What Is The Best Way To Start A Fire In A Wood Stove?

Starting a fire properly in a wood stove is an important skill for any wood stove owner to master. Done correctly, you can establish a good fire that will provide steady warmth and minimize smoke. However, mistakes can lead to dangerous situations like chimney fires, excessive smoke, or carbon monoxide production. This guide will cover the basics of safely and effectively starting a fire in a wood stove from selecting the right firewood to lighting techniques.

Taking the time to start the fire correctly is critical for safety and performance. Rushing the process often leads to problems, while methodically following proper steps results in an ideal fire for heating. The goal is to end up with a fire that burns efficiently, produces minimal smoke, and provides sufficient heat output. With some basic knowledge and the right techniques, anyone can become proficient at starting great fires in their wood stove.

Prepare the Wood Stove

Before starting a fire in a wood stove, it is important to properly prepare the stove itself. First, make sure to clean out any ashes from previous fires using a small shovel or ash rake. Allowing ashes to build up over time can restrict airflow and reduce efficiency. According to DirectStoves, “Make sure the ash pan is empty before every use” [1].

Next, ensure that the wood stove’s damper is fully opened to allow for proper airflow through the stove and up the chimney. The damper is typically a metal handle or lever located inside the stovepipe or on top of the stove [2]. Opening the damper prevents smoke from spilling into the room when lighting the fire.

Finally, inspect the overall condition of the wood stove before use. Look for any damage, cracks or warping in the metal that could impact performance and safety. The stove door and seals should shut tightly. All hinges, handles and parts should be in good working order. Address any issues promptly to ensure proper operation.

Select Your Firewood

When selecting firewood for your wood stove, opt for seasoned hardwoods over softwoods or unseasoned wood. Hardwoods like oak, maple, and hickory have higher energy content and burn cleaner and longer than softwoods like pine (source: https://www.bobvila.com/articles/best-firewood/). Softwoods contain sap and resins that can build up in your chimney over time. Hardwoods also produce less creosote, which reduces the risk of chimney fires.

Look for wood that has been seasoned or dried for 6-12 months. Green or unseasoned wood has higher moisture content, which can cause excess smoke and creosote buildup. Well-seasoned firewood should have a moisture content below 20%. Test wood moisture with a moisture meter before burning (source: https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-season-firewood-2131298).

Opt for medium-sized logs around 4-6 inches in diameter. Large logs are inefficient, difficult to stack, and burn unevenly. Small logs burn up too quickly. Medium splits provide good air flow and pack tightly in the firebox. Cut logs 16-18 inches long to fit in most wood stoves (source: https://www.bhg.com/home-improvement/heating-cooling/fireplaces/how-to-split-firewood/).

Prepare the Firewood

properly stacking firewood helps light wood stove

Proper preparation of the firewood is crucial for starting and maintaining a good fire in a wood stove. The firewood should be split into uniformly sized pieces about 4-6 inches in diameter [1]. Using logs of consistent size allows them to catch fire and burn at an even rate. If the logs are different sizes, the smaller ones may burn up too quickly while the larger ones are still catching fire.

The arrangement of the split logs is also important for ensuring proper airflow in the stove. Crisscross the logs in a tight formation, leaving small gaps between them [2]. The crisscross pattern allows oxygen to flow through the gaps and feed the fire. Too large of gaps can decrease efficiency. Stack multiple layers of crisscrossed logs to build the fire up. Proper stacking leads to more complete combustion and longer burn times.

Use Fire Starters

Fire starters are an essential tool for lighting a wood stove efficiently. There are various types of fire starters available, such as wax and sawdust fire starters, fatwood, cardboard, or commercial fire starter blocks. Select a suitable fire starter that ignites easily and burns long enough to catch the kindling on fire.

It’s important to place the fire starters on the bottom of the wood stove, directly on top of the balled up newspapers or tinder. Position multiple fire starters throughout the base to ensure even ignition of the kindling. Fire starters such as fatwood, wax & sawdust starters, or commercial fire starter blocks work well. Avoid using accelerants like lighter fluid which can create dangerous vapor. The fire starters should be placed in a way that allows ample oxygen flow to feed the fire.

Light the Fire

Once you have your tinder and kindling arranged and your fire starter ready, it’s time to actually light the fire. Start by lighting your fire starter according to the instructions on the packaging. Some common fire starters include paraffin wax and sawdust, solid fuel tablets, or even dryer lint. Place the lit fire starter under the tinder at the base of the kindling structure you built.

