Keeper of The Fire, by PJGT

This article is not about cutting wood, nor is it about the best chainsaw or other tools. It is about keeping the fire. About the life and warmth of a fire. If you are thinking about transitioning to wood fire heat, I’m hoping to help avoid some of the frustrations and shorten the learning curve of learning to keep a fire.

I’ve lived in many different parts of the world, and there are different types of forests and wood available. Use what you have. Make it work. That’s my best advice. Getting things together and making it work is what this article is really about.

How did I learn about how to keep the fire? I grew up in a sixty-foot-long house that was only heated by wood on one end located in a deep blue state in the Northeast. We had to combat damp as well as cold. I’ve also lived on the Arctic Circle in a wood-heated log cabin where the temperature dropped to 72 degrees below zero. Only four degrees from the record. Three weeks of 50 degrees below zero turns propane to jelly. So happy to have wood heat. My most recent wood-burning lessons were learned in the American Redoubt high in the Rocky Mountains. I expect there are many ways to make and keep a fire; all tips are welcome in the comments.

Fire starters are essential to daily fire-starting. There are some really good ones for sale or, if you’re like me, you want them for free. Pine cones, especially dipped in wax, work well; however, my go-to is a toilet paper roll stuffed with dryer lint. When I don’t have enough dryer lint of my own, I have friends and family save it for me. I love using what I have especially if it would be thrown away.

How about getting the fire ignited? We are fortunate to have a free daily newspaper, so we use newspaper. We also use torn brown cardboard. Before COVID, I used to go to the recycling center to get boxes. Now that we’re ordering so much online, we have plenty of cardboard. We also have the paper used for packing, but I tend to iron that and use it as wrapping paper. A note of caution here: do not use colored boxes because of the toxins that could be emitted. Inks have improved, but I like to play it safe anyway. Breathing in toxic air just cannot be good for anyone. I store the cardboard and newspaper in a basket near the fireplace. But not too close.

Let me share a really great comment (1/16/2021) about how to start a fire that was written by St. Funogas:

“A few other people have mentioned this lately so I’ll share my frugalistic “one match and walk away” method.

It’s all about the kindling and how you make the base for the fire. Kindling should be very dry and narrow, mine are typically split from boards or regular pieces of firewood. You want ¾” across or smaller. The more rough edges the better.

I get all the free newspapers I want by asking at the newspaper office. Use only pages which are not the shiny kind like they use for Walmart inserts. They don’t burn well. To start a fire, I lay two small pieces of firewood (5-6″ in diameter x 16″) up against each side of the stove inside so that it forms a “valley” between the two pieces. I then crinkle up newspapers and fill the valley with as many as I can stuff in there. Next, I lay three evenly-spaced pieces of short kindling perpendicular to the side logs so they are fully supported and won’t fall through into the valley. I then add three longer pieces perpendicular to those, followed by another layer of short pieces parallel to the first layer. Then a large piece of firewood to top everything off.

You have to have the damper open and the flue open to get a good draft so the fire can really take off. Open the damper, open the flue, light one match to the newspaper and walk away. If you have a metal chimney pipe above the stove, I can’t recommend highly enough getting a chimney thermometer. It lets you know when you’re above the safe limit and should shut the flue and/or damper.

By using this log cabin type construction, the kindling won’t fall onto the newspaper and snuff it out. And if you didn’t start with enough newspapers, then you will still have that space under the kindling to stuff in more newspapers and try again.”

Kindling is dear to my heart. Some mornings, I’m tempted to get myself some of the really good kindling for sale out there. Instead, I spend hours gathering the refuse from splitting wood and romp around in the woods gathering twigs from the ground. As a result, I also help the area around our cabin in the woods to be less vulnerable to fires. We cut the lower limbs of the trees around our cabin as well. In addition to using bark as kindling, I separate out pieces of bark and use those for getting my fire hotter when I need it to be hotter.

Storing the kindling was a bit problematic because I need it to be dry. Eventually, I found that the large bags that our dog food comes in work well. I let the dogs clean them out, and they do a very good job! Kindling is happy in the shed no matter the temperature. I just bring in enough for two days at a time to ensure it is dry and ready.

Storing firewood is something to consider. I’ve seen the photos of different neighboring houses after a huge fire. The house with the wood stacked near the house was burnt to the ground. The house with the cleared barrier and no wood stacks near the house was still standing. So, we have moved our stacks of wood away from our cabin. Woodsheds are a smart way to keep the wood from the weather and a quick glance will let you know how much wood you have. Keep in mind that more wood will be used if you are home and if wood heat becomes your primary source of heat. There is also thievery. It has never been a problem anywhere I have lived, but I have heard of such actions. Firewood may become more valuable, act accordingly.

In many parts of the country, bugs are an issue with firewood. Therefore, be aware and on the lookout the signs: holes, sawdust, and dying trees. I like to burn the buggiest wood early in the season when I don’t need a long hot fire. I never store this type of wood inside the house. I don’t mind most insects and rodents, but I do not feel that I need to live with them!

Where to store wood?

  1. Stacked and covered or in a woodshed away from the house or other outbuildings
  2. However, that is really inconvenient in deep winter, so we keep a couple day’s wood near the house when the snow is high and the potential for fire is very low
  3. The day’s wood is kept in a small holder by the fireplace – good clean wood, of course

Warm, dry wood burns best; however, sometimes you’ll end up using wood that is wet, frozen or covered with snow. It is best to see if you can get a nice hot fire going with the driest wood around and use that fire to dry out the wet or cold wood after removing as much snow as possible. I like to put the wet wood across the top of the fire to keep good airflow and allow the wet wood to dry out. Sometimes the best usable wood is at the bottom of the stack. That’s always fun, unstacking stacked wood.

Fireplace tools are important. You’ll need some long-handled ones to work the fire and a nice shovel to remove the ash. These are sold in sets which are strong and beautiful, or you can do what I did and buy a set for five dollars secondhand. They work well without being too decorative. I’m good with that.

Gloves are essential. We looked at different types of fireplace gloves and ended up buying welding gloves for fourteen dollars. These work well. I have smaller gloves for myself as I often manhandle the logs. Bad habit from years ago.

Get a good fireproof rug. There is just too much at stake for a stray spark or coal to cause a fire. Wool rugs are very good. Not much else to say but do the right thing. Spend the money.

You’ll also need an ash bucket and shovel to get the ash out of the stove or fireplace. Fires need air to burn well. Having ash in your ash bucket allows for banking your wood stove at night. Just remember to bank with slow-burning wood. The goal is to keep a slow fire going all night so that there are coals in the morning. Find your slowest burning wood and seal up all of the air leaks in your woodstove with ash. You will probably want to experiment with different kinds of wood to see what works best in your area. Or ask someone. In a fireplace, there are no options for banking. On cold nights, I will often put a large piece of wood on a dying fire and allow it to burn part way through. In the morning, I remove the charred wood to use on the newly built fire. Helps get the morning fire moving along on a cold morning.

We have a kindling bucket that we fill and bring in each night, so the kindling is warm and dry. I must also admit that it saves me from going outside in the cold every morning. An added bonus.

