How to light your wood burning stove

The steps below will demonstrate the main functions and components of your wood burning stove to ensure optimum burning capacity. It will also explain how to lay the right materials to create the perfect fire.

Lighting your stove

  1. Open the Air Controls fully to ensure the fire gets the air supply it needs to establish properly. There is an indicator at the top of many appliances to show which direction to move the control from closed to open. You will find that many appliances also have a secondary air control to provide a cleaner burn and give greater thermal efficiency and most have this control factory set.
  2. Choose some small to mid-sized hardwood or softwood logs. Always use good quality Ready to Burn wood with a low moisture content. Place the medium sized logs on the grate (multi-fuel version) or firebed (wood burning versions), with enough space between them for air to circulate.
  3. Now place some smaller logs across the larger ones below. This will start to create the fuel stack in your stove, which when ignited from the top down will create the draw the needed to get going.
  4. Place a firelighter in the centre of your stack. This will help the larger logs ignite when the fire burns down to them.
  5. On top of your hardwood or softwood logs, stack kindling in a similar fashion, crisscrossing each layer. You will need around 6 to 8 pieces of kindling for a standard stove, but if your stove has a tall firebox a few more layers can be added. Place another firelighter on top of your kindling stack.
  6. To create the best possible conditions for the for the fire to burn, ignite the firelighter on top of the kindling. Leave the stove door slightly ajar to allow plenty of air to reach the flames.
  7. Once the kindling has started to catch, close the door. Your stove’s air controls should be fully open to allow as much combustion air in as possible.
  8. Wait for the logs to ignite and once they are burning well, set your stove’s air controls to normal running mode.

“what is the best firewood to burn”?

“what is the best firewood to burn”? There are differences between the way different types of wood burn, especially between dense hardwoods and less dense woods like softwoods.

There are also types of wood that will produce more ash than others or more creosote build-up. Which type of wood is the best burning wood will depend on what you want to get out of  burning it. Someone who wants wood for a campfire may want something different than someone who wants to heat their home with a wood stove. The biggest thing that determines how wood burns is its density. More dense woods, like dense hardwoods, burn slower and have more total energy. That is because there is more actual wood fibre to burn than in the same volume of less dense woods. These types of wood produce more glowing coals and give a lot of radiant heat over a long period of time. This makes them very popular for wood stoves and home heating. Examples of these types of wood include oak, Ash, Birch, Beech, maple and Hornbeam. Less dense woods like softwood and the softer hardwoods have less wood fibre in them than hardwood. They tend to burn faster and put out less total heat. But they are easier to ignite and tend to burn with fewer coals and more flames. This can make softwood a good choice for kindling and starting fires. It is also good where you would want larger flames like maybe a campfire or a fireplace. Many softwoods are more likely to crackle. Low density hardwoods include aspen, cottonwood and alder. Softwood include cedar, pine and Fir. Learn the difference between hardwood and softwood. If you ask which is the best burning firewood, someone might say low density woods like softwood burn best because they ignite easier making them easier to burn. Someone else might say hardwood burns best because it puts out more heat in a wood stove. Some people really like oak because some varieties hold a bed of coals for a long time, while others will not burn it because it produces so much ash. Deciding which is the best firewood to burn will really come down to what you want to get out of it. All wood will burn well if it is dry and will put out heat. So if you have it burn it. If you are deciding which type of wood to buy, keep in mind you should pay less for softer woods since there is less energy in them. If more heat is what you are looking for, it is usually worth it to pay more for the more dense hardwoods. A great place to start is to look at the different firewood BTU ratings of different wood species. The higher they are on the list, the more heat you will get out of the wood. The lower they are on the list, the less heat they will have but they will tend to be easier to ignite and more likely to burn with larger flames.

Species Heat Content BTU’s per 1m3
Oak 28.8
Hornbeam 27.1
Beech 24.0
Maple (Hard Maple) 24.0
Ash 23.6
Birch 21.8

