Starting a fire

MoDoug

Minister of Fire
Feb 3, 2018
582
NE Missouri
I like the idea of using the sleepers to allow air circulation with the E/W. With my smaller 1.8 cf firebox even smaller sleepers will help tremendously. I noticed you also use some smaller splits N/S to fill in the end gaps, basically cramming in wood where you can for a longer burn.

The E/W applies to me, I'll try this tonight. At a later time, I'm going to experiment with a N/S start. I'll have to cut some short splits about 12 inches, but it will be interesting to see how they compare. The N/S start may work out pretty good, then do E/W reloads on a good bed of coals.

begreen, thank you for the starting a fire info, both orientations. You put effort into it with good explanations of how and why.
 
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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,311
South Puget Sound, WA
You're welcome. Note that these examples are just one sampling of hundreds of fires. Each loading and fire takeoff is different. In the past I used always do a bottom-up burn with the "Tunnel of Love"™ method, but that leads to smokier starts so I have switched to only doing top down starts this year. Hot coal reloads are still bottom-up, but the stove firebox is hot enough to start burning cleanly much faster.
 

LumberCity

New Member
Nov 8, 2019
30
central pa
I do the same set up (top down with a channel in the middle) except loaded e/w. my firebox is about 1.5 cu/ft and using oak splits with a few pine branches as kindling I can get the firebox ripping in about 10 minutes. vastly superior to bottom up fire.
 

hunter23

New Member
Aug 5, 2020
1
Milton, Florida
when starting a fire, it is important to consider the type of wood you are using. This can greatly affect how well the fire burns and if there are draft issues. The CSIA recommends burning wood that is 15-25% moisture content. For more info about which types of wood are acceptable, read this blog.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,311
South Puget Sound, WA
when starting a fire, it is important to consider the type of wood you are using. This can greatly affect how well the fire burns and if there are draft issues. The CSIA recommends burning wood that is 15-25% moisture content. For more info about which types of wood are acceptable, read this blog.
Dry wood is very important. The link appears to be more about fireplace burning. This thread is about wood stover operation. For woodstoves, ideally, the moisture content should be below 20% for modern wood stove burning. The section on softwood is incorrect. A large portion of western wood burning is softwood. If it is properly seasoned it burns quite cleanly and can be excellent firewood. We burn douglas fir almost exclusively and typically end up with about 1/2 cup of soot in annual cleaning.

Are you the author?
 
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firefighterjake

Minister of Fire
Jul 22, 2008
19,380
Unity/Bangor, Maine
when starting a fire, it is important to consider the type of wood you are using. This can greatly affect how well the fire burns and if there are draft issues. The CSIA recommends burning wood that is 15-25% moisture content. For more info about which types of wood are acceptable, read this blog.

Some good stuff here . . . some misinformation . . . especially when it comes to burning in a woodstove (maybe it's different with a fireplace.)

-- How hot and long a fire lasts is partly due to the wood species . . . but in a woodstove it also depends on how well seasoned the wood is, how the person operates the stove and even the stove type which will determine how much heat is extracted from the burning gases of the wood and how long the fire lasts.

-- I am not sure if I have ever run across any wood species that burns too hot . . . short of something like wood soaked in creosote or flammable fuels. Naturally occurring wood species of pretty much any type has been run through my woodstove with no ill effects.

-- Once wood is seasoned it can be split . . . I would actually say it's the opposite . . . to really season wood effectively you should split your green wood and let it season.

-- I don't know as if there is truly an ideal size or shape . . . I would say it really depends on the size of the stove and the heating needs at the time. For example, in Fall I may be some chunks and uglies of lower BTU wood such as poplar, pine or hemlock to have a quick, hot fire to just take the chill out of the air without really overheating the house, but come January I am looking for BTU heavy-weights like oak, beech or sugar maple and I generally want to fill up the firebox. For night time use I tend to use larger sized splits or rounds for longer burning times.

-- Seasoned softwood is fine . . . smoke is minimal if seasoned properly and the fire can be just as hot as if one were burning hardwood . . . providing the wood is seasoned. Of course, one should probably mention how you can have "soft" hardwood such as poplar or bass . . . and "hard" softwood such as hackmatack.

