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Tips and tricks - loading VC Intrepid, wood wrangling, general

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by MikoDel, Dec 20, 2010.

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  1. MikoDel

    MikoDel Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2008
    Messages:
    49
    Loc:
    Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
    This heating season marks my 12th anniversary with this little heater. Each year I learn a little more about the many facets of wood heat. Some things that seem to be working well this year are:

    **Chainsawing - When I get down to the end of the log, I cut the last piece to full length, even if it means a really short piece is left. I don't cut the last length equally in half anymore. That may not seem like a big deal in print. But when you're working with 36" and 40"+ diameter trees all year, those right-sized end cuts add up to a lot of perfectly sized splits. I know almost exactly how long I need to cut a log to fit in this stove. I cut all to the ideal length, whenever feasible (read the chop-saw hint, below) without any regard to the little piece left over. Whether you consider stacking or burning, you're better off having more equal length, proper sized splits. There's gonna be a ton of odd size little pieces anyway when you collect your own wood.

    **Load long splits toward the front of the Intrepid, spanning both doors. They keep short ones and knotty pieces from burning in direct contact with the glass. And it also means less of a mess when you open the doors. I've had a front glass crack from excessive heat, long ago when I was a nubie with this stove, and now I know why they tell you not to let your wood burn directly against the glass. But if it is, don't panic. It wasn't a burning log that cracked the glass. It was a heaped up pile of red hot coals, spilling over the ash fettles. I stoking the thing in the middle of a big snow storm, and opening it up to clear the ashes was a scary option. It wasn't even possible for me to carry the ash pan out at that temperature. I could have shoveled... I was a nubie. At that time, I didn't know the virtue of fire-rated gloves. (Strangely, I just Googled the topic and the ones I have, "Shelby Firewall", did not come up, even 2 and 3 pages back. They are monstrously protective and I recommend them highly. I had to put the actual name in the search field to get them. Mine are closest to current Shelby product code #5226)

    When my coal bed is low, if I've let the fire burn down quite a bit, after I sift the ashes from under the coals with the slicer-poker (!! and clear the fettles !!) and empty the ash pan if need be, I can put any size piece on the bottom. The ash fettles will keep them from burning up against the glass. Since I always seem to have an over abundance of less than ideal length pieces, I save the long ones. So I'll put two shorter ones on the bottom for my first layer, if the coals are low enough. But load your long splits along the doors and odd sizes to the back. Eventually I close the doors and top load because you can only load this stove about halfway if you don't. It's often a two handed job, one hand using the slicer poker to hold a split back while pushing another past it. And don't play games like "I bet I can squeeze this last one in!" until you have years of experience under your belt. When they're involved (burning) it's scary to realize you have to take one out cause the griddle won't close.

    **Chopsaw hint
    Bucking up big timber is a tiresome job in 100* heat. (Bucking = the tree is down and you are cutting the trunk into manageable size pieces.) The tiny Intrepid only fits a 16" or 18" split. If I have a monster tree I have to remove, no way can I afford the time it takes to cut it up that small, unless it's so big I can't move it any other way. So often I end up cutting, and later splitting, longer pieces than will fit in my stove. When it came time to burn, I used to rev up my little chainsaw that I keep in the back and cut them to size in my staging area. But I can't do that late at night, because I'm a good neighbor };-] And it's loud and smokey for me too. In a screened in porch, I start to taste that 50:1 mix in my throat. But my little Hitachi chopsaw is amazing. I can step out any time of night and slice down lengthy splits. Yeah, it's dusty, but I wear an N95 and safety glasses. And earplugs. Knowing I have this quick, convenient option right before burning gives me less pause when I buck, split and stack too-long wood.

    **Keep the ash lip clean. No question about it, the gray soot on the mantle (and everywhere else) tells the story. This year I have been fastidious about using a dust pan to put the ash back into the stove, and then a small handheld vacuum to clean what's left off the outside. There is a BIG difference in how much soot is in the air. Here it is December 19, and by now I would have vacuumed the mantle three times. But I only did it once so far. Convection carries the really fine ash into the air, my friends. Keep your stove CLEAN on the outside.

