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Vermont Castings 1977 Vigilant, noob

Post in 'Vermont Castings & CDW Dutchwest older Models' started by mikepinto65, Nov 5, 2008.

  1. mikepinto65

    mikepinto65 Minister of Fire

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    Hi guys.
    I was able to get a '77 Vermont Castings Vigilant, in mint condition, free from a family member about three weeks ago. I bought an external 8" chimney (not cheap) and recently installed it this past weekend with my father. I've read up a good deal about this stove but still have a couple questions. I've only burned about three nights with outside temp. right around 35-40 degrees. The stove heats like a dream, we'll defiantly save on our heating cost this year. I am however a little concerned with the amount of white smoke the chimney lets out (even with griddle temps 450-500). It dosnt really happen when I run a hot updraft fire, the smoke fades out with high temps. Its the horizontal burn mode that sends the smoke spewing. I know this is an older stove, but is this normal to see and have happen? I am concerned that I am not achieving the secondary burn that the stove claims is can do. Its just puzzling, even in the horizontal mode the griddle temp is still maintains 450-500 degrees. If anyone has experience with this stove i'd greatly appreciate the feedback. Is this just what is meant by a "smoke dragon"?

    sorry bout the pic quality...cell phone

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  2. SamC

    SamC New Member

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    Congrats I have the same stove. I just gave mine a new metalbestos 8 inch chimney as well. And yes that is why they are called smoke dragons. With the damper open it will put out a fair amount of smoke , but once I get it up to operating temp and close the damper down the smoke output is cut in half (again still more than the newer stoves but not what I consider an abnoxious amount). Also this is a bad time of year to be figuring out what is normal, the vigilant will blow us out of the house this time year and they really do not like to be dampened down. Once the temps dip into the 20's and below for the winter it will keep our 2500SF farm house in the uper 60's lower 70's all winter. Just rember to check your chimney a few times this winter because you will get some decent build up. My chimney is straight up and I clean it every 2 months just to be safe (I get about a coffe can or less). In the dead of winter I will get about half a coffe can. Enjoy the heat.
  3. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    Mike - you have pretty much expressed exactly what I would expect from that stove. I don't think you are doing anything wrong, with the possible exception that you may want to stay on the higher side of the temps you mentioned to try and keep as clean of burn as you can.

    Most of the old "smoke dragons" act just as you stated. Your burning methods can improve the performance of the stove, but will probably not eliminate smoke from your stack.

    Burn the best quality, seasoned wood that you can.
    Keep the stove temps up for as clean as burn as possible.
    Don't be temped to snuff it down too far to extend burn times beyond reason. This one will get ya.
    Keep an eye on your stack and clean as needed.

    That was one heck of an old stove, a solid, reliable performer for years, but the fact is - its old technology. Do what you can to operate it cleanly and when you get tired of feeding piles of wood to it, start your search for an EPA Cert. stove.
  4. mikepinto65

    mikepinto65 Minister of Fire

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    Thanks for the fast responses. Sam, this thing really does heat like a champ! Our house is 1600sf and man it does a nice job of heating the hole thing comfortable. I suspected it was a bad time to be testing....just couldn't resist!
    Jags, I probably will eventually look into an epa stove eventually but free was key! (i just hope that when the time come i can find one with an 8" flue...there's no way im gonna buy another chimney)
    Im still curious though, does this stove achieve the secondary burn even though its smokey? From what i've read here the secondary burn is the reason why new stoves have little to no smoke output. Is this just a failed attempt at an idea to good for its time?
  5. struggle

    struggle Minister of Fire

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    As a former Vigilant owner I would make sure you always have a bed of ash in the bottom of the stove to protect the base from cracking. I often shoveled mine out completely and then found it warped the floor of the stove as well cracked it.

    OUr did put out a ton of heat but got ride of it for chimney problems and buildup in the chimney which became a chimney fire one day. The stove certainly did not help the problem but it more an issue with the chimney than the stove itself.

    Your price paid for the stove was spot on as you can never go wrong with free.
  6. mikepinto65

    mikepinto65 Minister of Fire

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    Im still curious though, does this stove achieve the secondary burn even though its smokey? From what i’ve read here the secondary burn is the reason why new stoves have little to no smoke output. Is this just a failed attempt at an idea to good for its time?
  7. struggle

    struggle Minister of Fire

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    It was a great stove in its time but new technology has superceeded it. There is no secondary burn to that stove. A down draft burn when the top handle on the left rear is flipped. I really liked the stove.

    The new stoves allow you to see the fire through clean glass without cleaning it. They have secondary air burn tubes that create a dazzling light show to watch. Use less wood for amount of heat put out. The list just goes on.

