stoves seem to be more fussy to run and have had greater issues with part longevity. As a rule, the simpler the stove is the less there is to maintain or go wrong.
  8. remkel

    remkel Minister of Fire

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    I would suspect the warmer temps are having an effect on your draft. I am having the same issue today.

    I usually place a few smaller splits under the large ones to get things going.
  9. BrowningBAR

    BrowningBAR Minister of Fire

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    I have purchased five stoves over the last four winters. All used. All were in very good condition. There are deals out there for used stoves, especially in the Northeast. You can get a damn fine stove for $400-500 if you search enough and are willing to travel a bit to get to the stove.

    The majority of the stove? No. Modern VC stoves require more maintenance than most stoves, though.


    Sounds like wet wood. With good kindling, dry wood, and a good draft you should be able to have a griddle temp of 550° within the 15-30 minutes. Even quicker with the right sized splits and kindling. Even on warmer days you should be able to get the stove going quicker.

    Are you using a liner or is the stove just venting into a chimney?
  10. Battenkiller

    Battenkiller Minister of Fire

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    I also suspect your wood is not quite ready. The Vig has no firebrick inside to impede rising temps. With dry wood you can get that stove up to 750° inside half an hour. It'll eat that damp wood fine once you get the stove real hot, but a 6" round of wet wood is gonna sit there smoldering and
    up your pipe. Vigilants are notorious for producing creosote if you let them sit and smolder at low temps.

    Methinks it's time you got yourself a Fiskars. Split those rounds in two and your stove will sigh with joy.
  11. rawlins02

    rawlins02 Member

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    I'm new to all this, so hope I understand correctly. I just bought this house. Wish I'd asked the chimney sweep more questions.

    There's an 8 inches flue going up from the stove about 4 feet, then angling into chimney. No liner that I know of. House is two story so plenty of chimney height. Wood is seasoned, although I do store the wood uncovered on the north side of the house, in the shade. Perhaps I will cover it or put some in the garage.

    I suspect that yesterday the primary factors were no wind, a relatively warm day, and the fact that I'd added two large 6-7" splits onto a hot but smallish fire. Also, I just now discovered that the primary air inlets at bottom of fireback were filled with ash. I'd been wondering where those inlets were on this stove. Curious how it would run today with a bit of wind. But alas I'm off to work.

    Thanks for all the tips folks. Suspect I'll be an old hand in no time!
  12. rawlins02

    rawlins02 Member

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    Other questions:

    - when the stove is cold, the flapper door at back lower left is angled about 45 degrees when the little handle is pointing straight up. I understand that's correct. The door will then close down when the stove gets up to around 500 degrees. But I have not seen it open back up as the stove cools. I understand the chain allows for adjustment. Suggestions?

    - I've seen mention in several posts of an adjustable "key hole" air inlet. I thought air only comes in through the primary in the back lower left.

    - There was no damper handle when I inherited the stove. Bought one this past weekend. I see no threads in the small "faucet" knob on the stove. The handle came with a small metal attachment that screws into the handle threads, and with that on it fits nicely into the faucet to move the damper. There's the slightest amount of play when inserted. But with that attachment removed I can't screw the handle into the faucet and leave in place. It's not clear to me whether the faucet can be retapped. Any suggestions?
  13. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    When the stove is up to temperature, the flapper will not open wide like when it is cold. It may open only 1/4" or so. Leave the side keyhole inlet open. That is for secondary air.

    Do you have a manual for the stove? If not, it's posted in 3 parts here:

    http://www.hearth.com/econtent/index.php/wiki/Vermont_Castings_Older_Stove_Models/

    Have you had the chimney checked before burning in the stove? If yes, does it have at least a clay liner? If no, I would recommend it be done very soon.
  14. rawlins02

    rawlins02 Member

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    OK, yes I recall the thermostat keeps it from opening wide when stove is hot. But if it's set to 45 degree angle when cold and to then shut when hot, should it also be expected to open a bit as stove cools down? I don't recall seeing it ever open again.

    Yes, I have the manual. Page 4 has the description of air feeds. From the drawing of the Defiant one might assume that the "flapper" port on the Vigilant is know as the "secondary air entrance port." To my knowledge that's the only place air can enter the stove from outside. I see the holes in the fireback are referred to as "primary" ports. Still not clear to me where the "side keyhole port" is located.

    The chimney was recently cleaned and inspected. I'll ask the sweep about a liner.
  15. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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    Did you find the keyhole? It is a little flap at the lower back corner on the left side (as you face the front of stove).

    I highly suggest the "top down" burning method. I tried it last year for the first time (after reading about it in this forum) and it changed my life. set the stove in Vertical burn mode. Put a couple of large splits on the bottom, put a mix of middle size and smaller splits on top of the big ones (short ones for N/S orientation work well here) a third layer of very small splits/kindling mixed in with several knots or tight wads of newspaper.

