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Pro tips for lighting your woodburning stove

February 2022
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A woodburning stove is the perfect winter warmer and it can quickly become the heart of the home during the colder months. Stoves look fantastic in any room in the house and they provide an efficient source of heating, even enabling you to reduce your utility bills. At Sussex Fireplace Gallery, we have a wide range of woodburning stoves to choose from, with plenty of expert advice always available.

If you already have a stove, now is the time to make the most of it. But before you fire up your woodburner, we recommend you read this blog first.

How to light your woodburning stove

There are two generally accepted ways to light a woodburner: the traditional bottom-up method and the top-down fire lighting method. Why not try both and see which works better for you – there is no right or wrong way to make a fire.

Bottom-up fire lighting method

Place a handful of kindling inside your wood burning stove and nestle a firelighter cube in between the kindling. Light the fire lighter and wait a few moments for the kindling to catch fire. User kiln dried soft wood logs to keep building up the fire (or alternatively more kindling). Start with smaller logs and add more gradually. Once the fire is nicely established, add one or two seasoned (and ideally kiln dried) hardwood logs that will produce along, hot burn.

Top-down fire lighting method

Place the largest kiln dried logs across the bottom of the stove chamber and add a layer of smaller logs on top but in the opposite direction. Follow with a third layer of even smaller logs and finish with a fine layer of kindling across the top. Nestle one or two lit firelighters between the kindling. Ensure that your stove damper is fully open (or the combustion fan is high) to maximise the air draw into the fire chamber, and close the stove door. The fire will start with the kindling and begin to slowly descend to the larger logs beneath.

For advice on the best firewood for your woodburning stove, take a look at our recent blog here.

Having problems lighting your stove?

If you haven’t used your stove for a long time, making afire may not be as straightforward as you would expect it to be. There’s nothing wrong with the appliance as such; it just takes a bit of patience to get to know your stove and a few tricks to help you get the most out of your woodburner and preserve its condition. Here are some pro tips, both for the novice and the veteran, for lighting your woodburning stove safely and successfully.

1. Are your logs ready for burning?

No matter how good your stove is, it can only ever perform as well as the logs you put in it. If your firewood is not properly seasoned or kiln dried, there’s a chance that the moisture content of the wood is more than20%. Trying to burn logs that are too wet means that much of the heat generated is used to burn off excess water, which means less warmth for your home and more harmful particulates being released into the air. Worse still, your stove could fill up with black smoke and creosote may start to build up in your chimney, which in turn increases the risk of a chimney fire.

2. Are the logs too cold?

Chances are you are storing your firewood outside, perhaps in a log store or shed. Trying to light a fire with logs just brought in from outdoors may be a struggle – the fire just won’t want to light. Logs that are kept at room temperature will always burn more easily than logs that have been kept in cold outdoor conditions. The solution is simple: Keep some logs indoors, so you have room temperature firewood ready for burning when it’s time to light the stove.

3. Is your chimney or flue too cold?

If a build-up of cold air is strapped in your chimney or flue when you try to light your woodburning stove, the cool air pushes down inside the stove, which prevents room temperature air from being drawn into the fire, even if your damper is fully open. The result of what’s called ‘cold chimney syndrome’ is that your fire will go out very soon as it’s started, and smoke may be emitted into the room.

The trick is to warm your stove and chimney first – like this: roll up some newspaper and light one end. Hold the paper with one hand and place the lit end inside the stove at the top of the appliance. When you see the smoke from the newspaper rising up the chimney, this is a sign that the flue is drawing on the appliance effectively. Your stove is now ready for lighting. Extra pro tip: When your stove is not in use, keep the door ajar rather than closed. That way, some room temperature air can draw up the flue and help it to stay warm and ready for combustion.

4. Does the fire burn hot enough?

Are you logs not lighting properly? Are they smouldering instead and emitting a lot of smoke? If you are sure that your firewood is properly seasoned, then the most likely reason is that your stove isn’t warm enough and that the optimum wood burning temperature range (125C-300C /  260F-575F) has not been reached. The best way to deal with this is to start with a small fire and build it up slowly as the logs start to take light. Smaller, hotter fires are much more efficient in the beginning than a large fire that doesn’t have enough energy to get going properly. Another idea is to try the top-down fire lighting method mentioned below. Extra pro tip: You can buy a stove thermometer that tells you when optimum burn temperatures have been reached.

5. Is the damper open fully?

If your woodburning stove has a damper, ensure that it is fully open before you light a fire. That way, the flue will produce the maximum draw and the air in the room can flow nicely into your appliance, aiding combustion. A closed or partially open fireplace damper, on the other hand, can lead to smoke building up in the chamber and being emitted into the room instead of safely up the chimney.

6. Is your fire too big?

As already mentioned above, if you are using too many logs in an attempt to build a big fire from cold too quickly, this can lead to excessive smoke as there isn’t yet enough energy for the logs to light. Better to start small and build up gradually. Add just one or two logs at a time until heat transfer occurs between them as they burn, before adding more.

7. Has your chimney been swept?

HETAS, the official body to approve solid fuel domestic heat appliances including woodburning stoves, recommends that a chimney or flue should be professionally cleaned at least once a year (depending on the type of appliance and fuel used). If yours hasn’t been swept for a long time, there may not be enough draw to keep your fire going. What’s more, there’s also an increased risk of a chimney fire. Find your nearest local HETAS approved chimney sweep and get booked in asap!

At Sussex Fireplace Gallery, our experienced team has a wealth of expertise in the supply and installation of stoves and fireplaces. We have two generous Sussex showrooms in Portslade near Brighton and Polegate near Eastbourne where you can see many working appliances on display, and knowledgeable staff who will be happy to talk you through all the available options. Contact us today for more information or to book an appointment.

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