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Rough year ahead?

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by Joful, Nov 5, 2012.

  1. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    So, third night in a row, I get the stove running beautifully... but only after three hours of fighting with it. We're currently cruising at 350F stovetop and 1000F on the cat probe, but getting there was no small feat.

    Set up a top-down fire tonight at 7pm, with four big splits of hardwood (guess I should've looked closer, but I'm assuming walnut), then some paper and fatwood, and then three small splits of pine. She took off great, and we went right up to 450'ish on the stovetop. 30 minutes later, it was clear my pine was going to be burned up before the big hardwood splits took off, so I added a small split of unidentified hardwood to the top. The fire almost immediately smothered.

    The next hour or more was spent cracking the door to get her going again, and then watching it die after I closed the door. Eventually, I got it to burn okay with the door shut, but we hovered forever below 400F stove top, and a fire too weak to bother engaging the cat.

    After two hours, I was able to engage the cat, but it hovered only around 500F on the cat probe for another hour. Three hours into the burn, the cat probe finally started climbing, along with the stove top. We got to 500F on the stovetop and 1080F on the cat, before finally lowering the air to cruise as intended.

    I assume the verdict is poorly seasoned wood, but would like a more experienced opinion than my own. If so, I can't imagine any solutions to this problem that aren't going to cost me more time than I have, right now.

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  2. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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    How big are these big hardwood splits? How long have they been split and stacked?

    Remember, the bigger you leave them, the longer they take the season. Within reason, leaving wood a bit smaller before seasoning, doesn't necessarily mean a shorter burn. It's easy to get caught up in the trap of believing that large pieces of wood are necessary for long burns. With a proper amount of draft from a good chimney setup, med sized splits won't burn down too fast on you.

    That said, if you are at all figuring your wood is the issue, then I hope you are taking measures now to be ready for next winter, and I suggest splitting these big pieces in 1/2 to help in the meantime.

    pen
    Backwoods Savage likes this.
  3. rdust

    rdust Minister of Fire

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    Stop messing with the top down stuff. :) I load the box with splits add a firestarter and go on my way. If I don't do it that way I load with kindling size pieces first to get a coal bed then load with full size stuff on top of it.
    Backwoods Savage, fespo and ScotO like this.
  4. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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    Blasphemy!! However, I agree in that I never do a true top down, it's always a hybrid of sorts.

    pen
    Backwoods Savage likes this.
  5. corey21

    corey21 Minister of Fire

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    I don't do top down ether.
  6. My Oslo heats my home

    My Oslo heats my home Minister of Fire

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    Definitely sounds like the wood is the culprit on your posting.
  7. dafattkidd

    dafattkidd Minister of Fire

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    Joful, I have a few suggestions as I have burned my share of not so seasoned wood. First of all it is easier when it's colder out, because you'll have better drafts, and it's easier to burn crappy wood on a coal bed than from a fresh start. Other things that may be helpful: buy some biobricks or other similar type compressed wood logs to mix in with your wood. Split you wood smaller as smaller splits burn easier than large ones. Get your hands on some pallets or construction debris and mix that in with your wood.

    The bottom line is you're trying to heat your house. If the fire isn't optimum, that sucks, but if it's still pushing heat into the room than your having some level of success. As you work through this wood issue this year, double your wood supply, so this is the last time you're having this headache. Hope that's helpful. Good luck with it.
  8. ddddddden

    ddddddden Minister of Fire

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    +1 for small splits. They work better in my stove. More surface area on the load of wood = better burn. You have a different stove, but you should be able to turn down a cat stove enough so that small splits last awhile.

    I like top-down starts, but I also like to scoop out a pit or "tunnel of love" in the middle of the ash bed so that air can get to the bottom of the load.