For the fireplace and some wood stoves, I use a small plastic brush and dustpan to clean up. I bought it at the dollar store years ago and it has proven very useful. I not only like things clean, but I also am eliminating any problems with fire fodder for a small spark.

Fans are very useful. There are fans that fit in the stovepipe that recover much of the heat that would be lost. There are fans that sit on the top of the woodstove and move that heat into the room. Corner fans also can be put up and move the warm air down a hallway or into a different room.

Wood heat is drying and having a pan of water on the stove returns some moisture to the air. I really do like the painted cast iron lidded ones as they do not rust or always look dirty. I’ve just used an old pan as well. Some people will even cook on their woodstoves or keep a kettle of hot water going.

Matches and lighters should be long-handled. I would rather use a long-handled match. But each to their own. When I make the fire, I ensure that there is sufficient paper to light without too much effort. Keep the stored matches, kindling and paper away from the fire. You’ll be amazed how sneaky sparks can be.

Chimney Care is essential. Minimally it should be cleaned once a year. I also take care not to burn green wood. And, I occasionally build a really, really hot fire. If it’s a wood stove, I bang on the stove pipe. Hire a professional to make sure you do not have a chimney fire. Finally, make sure your wood stove and chimney are properly installed. They can get hot, so make sure your walls are sufficiently protected. This is a reminder to not place furniture or anything flammable near the stove or fire. Fires are truly destructive, and preventive measures are important. It’s not just about your things burning up, but often lives can be destroyed or at least changed forever.

You’ll want to clean out the woodstove or fireplace annually and look for cracks, leaking seals, or other problems. Wood stoves will also need to be blackened with high-temperature stove paint each year. After blackening your stove, light a fire early enough in the season so that you can open windows to let the smell out.

Have a fire extinguisher near your wood stove or fireplace. I also suggest some sort of barrier if you have very young children. And, again, keep flammable items away from the heat and flying sparks.

How much wood will you use? That question will answer itself over the course of a few years, but if you’re new to burning wood I suggest you overestimate how much wood you think you’ll use. Better to have too much, rather than too little and run out. And remember that what you use for an average winter will be significantly increased with colder or wetter temperatures. If you are not home during the day, plan to store more in case you will be in trying times. Buying wood at the peak of the heating season is expensive.

Finally, there is a case to be made for the different types of wood stoves. I grew up with a Franklin stove and it served us very well. I currently have a Vermont Castings stove and love it. Having an ash pan that is easy to use is a godsend some days. I’ve also used a tiny wood stove for a single room cabin that is relatively inexpensive and did the job well. We just had to remember to cut the wood small enough and split it extra slim. Fortunately, there are many different stoves for different tastes and uses. Secondhand stoves need to be checked out carefully before purchasing and using.

I always find a fire brings a house alive. It provides more than warmth. I often sit and think about those who came before me who tended the home fires faithfully. I come from a long line of keepers of the fire.




70 Comments

  1. I would love to hear stories about life at 50 to 72 below zero. Heard stories of those in North Dakota that heated with propane, were forced to start open fires next to their propane tanks in order to keep the propane flowing so that they could heat their home. How anyone would not have a wood stove in their home is beyond me!

    I too would like to encourage others to have and learn to run their stoves. A wood stove should be the center of the home. My 1952 vintage WW2-desugn tent stove is deceptively simple in design, yet it does it all in my small place. A stove does not need to be fancy to get the job done. In fact this old stove is very easy to use, easier to live with than many modern stoves, yet with any stove, one must get to know it. I also have 2 modern and spare stoves just outside the door in case this one cracks. Note that the old tent stove works so well, that I have not bothered to replace it with a modern airtight that I have. I like it.

    Creosote build-up:

    As people strive to become self-reliant once again, this topic needs attention. Running a wood stove requires skills that we’ve lost. The most important thing for new stove owners need to know is that burning soft woods such as pine, can clog up the stove pipe within 30 days, if the stove is not run hot at least once a day. Properly seasoned wood that is dry, and kept dry produces less.

    Once the creosote builds up, the risk of a chimney fire is very real. Chimney fires are very difficult to put out, and many homes burn as a result. Inspect and clean out the stove pipe, often, periodically inspecting, and learning how the wood and stove, and how you run the stove, produces creosote.

    Constant smoldering fires produces a wet tar that is creosote that is flammable. Run the stove wide open at least once a day, if not twice day, to reduce the build-up and dry out the ‘wet’ creosote. Doing this will help prevent the build-up of a thick layer of flammable creosote. Double wall pipe keeps the temperature in the pipe higher than single wall pipe and less creosote build-up results. Also, modern high-efficiency stoves produce less as well. Old fashion stoves and single-wall pipes, like mine, have the most build-up. And because I’ve modified my old fashioned and inefficient stove into an ‘airtight’ stove that can hold a fire for 12 hours, I must clean the stovepipe often. Midwinter, when the stove is run hotter, there is less build-up.

    Another method of fire starting.

    Making your own tinder is easy once the technique is practiced, and a good knife for the job is found. Learn how to shave thin strips of wood from kindling, and how to split kindling into long fine slivers. This requires very sharp hatchet to start. Use only short pieces no longer than 12 inches that split easier. Follow up with a heavy thick blade, and then thin-bladed knife if necessary. Eventually one learns how to identify wood that is the easiest to work with. First look for straight grain, with no knots. I prefer a heavy meat cleaver, and a small thin-bladed meat cleaver. I’ve used this technique going on 5 years, and started hundreds of fires this way.

    If the tinder is fine, and kindling are bone dry, the fire starts faster and gets hotter faster than using any other method I’ve used. Use lot of kindling to create a very hot and fast fire to clean out the stove pipe each morning, and to create a bed of coals quickly, so that larger pieces and then be added, and brought to a blaze faster.

    1. Tunnel Rabbit,

      We always cleaned our chimney several times a year growing up especially since we had a shaker wood roof. It’s a learnable skill and requires some tools, but nothing too intricate. Something best learned from someone who does this rather than from a book IMO.

      Love how you explained creosote and it’s dangers.

  2. Thanks PJGT for the article. I have a box of empty TP and PT cardboard rolls near the dryer and have trained everyone on putting the lint into a cardboard roll. I have a storage container for full rolls and another container for paper which comes from packaging and junk mail. I also have some bags of shredded paper which I use for multiple purposes. A fire fighter told me to keep a small extinguisher near the wood stove, but to keep a larger one at least 10′-15′ away from the stove in case the fire is too big or hot to get the closer extinguisher. I have extinguishers all over the inside and outside of the house.

    1. Animal House,

      You are smart. I don’t make them up ahead because I am going to try out something new this spring. Using TP rolls as seedling containers. Looked promising on the videos I watched. We will see.

