How to get the most out of your wood burning stove

Airtight: You can only control the burn rate if your door seals and gaskets are intact. And if there are holes in your stove, it might be time to think of buying a new one!

Burn your wood, don’t smoulder it. There’s a dark seam to wood burning folklore that encourages the slow-burning or smouldering of wood. Don’t. Not unless you relish the stench of creosote, the sight of browned-up glass in your stove, the empty promise of feeble heat output and the eventual prospect of a destructive chimney fire. Modern wood burning stoves are designed to have dry wood burnt hot in them. The old ways are not always best.

Chimney: Your stove is only as good as your chimney. If it’s not lined already, get it lined. Your stove will work better and more safely. Sweep it regularly, inspect it from time to time, inside and out, from cowl down to stove.

Dry wood: Stove, chimney and wood are the holy trinity of wood-burning. If any of the three areas is weak, performance will suffer. More important than species, shape or size of wood is its dryness. It is crucial. Dry wood will yield up to 300% more energy than damp wood. Damp wood will struggle to burn and will tar up your stove and chimney. If there’s one thing that makes stove-shop owners across the world pull out clumps of hair in frustration, it’s customers abusing their beautiful new stoves with damp wood. Be a wood-burning angel and burn dry wood.

Embers: These are what you want to see in your stove when you go to bed, glowing cosily away like somnolent sentinels. Don’t be tempted to throw on a big sizzling wet log to make it ‘stay in’ (see ‘B’). Don’t. Just don’t.

Fireplace: ‘Les images du feu,’ says Gaston Bachelard, ‘sont une école d’intensité.’ If you’re a sentient being, your eye is going to be drawn to your fire. It follows that it’s worth keeping up, or refreshing, your fireplace. We do a good line in brick-and-beam, limestone, or even simple slate-framed fireplaces. A good picture benefits from a good frame.

Glass: So important if you want to see the fire in your stove! The main trick to keeping it clean is to burn good dry wood hot and hard, but however good your wood and the airwash system on your stove, you will have to clean the glass eventually. Most of the time, dampened newspaper should do the trick. Dip said newspaper in the ashes for better cleaning power. Ask at your local stove shop if you need a more robust solution. Don’t use harsh abrasives or household chemicals as these may damage your glass.

Hearth: Although a large hearth may take up valuable ‘living space’, the advantages of one are manifold. You will want space for fire irons and a well-sized log basket so that you don’t spend all evening scurrying out to the log-store.

Ignition: make sure you always have a good supply of matches and lighters. Otherwise the day will come when you’ve set up a nice fire ready to go in your wood stove, and you’ll have to invite Bear Grylls round to light it for you.

 Jumpers: Apart from wood burning stoves, one of the best ways to keep warm. We recommend the non-combustible variety over fleeces made from petrochemicals, for obvious reasons.

Kindling: Vital if you want an easy-to-start fire. As with all firewood, it has to be dry. But think of it as the recce platoon of the firewood army; it needs to be even better (drier) than the rest because it’s got a tougher job to do.

Log storage: Just like the ubiquitous kitchen fridge-cooker-sink triangle, there will be an optimal geometry between where your wood gets delivered, where you stack it outside and how and where you store it inside ready to deploy in your stove. The variables will be time, distance, frequency and convenience. Get it right and you too can live the seamless kind of life enjoyed by the people in Swedish stove catalogues. Get it wrong and… well, you won’t, because you’ll have talked it through with your excellent local wood burning stove shop first.

Moisture meters: Dry wood is so crucial that it is worth banging on about again and again. Get a moisture meter (we sell them!), split a log, stick the prongs in it, read the moisture level off the digital display. Burn log if dry. Simples!

Newspaper: The other essential fire-lighting accessory. If you can’t get the Lymington Times, select another traditionally printed black and white paper for optimal burning characteristics. And don’t store your back issues in the damp garden shed or they will never light.