    Light the news paper wads. This quickly gets a draft going because you have flames at the top of the stack. Soon the kindling will light, followed by the small splits. Keep the air wide open and pretty soon you'll have a fully engulfed fire. After the fire is going really good I close the left door all the way and leave the right door open about an inch. This creates a strong Venturi effect and really fans the flames. I leave it like that until the griddle top temp reaches 675 to 700. At that point I close the door and put it in horizontal mode with the primary air still open most of the way. The fire will usually stabilize around 550 or so. I let it cruise at that temp.

    After a while I've got some great coals and the bottom splits are burning nicely. I'll load more wood through the top door. Kick it over to vertical again so the new wood can get a good char going, then go back to horizontal. I repeat this at bedtime. Pack the box full, get it burning really good. Put it in horizontal again, shut the air down and go to bed.

    Try the top down method on your start up. It will make a huge difference.
  16. rawlins02

    rawlins02 Member

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    Yes, I adjust temperatures using this inlet for air. From what I know this is the only way for air to come into the stove (aside from leaking gaskets, etc). I've seen posts that seemed to suggest this flapper/opening was called the "secondary" air inlet. If that is the secondary, what is the primary?

    I've read about top down and will try it one day.

    I'm starting to think I don't have a really strong draw, and that this may be due to stove venting into smoke chamber. I have an inspection and will find out in a few days how the venting into chimney works. This past weekend I could not get the stove about 450 degrees after the wind died down. But perhaps with no wind and 45 degrees outside there is just no draw potential.

    Mike
  17. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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    Mike, I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing. The primary is on the BACK of the stove near the left face. It is a thin, aluminum flap with a little handle and a chain attached to it, along with a coil spring so that it acts as a thermostat. It is on the BACK WALL.

    The secondary is the KEYHOLE flap on the left face of the stove NOT THE BACK. If you are looking at the left face of the stove, in the lower left corner OF THE LEFT FACE OF THE STOVE there is a little tear drop flap attached loosely to the side of the stove with a screw. This flap swivels left or right to allow a smaller amount of air to enter the stove. This allows air into the back chamber of the stove. This air is drawn into the firebox by five holes in the lower part of the fireback. The primary air enters the firebox through a tube that opens up just to the left of the left door.

    Let us know if you find that keyhole or I won't be able to sleep tonight.
  18. rawlins02

    rawlins02 Member

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    Ha! Found it. I'd noticed it before and just thought it was an interesting shape cast into the side of the stove. It's been closed every time I've used the stove over the past 6 weeks.

    Last weekend I ran the stove for much of the time with the front right door slightly open to provide air. So what is the purpose of that tiny air inlet given the larger primary opening? Is it that the primary and secondary settings are set to provide a certain temperature based on outside conditions, wood type, etc, and then the thermostat adjusts itself to hold that temperature? Something tells that this is overkill, and the secondary has little effect. Or perhaps I'm underestimating the effects of a little bit of air to a wood stove fire...
  19. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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    Have you seen the five holes in the fireback in the back of the firebox? When it's hot in the box, even with the doors and primary closed off, with the keyhole (secondary) open the draft will pull air through the keyhole and into the firebox through the holes in the fireback. This is sufficient to keep the fire going for long, overnight burns. If your stove is well tuned and tight there will be very little air intake with the primary closed and the doors shut. That keyhole will be the only source of air and it does a great job of keeping the fire going- not raging, but going, so that you should still have a nice warm stove in the morning. If the secondary is closed you'll most likely have a smoldering, smoky fire all night.

    I'm sure others can explain it better.
  20. rawlins02

    rawlins02 Member

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    Yes I've seen the five holes in the fireback. It's not obvious to me how an open secondary would affect a fire or stove operation any differently than a slightly open primary. But given that the primary moves up and down as temperature changes, I can see how a more consistent draw of air might be achieved when the primary and damper are both closed and the secondary is left open. But given the relatively warm and calm conditions in western MA lately I suspect this stove needs all the access to air it can get to run at operating (450-550) temperature.
  21. Viggyowner