Initially, leave the wood stove door slightly ajar, about 1 inch. This allows extra oxygen to help the fire get established quickly. Once the tinder has caught fire and the flames seem to be stable, you can close the door most of the way, leaving just a small crack. The increased air flow from leaving it slightly open helps provide the oxygen needed initially to build the fire (1).

(1) https://www.directstoves.com/our-blog/step-by-step-building-and-lighting-a-fire-in-your-wood-burner/

Let the Fire Establish

Once the kindling and smaller starter logs have ignited, let the fire strengthen before closing the door. Give the flames 5-10 minutes to build up heat and allow the wood to fully catch fire. Rushing to shut the door can smother the nascent flames.

As the fire begins to stabilize, slowly add more logs one at a time. Choose smaller 3-5 inch diameter logs to begin with. Place them carefully on the hot coals, allowing space for air flow between the pieces. Let each log ignite before adding another. Too many logs at once will choke the fire. Continue gradually building the fire by adding larger logs until you’ve reached the desired size.

Keep the air vents open until the fire is fully established. The increased air flow helps the fire grow hotter. Once the fire is burning steadily, begin closing down the air vents to regulate the burn. But go slowly at first while the fire is stabilizing.

Maintain the Fire

Once you have a good bed of hot coals established, maintaining the fire is important to keep it burning efficiently throughout the day or night. Here are some tips for maintaining the fire:

Add more logs as needed. Don’t let the fire die down too low before adding more wood. Watch the flames and add more logs once the previous logs have caught fire and are starting to burn down. Each new log will catch more easily if placed on a good base of hot coals.

Control air flow. Use the air controls on your wood stove to regulate airflow and control the burn rate. Letting in more air will make the fire burn hotter and faster, while decreasing air will slow down the burn. Adjust airflow based on your needs – a hotter fire if you’re trying to heat the space quickly or a slower burn for overnight.

Rake coals forward periodically. Use a stove tool to rake the coals forward towards the air inlet. This brings the hot coals into contact with fresh oxygen and will revive the flames.

Remove excess ash buildup. Some ash will accumulate in the firebox during a burn. Let ash build up to an inch or two before removing excess to allow air flow. Always wait for the stove to fully cool before removing ash.

With some practice, you’ll get a feel for how often to add wood and adjust the air controls. Pay attention to the flames and coals as visual cues. The goal is to maintain a steady, efficient fire customized to your heating needs.

Safety Tips

Using your wood stove safely is crucial to prevent fires. Here are some key safety tips to follow:

Use fireplace tools like tongs and pokers to manage the fire. Never add logs with bare hands, as sparks can burn you. Wear fire-resistant gloves when handling hot stove parts.

Monitor the fire constantly. Don’t leave a burning stove unattended for long periods. The fire can grow quickly out of control if not watched. Check for smoke escaping through cracks regularly.

Have an approved fire extinguisher nearby. ABC type extinguishers are ideal for wood stoves. Make sure it’s charged and ready in case of emergency.

Keep anything flammable at least 3 feet from the stove. Sparks can escape and ignite nearby items. Avoid placing clothing, curtains, papers or furniture too close.

Allow ashes to fully cool before disposal. Place them in a metal container outside your home. Coals can reignite if ashes aren’t properly cooled.

Clean your chimney annually. Creosote buildup increases fire risk. Inspect the stovepipe regularly for corrosion or damage.

Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. These provide warning if smoke or gas begins escaping the stove.

Never use flammable liquids like gasoline to start the fire. Use specifically made fire starters instead.


Starting a fire in a wood stove requires careful preparation and execution. The key steps are preparing the wood stove, selecting good firewood, properly stacking and drying the firewood, using fire starters, gently lighting the fire, giving it time to properly catch, and maintaining the fire. Following these steps helps ensure that you safely and efficiently get a good fire going in the wood stove.

Taking the time to properly start a fire in a wood stove provides many benefits. You’ll conserve your firewood by using less to start it. The fire will burn hotter, be more efficient at heating, and produce less smoke. With less smoke, you’ll reduce pollution, keep your chimney cleaner, and prevent creosote buildup. Overall, properly starting a wood stove fire makes the experience more effective and enjoyable.

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