    **Leave the doors open longer - it's a time saver in the long run.
    If your stove gives you this option, you can let that fire die down down down and truly realize the amazing benefit of the heat-life of cast iron. Even if my coals are a dull red, the fire will start up nicely after awhile. And another huge benefit is less creosote. The quick and intense heat from opening it up gets the stack back up to temp quickly. Normally I have to clean the chimney on a Holiday calendar - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentines Day, and maybe Easter. This year, even though I've been burning since the first cool nights, I didn't do a cleaning until right before Christmas. This is because a) I wait until my 2nd load of wood before I close it up from a cold start. b)My wood is definitely more seasoned. c) I am waiting longer before I close my secondary combustion damper.
    And all my wood is never the same insofar as moisture content. It varies considerably because of different trees, seasoning times, etc. I try to remember which wood is which... please. Now that I'm in the habit of waiting before I close up the stove, a wet load of wood is less likely to catch me unawares.

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  2. jetmech

    jetmech Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2007
    Messages:
    210
    Loc:
    Dillsburg PA
    I am in my 3rd season with a 1303 Intrepid ii, i now have a digital cat thermometer hooked up so cat temps are read during operation. this is a awesome little stove that throws good heat but it is what it is, to small to hold long fire.... No doubt it was well built, mine is mid eighties built and still looks new. i have only 15 feet of straight up 6 inch pipe but it draws well.. . usually operate it around 500 to 600 stove top. I learned last year that dry wood is most of the battle using a stove. overall i am happy with it but will probably go larger with next one
  3. bmwbj

    bmwbj Member

    Joined:
    Oct 11, 2007
    Messages:
    165
    Loc:
    Ringoes NJ
    Hey, Jet and Miko, I to have an Intrepid II, but I have always been afraid to "Load up" the stove...
    I burn only 2, 3" inch splits at a time, so as not to over heat the stove. If I load any more than that
    the stove will backpuff or the cat will overheat. With the flames reaching the grittle too closly, I have had it
    run well over 700, which to me is too hot.
    This method for me means I have to reload the stove every hour, but it never gets too hot or backpuffs this way.
    I have often read about people who fill their stoves to the top, But I believe I would have a nuclear meltdown if
    I followed their instructions. My internal stack temps run between 700 and 900, and my external stack temps
    range between 400 and 600. When the "CAT" is in operation...my digital cat. probe can sometimes peak at 1900,
    but normally averages around 1400. If I load anymore than 2 to 3 small splits, my Cat. would go nuts.
    Please feel free to give me some input, All though I have been operating this stove for about 7 years now, and have
    replaced the cat 2 times, this seems to be the best methods for me. I would like to know if there is a way I could operate
    the stove with more wood, so I don't have to relaod every Hour or so.

    Thanks, Bob
  4. jetmech

    jetmech Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2007
    Messages:
    210
    Loc:
    Dillsburg PA
    Hey BMW i have been loading mine pretty full and havent had stove temps above 700... you might check your for air leaks. i just resealed mine couple months back especially around rear seams and the area at lower right corner of firebox where primary air intake box is.... my cat has approached 1800 but cools after the secondary air flap closes.. you can check that as well during operation. look up from bottom rear of stove and verify the shutter is full closed. sometimes i can hear mine going closed as cat gets around 1500 deg. i also hear a rumble or slight roar from mine as cat gets around 1500 to 1600 deg.. mine usually cruises around 1100 to 1200 during burn. my pipe temps are around 300 with cat engaged. this is my 4th season with this stove have been very happy with it. only thing is small firebox and short burn times
  5. MikoDel