-- Birch can be burned fine by itself . . . moreover there can be a big difference within certain types of wood. For example yellow birch is a pretty high BTU wood compared to white birch.

-- Never leave a fire unattended . . . maybe a good rule for fireplaces, but a lot of us 24/7 wood burners would be in a hard place if we followed this rule as we routinely load up and go to work or to sleep.

-- Cleaning the ash before lighting a fire may also be a fireplace thing . . . but in a woodstove having an inch or two of ash is actually quite beneficial in preserving coals and even acting as an insulation barrier to a degree between the hearth and stove.
 
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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,311
South Puget Sound, WA
Not really. How have you been starting it or is this a new stove? What stove is this?
 

overlandsea

Member
Oct 8, 2016
46
Camano Island, WA
Not really. How have you been starting it or is this a new stove? What stove is this?
New stove and I'm new to burning, so I'm no expert. It's a Hearthstone Shelburne. I've gotten better results trying this top down method than bottom up, but trying to get the timing right is a little tricky since the top is so much cooler than in your pictures. I wasn't sure if soapstone stoves just take longer to get going or what. I know it's never going to get as hot on the surface, but just trying to figure out when is it hot enough to seal the door, turn down the air, etc.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,311
South Puget Sound, WA
The Shelburne is a cast-iron stove at heart with soapstone firebrick. Hearthstone recommends putting the stove thermometer on the top center. It should reach 400-600º. Search in this forum for Shelburne threads. And if you don't find what you are looking for, start a new thread on running the stove.
 

huauqui

Burning Hunk
Jan 14, 2015
183
Weeping Water, NE
begreen,
Thanks so much for all the work you put in on this thread and all the others you give guidance to as well. This forum owes much to you and others like you who take time to aid all of us.

Thanks again,
huauqui
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,311
South Puget Sound, WA
Basically yes, but there are key differences starting with replacing the stovetop thermometer with a catalyst thermometer for guidance. Temp readings in the stovepipe may be lower and may very dramatically once the bypass is closed. Also, a good cat stove will operate at a lower temp range once the cat is active. Other confounding factors are that some catalytic stoves have a thermostatic operation which is going to vary stove and flue temp based on the heat demand. Another factor is that many new stoves are showing up that are hybrids, with a cat and tubes. I don't have data on these stoves, but I suspect that their operation would be somewhat similar to a conventional secondary stove. It would be great to have someone to document startup with a hybrid and a full cat stove.
 

jlinz

New Member
Jan 1, 2020
16
Dayton, OH
Very helpful, thanks! How do I take the temp of the flue when I have an insert where the flue is totally covered by face plate?
 

AndrewU

Member
Dec 1, 2019
113
Sedro-Woolley WA
Basically yes, but there are key differences starting with replacing the stovetop thermometer with a catalyst thermometer for guidance. Temp readings in the stovepipe may be lower and may very dramatically once the bypass is closed. Also, a good cat stove will operate at a lower temp range once the cat is active. Other confounding factors are that some catalytic stoves have a thermostatic operation which is going to vary stove and flue temp based on the heat demand. Another factor is that many new stoves are showing up that are hybrids, with a cat and tubes. I don't have data on these stoves, but I suspect that their operation would be somewhat similar to a conventional secondary stove. It would be great to have someone to document startup with a hybrid and a full cat stove.
Once I get used to the BK Ashford 30 I’ll see if I can document a top down method. I imagine it might be a little while before I’d want to do that as it will take time just to get used to burning a cat stove in the first place. Haven’t had wood in many, many years, and when I did they were smoke dragons.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,311
South Puget Sound, WA
Very helpful, thanks! How do I take the temp of the flue when I have an insert where the flue is totally covered by face plate?
With a remote digital probe, probably attached under the band clamp for the liner.
 
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MTASH

Burning Hunk
Dec 24, 2018
164
Montana
I can try to document a cold start, but I only do a handful during the season so it might be a while. So this is based on memory.

Basically, my load w/paper and kindling looks identical to the photo @begreen posted at the start of the thread, then after lighting:

1) I leave the door cracked until my Condar flue probe reaches ~400F, then latch door. This is less than 5 minutes.
2) Continue to burn w/thermostat on high until cat probe is at or approaching active zone, then close bypass, maybe 15-20 minutes after lighting. My flue temps typically will not go over 700-800 with bypass open, but in a couple cases I've skipped to step 4 before closing bypass.
3) Continue to burn on high w/bypass closed until I get within a few degrees of desired room temperature - typically not more than 30 minutes from lighting but it can vary. For my installation the flue temp will top out at 600-700 degrees while on high w/bypass closed.
4) First turndown is partial, approximately halfway between high and cruise settings, for maybe 10 minutes or so, depending on how forgetful I am.
5) Final turndown = happy cruising!

This is for the BK Ashford 30 cat stove. Hopefully this helps.
 
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MTASH

Burning Hunk
Dec 24, 2018
164
Montana
As a follow up, since my last post was based on memory, I did a cold start last night due to the fact we had some warm weather this week and I shut down to clean out ash and glass. I was running the LP furnace to take the chill off but colder weather was moving back in tonight. So here's my account on my BK Ashford 30.2 CAT stove:

5:15 PM - Top down start using 5 splits, 2 'half' splits, 4 balled up paper towels and some kindling. 35F outside temp, 70F inside:

IMG_20201209_171528.jpg

5:22 PM - Condor flue probe is @400F, latch door.
5:27 PM - Flue probe @600F.
5:38 PM - Engage CAT, flue is oscillating 550-600F with thermostat still on high (6:00 on the dial).

IMG_20201209_173853.jpg

5:48 PM - Room temp @73F, turn thermostat down to med-high (about 4.5 or 4:30 on the dial).
6:10 PM - Room temp @75F, flue @ 550F, CAT @1:00, turn thermostat down to cruise setting (slightly above 3:00 on the dial). This picture is on med-high prior to turn down:

IMG_20201209_180001.jpg

6:25 PM - Flue @400F, CAT @ 1:00.
9:40 PM - Flue oscillating 350-400F, CAT @12:00, room temperature stable at 76F.
8:30 AM this morning: Flue oscillating 250-300F, CAT @10:00, room temp @74F, outside temp 23F. I could've bumped the thermostat up to med-high and got another 1-2 hours out of it but decided to do a reload. This is what was left over after 15+ hours:

IMG_20201210_082504.jpg

A couple of thoughts - I am on a short stack (12') so it takes a bit longer to get going when outside temps are in the mid-30s. Normally I would've waited until morning when the temperature was colder, but the CHO (Chief Heating Officer) and her 4-legged minions wanted a fire last evening. Some loads catch quicker, but I typically only do about 6 cold starts a season and conditions vary, so I don't have a lot to compare.

I only use 5-6 splits on a cold start. I can fit 8-10 splits, but I've found that if I load that full it takes longer to catch, produces more smoke and slows the overall progress. I ordinarily do 12 +/- hour planned reloads anyway, so it really isn't much advantage for me to cram it full on a cold start. Unfortunately I couldn't document smoke output last night because it was already dark outside.

Hopefully this is informational for someone. Since I am doing this, I decided to document my hot reload, which is in my next post below.
 

MTASH

Burning Hunk
Dec 24, 2018
164
Montana
Continuing from my post above, I thought it might also be helpful to document a hot reload for those that burn 24/7.

8:30 AM this morning: Flue oscillating 250-300F, CAT @10:00, room temp @74F, outside temp 23F. I opened CAT bypass, allowed to cool for a couple minutes, raked out what was left over (shown in my previous post), and added 5-splits:

IMG_20201210_082652.jpg

A couple 5-10 second bursts with my butane creme-brulee torch to jumpstart the load, and off we go (no, I don't make creme-brulee, but it's a handy torch!). On a hot reload I turn thermostat back to high, latch the door right away and close the CAT bypass:

IMG_20201210_082722.jpg

8:40 AM - Flue is back up to 400F. Very little smoke from chimney:

IMG_20201210_084013.jpg IMG_20201210_084244.jpg

8:55 AM - Flue is at 550F, CAT @12:00. Turn thermostat down to med-high (4.5 or 4:30 on the dial).
9:15 AM - Flue @550F, CAT @2:00, room @76F. Turn thermostat down to cruise (slightly above 3:00 on the dial).