    Secondary burn burns the gasses coming off the wood after it is initially on fire which reduces the smoke. You kind of get two burns out of one piece of wood if that makes sense.
  8. mikepinto65

    mikepinto65 Minister of Fire

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  9. VTZJ

    VTZJ Member

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    Oh, it works all right. You have to burn hot and get a few other things right. But it works smokelessly.

    The Vigilant has a secondary air regulator, a secondary air delivery system and a secondary combustion chamber. The stove was designed and intended to acheive secondary burn, and will do so smokelessly for several hours under the right circumstances. Sure, more modern stoves achieve secondary burn more easily under a wider range of circumstances. But here is how to do it with your stove:

    0. You must be absolutely confident about the safety of your stove and installation, because you have to burn hot to get a clean secondary burn in the Vigilant.
    1. You must have dry wood. Unseasoned wood will not burn hot enough.
    2. The stove must be well sealed and gasketed, with no primary or secondary air leaks or blockages, and no ash in the secondary combustion chamber.
    3. You must have good draft. Sounds like you do with 8", so good job there.
    4. You must have 1.5 inches of sand in the bottom. Forget about 1.5 inches of ashes. Use clean play sand from Home Depot. Keeps much more heat in the firebox where you need it.
    5. You must have your heat shields, at least the rear, in place. Same reason as #4. Bottom shield will increase your range.
    6. Kindle a hardwood fire in updraft mode. Run the stove up to about 600* griddle temp for 20 or 30 minutes until a good deep bed of coals develops.
    7. Add good fuel right to the top of the firebox, and let this get charred in updraft mode, maybe another 20 minutes, maintaining but not exceeding 600*.
    8. Open the primary and secondary air fully and put the stove into horizontal burn mode. Monitor things closely until you really know how the stove behaves.
    9. Run the stove as close to 600 degrees griddle temperature as you can. Find the primary air setting that maintains a temp between 550 and 600. On my stove, that's about a 3/8 inch opening at the bottom of the primary air door.
    10. Let the stove run, but not run away. If you close the primary air too much, you will collapse the secondary burn and get smoke.

    A deep well developed bed of coals, high temps, adequate air and strong turbulence are all necessary. In horizontal mode, gasses and smoke sweep horizontally off the coal bed into the secondary chamber, where they swirl with incoming secondary air. If the temps are high enough, voila, secondary combustion and zero smoke. Check for intense radiation from the exterior stove panel enclosing the secondary chamber. You'll know you've got it going on when that panel is twice as intense as the rest of the stove and you have no smoke.

    When your stove is tight and working properly, it should be able to sustain a stable high temp in horizontal mode wavering very little if at all. Plus or minus 25* over half an hour is a lot of deviation for my stove, usually it hops up to 550 or 600 and hangs there for three hours. Look for problems like air leaks or a bad thermostat if you experience variations larger than this. Obviously, as the fuel load burns off, temps will drop.

    I typically burn out the full fuel load before refueling. Given sufficient air, the stove will run in secondary mode until the fuel load is reduced to coals, maybe 3 to 4 hours on a full firebox of good hardwood. Coals will run another three or four hours with no smoke. Your stove is also very receptive to top down firebuilding methods, and, as you know, will run smokelessly in updraft mode. So the implication here is that you can acheive a smokeless 8 hour fire from first match to last dying ember if you manage things properly in the Vigilant. The difficulty of all this is that the stove will put out tremendous heat when run like this, and not many homes can absorb this level of output (50,000 btu/hr) and still be comfortable. So bust out the Hawaiian shirt and surf shorts. And good luck.
  10. mikepinto65

    mikepinto65 Minister of Fire

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    Thanks so much VTZJ
    I'll play around with it, I had a feeling i'd have to push hot in that range. I do have an 8" chimney but it is an exterior with an offset so I hope I still can manage a good strong draft. I'm going to go pick up some sand tomorrow and try that out. Its funny you mentioned the top down fire building....just tried it yesterday for the first time and worked very well, trying to master it now!
    Stupid question, but what constitutes a a full firebox? The inside of the stove is pretty big, do you fill all the way up to the top loading area two wide??
    Thanks again for a great response!
    Mike

    Also I just ordered a new thermostat last week just for fun ($30). I was able to get one brand new from a local stove shop. Just wanted to make sure I was using one that worked like it was suppose to this winter when i really start to push her!
  11. SamC

    SamC New Member

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    I was about to post but VTZJ summed it up very well. And like he said it will work very well but the downside are these shoulder months. While I know 500-600 is optimal I just can't do it this time of year, or we would melt, but mid January I can sit in my shorts and tshirt and watch the snow outside. This time of year I run mine 300-400 which like I posted earlier is why I have to clean my chimney once a month just to be safe. I know people saw they gobble wood but I don't think it is as bad as they make it out to be ,it is a big stove! I use maybe 3/4 of a cord to a cord more a winter then my best friend with a hearthstone of similar size. Wood is not an issue for me so I guess to me it does not seem that bad. Enjoy pretty soon you can let it rip.
  12. VTZJ

    VTZJ Member

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    I packed my stove so full one time I couldn't shut the damper until things settled down an inch or so. Does that answer your question? Anyway, a full firebox isn't really necessary for secondary burn. My point was, once you have a secondary burn going, you dont want to interrupt it to reload. So put in as much wood as you feel is necessary for the length of burn you desire. Two wide all the way to the top is fine. Mind that damper though!

