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How to Start a Fire in a Wood Stove

It's taken me a little while to figure out how to light a fire in the wood stove and perhaps more importantly, how to keep it going. What I struggled with the most was determining how much paper, kindling and bigger pieces of wood needed to be in the pile in order for the firebox to become engulfed in flames, and then how quickly to add more wood to keep it burning efficiently.  Finally, after much trial and error, I  succeeded in building a great fire that quickly engulfs the wood, builds up a nice base of coals as the wood breaks down, and stays going late into the evening.

Our wood stove is a free-standing Jotul F 3 CB.  It's not a very large wood stove, and so sadly stuffing it full once lit isn't actually an option.  We have to continuously feed more wood to keep it going.  The longest it can burn without inserting another piece of wood is about 3 hours, but then you'll need to start with some kindling and really coax the fire back up from nearly-extinguished coals.

Here are the steps I use to light a fire in our small wood stove:

1. Clean out the ash pan.  This is really important to ensure that there will be enough air circulation all around the fire.  When the ash pan is full and when there is ash left inside the firebox, a newly lit fire will burn inefficiently and may quickly go out. I don't mind emptying the ash pan because the ash has so many wonderful purposes on our farm, whether it goes into the compost or the garden, or is used for the chickens which love dust bathing.

2. Add a layer of balled-up paper as the first layer in the firebox.  I've been using our old documents from the shredding bin.  It's a great way to destroy old tax documents, bills, junk mail and receipts that are no longer needed.  It also saves the effort and electricity of shredding.  But you can alternatively use newspaper or pieces of cardboard. Just make sure to ball them up to more easily allow fire to burn across the surface and to prevent covering up the grating underneath.

3. For the second layer in the firebox, spread out pieces of kindling.  Sometimes I also use little pieces of scrap wood from when we split our firewood. Any smaller pieces of dry wood will work. Allow some room for air circulation around the wood.

4. Place one or two bigger pieces of wood on top. These bigger pieces of wood should be very dry and not too dense, which will allow them to easily burn down to provide a nice bed of coals for the wood you will add very soon after.

5. Make sure the vents (dampers) on the wood stove are set to open.  Now, light the paper at the bottom of the wood.  Light it on both sides of the firebox to make sure the fire is spread out and will consume the entire firebox. I like to use long matches for this task.

6. Close the door.  Watch the fire burn brightly.  As the paper burns away, the kindling and the bigger piece of wood will settle down lower in the firebox. Once that happens, place another larger piece of wood cross-wise above the rest and close the door again.  You should be good to go for awhile!

7. For the first hour, be sure to check back every 10-15 minutes.  As the fire burns down a ways, add more wood in order to build up a large base of coals at the bottom of the stove.  Once you have a good hot fire, you can then close the vents (dampers).  Closing the vents slows the fire.  At this point, your fire should last for an hour or so before you need to add more wood.

Building and keeping a nice fire burning in our wood stove has been an important lesson to learn here on our farm.  It's taken me a while to master it, but now that I have, our home is much warmer this winter. There is nothing cozier than snuggling in front of a fire in the hearth with my family.  This is also Mojo's favorite spot.