Help a newbie connect the dots... (Huge ash buildup)

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Red Squirrel

New Member
Dec 25, 2023
Black Hills, SD
Hello, I've been a lurker for 2 years in anticipation of retiring, buying a home, and installing and learning to run a wood stove.
I bought a 2 story 2100 sq ft house and installed a PE Summit LE stove with a new single wall liner in the external existing brick chimney.
I just started to acquire my firewood in Aug-Sep this year. Ponderosa pine is about it around here for firewood. I cut, split and stacked 3 cord
of Ponderosa pine that I got myself from the local Natl. forest. This will be for Next season.

For this season I bought 3 cord from different venders, supposedly dry, some had been split and stacked, some was just cut from standing dead trees.
(All Ponderosa pine)

In the first month of shoulder season burning I checked my flue and to my horror I had up to 1/2" of fluffy ash chunks from the stovepipe to chimney,
and pretty much all the way up to the cap (16') in the external brick chimney liner. (I bought a soot eater kit and cleaned it)

I did (only 1) moisture test on a fresh split for each load of wood that I bought, coming in at 15-20% and thought I was good to go.
Now in retrospect I remember some of the splits being HEAVY and do remember some smoldering, and occasional difficulty in lighting or keeping
hot fires going. And some of the splits were heavy (fatwood) that I remember trying to burn.

I believe 4 things may have contributed to my rapid soot buildup. Please help me confirm my assumptions.

1. Even though I tested just 1 re-split piece of purchased wood w/moisture meter, some of the wood was probably not dry.
(I should check more pieces and beware of heavy pieces.Wet or sappy fatwood)

2. I should not assume that a standing dead tree is the same moisture content at the upper parts as it is at the base.
(I now suspect the base has more moisture content and sap.)

3. Shoulder season mistake of trying to keep low fire 24/7, recently saw advice from begreen that it is better to do 2 smaller HOT fires.

4. Does external brick chimney w/liner "stay cooler" further requiring the use of only very dry wood and hot fires?

Thanks in advance for helping me learn these principles!
You summary is correct on all four points. Don't worry too much, the first year is always a learning experience. It's good that you got a Sooteater. Did you remember to put a rag in the secondary tube hole before cleaning? Clean once a month this year just to be on the safe side. And pick up several spare gaskets for the secondary tube/baffle interface or make your own in advance.
Thanks begreen, good to know I'm on the right track. However...

I'm not sure I understand what to do with the stove itself (secondary tube hole?)
I just removed the stovepipe connector to wall and cleaned it as well as running through the wall and up through the liner,
nothing on the stove. Now looking at my manual it recommends inspecting the baffle for cracks or warpage.

Is there some cleaning that I should be doing on the stove itself?
No, what you did is ok. Many clean their stoves by leaving the stove connected and removing the baffle. It comes out with the removal on the rear pin.
Different strokes for different folks. It's all good.
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Confirm what you installed. Insulated or uninsulated liner in an exterior masonry chimney?
In theory this could make a difference in buildup/accumulation.
Two 90's in your vent system may reduce effective draft.
First floor or second installation?
In the Black Hills. Elevation may impact draft as well.
A few considerations to ponder.
Most likely your fuel supply is most of your issue. It will get better.

Enjoy your first season. Challenges and all.
Envy your scenic location!
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Uninsulated liner in external brick chimney, two 90's, 18' of rise, installed in basement, 3600 ft elevation.
I do have pretty good draft. A couple times on windy warmer days (40 deg) I did have to establish draft with a heat gun.
I now check draft before lighting, but normally good draft.

I will inspect and clean monthly, I think I will see big improvement next time!
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