    Viggyowner New Member

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    Hi Mike, thought I would add my two pence worth here. I own and run a Vigilant like you. It is in a bungalow with a short wide chimney and I have no trouble at all getting it to draw well. One thing you could check is that there is plenty of air getting to the stove, I know you said that the house is not well sealed but it is an easy thing to do. Open an outside window in the room with the stove when its running, (about an inch) and see if it helps. See if you can feel an incoming cold airflow from the window. Don't worry about cooling the room off as the stove puts out a lot of heat!!
    I my opinion that little keyhole on the left side is a 'set it and forget it' adjustment. It allows a small and controllable minimum amount of air into the stove to compensate for different chimney draughts. If you think your draught is low then open it wide and don't touch it again. Mine is set so that the opening is 90% open and seems to work fine and I never touch it at all.
    As has been said before that little hole in the left side feeds those 5 little holes in the lower rear fireback only. The hole at the rear controlled by the thermostatic flapper valve feeds air to that large curved tube in the lower left of the firebox.
    When the stove is really cold and the fire is long out try to vacuum out the left side hole just to ensure that the 5 little holes have free access to air.
    When the stove is cool and nearly empty, say in the morning after an all night burn, what I do is scrape the hot coals to the left side of the firebox. Carefully and very slowly shovel lots of the hot ash gently into a metal bucket held right up to the open doors so that the loose flying ash is drawn up the chimney. Get as much ash out of the right side of the stove as possible, right down to the ridges in the floor. Then gently push ash from the left side back to the right side so that about an inch remains over the entire floor. Make sure that the five little holes in the fireback are completely clear by poking them with a spike. Also clear out underneath the large air tube on the lower left. It has concealed holes right underneath the pipe!! It is all a balance between letting the ash build up and cover those 5 holes and the air tube on the left and finding a good time to empty the ash!
    By the way I agree with the earlier comments about dry wood. With a clean chimney, a good air supply and dry wood it is quite hard not to melt the stove and anything within 10 feet of it.
    Peter
  22. rawlins02

    rawlins02 Member

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    Peter,
    Thanks for the detailed suggestions. I have not noticed the large air tube on lower left that you mention. Funny how It took me 4 weeks to notice (clean out) the 5 little holes in fireback and 6 weeks to learn of the secondary air inlet! I find the schematic for the Vigilant in the manual to be unclear.

    I generally run the stove with a small layer of sand (about 1 inch) in bottom and a bit of ash too. I'd heard about potential damage to stove bottom if not enough sand or ash is in bottom. But I know the 5 air holes and opening at lower right are not covered up. Now will look to see what's going on with air tube in lower left.

    The clean out with hot coals is not too relevant for me as I don't run the stove overnight. I hope to know more about draft tomorrow after an inspection of everything from stove to top of chimney. I understand that if the stove is venting into the smoke chamber (a fireplace is in adjacent room) the draft is often marginalized. I'm hoping I don't need some major reconstruction to make the system more safe (creosote). I will test operation by opening a window a bit to see how that affects stove performance.
  23. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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    Rawlins, don't be afraid to let the ash build up. As long as it doesn't fall out the door when you open it, or block off the air holes in the fireback, you'll find the extra insulation will keep the stove warmer longer and that you'll use less wood. I also make sure that the air path coming out of the primary (round tube in front) is clear the entire width of the stove.


    Peter said: <<<Also clear out underneath the large air tube on the lower left. It has concealed holes right underneath the pipe!! >>>

    I've never noticed air holes beneath the pipe and have never before heard them mentioned. Are you sure your pipe is not rusted out, thus the holes? Or perhaps it was a custom, drilled out job?

    I'll have to go inspect mine.
  24. Ducky

    Ducky Member

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    Ill check mine for those holes as well, and ill do it tonight and report back here as my stove is currently stone cold... and i just cleaned it out yesterday.

    I always start the stove with the right hand door cracked open....

    Also, not sure if this is safe or not, but a few times I have had the left door glowing orange... prolly not a good thing...

    my primary damper (the big door on top that blocks the chimney) the handle broke off long ago. However I rarely close that door... when I do, It seems to really run down the temp of the stove itself... like its smoldering, only on certain occasions have i been able to succesfully close that door and actually have the stove get hotter...

    with that said, i use a pair of channel locks to turn that handle...

    and a pair of welding gloves to do any kind of interaction with the stove while it has a fire going...

    as far as that stupid lil door on the back? I never really played with it to be honest, always left it 'open' same with the keyhole.

    On a side note, ABSOLUTELY make SURE that whatever ash you remove from the stove, goes IMMEDIATELY outside. I use an old milk jug to store my old ash... I have seen the ash inside that jug be hot for up to two weeks after putting the ash in there (of course I usually fill up the jug before emptying it - about 4 cleanouts)
  25. Kenster

    Kenster Minister of Fire

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    That damper really needs to be open when you start the fire or you'll never get enough draft going to get a good, hot fire. However, You should never close it until the fire is going really good and hot. If the wood is really burning good and the griddle temp is 600-700 degrees for a while, THEN you can close the 'damper' (it's not really a damper) and with the primary air (little door in the back) open you should be able to maintain a nice warm stove for a long time, though the griddle temp may drop down to 450 or so after a while.

    Not pretty but effective.

    good plan and welding gloves are cheaper than 'fireplace gloves.

    You need to learn how to use that 'stupid lil door' properly. It will back a world of difference in controlling your heat output, and length of burn.
    When you leave it open you'll burn through your wood quickly. I get my stove up good and hot at bedtime, then close the primary air (aka 'stupid lil door) and just leave the key hole open and go to bed. In the morning I still have a warm stove and good coals that make it easy to get a fire going again.

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