How to Start a Fire in a Wood Stove

Whether you wake up to a cold fire or are ready to start a fire for the first time, you have one simple objective: Build the hottest possible fire in the shortest amount of time.

“The key to starting that first fire of the day is to make sure you build a good coal bed, because that’s when your stove will perform its best,” says Ken Gross, Quadra-Fire’s senior product manager. “You should create a fire that gives you a one-to two-inch layer of cherry-red coals that spread across surface of fire box.”

The biggest mistake Gross sees in wood stove fire-building is impatience. “It’s not like you’re building a campfire outdoors, with oxygen flowing freely. A wood stove is a confined space, so you need to be mindful in building that coal bed.”

As you race to get kindling and wood assembled, keep the following steps in mind, and you’ll soon have a deep coal bed, and roaring fire, to start your day.

Step 1: Use dry wood
“Use a moisture meter to make sure your wood is at no more than a 20 percent level of moisture content,” Gross says. Wet wood is harder to start, slower to burn and can contribute to black glass in the front panel of your stove.

Step 2: Prepare the kindling and newspapers
“I chop my kindling myself, so I know I’m starting with good, dry wood,” Gross says. “I cut it into pieces that are 1- to 2-inches diameter.” Gross prefers newspaper to firestarters, because it’s easy to wad up and place around the firebox. “While firestarters do last longer, newspaper ignites faster,” he says.

Place the kindling in the firebox, scatter crumpled newspapers throughout, then use extra-long fireplace matches to light the newspapers.

Step 3: Build and spread
“Once the kindling burns down, put smaller pieces of wood on the fire, then start adding a few larger pieces,” he explains. “Then knock it down and spread it out.” While you can use a poker or other tools to do this, there is always the risk of cracking or breaking the brick, so use caution. Gross prefers to use a heavy-duty pair of fireplace gloves that extend all the way to the elbow. “If you have gloves, you can use a chunk of wood and your gloved hand to spread the fire out,” he says.

Step 4: Walk away
Once the fire is going strong, lay larger logs on in a cross-hatch pattern, so there will be air between each piece as it falls. After the fire is going, use the Automatic Combustion Control to begin adding a controlled stream of air that will allow your fire to grow. This gives you the freedom to walk away from the fire and keep the door closed, with no need to crack the stove’s door or do further tending.

Smoldering = waste
Once you’ve gotten your fire going, you might be tempted to keep a wimpy flame going, in order to not have to start from scratch. Smoldering fires create creosote build-up and waste your valuable firewood.

Watch and learn
Check out this video for a firsthand view of building your first fire.

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