    +1 for hot coals.
    If you have to do a cold start, you might want to try burning a small "sacrificial" load fast & hot to establish a nice coal bed and to get your flue warmed up.
  9. rkshed

    rkshed Feeling the Heat

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    Small splits for good starts.
    I have yet to try a "top down" start (too ADHD).
    8"x8" pc of newspaper, pc of Birch bark or now pine cones, kindling and one small split. Once thats going, work up in split size. Takes about 15 minutes to get to where I can close the doors and run the stove via the air inlets.
    By the way... its 21 degrees outside and 72 inside.
    All Free!!
  10. HollowHill

    HollowHill Minister of Fire

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    I have been struggling this year a bit with top down fires as well. So, I rewatched the Canadian video about it which was well worth doing, helped with my reloads too. What I found helped was that 1) I put in a 4 layers - large, medium, small, and kindling and 2) I put my Super Cedar in the middle instead of on top, so that it is sitting below the kindling and on top of the small splits.
  11. oldogy

    oldogy Member

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    I've been playing with fire for about sixty five years and have never tried a top down fire build. And yes, I was taught to build a fire by my Grandma in her kitchen stove. And Grandma knew what she was doing:) . And yeah, it was my job to keep her wood box filled with splits and kindlin'.
    Jags and osagebow like this.
  12. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Juful, I dont recall if this is your first year burning or not? (maybe just first with this particular stove?)

    In any case, if it is the wood, as other said split small, burn as hot as you can. Try re-stacking what you have in single rows if you have space, it will season some more over the winter. If that doesn't help there is the expensive route - buy some kiln dried or bio bricks and mix it in.

    We all struggled our first year or two. It wasn't really till year 3 that I got into a good rhythm with 2 year old woo and sorted out the best loading routine to make things work smooth. And even now on year 4 I made some goofs and had to relearn a couple things.
  13. WoodPorn

    WoodPorn Minister of Fire

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    1) Sounds like your wood is not quite there yet
    2) I'm pretty sure you need a coal bed before engaging your cat? (could be wrong as I don't have 1)

    Try a kindling fire 1st, get a bed of coals established, let us know how it works out
  14. jeff_t

    jeff_t Minister of Fire

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    If you're still playing with low burns, you need really dry wood and good draft. If it isn't dry enough, it is just going to go out with the minimal amount of air necessary for keeping the cat active.

    You have a good start. I'm interested to see how this stove works for you next couple of years.
  15. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Splits were relatively average / medium. Two were perhaps one quarter of a 10" round x 20" long, and the other two were slabs off the sides of big rounds, perhaps 2" x 8" x 20". Unfortunately, they've only been split and stacked since last winter, perhaps 9 months. We just bought the house last fall, so we're ramping up the wood supply right now.

    I've had some trouble with the stove wanting to take off too hot when stuffed full of small splits, so I've been favoring medium to larger splits in the bottom of the box, with smaller stuff only top to get her started hot.

    Definitely! Already got 7 cords split and stacked in the last year, and another 6 cords in rounds waiting to be split later this month. I'll be in good shape, starting next year.

    I had never done top-down before a week ago, but burning on top of a coal bed always presented me with two challenges: 1. How to stuff a big load into the stove on top of a hot coal bed, and have it not go nuclear. You're getting the stuff on bottom burning first, and fire burns upwards fast! 2. Timing bed time. How long do you guys plan to burn that initial load? Are you talking just a 1 hour fire to reload, and maybe never getting to engage the cat, or is your initial load bigger?

    All good ideas. The wife has asked, "why don't we just use oil this year, and plan to be ready for next year with the wood supply?" Being as busy as I am right now, that's not an awful idea, either. But if I can find some way to burn this year, without sinking a lot of time into it, I still aim to do it.

    Been burning 35 years, but always in open fireplaces. This is my second year with this stove, but last year I had some seasoned wood left by the previous owner of this house. This year, I'm using the wood I CSS'd last year.

    Time is short, but I might consider buying kiln dried. Where do you find such a thing?
  16. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    Welcome to the forum oldogy.
  17. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    Okay, I'll post again how I start a fire in a cold stove. I know the top-down is really the cats meow to some but I still am not sold on it.