What REALLY causes creosote to build up

  • Creosote is the condensation of unburned, flammable particulates present in the exhausting flue gas (smoke). The actual cause of creosote condensation is the surface temperature of the flue in which the flue gas comes in contact. Like hot breath on a cold mirror, if the surface temperature of the flue is cool, it will cause the vaporized carbon particles in the flue gas (smoke) to solidify. This condensation is creosote build-up. If the wood you are using is rain logged, or green, the fire will tend to smoulder. Wet wood causes the whole system to be cool, and inefficient. But, dry wood means a hot fire! A hot fire means a hot flue, and a hot flue means much less creosote.
  • Back in the early 1980’s, tests were conducted to discover which kind of wood created the most creosote in a regular “open” fireplace. The results were surprising. Contrary to popular opinion, the hardwoods, like oak, created MORE creosote than the softwoods, like fir and pine. The reason for this is that if the softwoods are dry, they create a hotter, more intense fire. The draft created by the hotter fire moves the air up the chimney faster! Because it is moving faster, the flue gas does not have as much time to condense as creosote inside the chimney. Also, because the flue gas is hotter: it does not cool down to the condensation point as quickly. On the contrary, the dense hardwoods tend to smoulder more, so their flue gas temperature is cooler. Thus, more creosote is able to condense on the surface of the flue. So, saying that “fir builds up more creosote than oak” just isn’t true! It is a misunderstanding to think that it’s the pitch in wood which causes creosote. It’s not the pitch that is the problem; it’s the water IN the pitch. Once the water in the wood has evaporated, that pitch becomes high octane fuel! When dry, softwoods burn extremely hot!

Burning Wood in a Stove

How to burn wood safely and efficiently on a stove

Open fires are still very popular and do create a very welcoming focal point for a room. However many people are turning to the more efficient wood burning or multifuel stove.

Burning in a stove is controlled by adjusting the primary and secondary air supply. Manufacturers’ recommendations regarding correct use of air controls should be observed but generally, when fresh logs are added to a stove, they should be burned fiercely with both primary and secondary air inlets fully open . The primary air intake can be closed off once the logs are almost completely charred and secondary air then used to control the rate of combustion . Correct burning reduces the creation of smoke, and therefore of tar.   Visible smoke emission from the chimney is an indication that the logs are being burned inefficiently.

A stove should never be banked up with fresh logs for burning overnight. The fuel will burn slowly and inefficiently with heavy deposits of tar likely to form in the chimney.

At the end of the day, a bright fire which has turned wood into charcoal should be left with the day’s ash, secondary air open and no primary air.

Checking the suitability of Firewood using a Moisture Gauge

A moisture gauge can be used to determine whether firewood is ready for burning.

When using a moisture meter, refer to the instruction manual. Make sure you know whether it gives a reading in ‘wet basis’ or ‘dry basis’. Normal practice is to split a log and probe across the grain in the centre of the log to gauge the worst part of a log. Start with the thickest logs, if these ‘pass’ then it gives a good indication that the thinner ones will pass. A mixed load of different species is difficult to gauge.

Wood for the fire should have a moisture content of 25% or less (wet basis).

Bringing seasoned logs indoors for a few days before burning will help to achieve low moisture content.

BUYER BEWARE We recommend that logs are bought by volume. If buying logs by weight, remember that unseasoned logs are much heavier than seasoned logs due to their water content more could mean less!

Firewood Storage

A log store of at least 1.5 m³ is recommended where a property is heated by a log burning stove so that a standard delivery of 1m³ can be accommodated when the store is still a quarter full. The store should be roofed and well ventilated on at least two sides.

Proprietary wood stores are available in various sizes.

Where the intention is to buy unseasoned “wet” or “green” wood, a much larger storage capacity will be required so that logs obtained one or two years previously can be properly stored for the duration of the seasoning process i.e. storage capacity for three years supply of hardwood and two years for softwood will be required.

The logs should ideally be stored under cover and off the ground but open on at least two sides so that air can pass through.   A sunny, windy location is ideal. The logs should ideally be no more than 10cm (4˝) thick and cut to a convenient length for the stove or grate (Any logs with a diameter greater than 6” (150mm) should be split before storage).

The logs will lose 10-25% of moisture a year in this way, depending on the type of tree.   Some of the hard woods such as Beech, Elm and Oak require two if not three summers to season thoroughly.

Seasoned logs will typically have bark which comes away easily, splits across the grain and will create a hollow ringing sound when two logs are knocked together rather than the dull thud of wet wood.



Moisture Content of wood

Trees vary enormously in moisture content when felled.   In summer, up to 65% of the weight of newly felled timber can be water.

Forestry work continues all year round but for the domestic heating market, trees need to be felled ideally in winter and certainly by the end of March when the moisture content is at its lowest.   Trees felled in summer will take much longer to season. Some species of trees felled in winter will be ready for use the following winter.   The target moisture content is 20% or less (wet basis) and this is often specified by the appliance manufacturer.   Firewood ready for burning should never contain more than 25% moisture.

Hardwood versus Softwood

Hardwood is denser than softwood so has a higher heat content or calorific value. Typically, the heat content of softwood is little more than half as much as hardwood by volume.

  • Typical heat content of hardwood     2300kWh/m³ (stacked)
  • Typical heat content of softwood       1,300kWh/m³ (stacked)

Broadly speaking, around twice as many softwood logs as hardwood logs may be required to achieve the same heat output so more frequent refueling will be necessary when burning softwood.

On the other hand, softwood tends to light more easily than hardwood and burns faster due to its resin content.