Odour: A stove is a closed appliance, so there should be minimal olfactory feedback other than the occasional wisp of smoke, and the ambient scent of your chopped firewood.  If you get an acrid stench from the chimney when you’re not using your stove, your chimney probably needs a good sweep, possibly preceded by a suitable catalyst to make any creosote more friable. Although fragrant woods are generally wasted on a stove, the hints of smoke you might sense from burning birch, walnut, cedar or hazel logs are a pleasant corollary to the heat and brightness of their flames.

Paint: Most stoves are easy to re-paint; an occasional touch up will spruce them up and extend their useful life by protecting from oxidation.

Quality: Even more than with most things in life, with a stove, you get what you pay for. If your stove doesn’t work well, it might be that it’s just not a good one (an early indication of this might be that you bought it on the internet) – in this case, it might be worth replacing. Have it properly installed, or get it re-fitted if it hasn’t been.

Removable handle: it might sound silly, but over the tens of thousands of stoking operations you will carry out on your stove over its, or your, lifetime, it might prove worthwhile seeing if your handle is detachable. During stoking intervals, you will then be able to lay it to one side, keeping it cool. This will save you having to put on a glove every time. It also allows you to render your stove impregnable to curious toddlers and interfering guests by removing the handle entirely. On the other hand, if you have naughty children who hide things from you or live with senile co-occupants, it might be better to have a fixed handle.

Sacrificial parts: In your stove, there will be some of these. Fire bricks and baffle plates are generally considered sacrificial; in other words, they’re there to protect your stove from heat attrition. Replace them appropriately. If you put off replacing them when they’re no longer fit for purpose, or worse still, use your stove without them, you risk damaging your stove and dramatically reducing its useful life.

Terminal: The better term would be ‘cowl’, but ‘C’ was already taken by the higher-ranking ‘chimney’. There are plenty of different types of cowl to suit different meteorological challenges, but they must all keep out birds and rain and (the factor that is most often overlooked) be easy to clean. You don’t want to have to climb on your roof to do so. Also, make sure your cowl is stainless steel or it won’t last long. If it seems cheap, there’s probably a reason. A suitable cowl will improve stove performance, help flue gases to escape without condensing and stop birds trying to nest in your chimney – a major cause of chimney fires.

U-values: No matter how much you love gathering around your roasting stove, it’s no good if you have draughts whistling through the room and have to wear a coat if you’re standing more than six foot from the stove. Draught-proofing and insulating your house will enhance your stove-using pleasure. You can always open a window if you get too hot.

Vents: By law, you have to have a supply of external air for your appliance if its heat output rating is 5 kilowatts or over. One way or another, the oxygen consumed in combustion needs to be replaced, otherwise not only will occupants of the space in question ultimately be asphyxiated, but the change in pressure can also lead to a reverse chimney effect whereby smoke will leak back into your room from the stove. The natural porosity of your home will sometimes be enough, but if you have a smoking stove, this could be down to insufficient air supply (another major cause is external weather conditions and turbulence), in which case you will need to fit a vent in the wall or floor or, as is increasingly the case, a proprietary air kit designed by stove manufacturers to feed air directly from outside into the stove, to conform to prescriptive Building Regulation requirements on draught prevention.

What else can I think of….? Oh, yes, wood.  One of the best things about a wood-burning stove is that it will happily consume all kinds of wood, from old floorboards to chopped-up pallets, from spitty conifers to majestic ash, as long as it’s untreated and dry.

Xylophone: Music can be safely enjoyed with a wood burning stove, be it classical, jazz or country. However, xylophone music is simply not compatible, for reasons scientists are still struggling to understand.

Yell if you accidentally burn your fingers on your stove; contrary to most current medical thinking, it does alleviate the pain. And if you don't have some already, perhaps a pair of stove gloves would be a good investment.

Zebras: Under no circumstances allow these skittish creatures near your stove. Safely remove to the nearest savannah. If in doubt, consult your local zoologist.

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