      1. Do not use dryer lint for fire starters “unless” you have a well sealed fire box, please understand that the fibers used in our clothing today has very little cotton and this is a list of the chemically manufactured materials used by the clothing industry worldwide, Rayon, Ramie, Rubber, Spandex, Triacetate, Glass, Metalic, Modacrylic, Idylon, Oletin, Polyester, these materials when burned produce the following toxic and deadly gases, Phosgene, Hydrogen Cyanide, Dioxins, Benzine, etc, consequently, burning dryer lint exposes an individual to dangerous chemicals that may be inhaled and result in serious respiratory emergency or death, use natural wood chips or some material that does not contain lethal chemicals when burning, just some recommendations from a MT licensed medic with emergency medical training

    2. Animal House, wisdom here: “I have extinguishers all over the inside and outside of the house.”

      Sweet spouse and I just invested in more fire extinguishers. A fire-fighter neighbor says the old ones are no longer built to be refilled. The fire dept just tosses them. Made in China, y’all. Sigh.

      I hate that kind of thing.

      Carry on

      1. Marine, after 2 years the old ones are hi
        t or miss and they are tested by VFD. I
        now by only the best and repressurizable (is that a word?) Our VFD checks them and tells me if they are ok. I buy about 4 news every year to replace old ones. Expensive but worth every penny.

  3. Living in the city, I’ve found that old pallets are a good source of free firewood. Check craigslist, usually broken ones are thrown or given away. Tile and masonry suppliers may have oak pallets for the extra strength. I cut them up with a skill saw in a few minutes. I can avoid the nails but a carbide tipped blade will sail right through them.

  4. For sure. I always leave it set with a one match walk away in case the wife has to while I’m gone. I pickup sticks all year long where I mow and keep them in old feed sacks to use. I use dryer lint then paper/cardboard.

    1. I pick up the bigger pieces from the wood splitter and fill bird seed bags for extra kindling. I also have a bag of clean sawdust from chainsaw. We save paper egg cartons and my wife buys up any cheap used or unused candles from garage sales or thrift shops.
      I use a coffee can to melt up candles on my bbq grill. I take the egg cartons and stuff the recesses with sawdust then pour wax in them. Perfect little half eggs and the carton is the wick. I bust one off, lay it on a chunk of bark or flat kindling and light it. Arrange some small stuff around it and a chunk off wood right next to it. By the time the wax is burnt up fire is going well. Great for camping also!

  5. Hey PJGT, good article, lots of very good points.

    I’ve never had a creosote fire but when I use a blowtorch to remove the creosote from my bee smoker, once it gets going it burns hot and furious and if that were inside a chimney with a draft of air, man oh man, that would be a very scary experience. On my chimney thermometer, mine has three color bars on it, the lowest one lets you know when the temperature is too low and in the creosote-forming range so one more reason to spend $8 and buy a thermometer. When the needle is that low, it also lets you know you either need to add more firewood or open the damper more, so the thermometer is a multi-functional tool.

    Everybody knows that snuggling with your partner keeps both warmer on a cold winter night. Firewood is the same way when burning. If two pieces are separate, the fire will not burn well and often times they can even go out. Keeping pieces together creates a draft between them and ensures they burn better and hotter so use that fire-poking tool.

    A kindling carrier is also a handy item to have. Here’s a link to the kind I make. I use parachute cord and have an orange piece in the center as a “target” when loading. The longer you make the strings, the more kindling you can carry. These can also carry firewood.

    https://www.motherearthnews.com/diy/wood-carrier-zmaz78sozraw

    If anyone is tempted to burn their winter garbage in the wood stove, I tried that one year and in very short order, the chimney pipe was corroding and had to be replaced in the spring. I compost all my paper garbage so it was mostly synthetic materials.

    Amen on having more firewood than you think you need. I never burn the same amount from one year to the next. A few winters ago the winter just wouldn’t end and I burned most of the month of April when I normally quit before then. Other winters are colder and also require more firewood.

    One way to conserve firewood is to wear a fleece jacket or sweater. A 65°F house in summer feels like heaven while the same house at 65°F in winter feel cold. That’s because the walls are cooler and radiating less heat towards us so a sweater or fleece will solve that problem.

    When cutting firewood, normal people toss the lighter older pieces into the burn pile because they are too far gone to make much heat. I save those since I have lots of time on my hands and don’t mind getting up 30 minutes later to add more firewood. It makes my woodpile last longer and I feel like I’m getting rid of all those bothersome coins in my pocket instead of drawing hard cash out of the woodpile.

    One man’s trash is another man’s treasure so I get lots of free stuff from my local sawmills. They have what are called “short ends” the ends they cut off boards to make them an even 8′, 10′ etc. Those short ends are just in their way so they’re happy to have people haul them off. They make the best kindling for me and I split them with a hatchet to get them the width I need. I also leave some whole and can stack four or five and put them in the fire as if it were a log. The also have freebie blocks of wood that are cut off the ends of the railroad ties before they are treated. They’re too short to use when building the fire in the morning but after the fire gets going, they’re great for adding on top. More “pocket change” that lets my wood pile last longer.

    I’ve had many types of wood stoves over the years. My current one is the best ever and since I prefer function over looks, it’s the only kind I’d ever own. It’s a box within a box and a blower blows out 200°F+ air from between the boxes and will heat the house in 15 minutes. For anybody looking for a wood stove, that’s something to consider. Some of the nicer-looking stoves have that function as well.

    Some people say not to burn woods with a lot of pitch like pine and cedar. In some parts of the country those are the only two choices. I’ve never had any problems burning just those two, but like any other firewood, be sure to clean the chimney at least once a year. I clean mine twice a year even though I burn hardwoods now. I rest a lot easier and if I hear a roar, I know it’s only a damper I forgot to close, not a chimney fire.

    One last item, when building the firewall behind the stove the better the wall is, the closer you can get the stove to the wall, saving space in the room. I made mine from HardieBacker, a sort of lightweight concrete board. I used two pieces, one attached to the studs and the other in front of that with ¾” spacers. A gap at the bottom of the front piece allows air to enter from the bottom to keep the back one from heating up so I can get the stove within 12″ of the wall. I doubt it ever gets above 90° on the back piece. On top of the HardieBacker, you can add tile or some other decorative finish.

    Ditto on what Tunnel Rabbit said about a backup stove. I have one to keep my shop warm and in an emergency, could be brought into the house.

    1. St. Funogas,

      You are a wealth of information. I’ve never had a thermometer, but they sound awesome. I have developed a “nose” for the fire, but didn’t want to mention it because it takes so very long to develop. Love the thermometer and the price!!!!

      I’m sure there are a lot of newbies along with myself who are learning much from your knowledge.

      Thanks again!

    2. St Funogas; We use a drum stove we made in the barn…converted a metal drum using cast iron legs and door plus regular stove pipes from a discarded stove in the junk yard. Clean it once a year as we don’t use it as much now. But it’s a good back up.

  6. I dont know about the rest of you Ladies and Gents, But I’m still working the weekly grind everyday, so getting the stove fired up fast and hot enough to load up with wood and still hot enough to damper down before I leave for work takes some planning. I loath cutting kindling for the week but the kindling cracker makes it bearable . its the chore I do on the weekends, along with the rest of the things I do to get ready for the following week.