    I place 2 splits in the bottom, bark down. Form a slight vee with the splits. Then place 1/4 of a super cedar in the vee and light it immediately. Then I usually place a few pieces of kindling on top of the super cedar but sometimes just skip the kindling. Then place 1 or 2 small splits on top of that and close the door. You can leave the door ajar if the draft is a bit weak but keep an eye on it. Close the door as soon as possible. I've never had one of these fail yet.

    Sometimes I also think some folks put too much wood in when lighting from a cold stove.
    corey21 and pen like this.
  18. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Thanks, Dennis! Lighting I can handle, but how about the big load when that starter load burns down? Can you provide similar detail on that? My trouble last year was balancing between a big load for a long burn, and having the stove go nuclear. Adding to the trouble last year was that I could not throttle down too far without back puffing, but it seems the new liner solved that.

    Even with bad wood, or perhaps thanks to it, I still had some coals for a relight after 23 hours from last nights top-down burn.

    ImageUploadedByTapatalk1352243977.899649.jpg
  19. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    FWIW, I was just re-reading the very long start-up procedure in my Jotul manual earlier this evening. I will severely abbreviate here, as it's quite long.

    1. Crumpled newspaper + two handfuls of kindling (1/2").
    2. Add several 1" - 2" splits, then a few 2" - 3" splits.
    3. Light paper, leave door cracked 1/2"
    4. Dependig on draft and kindling, you may need to leave door cracked five to eight minutes.
    5. When small kindling is reduced to coals and larger kindling is ashed over, add three or four "small-to-medium" pieces of wood.
    6. Allow to burn for several minutes before closing doors.
    7. Be sure wood is "well caught and has had a chance to burn vigorously (5 - 10 minutes) before you close bypass damper."
    8. Close bypass damper, and leave air control full open until this load is reduced to coals.
    9. Once charcoal is well-established (2" - 3" deep), add a full load of fuel on top of the coals thru the top-load door.
    10. Operate stove with air control full open 5 - 15 minutes, then close bypass damper.
    11. Wait an additional 5 - 15 minutes for catalyst to reach "a good operating temperature" before setting air control for desired heat output.

    Aside from all the leaving the door open stuff, I did roughly follow this three-load process tonight. It worked pretty well, in concept, but was a 2+ hour endeavor to get the final load in and cruising.
  20. dznam

    dznam Member

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    I've been burning the Firelight cat for about 15 years and have only had an overfiring condition when windspeeds were over 40 mph continuous (added inline damper and took care of that problem). My chimney drafts very well and my Firelight is very controllable - other than very high winds, it's very easy to modulate the temperature and it has no tendency to "go nuclear". I always load large on a hot coal bed and stuff that monster toploader to the gills! Did you actually have a nuclear event with this stove or are you just concerned that one is possible? Also, I have always built fires from bottom-up: no issues and no problems. I leave the air control full on, use paper, then a few pieces of fatwood, some split kiln dried and then some softwood splits, then a couple hardwood splits. Throttle down the air progressively when things are cooking and set to "run" when the stovetop gets north of 300* and then close the bypass. Get a moisture meter - they're cheap and will help you eliminate the possibility of burning unseasoned wood (or at least allow you to burn it knowingly;-)) This stove does NOT like wet wood and I suspect that's a big part of your problem.
  21. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Thanks for the reply, dznam. I was running the stove thru a too-short exterior masonry chimney with 8" ID round clay tile last year, and I did have more than one instance where the stove took off towards 700*F (damn hot for a Firelight 12!), and I could not throttle down far enough to bring it back down without having back-puffing problems. One thing I was doing then, that I don't do now, is using a lot of smaller or medium splits, instead of just three or four larger splits. I've also since installed a 6" insulated liner in that chimney, and it seems all trouble with backpuffing has been resolved, so maybe I have nothing to worry about.

    I'm surprised you're able to light a fire and get it going without bypassing the catalyst. I've never tried it as the manual and all other advice I've received suggests I should not, but maybe it's worth giving a try. It certainly is not easy to get this cat to light off some nights.

    I do have a moisture meter, but have not been home or free during daylight hours since burning began last week, to go out and split some fresh faces to test. I will aim to do so this weekend.
  22. dznam

    dznam Member

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    Oops, I misspoke - I meant to say "air control", not damper (catalytic bypass). Always start with the bypass in the open position - I usually close the bypass (thereby engaging the catalyst) at about 300* stovetop. I'm going to edit my post to clarify rather than risk having someone try to start it up with the bypass closed :eek:.

    On a related note, I hope you're as happy with this stove as I am... top loader, great ashpan, long burntimes and very consistent heat output over the burn cycle, easy and precise air control and (IMO) a great looker to boot. I've been burning this stove for 15 years , the last 7 years for 24/7 and it looks and operates like new including the green enamel finish. Just a couple of routine catalyst replacements and one top gasket replacement. I've owned a couple of 2ndary burn Jotuls (Oslo and Castine) since I got this (multiple stove installs in 2 locations) and they're very nice stoves but they just don't compare.
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  23. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    Yep. I was also shopping for a second stove over the summer, and went to a lot of trouble to find a buy a second Jotul Firelight 12. This was not based on any firsthand experience, since I'm a relative beginner, and just learning the ropes myself. It was based on knowing wanted a catalytic stove for longer burn times, more consistent temperature, and a wider range of control. I had tried to find something new that looked as good as the Jotul, but only found Vermont Castings (/Dutchwest), who has had a very poor record of quality, durability, and customer service.

    I do understand why Jotul wanted to develop a series of non-catalytic EPA stoves, as they were plagued with support issues from customers who should never be left alone with a catalytic stove. However, I will never understand why they dropped proven designs (namely the Firelight 12 and Series 8), which by their own admission had superior performance to their current non-cat stoves, rather than allowing customers (or their dealers) to make a decision on which stove they would buy.

    It seems companies like Blaze King have picked up a lot of customers, who demand the performance of a catalytic stove, but would have rather bought something with similar performance with the looks of a Jotul. There's no good reason why function must preclude beauty.
  24. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage Minister of Fire

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    Reloads are pretty much the same for all. Open the bypass and also open the draft full. Most times the first thing I do when opening the firebox door is to move most of the coals forward in the stove. Then fill with wood, although about the only time I fill it completely is for overnight burns. It may help to fill the firebox before the coals get too far burned down. So, after loading the firebox, for us it can take from 3-15 minutes before we reduce the draft and engage the cat. It all depends upon how the fire establishes. Perhaps the worst times for us (and they aren't bad) is just before a storm. I've always noticed a reduction in draft during those times so we simply adjust; that is, usually it takes a little longer before we dial the draft down.

    As to the final setting for the draft, that can vary a lot from stove to stove and even installation to installation. When someone says they burn with the draft open 25% or whatever percentage, that should be used only as a guide and not necessarily for your true setting.

    In addition, if you wood is perhaps not as dry as it should be, load sooner, before the coals get burned down too far.
  25. Monosperma

    Monosperma Member

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    Here are my thoughts, for what it's worth. 1. Having tried the top-down method a few times, it seems to me to be a slow way to get a fire going, and cold-starting a cat stove is slow enough already. Maybe that method is better suited for a non-cat EPA stove, where from the get-go your flames are licking your secondary tubes? I want to get my fire and gasses big and hot fast, so I don't use top-down in my Blaze King cat. 2. This may miss the mark of what is happening to you, but some of my fires were going out as well, when I closed my door OR when I reduced the air, and reducing my air even more slowly than the instructions say seems to be helping. Not so convenient when trying to get out the door in the morning, but there it is.

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