    Thermostat: good job getting that squared away. Your rear heatshield is important for proper thermostat operation, as I discovered the hard way. The thermostat was designed apparently to operate in the hot environment between stove and shield. If the shield is missing for some reason, the thermostat still works, but it responds too slowly, and this makes the stove temps rise and fall in a cycle, making secondary burn difficult to sustain.

    It took me four winters to figure this out with my stove! If only I had known that Hearth.com existed, I probably would have saved a cord or two of wood by now.

    Good luck with your Vigilant. It is a superb stove for its era. Even, you could say, ahead of its time. And it is noble of you to want to run that thing without smoke. Good on you! Please report on your results, so SamC and I can congratulate you. What SamC said is true. I am glad he posted up to help too.
  13. mikepinto65

    mikepinto65 Minister of Fire

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    Thanks, I took your advice and filled the bottom of the fire box with 1-1/2" play sand today. I also cleaned out the air intake passages real good with a make shift hose made out of old water hose and taped to my shop vac (worked pretty well)!

    I'll keep you posted on how my success turns out, just need the temp to drop some!

    Thanks again for all of your help.

    Oh ya....luckily i do have the rear heat shield so i'll be putting that on tomorrow
  14. cmonSTART

    cmonSTART Minister of Fire

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    Hey, even if you never get a secondary burn with it, its still a very good stove relative to other pre-epa stoves. I would own one.
  15. mikepinto65

    mikepinto65 Minister of Fire

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    Success!!!
    Temps dropped down to around 28 last night so I got a chance to see what my stove could do.
    I brought her up to heat (580 griddle temp) after establishing a good hot bed of coals, and let the wood char up a bit. After that I closed the damper, adjusted the primary air door to about 3/8 inch of open space and voila! a steady cruising temp of 550 which lasted a good 3-4 hours. The flue temp dropped a good amount once placed in the the horizontal stage, only reading a temp of about 280.

    Just wanted to post an update and thank everyone again for the help.

    VTZJ I did have a bit of white smoke coming out as SamC said but it wasnt anything excessive. Maybe i'm not entirely hitting the secondary burn but it sure felt like it, heat radiating from the back etc..etc. Oh well though, i'll keep experimenting with that one!

    Thanks again! Now its time to put my VC grate in this sat!
  16. VTZJ

    VTZJ Member

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    I love it when a plan comes together. Congratulations! That's how the stove is meant to be run. Play with that air setting and you may be able to dial the smoke down or out completely.

    Now, could you stand the heat that thing throws?
  17. mikepinto65

    mikepinto65 Minister of Fire

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    It was definitely warm to say the least!! It sure does feel nice to have the 2nd floor a steady 70 degrees though without touching the thermostat! Not bad for a basement set up if I do say so! I'm confident that once i install the grate and maybe a fan blowing up the stairs i'll be able to get an easy 73 upstairs.
  18. Ryk

    Ryk New Member

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    I've been burining in my 1977 Vigilant for a year and a half that came with Log house we bought in, south west Canada.

    i recently just discovered the secondary burn adjustment flap.

    it was always closed

    should it always be wide open?

    why would you ever need to close it?
  19. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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  20. Ryk

    Ryk New Member

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    thank you for the manual

    its not really all that clear about the operation of the secondary.

    it seems when i try and get it to burn it just slowly drops in temp to a smolder

    i can see that it is sucking air cause i held a lighter up to it

    maybe the secondary system just needs a real good cleaning ill try that next time the fire is out.

    unless anyone has an idea i should try next.
  21. mikepinto65

    mikepinto65 Minister of Fire

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    I have been resurrected just in-time for the bulk of the burning season! Hi All!
  22. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Ryk, this could be from a number of different causes. The most common one is that the wood is not fully seasoned.
  23. remkel

    remkel Minister of Fire

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    Another cause could be ash buildup in the rear baffles....check the secondary combustion area for ash buildup. Sometimes it collects behind the fireback.
  24. eucbuster

    eucbuster New Member

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    It's always a good idea to make sure that the (5) small air input holes at the back bottom of the firebox are not blocked by ashes. I like to have the

    thermostatic intake flap open fully for lighting. WE LOVE IT!
  25. Ryk

    Ryk New Member

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    What's the best way to know that the secondary chamber is burning?

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