    I use pitchwood, and a propane torch to get things rolling and be out the door by 4:30 am with a fire that will keep the house warm till I get home. When I get home, I make another fire and that keeps things warm until the morning when I get up and do it all over again. Our local Newspaper closed their doors, so Iv had to use old paper bills that iv shredded,Gotta get creative when a steady supply of paper is no longer available, sometimes Ill throw kindling in a paper sack and torched it, IMHO,The key to heating your house with wood while maintaining work days is being efficient with getting them going.I dont have a lot of time to be messing around with building it up gradually, iv heated my house with wood since 1998. One month I was out of town working and had to use the furnace to maintain a steady 65, when I came home I was shocked! ( not to mention freezing cold in my opinion ) No wonder people complain about their home heating costs.

    1. I am a bit concerned about running out of paper and cardboard in a long-term situation. I try to get it now and store. One of those things that I can do without spending money. And, it can always be recycled if I need to move.

      Yes, heat is expensive! And likely to get even more expensive with the war on energy. So sad.

      1. If you live where birch trees are available, there is a great firestarter. On a downed birch tree, make a cut about 1/4″ deep along the length of the tree with a chainsaw. Many times you can just unwrap the bark by hand like unwrapping Christmas wrap. It is impregnated with oil and lights quickly with just a match. It wads itself up while burning and burns a long time; far longer than paper. If your logs are oriented correctly you don’t even need kindling.

        It stores well, lasts a long time and is renewable.

  7. I’ve never commented anywhere before but wanted to get the word out about waxed cardboard boxes. Iced vegetables like broccoli are shipped in them. If you take home a few from your grocery store and cut them into 1×6 strips they are excellent fire starters. They last forever and resist moisture. Also, free and nearly effortless.

  8. Today it dropped from a dank bone chilling 40 degrees with 80 % humidity to heavy frost at 22 degrees. Timing of this article is great. Thanks for warming our minds!

    Our damp coastal climate always keeps fuels full of moisture. Wood needs drying and pre heating for burning efficiency.

    For heating, I wish we had a russian-style masonry stove, but an airtight stove with a flat top is a huge asset and one graces our house.

    An airtight stove helps maximize the BTU usage into your home instead of up the chimney. A baffle below the chimney does the same.

    Many folks talk about the temperature gauge on their chimney, and we have one, but instead you should consider that a hot chimney means combustion may be going on in your thin walled chimney rather than your heavy metal stove.

    Think of ways to increase maximum co.buation inside the stove itself.

    Our woodshed is 150 feet from our house.

    I scrounge 4 of those wheeled, heavy duty totes from the waste management company. I fill them with wood and wheel them up to the house. This keeps wood dry, reduces mess, and controls insects from migrating from wood to unwanted places.

    I warm several pieces of wood right next to the fire, unless DW catches insects crawling out and I have to carry in just what firebox holds.

    One DANGER to avoid is to never never ever put wood ashes in anything except a metal container. I witnessed three houses burn from “cold dead ashes” put into non-metal containers.

    The odd-looking beaked, metal buckets work nicely to hold either kindling or ashes and won’t burn. My name for these is Coal Scuttle.

    Some cultures used to bake their wood to create “white coal” which was then taken out and used in heating old time pizza or bread ovens and forges used to melt metal.

    Time for BS now. Jeremiah 16 today.
    God Bless

    1. Wheatley,

      We use a coal scuttle and immediately take the ashes outside. There may be coals in them thar ashes! Good point!

      Also, we use a large plastic utilitarian sled to haul wood and other things. Works on snow and non-snow ground. Not sure the name, but one of the best $50 I’ve spent. I’m counting on it to be able to haul water if things get to that point ever.

      Where I grew up, there was a charcoal making “plant” (not really, but I’m at a loss as what to call it), and a wood drying operation nearby. I think if I lived in a really wet climate, I’d investigate ways to get my wood dry. But that is an area of expertise I don’t have and am unlikely to need as I dislike rain.

    2. Wheatley,

      We use a masonry heater in our home. The radiating heat is fantastic. We even opted for a bake oven in it. We enjoy making pizza in it often. We knew for sure when we built 5 yrs ago that having a wood burning fireplace was a guarantee. I am thankful that the Lord allowed us to learn about masonry heaters.

      Blessings!

    1. Thanks, but I think St. Funogas should write the book. I do have concerns about some states outlawing wood heat. Not easily hidden; however, we did stay in a house with a wood/propane furnace that worked very, very well. Just a thought.

    2. I’m sure there are a lot of newbies along with myself who are learning much from your knowledge.

      Thanks again!

      Me! I’ve been so frustrated starting the fire with no hot coals. Also I am surprised how fast the wood I brought to the house goes. I need to work on my kindling Thanks!

  9. I have heated with wood for 50 years

    Your article covered every facet of wood burning. It’s so well laid out you should write a book

    Wood is still the best heat that god has given us

  10. Very good article. Heating with wood has its intricacies. We’ve heated with wood for at least 30 years. We bought one new stove but our favorites are the used, pre China made, Quadrafires. They used to be plentiful around here because they used to be an American company out of neighboring north Cali (or as some like to refer to it as Washington state). They are ugly but we have had good success heating with them. This last fall I put new door gaskets in two and new fire brick in one and they’re like new stoves.
    Our daughter used to laugh and say when her kids came home from our house they smelled like woodsmoke and bacon. Nice combo in my opinion.
    JWR we also have a grandchild born on this date. : )

  11. A friend of ours who always heat with wood stove had a chimney fire. He threw a bag of ice in the stove. It put the fire out immediately. Had to replace pipe and some damage on ceiling and roof, but house did not burn down! Praise God

    1. Wet towels or wet newspaper will work too. The towels will be “toast” but it beats burning the house down. Newspaper has to be totally soaked so use the towels while the paper is soaking, then add if needed. Oh and it’s guaranteed to be such a mess to clean up. Keep the water off of the glass door.
      We installed our chimneys with a ground level clean outs. My husband did not need to be on a slick, frosty roof in the middle of winter. It works so well. I can clean the chimney as easy as him. The first weekend of every month we take the inside pipe down and clean it too. Overkill? Perhaps, better safe than sorry. Especially since we can’t get fire insurance because the closest town is an hour’s drive away.

  12. Use fuel oil furnace as backup for wood stove. Last tank lasted 7 years. The new air tight stoves with unlimited air for the reburn seem to work out best. I have a Pacific Energy out of Canada that I have been using for about 10 years, replaced a Fisher that was state of the art 20 years ago and that replaced a Shenado that was state of the art 40 years ago. The modern upper west coast stoves are designed to safely burn soft woods as there is no hard woods in that area. Burn properly dried hardwoods in them and they really sing.

    The logs burn in a fire bed with firebrick and a controlled amount of air, at first there is a lot of smoke, but the smoke path is to the front of the stove and up into an insulated area between the stove top and the fire, there an unlimited amount of air and the insulation, this burns the smoke and no smoke goes up the chimney nor is there any creosote. The back and sides of the stove have a second layer of metal with an air space and stay at about 100 degrees so there is little fire danger.

