OP Readers, we’re going to cover some basics pertaining to wood stoves (aka “wood burners”) and some facts about the fuel you’ll use in them. As with everything to do with the human race, there’s always controversy about wood stoves, from the number of pollutants discharged into the air to ever-present regulations.
What’s the best wood for your wood stove?
If you’re cutting your own supply of wood, you’ll want to take either dead standing or fallen dead timber. Contrary to popular misconception, taking these will help prevent fires, as well as preserve the live trees. Anyone familiar with fire-season states (Montana is one of them) knows that the removal of some of the live trees helps to create firebreaks. These are strips of cleared land that help to prevent forest fires from spreading.
As far as pollutants are concerned, large cities, such as Los Angeles and New York, throw millions of tons of pollutants into the air from auto traffic and industry. All of the wood stoves combined in the United States do not even constitute a fraction of a percentage point compared to industry and vehicular traffic.
When the power disappears, and the ruling regime sprouts fangs, your only recourse for heat, hot water, and cooking your food may very well be the wood stove. It’s a “prepper”/survival issue and also one of common sense. It’s one thing to grasp the concept and another thing to employ it.
So, as a rule, most will recommend burning hardwoods (such as oak) and only starting a fire with softwoods (like pine). If you live in one of the western states, you’ll find this is next to impossible, as pine is the wood that is readily available.
British Thermal Units, or BTUs, are used to categorize wood heat. The BTU factor utilized is with the burning of a cord of wood as per the type. An article entitled 16 Best Firewood to Burn Charts by Chris Hunt delves into some types of wood and more information regarding grades and BTUs.
Bottom Line: You’ll burn what is available and what you can afford or cut on your own.
Here are a few tips to help you make even better wood selections for your wood stove:
That’s the practical end of the measuring stick. The most important factors regarding the wood you select are simple, and you can keep these basic precepts in mind:
- Never use rotting or molded wood. This will place substances such as molds and bacteria into the air for you to breathe. If you don’t want to breathe it, then don’t burn it.
- Ensure your wood is cured properly. This requires a 6- to 8-month waiting period if you’re cutting live trees. Curing allows for the wood to dry out, and it takes the humidity out of the burn, allowing your fire to be more efficient and produce more heat.
- Allow for airflow and safeguard against moisture when storing wood. This is simple. You don’t have to build a structure, although a woodshed is optimal. Don’t pile it up on the ground. Try and keep it off the ground, and stack your cut logs with the ends running in the same direction and stacked horizontally. With airspace between the logs, it allows for faster drying after the stack takes a heavy rain. That being said, the shed is best.
What do you need to know about wood stove maintenance?
Wood stove maintenance is one of the most sorely-overlooked areas, and it’s a major factor in both the efficiency of your fires and the safety of your home. One of the overlooked areas is the firebricks. These bricks are what your logs rest upon, and they need to be intact and without any cracks. This allows for banking of the fire at night and increased efficiency to prevent heat loss and enable maximum output of the fuel.
Another “biggie” is keeping that chimney clean. Those that have a brick chimney with a wood stove nestled within the fireplace can still self-clean their stove pipe. When you live in the “sticks” the way I do, you have to do it on your own. There are square and round brushes to “rout out” your stove pipe, and you can pick up Fiberglass rods to push/pull your brush through the pipe.
Rutland makes brushes and Fiberglass rods. They’re your “biggie” firm for wood stove cleaning products. Schaeffer makes cheaper brushes (same quality) that are interchangeable with the rods. You need to make sure that you have brushes that are designed for the diameter/area of your pipe/chimney, either round or square brushes, respectively.
The fit is necessary for proper friction. The shorter your house height, the easier it will be for you. This is the optimal way for a straight stove pipe with no bends or angles. Most of your fires are due to either a creosote buildup due to lack of cleaning, an angled bend in the pipe, or both. The fire is no laughing matter. A friend of mine had a couple of ninety-degree-angle bends to his pipe, and his chimney fire burned the whole roof of his house…total loss.
(Do you know how to survive a summer power outage? Check out our free QUICKSTART Guide to make sure.)
