Wood Stove Guide

20 September 2011 In The Cottage
Cabin Wood Stove

Proper maintenance, balanced air flow and the use of quality wood will ensure the wood stove at the cottage works efficiently and safely.
Here’s what you need to know to get the best heat from the wood burning stove.

Wood Stove Operation

Do you know how to operate a cabin wood stove?
Efficiency is the main objective when using a wood stove to heat the cabin. You want to keep as much heat as possible in the cabin while allowing the stove to operate correctly and safely.

How does a wood stove work?
For the stove to work properly, the fire must have a constant supply of oxygen, and the resultant exhaust gases need to escape through the chimney efficiently. The chimney is fully responsible for drawing out the smoke. In order for it to do this properly, the chimney must be high enough and hot enough to create an adequate draft. The amount of air or draft that feeds the fire directly affects how fast the fire burns. This is why a fire flares up when you fan it. Excess air will cause the fire to burn too quickly, and not enough air will cause the fire to starve and not burn hot enough.

Wood Stove Draft Registers for Air Intake

The intake air is controlled by draft registers located near the bottom of the wood stove. Opening them allows more air to be drawn in. Closing them reduces the amount of air that is pulled by the chimney to feed the fire.


Wood Stove Flue Pipe and Damper Adjuster

The pipe that comes directly out of the wood stove is the flue pipe. Every flue pipe has a damper installed in it which is a simple metal plate used to control the flow rate of the draft. By twisting the handle you can open or close the damper to increase or restrict the draw of the chimney.

Finding the most efficient operation of the wood stove requires adjusting both the flue damper and the draft registers.

Starting a Wood Stove Fire

You want to light the fire in the wood stove only once so that you get the best fire burning as soon as possible.

How do you light the wood stove fire on a cold morning?
The first step is to open the draft registers and the flue damper fully. Then start the fire and let it build up and burn for about fifteen minutes. Once the wood stove is good and hot, adjust the draft registers and the flue damper to regulate air flow and consequently the fire’s size and burning rate to provide the desired amount of heat.

Quality Of The Firewood
To heat the cabin efficiently, we want to get the most heat possible from the least amount of wood. Avoid using wood that is rotten, damp, or covered with mold.

What is the best wood to use in a wood stove?
Hardwood trees have a greater density than softwood trees, and given an equivalent moisture content, will produce more heat and burn more slowly, providing a more consistent source of heat for the cottage.

Moisture content also has an effect on the efficiency of the firewood. As wood burns, a portion of the energy that is produced is used to boil off the water in the wood. This reduces the heat that can be used to heat the cottage. Wood that is properly seasoned but not rotten provides the most heat. Wood that is “green” has a higher water content. Trees that have been recently cut down are considered green wood. Wood that is rotten or decayed has very low density, burns quickly, and produces little heat.

Go to the Firewood Tips page for more information on selecting the best wood and log size for the wood stove.

Cleaning Out a Wood Stove

Maintaining the wood stove is very important to ensure that it operates properly, safely, and gives off the heat you need to keep the cabin warm.

What should you do with the wood stove ashes?
Don’t let the ashes build up too high in your wood stove. They will eventually block the air intake from the draft registers and reduce the efficiency of the stove. It is a good idea to leave about an inch of ashes in the bottom of the wood stove during the burning season. This provides an extra layer of insulation between the fire and the bottom of the stove. The ashes that you remove from the wood stove can be used in the outhouse or put in the garden. Make sure that you are only burning quality wood. Never burn garbage in the wood stove.

Here is a good ash bucket that comes with its own shovel. The nice feature with this kit is that the shovel sits nicely in the holder attached to the ash pail.

Wood Stove Chimney Maintenance
Inspect the wood stove chimney stack for damage every year, especially in the spring. Winter storms can affect the stability of the chimney and create a dangerous situation. Take the time to go up the ladder or onto the roof to closely check the support straps. Replace any damaged materials. An old chimney that has begun to rust should be replaced with a new chimney. Check the cap and screen to ensure that no critters have gotten into the chimney during the winter.
Have a professional come to clean the chimney in the spring before you begin to use it, especially if you have recently bought the cabin and are unsure when the chimney was last swept.

Safety Concerns

Safety must be on your mind at all times from the moment the wood stove is installed until the last piece of wood has finished burning each time you use it.

Wood Stove Safety
Always install a new wood stove according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Taking short cuts may affect the operation of the wood stove, and will often cause problems with your insurance company if they find out the stove was not properly installed.

Keep all combustibles away from the wood stove. The stove gets very hot and any material that is at risk of catching fire must be stored away from the wood stove. Be careful when you put a chair close to the stove and do not place wet clothing articles on it to dry out. Avoid going near the wood stove when wearing your raincoat or polyester clothing. Plastic melts quickly and can cause a nasty burn.

Always wear work gloves and a long sleeve cotton or wool shirt when adding logs to the fire. Sparks or a shifting log can cause a serious burn. Use the proper tools for moving the logs around when making adjustments to the wood stove fire.

Here is a good set of long gloves designed for use with the wood stove.

Keep children away from the wood stove when it is in use. Most cabins are a significant distance from medical facilities and a burn caused by touching the wood stove will ruin the vacation and may injure the child for life.

Be sure to properly inform people who are unfamiliar with using the stove, such as cottage renters and guests, about how to use the wood stove correctly and safely.

How do wood stove chimney fires start?
Burning pine or burning any wood at low temperatures in weak fires results in a build-up of creosote or tar along the inner walls of the flue pipe and chimney. In the event of a very large or hot fire, these tar build-ups can ignite and cause a potentially disastrous chimney fire.

Take care to always keep the fires in the wood stove at a medium level.

In the event of a chimney fire, even a minor one, do not use the wood stove again until the flue and chimney have been inspected for damage.

How do you avoid a back draft problem in the chimney of the wood stove?
A wood stove back draft is caused by negative pressure. This is known as the stack effect. It occurs when outside air is pulled down the chimney because another suitable source of air isn’t available.

The easiest way to fix or avoid a wood stove back draft is to keep a living room window opened just a crack to provide a source of intake air. This allows a positive air pressure situation to be maintained in the cabin and will help avoid a negative pressure “stack effect”.

How do you avoid a wood stove flare-up?
A flare-up in the wood stove can be dangerous. If the wood stove door is opened too quickly, the large rush of oxygen into the stove may cause the fire to create a small burst or flare-up by igniting existing gases in the stove that have not burned off or vented out the chimney.

To avoid this, open the draft registers slowly to allow the fire to stabilize before adding more wood. When adding wood to the fire, always open the wood stove door slowly to ensure the fire doesn’t receive a sudden blast of oxygen.

What causes a wood stove chimney down draft?
A down draft is different than a back draft. If the fire usually burns well but sometimes gets really smoky or has trouble burning properly, especially on windy days, it may be caused by the wind conditions. If the chimney is lower than a nearby tree, building, or another part of the cottage roof the wind effectively falls down onto the chimney after passing over the other obstacle. In this case it causes a small down-draft which inhibits the operation of the chimney stack. You may have to extend the height of the chimney if the situation is persistent.

Knowing how to operate a wood stove properly will ensure that your cabin gets the most heat possible out of your wood burning unit. Remember to always inspect and clean the stove regularly.

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