    MikoDel Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2008
    Messages:
    49
    Loc:
    Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
    Yeah, the short burns are the real disadvantage, along with the ridiculously small logs you have to cut. When anybody shows me a stove, like at a fireplace showroom or their home, my first question is always "How long a log can it take?" Answers like "It'll take a 23 incher" kind of amaze me. But the thing is, this little stove provides waaay enough heat for the approx. 19X15' room it's in, and the whole first floor. So yes, a larger stove or insert would be nice, but it would require more careful monitoring of the burn because otherwise we wouldn't be able to even stay in the room. I use an excellent fan, a small wall mounted Vornado which is fairly quiet and is absolutely essential for warming the rest of the house. The cool little corner-mount fans I have seen in stores... I don't know if they would get the job done. The Vornado moves a lot of heat into the kitchen, and from there it seems to self-distribute pretty well.

    My wife is having a lot of personal "temperature regulation issues", if you follow. So when all this started a few years ago, I was worried she wouldn't even want a fire anymore because of her hot flashes. But she still loves a warm toasty room in the winter, thank God. The den gets up to 80* or better with the Intrepid. So a bigger stove would mean a lot of careful metering of the fuel in order not to blast us out. The Intrepid is easy - fill it up, keep the air shutter open all the way, let it rip. I filled mine sardine-can full the other night at midnight, and at 3am I awoke and it needed more. But I am currently burning ash, honey locust and poplar. When I'm running "pure oak" the burn times extend considerably, up to 5 hours maybe. That's nothing to most of you, I realize that. Just saying. If I am leaving the house or going to bed, I might adjust the shutter for a longer burn time, but usually I let it run wide open.

    Back-puffing only happens when I am first lighting and the flue temp is dead cold. Kindling catches scary fast, and if I don't keep the sliding door wide open, it will choke and puff a few times, but not too bad. Factors to consider -
    *My total flue length - four 36" chimney cleaning rods, or 12 ft. That's nothing.
    *House built in 1980 - a lot of outside air gets in thru a lot of places it shouldn't.
    *Top-vented stove, 6" vertical flue with only one short horizontal section

    I see many of you measure the temp. I do not. I was intrigued by posts to this forum and did some looking at point and shoot infrared temp guns, as the griddle-top thermometers seemed so cheap and unreliable. They're a waste of money because I don't really need one anyway. I couldn't make up my mind choosing the more expensive ones, partly because they're EXPENSIVE, so I bagged the whole idea. My stove is pre-1988, so I can't give proper advice to you catalytic owners. I use the horizontal connecting pipe as my temp gauge. If I can see some cherry red in that flue when I turn down the lights, I know it's way too hot and I have to meter the air. But there is also an audible clue.. the roar is usually excessively loud as well. Happens mostly when starting with too much kindling, or if a load has too many small splits. Small splits burn crazy hot, and again, the owner's manual advises that right-size splits are needed for optimum results.

    I never even consider how close the flames are to the griddle or anything like that. Unless the house is uncomfortably warm, I strive to fill it as shown in the attachment. According to the manual (I have it in PDF) the Intrepid uses the fuel as a "magazine" like in a firearm, and burns the bottom while warming the top. Then as it collapses the upper pieces become involved. The drier the wood, the bigger the splits you can use without a problem. Of course I have to keep that secondary combustion chamber clean, so my last flue cleaning, going on the roof, then cleaning the tee, replacing a firebrick and cleaning out the chamber, all in all it took me a few hours.

    The last factor is the sliding door. You can see from the pic they are blocked with heavy drapes. Critical. If I leave the drapes open, even with the double glass doors closed heat is robbed from the room to the tune of maybe 8* or 10*. Huge difference. Drapes are like wall insulation and provide amazing r value against that COLD glass. So that's the final form of temp regulation. If we have a party, I will leave the doors partly open, and maybe even pull the drapes back, because we already have a reputation with all our neighbors as being the house where you have to "bring a tank top" in the winter. And we joke that when we go to see them, we don't take our coats off! };-]

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  6. MikoDel

    MikoDel Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2008
    Messages:
    49
    Loc:
    Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
    Splits - these are a good mix of thickness for the Intrepid. Keep in mind when you are splitting, you will always need some thin ones to nurse a fire back.