I got distracted, but by 11:00 AM the flue was @400 and CAT @1:00, and room temperature was stable @76F. Outside temp up to 28F, projected high is 30F today. My next reload will be between 8-9:00 this evening with another 4-5 splits.

A note about reloads - during these warmer outside temperatures (20F+) I can play Tetris, cram the stove full w/8-10 splits and get a 24-30 hour burn. But with my daily routine, I find it easier to reload twice a day with 4-5 splits, which means less fussing with the load (no Tetris) and quicker light off.

At about 0-20F I do the same thing with 6-8 splits per 12 hour load. This works pretty well until outside temps drop below 0F. I think the shortest load I've seen so far was a full load of 10 splits at about 9 hours when outside temps were -24F to -37F. At those temperatures I cram full at 6:00 AM, add a few splits when I get home from work, then cram another full load before bed. Rinse, repeat the next day.

Also, please remember your results may vary. My home is only about 1350 SF, single-level, moderately insulated, and this is what works for my circumstances. My times will vary somewhat with each different load, and how closely I pay attention. Hopefully it's helpful for someone.
 

pdxwoodlover

New Member
Jan 26, 2021
5
Portland, Oregon
Thank you, begreen, for this excellent information. I have a Jotul F400 Castine (which is all E/W loading) and have completely switched to top-down fires. What made all the difference in getting the load ignited relatively quickly was to insert thin sleepers (spacers) between each layer. This is something I learned from a related thread, where a member named Pen emphasized that the splits "need air between them vertically but need to be very close together horizontally." Without the sleepers, it took forever for the bottom splits to catch. Now, with the sleepers in place, I have a roaring fire in no time, pretty much as fast as when doing a bottom-up.

But in contrast with what you do, begreen, I build a stack of three layers: three bigger splits at the bottom, smaller splits in the middle, kindling and then newspaper on top, with each layer separated by a thin sleeper (a half-length piece of kindling).

IMG_0267.jpg

15 minutes after lighting:

IMG_0271.jpg

After about 25 minutes, cruising at 550 degrees or so:

IMG_0275.jpg

But now I'm curious about begreen's method of nestling the newspaper and kindling between the front and back logs. I'll try it next time.

This is my first post. I have been a lurker for the past two years, and have learned so much from all of you. Thank you for this fantastic forum!
 
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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,311
South Puget Sound, WA
Yes, that looks like it would take off pretty quickly. I didn't do a lot of top-down starts until about 5 yrs ago. Now I usually top-down start, in particular, because I see less smoke on startup. Back in the old days my usual starting method with the Castine was with two 1.5" sleepers on the bottom, about 6" apart. The sleepers were from 2x4 scrap split in half. Then the splits were stacked on top with no special gaps or spacing. The irregularities in the wood took care of that. Then I would put 1/4 of a SuperCedar puck in between the sleepers and nudge it under the middle of the pile. Light the SC with a BBQ lighter and let it burn.
 

bigealta

Member
May 22, 2010
90
Utah, NJ
I also have a Jotul f400 Castine like pdxwoodlover. I just made a short vid to show what lighting my top down looks like at start up. I love it and am a convert from the old school bottom lighting technique. Hope this can help someone. This has been a great website packed with super helpful people. Thank you.
Youtube vid: Using 1 fatwood piece, sticks and oak splits seasoned 1 year.
 
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begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,311
South Puget Sound, WA
Looks great. The Castine starts secondary combustion pretty quickly. I started out going by stovetop temp for closing the air down but found that it took a long time for the thick stovetop to warm up. Meanwhile, the fire was showing me that it was time to start closing down the air. This could be with a 250º stovetop on a cold start.
 

MR. GLO

Member
Jan 26, 2021
128
Massachusetts
Has anyone used the Auber digital thermometer with the magnetic probe attachment U attach to the stove? Thinkin bout getting one to keep an eye on stove temp. Not pipe temp.
I have it on the top left side of the stove. Not sure if I should move the probe to the top of the stove griddle. I am guessing no matter where I put it I will eventually learn what's right. Best purchase I made so far. One unit the bed room and one in the basement (sells as a kit). The basement unit I have located in front of the stove about 5 feet away against the stairway wall and a nest camera looking at it and the stove flames.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
87,311
South Puget Sound, WA
Stove specific burning issues should be in an independent thread.