    The best chimney I have found is a masonary one with a double walled stainless pipe insert and insulation between the metal and concrete one. While it cost me $1,000 to have it done by a professional, the saving on my home owners insurance and getting along with fire department has made it a great investment. Wood ashes are deadly, I put mine in an ash can setting on concrete and outside and wouldn’t dream of emptying the can for at least several days after the last ashes are placed into it. Hot coals can and will smolder for much longer than you would ever believe and many fires are caused by a bucket of coals on a deck here every year.

    I would suggest that you have a stove board under the stove, coals are going to fall out and dirt etc, is going to come off the logs. You also need a place to put the wood that you are going to load into the stove as you don’t want to leave the stove open any longer than you have to. You have to be able to prevent the wall and other areas around the stove from catching fire. Problem is that as wall becomes super dry from radiated and convectional heat, the temp at which it will catch fire drops, same for wood box, kindling box etc.

    I have a canvas wood carrier with 2 strap handles. It holds one filling of wood for the stove and the carrier width is such that if the fire wood extends beyond the canvas, it will not fit into the stove. Load carrier at wood box, also designed so wood to long to fit into stove will not fit into wood box, and the wood box is designed to hold about 3 days wood. Take carrier to stove, place on stove board, open door and quickly fill stove and close. I use a 2 wheel firewood carrier to refill wood box from wood on deck, 2 or 3 cords of covered firewood, and use tractor with bucket to refill racks from wood shed, 15 to 20 cords storage, enough for between 2 and 3 years.

    I have been slowly getting things in order for the last 20 years and am for the kost part pleased. In long run if you are going to heat with wood, do not cut corners, buy best chimney, stove, stove board, that you can find. $2,000 for a high efficiency wood stove with a glass door and gold trim was expensive, but 15 years later everything is working well, the stove is pretty enough that it looks like a piece of furniture, and my wife does not make me take it down for the summer like the old ones. The fuel you save and the added safety you get in a good stove will pay off in a very few years.

    1. Duane,

      Great reply. Of course! I’d forgotten to add the importance of a fireproof stove board under the woodstove. Also a good place to dry wood if your stove is high enough.

      We have a lovely log carrier that I usually forget to use. My son and husband use it and it is very useful. And tidy!

  13. Outstanding article. I might add to attempt to place the wood stove in or as close to the North West corner of the room as possible. The natural drift of heat will be from the NW to SE.
    We used wood heat exclusively from 1977 to 2002, with a Vermont Soapstone wood stove. Sold the stove with the house when we moved to this overpopulated area.
    We burned hickory, black and red oak, locust and hackberry. The hackberry is white inside and can be used as soon as it is cut, if necessary.
    We use the “city fireplace” in this house, but now thinking of an insert because of the inefficiency.
    Again, great article and great comments by all.

    Yep, the best heat there is!
    Stay warm.

    Semper Fi

    1. Thank you. You are right, situating the woodstove in the cold corner is wise. There is also the question of what is around the chimney outside the house. Fire is nothing up play with.

  14. Aluminum Heat Shielding

    Heat is transferred from one place to another via conduction, convection, and radiation. Aluminum as a heat shield increases the efficiency of burning wood for heat. It also provides for additional safety, especially where stoves are used in close quarter installations.

    For those who feel the need a quick and easy solution for additional heat shielding….aluminum roof flashing. Aluminum reflects 99 percent of the heat radiated. It is far better at this than sheet metal that is steel. It will also keep more of the heat inside the home rather than allowing heat to soak through outside walls. A quick experiment at home will demonstrate the deference between steel and aluminum as a heat shield. Simply erect the two samples and place 2 metal objects behind them. Run the stove hot, and then see which sample is hotter than the other. If the experiment is conducted correctly, you will likely be surprised at the difference.

    If one has an existing stove and believes it is better to be safe, rather sorry, it is a simple chore to go to the building center and pick up a roll of aluminum roof flashing that is at least 24” in width or wider. Unfurl the roll so that there is length of flashing that surrounds the stove. A long seamless section can stand on it’s own, or become a fixed to the wall. A semi-circle shape will also act as a convex lens, and reflect the radiate heat into the greater room. This means more heat for the greater room, and less heat escapes to the outside walls. Because of this characteristic of aluminum, the entire area around my stove from top to bottom is lined with aluminum sheeting. It reflects most of the radiant back from the stove and heats the room faster as a result. The aluminum also provides a third, however, an arguably negligible benefit, of reflecting heat back onto the stove that uses the BTU generated by the available wood more efficiently, as it burns hotter, and is more likely to burn wood gasses.

    Even my portable tent stoves all have rolls of this aluminum sheeting rolled up, and stored inside the stove pipe that is stored in the stove for transport. It is lightweight, compact and will protect the tent wall from becoming scorched, or turned into flame.

  15. Hi, PJGT, Boy did I learn a lot from your article.

    I plan on getting a wood stove in the future, and will definitely reference your article for the best day to day learning skills.

    After I was out of the house, my folks moved and heated with a wood stove. Everyone loved it. My dad made it look so easy too. However, if you are not the person doing the maintenance, you have no idea of the behind the scenes care that is being done. Thank you for the critical information you shared. Praying for you daily, Krissy

    *Also, thanks to all who commented.

  16. My Fisher wood stove is my only heat source aide from a propane space heater, so my fire never goes out until I want it to in the spring.

    I got tired of messing with newspapers, cardboard, etc over the years when I did need to start a fire and recently discovered Diamond Strike A Fire which are inexpensive and work great.
    About $10 for a 48 count box. I use two of them with a stove full of larger dry, seasoned kindling wood (about the diameter of my wrist) and I get a roaring fire and quick.

    https://www.walmart.com/ip/Diamond-Strike-A-Fire-Fire-Starters-48-Ct-Strikes-Like-a-Match-for-for-Lighting-Grills-Fireplaces-and-Firepits/32468956

  17. Moving wood. for several years we lived in a shoot gun building which was115 feet deep. Wood had to be stored in the backyard and the wood stove was in the front.
    I tired of carrying wood that distance. While visiting the waste transfer station I found a 3 wheel baby stroller with large wheels. Hurray, it would carry about 100 lbs of oak and go up and down a couple stairs without hardly requiring any energy. I asked the guy at the transfer station to keep his eyes open for another as a spare and he told me people throw a couple a week out. Way better than a wheel barrow in the house.

  18. I have an older cast iron Vermont Castings stove with no firebrick or catalytic converter. It is installed in the basement against the poured concrete foundation and sits on the concrete floor. It does an amazing job of heating the entire house, even during the -30 degree nights. I use a propane torch to light my fires because it is very quick and easy. I have a wood crib about 25 feet from the stove where I stack about 4 cords, and keep about 12 cords outside under cover. I do get some bugs, but a black light bug zapper hangs in the wood crib which gets about 99% of them.

    In addition to the numerous fire extinguishers I keep around, I also have a stock of several Chimfex chimney fire extinguishers. I have no financial interest in them, but highly recommend them. A web search will provide purchasing information as well as videos of how they work. It basically looks and works like a road flare. It is made with special chemicals that will completely smother the fire in the stove and the chimney. I have several in the event that circumstances prevent being able to purchase them in the future.

    1. Ordered several of these Chimfex products. 2 for my home, 2 for my shop, and extra to give to neighbors. Reviews on Amazon are quite good. Biggest complaint was receiving older stock. Amazon price is $25.00 with free shipping. Price on Firepenny.com was $12.50 plus shipping. (Shipping is ORMD like ammunition.)

      Thanks for this excellent suggestion!

    1. When your wood has burned down and there is a portion of blackened wood and hot coals, scoop up a bunch of the ashes and use them to cover your hot coals.

      This slows the burn by reducing oxygen. After a period of hours, gather your tinder materials close to your fire.

      Carefully uncover the live coals from the ashes, fan or blow them and place your tinder on them, with kindling on that. Use a bellows or blow them into flame.

      Coals stay hot under ashes a long time. That’s why several of us here stay repeatedly to never put ashes into a plastic or other burnable container, since the ashes often contain unseen hot coals, which essentially are “banked fire” that can reignite.

  19. Good article and some equally good comments!
    I’ve heated with wood for well over 50 years, the last 24 exclusively. One thing I didn’t see mentioned was during the ash clean out of a wood stove (I have a Lopi wood stove and decades before that, a Lopi fireplace insert at another locale). Some years ago I used to completely remove all ash as well as the small chunks of wood ‘coal’ not completely turned to ash.
    Afterwards, a fire started in a completely clean wood stove would take longer to obtain a good draw for a day or two. Whereas, if I shook off a lot of the ‘coal’ chunks allowing them to remain in the stove (sans the ash), and then built my fire the air would circulate better facilitating a quicker draw.
    This may be due to my tendency to use as little cedar kindling as possible along with my firewood, both of which are always bone dry.

  20. Great article and great comments.

    Seasoned firewood is important. A well-seasoned piece of wood should show flames within 20-30 seconds of being put on a bed of coals.

    A true ash bucket has a rim around the bottom to keep the bottom of the bucket from contacting the floor or ground.

    I’ve always heard that a wad of soggy newspaper will extinguish a chimney fire – the steam displaces the air – but a soggy towel sounds quicker. Hope I never need to do this.

    My great-aunt, born in the 1890’s, said “It takes three logs to keep a fire going.” 100% true regarding a campfire, and also true about wood stoves.

  21. As others have posted, good article and a lot of good comments. I think that once you have shelter you must have a wood stove/fire place/insert. We have burned with wood for decades, some places with 2 wood stoves/inserts. Totally agree with WV Hillbilly, that is the fire starter we use, buy them at the farm supply in the spring on sale for a few bucks a box, stock up for years. Good advice on the free ones (toilet paper rolls with lint). We are blessed with cedar sawmills and waste, so we have a ton of ‘waste’ cedar that are great fire starters. Clean your chimney, we do every year. Our insert has allowed us to cook on, heats almost the entire house. Runs efficiently, and has been a God-send, especially during power outages during ice-storms. If you live in an area that restricts wood burning, move. This is going to be a problem in the future in my opinion. Fortunately I live in an area where most heat with wood, so those that would try to stop it, would be shut down, But ‘purple areas’… not so much!

  22. Love my woodstove. We have an airtight Lopi. I never want to be without it. There have been a few times up here when the power has gone out on a cold night when it’s more than paid for itself. Even if I ever move to a warmer climate, I know I am going to want one. Even those warmer places have damp, chilly nights. Nothing takes the dampness out like a fire.
    It was illustrated clearly to me how unprepared people are when one chilly fall night, the power went out. No problem, we fired up the stove, got out the emergency candles and went about our life. Within a half hour, the wife’s friend from 2 doors down was calling telling us she’d be over with her kids “if this goes on much longer”. She could see our chimney and was starting to feel uncomfortable from the slight drop in temperature. Major lesson for us. It was much quicker that we ever imagined that people assumed they could take part in the benefit of my preps. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to turn away a mother and 2 small kids on a cold night for a couple hours but in the event of a mass, grid-down event, things are going to go sideways at warp speed. The power came back shortly thereafter and they never came.
    I have have an even more rural property where I get my firewood. I fell the trees, buck them into rounds, split and season them. Then I bring it all home. We are fortunate to have a variety of firewood species. Black cherry for the “shoulder” season when it’s not that cold, Ash, hickory, red oak and maple for everyday burns and Hop Hornbeam or “ironwood” for really cold days.

  23. We grew up without central heat until I was 15 … everything was heated with an antique pot-belly stove. One thing to keep in mind if you’re heating your entire house is air-flow … we had a two-story house, so had to cut vents into the floor so the air could flow back down after it flowed up the stairs.

    At our current house, unfortunately, the only trees are these really sad pitch-pines that carry so much sap, they clog your chimney no matter HOW many years you let the wood dry out. We have a fireplace-insert stove for power outages, but it’s just not cost-effective to purchase wood. We’re able to forage enough windfalls for the occasional power outage from peoples pampered shade trees, but at $400 per cord of wood, we’re priced out.

      1. When we’ve seen pallets, we’ve grabbed them. But they are a high-demand item, and not a lot of industry that uses them and throws them out, so you have to literally lurk in the industrial park along with all the other pallet-lurkers, trying to get there first.

        I used to let the pitch pine dry out for three years and then burn it, but after a chimney fire, I just don’t dare. These days pitch pine goes at the bottom of our hügelkultur beds.

  24. Some thoughts. I totally agree with the fireproof rug in front of the stove. Coals can easily get knocked out. Hopefully you also have the stove on a fireproof hearth also. We just have leather gloves that are of the thicker leather type that we use to load wood into the stove with. You might even find them at garage sales. When our wood manages to get snow on or rain on it we often bring in a few pieces and stack them upright on the rug or the edge of our hearth and let them dry out first. It is important not to stack your cords of wood against the house as fire fighters have to move the wood in order to put out the fire. With many cords of wood it wouldn’t be reasonable so your house may burn down. I really appreciated your suggestions and learned from the comments how to stop a chimney fire. You’re never to old to learn

  25. We too have used a woodstove for our main source of heat for over 40 years. We have had several different stoves over the years and the one we have now (going on 15 years) is a BlazeKing Princess model. Our house is 2700 sq.ft. And it does a wonderful job. We are very fortunate to have a hardwood known as madrone available to us. With this stove we can easily hold a fire for 24 hours and have been able to rekindle a fire after 40 hours. I would like to add a few words of advice we’ve learned over the years. When cleaning the stove and surrounding area be very careful with a vacuum so as not to get any hot embers into the vacuum. It will not end well. Also when installing the stove pipe try to reduce the distance a 90 degree horizontal pipe has to be run. Best to have the pipe go up at an angle then make your 90 degree turn. By doing this you eliminate as much pipe as possible that lays horizontal. If creosote is going to build up a horizontal pipe is where it’s going to happen. Next is wood storage. I’ve found that by putting lawn insect granules down before I stack wood I don’t get ants. Some people like to use pallets to stack wood on. Personally I’ve found that to be a place where rats and skunks like to winter. And if you live in a place that has ground squirrels they’ll be there too. We always stay a year ahead on our firewood. We burn about 4 cords per year so that means having 8 cord on hand by the first snowfall. We also try to rotate where we pull from our woodshed so that no wood is kept longer than 2 years. I know every area is different but here in southern Oregon this works for us. If you’ve never heated with wood you’ll learn the term a love and hate relationship with it. We love the to the bone warmth it offers and we are totally dependent only upon ourselves. We (I) really enjoy cutting and splitting wood. My wife says she won’t go with me if I’m going to cut more than a cord at a time. So…. learn to space it out so you don’t where your help out. The hate part if it is that firewood is messy. Their is no easy way around it just expect to have to clean more often. It’s all worth it. Enjoy!!

  26. Wonderful article!

    I hope everyone has been well. I have not been online as of late. I switched jobs recently (to get out of a city hospital and into a smaller area) and am now in a Covid ICU… there has been a lot for me to learn! It’s been busy and mostly sad. But I digress…

    I have a story to share that I feel is on point. Fair warning… this story doesn’t show me in the best light…but it’s worth sharing because it is a cautionary tale of why you should, indeed, be careful when disposing of those cold ashes! I could easily entitle this:

    “HOW I ALMOST KILLED MY WHOLE FAMILY. TWICE”.

    Many years ago when the kids were toddlers we lived in a small house outside of Denver, Colorado. There was one main living space that had a fireplace that split the room. Even as inefficient as it was, being open on two sides and with only a metal curtain to close over it, the fire place still warmed the small space beautifully and I rarely used the furnace. I had never lived anywhere with wood heat and I was thrilled at this new simple pleasure.

    This day, it was snowing hard. I got up and started a fire first thing and I made a pot of my chicken soup. Then, enjoyed taking the kids and Duke (our 155 lb Great Dane) out in the knee-deep snow in our back yard. Tired, we all came in for a long afternoon nap. In the early evening, in anticipation of my husband coming home from work, I awoke to heat the soup and make some corn bread. The fire, long since out, was cold. So cold, I was able to reach in bare-handed and take the charred ash chunks out to make a fresh fire. Feeling a bit lazy..I didn’t want to go back out in the cold and snow to properly dispose of the ash, but I also didn’t want the kids or dog to play in it, so I put it in a PAPER grocery bag and put it in the laundry room. I stored a lot of things in that small room. Like old rags and household cleaners. Not wanting to get the washer dirty with ash, I placed the grocery sack on top of a plastic covered bucket. Well, not really a bucket… an industrial sized tub of POWDERED LAUNDRY DETERGENT. Being too heavy for me to lift, I kept it on the floor of the laundry room, right next to the GAS FURNACE.

    (I told you this story doesn’t paint me in a good light!!!)

    I closed the door to the laundry room, started a new fire and set the table for dinner. Hubbie got home just minutes later and we sat down to eat. He commented that the house smelled ‘smokey’ but I assured him I had just started a fire and that everything was fine. He asked if I remembered to check that the flue was open. Of course I did. And confidently stated that I knew what I was doing! (Pride? Goeth?? FALL???)

    Moments later, at the insistent whine of Duke, I realized smoke was coming from the laundry room and opened the door to find the bag on fire, the grease soaked rags on fire and the top of the tub, melting. There was but a sliver of molten plastic left on the lid. The rest was stuck to the flaming bag as we grabbed it and threw it out the back door onto the foot of snow covering the deck and I stomped out the burning rags.

    Sleep was elusive that night at the inescapable reality of how my foolishness nearly caused the peril of my husband, my children and my dog! (and if chemistry serves, possibly part of my neighborhood, too)

    I praised God for sparing us from my stupidity, but I was so completely freaked out, that all night long every time the heat kicked on I woke my husband because I thought I still smelled smoke. I reasoned maybe a spark got into the air ducts and convinced him to get up and check. Multiple times.

    In the morning, when I opened the back door to let the dog out, Duke wouldn’t budge. He stood in the doorway, head tilted, looking at the WOOD deck…at the two foot hole that the bag had burned straight through it. Apparently, what I had smelled during the night was the deck, smoldering. Right next to my kitchen door.

    Yeah. For real. True story.

    Now that you’ve heard my tale you could probably come up with some other titles, like “PLEASE TELL ME SHE ISN’T THAT FOOLISH!” or “KNOWING WHERE TO SAFELY STORE HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS!”

    Of note, one of my good friends at that time was a fireman. I’m pretty sure that in the late 1990’s I was the laughing stock of every firehouse in Colorado! Deservedly so.

    1. Nurse Michelle, Bless you for sharing. I didn’t know, “cold,” ashes could do that either. Not only are you brave and wonderful to share your teaching story, you are also too hard on yourself. Anyone of us could have done the same thing, until someone like you taught us not too.

      In addition, if I may, I disagree with your last sentence. I was married to a firefighter/chief for thirty-one years, so I have heard a bazillion stories. I can’t recall anytime where they laughed at the victim! Laughing at each other, yes, but not the victim. Also, I don’t believe anyone reading your story is laughing either, just thanking God you were all safe. May God give you strength, wisdom and peace as you bless the patients you take care of. Krissy

    2. Nurse Michele,

      I agree with Krissy. We are all human and but for the grace of God would not be here now. It’s embarrassing to be sure to realize in hindsight where we error, but sharing this story may save others. Way to go! I’ve done just the same myself, but with a burner barrel! Coals lurk around for a long time. Thanks for sharing.

      1. This was a very good article PJGT which prompted great comments. I too would love to hear more about your time in the Arctic Circle. Heating with firewood is in my blood as well. As I read through the comments, I thought I could respond to at least half of them directly, but since I’m usually a few days behind on the blog, I’ll summarize my comments below in no particular order.

        Regarding stoves – Lopi was mentioned and I know several people who run those and they all like them. In fact, we have one at our church which we use on Sunday mornings. Quadrafires were also mentioned which is what we use to heat our home. So far, I like it, especially the automatic combustion control which helps when starting the fire and leaving it untended. In a couple past homes, I ran wood burning furnaces which are typically installed in a basement and tied into ductwork. My experience is that while they use a lot of wood with a large fire box, they can heat a house to the point where the windows are open on a winter day. I think someone also mentioned masonry heaters which are crafted out of soap stone. If you can afford to have one built, they are fantastic and I’m sure a full feature length article could be written about them.

        Regarding ashes – I have collected several metal buckets (read as Free buckets) which I use for my ashes. Over the years, many have suggested setting the ashes outside to cool. I usually hesitate to do that as I have seen the wind swirl ashes out of a full bucket. At times when I do set them outside, I put a suitable metal lid on the bucket with a heavy rock on top of that. That being said, I typically put the ash (& hot coals) in a metal bucket in my garage on the concrete floor away from any combustibles. I let them sit there at least a week before dumping them on my pile outside. A side benefit is a little bit of extra heat in the garage. Speaking of ashes, have you ever noticed how much ash is produced based on the type of wood burnt? I only burn hardwoods, and Ash wood really does produce a lot of ash. One last warning about making sure your ashes are truly cold before disposing of them. I have a friend who once took a bucket of fresh ashes, mixed them with snow, so he thought it was safe to put in the trash can out by the road since it was going to be picked up the next day. Well, by morning all he had left of the big wheeled can was the metal axle and a pile of melted plastic.

        I clean our chimney once per year and only remove about a pint of buildup. I do however clean the chimney cap several times a year during the burning season. The screen around the cap which keeps birds and bats out has the tendency to buildup a little and I can actually notice it reducing the draft.

        Once I start a fire, I try to keep it going for days or weeks. But when we let it go out, I usually build the new fire with newspaper, cardboard, and kindling. Fortunately most of the kindling I use is kiln dried so it works really well. But I also use small splits and bits from my fire wood. If you don’t have your own wood shop producing kindling, check with other local craftsmen or cabinet shops, etc. Many shops burn boxes and barrels of kindling just to get rid of it. St. Funogas said it well when he basically said that firewood burns better when it is snuggling with other pieces. Many times I have seen someone throw a single piece of firewood on top of hot coals to “keep the fire going.” It doesn’t work well, but if you put 2 or 3 pieces together, they will take off.

        The concern was mentioned about some states outlawing wood heat, probably due to various environmental concerns. All of those arguments don’t hold much water in my opinion. In any case, I will mention that when I was building my house a little while back, I had my wood burner on the building plans that went to the township inspector. He called me and asked what I was doing for heat. I told him I was going to burn wood. He basically laughed and said that won’t work. I needed to have a primary heat source that could always be counted on and would work even in times of emergency or something to that affect. Now was my turn to laugh (at least inwardly) since I can still keep warm even if we have a power outage. Never the less, I was already considering a ground source heat pump primarily for its ability to cool the house efficiently in the summer. So I put that on the plans which made the inspector happy.

        We also use a canvas duck type cloth bag like Duane mentioned that holds enough to fill the wood burner. So I bring a load in from the garage each time it needs filled or leave a full bag near the hearth rug for my wife during the day.

        There was a question about banking a fire with ashes. That was mainly used in yesteryear when folks were heating their homes with open hearth fireplaces. During the day when a fire was going for heating/cooking there was always someone near to tend the fire and make sure stray sparks were put out, etc. The fire would be banked at night with ashes over the hot coals which basically acted like insulation to keep the heat in without burning up the coals due to reduced oxygen. With today’s wood burners with metal or glass doors, there is usually no need to bank the fire. In fact, most of us probably jam as much wood into the fire box right before bed so as to keep the house warm overnight and still have a nice bed of coals in the morning.

        Well, I have said enough. Happy burning to all!

  27. PJGT…THANK YOU for taking time in your challenging life to gift us with such valuable and usable information! (The commenters added exceptional value to the foundation you laid as well!)

    Heating with wood is messy but worth every ounce of effort for such glorious warmth that goes beyond physical comfort. Not being clever or humorous like so many in this community…(you KNOW who you are AND those traits have been duly note in the cast of characters log I keep!) …i can not explain the soul deep pleasure and gift a fire to warm your space of living provides. (Think of the endless joy a campfire brings in the chill of the evening only more so.)

    Satisfaction is another positive element in heating with wood. It DOES take effort beyond just turning up the thermostat. AND, knowing if it is “necessary” for any reason, it’s an understood skill in place ready to go. THAT brings more than a small bit of calm to one’s preparedness.

    Then, as others have mentioned, there is a learned knack to do it, well done or not…haha. i dare say, we have all had moments of not doing it well. Just the small flub of impatiently opening the door too quickly with the resulting smokey room, seems easily avoided but common for me, (sad face.) As the decades have passed, we have tweaked our stacking, storage, moving and inside storage to eliminate multiple handling and messiness. (As we grow older, one must be flexible in order to keep doing what we want to continue doing!) HOWEVER…to continue doing what we want as LONG as possible, taking the easiest-think less movement, exercise or effort-WILL INSURE it’s not as long as it might be otherwise. One MUST keep moving deliberately or losing ability!…Ok, now where was i…Oh, the messiness! The 6 foot wood rack directly behind our home, 10 feet from our back door is empty in the summer to keep bugs/critters away from the house. The woodpile is 65 feet from the rack and I use a big ice fishing sled to move the wood to the rack on “nicer” winter days. (Part of MY continued moving !) A dolly or Muck Bucket cart facilitates moving wood when there is no snow on the ground.

    (Just an FYI…we have two of these marvelous 5 foot sleds. They are kept in the back of my DH’ s pickup, that has a topper, to protect what is kept or carried in it. When we shop, the purchases are easily loaded and unloaded by pulling one of the sleds to the tailgate to easily load or unload our purchases! (No more climbing up into the bed of the truck to access what we carry!) I have also pulled several grandkids around in the snow, and sledded down hills with them too, moved wood and in a time of need in snowy conditions, will be able to move people, supplies and water if needed.

    …Oh, back to the messiness…in the beginning 40 years ago, we used an adaptable dolly oriented horizontally with upright post at each end, stacking wood from the rack behind the house onto the dolly just outside the back door. Than we would roll the dolly into the greatroom to the side of the raised brick platform our stove sits on. Easy peasy! Not much bark or debris ended up on the floor. Fast forward a couple decades to a time of using soft, degrading maple in with the ash and oak we prefered. MESSY to say the least…So, being open to ideas leading to less mess, my DH purchased a couple Muck Buckets to contain and move the degrading maple inside. He also looked for and purchased a plant pot dolly the perfect diameter to place the bucket ON to roll the 16 feet in near the brick platform easily. We have continued using the Muck Buckets since they are better at keeping the mess to a minimum. But, they don’t move as much as the horizontal dolly…trade offs, like the rest of life.

    We chose our woodstove for it’s versatility and continue to appreciate it’s well thought out design. It is a double walled WonderWarm. (It has an electric blower to move air through the space between walls but also works with simple convection to do the same without the blower…just not as well.)
    With the doors closed, it is used as an airtight heater. With the doors swung wide and screen on, it becomes a fabulous open fireplace to enjoy the crackling fire. We can use an old grill from a long discarded charcoal grill to cook hamburgers, steaks, chops and veggies OR the grands love to use the roasting forks to have hotdogs and marshmallows over a bed of coals. Heating water, soups or any other food on top is a treat for now. If necessary, using it for winter indoor cooking would be comforting to have available…

    Having heated with wood in the past makes one able to move forward, able to concentrate on other concerns if things become worrisome for any reason…very timely article!!!

  28. Best tinder for fire starting comes from ripping large rounds lengthwise with a chainsaw. The chips are more like Mozzarellas cheese….a tangled mass of long strands of wood that dries quickly. I grab a handful of this and lay in in the stove with a couple of larger pieces of wood on each side and lay the kindling on top of the tinder. Once it catches, it burns hotter than…..well, you know. It’s hot.

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