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  7. BrowningBAR

    BrowningBAR Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2008
    Messages:
    7,607
    Loc:
    Doylestown, PA
    This year the Intrepid is burning far better than last year, but it is still the biggest pain of the three stoves.
  8. jetmech

    jetmech Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2007
    Messages:
    210
    Loc:
    Dillsburg PA
    Miko, can you give me some info on your Vornado fan, my setup is almost identical to yours. i am currently using corner 4 in fans in a opening between rooms. My intrepid is in same size room as yours. i have a 6 foot opening into another room same size. my stove will get the room its in to 80 and heat adjacent room to 72 or 73 heat will even migrate to my kitchen and get it to 70 degrees after a couple hours of heating. i am interested in one of these if it would move heat more effectivly.
  9. elmoleaf

    elmoleaf Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2007
    Messages:
    391
    Loc:
    Southeastern Massachusetts
    I cut my wood to 14"...can usually fit 2-3 decent size splits via top load. Mix of wood size important if you really want to pack the firebox for long burns....splits and smaller 2"-3" rounds work well.
    The two internal andirons protect the glass pretty well from logs hitting the glass. Get 'em if your stove doesn't have them.
    I'm very happy with my Tel-Tru bimetallic stovetop thermometer....relatively expensive, but very accurate. Hottest temp ever registered was about 670-680 F. That came from lots of very small wood and forgetting to close the damper soon enough.

    How many years you guys typically get from your griddle gasket? Mine's fraying after being replaced 5 years ago.
  10. MikoDel

    MikoDel Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2008
    Messages:
    49
    Loc:
    Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
    Boy we can just go on and on, can't we!

    Yeah, those andirons. I see them in the newer stoves. I forgot they switched the design. I think it's probably better than the old ash fettles. Don't know if they would even fit my stove, but I might look into it.

    I'll check up on that thermometer you talk about. The griddle gasket - it's looking good. But I'm thinking that even though it's not frayed, it might be compressed enough now to warrant replacing. But it has lasted me awhile. I haven't replaced it since around 2000. Those back puffing moments, although they are not what you want, they're a good test for that kind of integrity. Last time mine puffed (last year?), I didn't see any smoke out the griddle. Just some from the back.

    As far as the Vornado, the temps across the distances of which you speak seem almost the same as what I'm getting. Very hot in the den with the stove, about 75* in the kitchen (adjacent room), 72* in the dining room (next room, straight line) and maybe 68* in the living room, which is off at a right angle.

    My Vornado 530 is a vari-speed fan with infinite speed control (fancy for rheostat with no detent). I think the new ones have a three position speed switch. It's the smallest one they make, except maybe for a tiny desk fan. Vornado makes a wall bracket, but you have to get that separately. I came across this fan in a client's office once, and it ran so quietly. I was very impressed. The one I got from Vornado was not nearly as quiet. They are an amazing company. They switched it out for me, but the new one was the same. Definitely quiet, but not like the one I first saw.

    I also have a Vornado shop fan. It's pretty expensive, I think over $100. But THAT thing is completely silent on low speed. Problem is, if I tried to hang that thing on the wall, I'd be out in the street!!! I actually used to put the shop fan in back of the stove, in the hearth, and move air that way. But nothing needs to be done in the den. It's that spot on the wall that makes the difference to the rest of the 1st floor. I wish I had a straight shot above to the 2nd floor so I could put a passive register in, but I don't.

    I have looked into a company that makes inline duct fans. You use insulated flex-duct and force the hot air where you want it. That's my only option for bringing this ample heat to the 2nd floor. But I'm not gonna bother I don't think. What you want is ZONED HEATING and AIR. Any new house being built without it is silly. In the long run, it's the smartest and most efficient way to go. My thermostat downstairs is pretty much useless for 2nd floor heating when the stove is running. Upstairs gets cold.

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