You need to know a thing or two about creosote.
Creosote is a black substance, almost like tar, that forms and builds up in your chimney from burning wood fires. It accumulates because all of the smoke doesn’t leave the chimney. There are (technically) three stages of creosote buildup.
Stage 1 is the beginning phase, with dusty or greasy soot akin to a thick powder. Stage 2 is when it congeals and forms more, like a combination of flakes and tar, needing more work to remove. Stage 3 looks just like tar, and this phase is really dangerous, causing a lot of fires.
The creosote closes or shrinks the diameter of the pipe, and this restricts the amount of smoke and heat allowed to pass through your pipe/chimney. If your pipe reaches Stage 3, then you’re way behind the power curve. I highly recommend that if you’re emplacing your wood stove, make a hole in the roof that allows you to run a straight stove pipe with no bends. Just by doing this, you remove factors that contribute significantly to chimney/stove pipe fires.
That being mentioned, it’s best to run the brush through the pipe in the spring, after the winter is over. For the in-between, you can use fire logs (Rutland makes these) that are specifically designed to burn creosote in your chimney. They don’t cost very much, and I find it’s helpful to burn one in the wood stove every month during the winter.
If you have a cabin, your best bet is to locate the wood stove centrally in your abode. This will allow that baby to heat up all of your home quite efficiently and quickly. Good tip: keep a pot full of water on top of the stove, and this will keep the air moist as it boils off so that you won’t feel like a desiccated mummy or a piece of beef jerky at the end of the night. A good stove will quickly dry out the air, and this measure will prevent that, as well as provide you with hot water for instant coffee anytime you wish it.
Banking a fire with the wood stove is simple.
When your fire is down to embers, place a nice big log piece that takes up about two-thirds of the stove’s interior over top of those embers. Help the log out with a couple of “spacers,” – small pieces of wood jammed under the log to give a little bit of space between the edge/outside of the log and the embers. This will help airflow and allow the embers to do their thing, igniting the outside of the log. You can aid it by giving it a little air (with the lungs or with bellows) until the exterior starts to take. Then close your door(s), and let the log do its job.
There’s no hard and fast rule to this, and you’ll eventually develop a “feel” for it. You can use this at night, before you go to bed, or before you leave home so that the fire will continue until you return. Always have supplies of fire starting material, tinder, and kindling, along with your wood supply.
Another thing you’ll want to practice is making food on your wood stove.
This is where a good Dutch oven is indispensable. You want the kind with the flat bottom, a nice four or five-quart one at a minimum, depending on how many mouths you’ll be feeding. You can start out with a whole bunch of vegetables, such as carrots, celery, onions, potatoes…whatever you prefer, along with some meat. Season it down. Leave in the morning with the Dutch oven covered and the fire banked with a big log. Come back in the afternoon/evening, and dinner will be waiting.
Take notes. Really, take notes. Keep records of your times to cook something and how much food you made. Eventually, it’ll become second nature, but it’s not just for you. How about for the other members of your family? You’ll want them to be able to duplicate what you’ve done. The notes will also come in handy when you have to can food and have large quantities that need to be cooked beforehand.
The wood stove can be far more than just a conversation piece.
It can be an integral and indeed, crucial piece of equipment that enables you to make it through where others either struggle or fail completely. Keeping it well-maintained and knowing how to maximize its potential are the keys to success for you. We welcome your comments and for you to share your own experiences with wood stoves, knowing that, in the end, the procedures that work best are specific to you. You’ll find them out on your own, and then you’ll be able to recommend them to others, as well. J. J. out!
Do you use a wood stove? Do you have any stories or tips to share with us? Tell us your experiences with wood stoves in the comments.
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About Jeremiah Johnson
Jeremiah Johnson is the nom de plume of a retired Green Beret of the U.S. Army Special Forces. Mr. Johnson is also a Gunsmith and a Master Herbalist. He graduated from the Special Forces course at SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, and escape) School, and is an expert in small unit tactics, survival, and disaster-preparedness. He lives in a cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Western Montana.