Building a Fire

Attention wannabe Girl Scouts and pyromaniacs!

Today’s lesson will be on starting a fire in the woodstove- with only a single match!

Although it is easier to start a fire on a bed of hot ashes and coals, we will start with a clean stove.  But first, you have to clean the stove!

Use shovel to remove ash (click to enlarge)


Using a shovel, you carefully scoop out all the old ash.  I say “carefully” because you want to minimize the amount of ash that escapes into the air.  Escaped ash means you will be doing a lot of annoying dusting and cleaning around the house, and you certainly don’t want to breathe in that stuff!

Ash can

You need an ash container to put the ashes in.  I use a small metal trash can which I bought at a yard sale and painted the outside black (with high-temperature paint).  It’s important that the ash can has a secure lid, so the micro-particles won’t escape and make a mess, and the container must be able to handle high temperatures.  Even though it may not look like it, some of the ash may still be hot.  Some people use a specialized ash vacuum to clean out their stoves, but they are rather expensive.

Ashes may be dumped outside once they are completely cool.  When applied thickly they act as a weed killer.  They can be added in very small quantities to a compost pile.  Ash can be used on ice and snow for traction for one’s car – but be forewarned that if you step on it, you will be tracking the ash back into the house.  The point is, you have to get rid of the ash!

After a cursory cleaning (click to enlarge)

Next, you’ll want to shake out the grate in your woodstove.  Ours has a special collector plate underneath the stove.  So I will dump the ashes that are in the bottom of the stove into the ash can as well.

Removing tray with ash from special compartment at bottom of stove (click to enlarge)


Next, I take a razor blade and scrape off any creosote (the dirty black stain) that has collected on the glass door of the woodstove, and dispose of it in the ash can as well.  Cresote build-up inside the stove and the chimney is potentially dangerous, and impedes the efficiency of the stove.  That’s why it’s a good idea to have a professional chimney cleaner come once a year.  Too much cresote can cause a chimney fire and affect airflow.

With newspaper underneath to catch the shmutz, I scrape the creosote off the glass door with a razor blade (click to enlarge)


The amount of creosote can be controlled by the type of wood you burn.  Soft woods with a lot of resin such as pine, or wood that is “green,” meaning freshly cut and not completely dried out, will cause creosote to form inside the stove.  It’s best to use hardwood that has been thoroughly dried out to avoid this problem.  This is referred to as “seasoned” wood, meaning it’s been cut, split, stacked and stored out of the rain for at least 3 – 6 months or longer (a year is best).

Now I take old newspaper (avoid color newsprint) and crumple it into balls, or roll it, and line the bottom of the woodstove with 5 – 8 pieces.


Rolled newspapers form the base of the fire (click to enlarge)

On top of that I place kindling, which are wood scraps from when we cut the firewood.  Some people use ‘fatwood” for this purpose – small thin pieces of pine, softwood, or wood that has lots of resin, as this ignites easily.  However, because it produces creosote, it is to be used in very limited quantities.  Birch bark works really well – it acts like paper and ignites quickly.  I try to place the kindling in a teepee shape over the newspaper.

Kindling is laid in a conical "teepee" shape (click to enlarge)

Checking to make sure the damper is fully open, I use my single match to light the newspaper in several places around the inside of the stove.

The single match used to start the fire (click to enlarge)

Keeping the woodstove door open, I make sure that the kindling is catching fire.  Once it glows red, I blow on the kindling.  By increasing the airflow, the fire gets hotter and burns brighter, and ensures that the log will catch on fire and stay lit.

Kindling is burning well (click to enlarge)

Over the kindling I place a small log, with the cut side down and the bark side up.

Adding the first log to the burning kindling pyre (click to enlarge)

Once I am confident the log has caught on fire, then I can think about additional logs.

First log burning nicely (click to enlarge)

After a couple of minutes, I add another log, blow air on it once again to ensure it has caught, and close the woodstove door.

Going well! (click to enlarge)

After a few minutes, with the fire burning nicely, I will close the damper slightly so the fire doesn’t burn so quickly.  I don’t want such a hot fire because I don’t like an overheated house, and also, the faster I burn through wood, the sooner I have to trek to the shed to bring in more wood, which isn’t such a pleasant task on a bitterly cold day.

Do I get a Girl Scout merit badge, or what? (click to enlarge)

Log cart (click to enlarge)

We bought this log cart to make the job easier.  The large 10″ wheels go up the entry steps easily, and the design allows you to shlep about 4x the amount of wood you could carry by hand.  The red oak and maple logs in our woodpile are very dense hardwood and extremely heavy!

What’s nice about our woodstove is that the exterior walls are made of soapstone. The stone tiles get very hot and radiate additional warmth into the room.  Hours after the fire dies out, the stones still radiate heat.  The soapstone is attractive looking, too.

Iron kettle: steam puts moisture into the air (click to enlarge)

We keep an iron kettle filled with water on top of the stove to humidify the dry air created by the heat of the woodstove.

It’s a potchke to take care of a woodstove properly, but we enjoy it, and there is an abundant supply of wood here in Maine.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by sa2ra on November 22, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    wow, how often do you have to do this?


  2. I clean out the woodstove about two to three times a week, depending on how much we use the stove. It takes about 15 minutes, and that’s with having to start a new fire. Starting a fire could be once a day, if I don’t add wood in the middle of the night and the fire goes completely out. Usually there are a few hot coals remaining, and since the stove is still warm, it takes very little effort to restart the fire in the morning (or in the evening if we’ve let it go out because we’re away for the day) – less than 5 minutes. It’s not so bad! Really!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: