Drying your fire wood
1. Cut the wood to length
The wood you have purchased or cut yourself should be the right length for your stove, fireplace or furnace. This is usually about three inches shorter than the firebox width or length, depending on how you load the wood.
2. Split it to the right size
Next, split the wood to the proper size for your burner. For most efficient wood stoves, this is usually no more than six inches measured at the largest cross sectional dimension. A range of piece sizes is best so that when kindling a fire or reloading on a coal bed you have some smallish pieces that will help you achieve the desirable instant ignition. A selection of sizes from three to six inches in diameter for wood stoves will probably serve you well.
Keep in mind that firewood only begins to dry seriously once it is cut and split to the right size because in log form the moisture is held in by the bark. So, when buying wood, ask when the wood was cut split and properly stacked to get an idea of how ready it is for burning. For this reason, experienced woodburners like to get their wood in the early spring so they can manage the drying process themselves.
3. Pile in a single row exposed to the sun and wind.
If wood is to be below 20% moisture content when you burn it in the winter, it must have the moisture removed. The only practical way homeowners can do this is to allow the sun and wind to dry the wood for them.
With this in mind, the wood should be piled in a place where the sun can warm it and the wind can blow through it. As the sun heats and evaporates the water from the wood pile the wind whisks it away.
4. Let the wood dry all summer
Most folks who split their wood and stack it in well-spaced rows find that they can dry their wood in four or five months. If you have your wood stacked in May or June it should be ready to put away for winter’s use by October. There should be no need to dry it longer than that, unless you live in a damp maritime climate and/or use very dense wood like Oak, which is notorious for taking a long time to dry.
Lighting the fire
There are several ways to light a fire, but you must always be careful about what you put in your stove. Never use painted or pressure impregnated wood or plastics containing chlorine, such as PVC. This gives off highly poisonous gases. Do not use driftwood from the sea as fuel. This contains salt which converts to chlorine when it is burned. You can wash the salt out of driftwood by leaving it outside in the elements for at least a couple of years.
Wood that you store outside or in cold spaces should be in room temperature for at least one day before you use it. Split the lighting wood into approx. 4 cm in diameter. This will simplify the lighting and may give the chimney draught a quicker start.
Before you light a fire you should open all the air vents; some stoves have only one, while others may have two. The easiest way to light a fire is as follows:
- Place two logs in the bottom of the burn chamber and stack thin split-up logs in layers up to the holes for secondary air. Finish with a fair sized log on top.
- Place 2-3 fire briquettes, or similar, right beneath the top layer with thin split-up logs and light it.
- With normal draught you may now shut the door and the fire will take care of itself.
Another good idea is to place two logs on either side of the burn chamber. Place some crumpled up paper between them and create a stack of thin split-up logs on top. You can then add more paper if you need to. You may have to watch that the fire gets sufficient air supply the first 10-15 minutes; it depends on the draught whether you need to supply extra air through the door.
Add fuel to the stove often, but only a little amount at a time. If the fire is too strong, the thermal stress in the chimney may be unnecessarily high. Fire with moderation. Prevent the fire from smouldering as this produces excessive emissions. You get the best result when the fire is burning steadily and the smoke from the chimney is almost invisible.