Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Perfect Fire Starter.

We've had our wood burning stove for a year now.  Although I'd like to claim that I'm all knowing, I've been guessing at how to start the fire in our stove given the quick intro by the salesman as well as years of watching my father burn everything he could to start his little stove.  It would take me an hour or more before it reached a temperature hot enough to actuate the on-board blower.  Never realizing that I could be at fault (how could I be?) I was assuming that maybe there was a downdraft in the chimney or some other excuse.

That was until I searched online for hints at starting a fire.

Generally speaking, fire needs three things to exist.

2.  HEAT.
3.  FUEL.

Seems simple enough until you follow that recipe without much to show for it.  I would stick a couple of twigs, lots of old newspaper and two small logs into our stove, light the paper with a lighter and wait for one, sometimes two hours before feeling any real heat emanate from the stove.  I had the heat from the lighter, the newspaper and wood bits for fuel and finally, oxygen was there as I kept the door open.  It didn't make sense to me why our stove wasn't working very well.

Several weeks ago, I discovered something.  There are more details to this three ingredient recipe.  And no, I don't mean add a gallon of gasoline, that's just insane.  It's more about how everything is physically arranged and the amount of oxygen being brought into the stove that matter.  It's not so much a 1:1:1 ratio.  The more O2 that can be given to the fire, the stronger it burns.  If you randomly stick a bunch of paper into a stove with some wood and light it, the paper will burn quickly sucking up most of the O2 and not allow the wood to catch on fire.  The twigs that I used as kindling were not large enough to produce the necessary heat to ignite the larger logs.  This left me with lots of smoke and no heat.

How you arrange the kindling, the type and size of it and the stages of burn will either help you or burn you.... (yes, the pun was intended).  So, after a long winded introduction, here's my secret recipe to get a large stove working quickly:

1.  Make your own kindling.  Our local grocery store sells a bundle of kindling for $6 per a pack of 16 sticks of dried wood.  You already have dried wood from your wood pile.  Why waste the money?  Use a hatchet or an ax/maul and split the already dried wood into slivers.  Each sliver should be no bigger than an inch square.  They do not have to be perfectly shaped.

2.  The night before you plan on making a fire, bring some wood from your storage pile indoors.  The coldness of winter will make it harder for the log to ignite if left outside.  It's core is too cold to catch fire.

3.  Collect a few sheets of newspaper.  Never use shiny, wax or plastic-like paper.  Take one sheet at a time and fold it in half, then crumple it into a tube and twist it to make it as dense as possible, like a cigar.

4.  In a clean stove (doesn't have to be perfect), place three bits of kindling across the bottom.  Place the pieces of twisted newspaper between each piece of wood kindling.

5.  Make a second layer similar to the first with the wood rotated 90 degrees to the first layer.  Place the twisted roll of newspaper in-between the kindling like the first.

6.  Now a third layer like the first layer.  This one should be 90 degrees turned to the second layer or parallel to the first layer.  No newspaper is required from here on wards.  A fourth layer of kindling may be added if you have a large stove.

7.  Pick a small split log and place on top.  If there is bark on it, make sure that the bark is facing away from the kindling.

Four layers of kindling, three sticks per layer, 12 sticks used.  Cost?  Pennies, if that.

8.  Light one of the bottom twisted newspaper rolls.

9.  Slightly close the door on the stove leaving about an inch open.  Make sure the damper and air control are fully opened.

Top Arrow (pulled out) - Damper fully open.
Bottom Arrow (pushed in) - Air control fully open

10.  Wait and watch.  Within a few minutes, you'll have a bonfire.  With my massive stove, in less than 30 minutes, I was at operating temperature.  Notice the door is slightly open.

Fire Start Time:  8:29 AM (T = 0 Minutes)

T = 5 Minutes.  Note the thermostat sensor is the gray colored plate on the bottom left of the stove.

Blower On, 8:51 AM (T = 22 Minutes)

Once the fire becomes established, poke and add more logs, close the door and damper   Allow the fire to grow and adjust the air intake to control the fire.

Now you're probably thinking, "Gee, 30 minutes to start a fire is a long time."  Yes, I agree.  The time is more for the thermostat controlled blower to actuate.  The fire was well established after 5 minutes as the above photo attests to.

I am not too keen on the thermostat for the blower.  As far as I can tell, there's no adjustment for it.  It turns the blower on well after the fire has established, yet stays on well after the air leaving the blower is cold.  I'll have to figure that one out in time.

Either way, there you have it.  A sure-fire way (haha) to have a strong fire producing heat.