Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mindful Warmth 5 - Burning

This is one of a series of articles on my recent experiences burning wood to heat my home. You can read the earlier articles by clicking on the links below:


To light a fire seems like such a simple thing, and it really is if you have good tinder, sufficient dry kindling, a good supply of fuel logs, and (this is critical) a lighter or a few matches. Simple.

Try doing it without a match.

Even with a lighter, it takes a modicum of skill to get a good fire going quickly and with a minimum of smoke and fuss. This is important because the fire in question is inside my house. Therefore, any smoke won’t harmlessly drift off in the breeze. It will suffuse itself throughout the rooms of my house and settle on everything. Not a big deal perhaps until you consider what an entire winter of smoke will do to your wardrobe, your furniture, your carpets. Everything takes on a kind of sour unpleasant smell – not at all the delightful flavor you get from things which are properly smoked like, oh bacon for instance.

I soon learned that the idea is to get a good hot blaze going very quickly to heat the stove up as fast as possible. The heat creates a strong draft that will pull all the smoke up the chimney and outside where it belongs. The quicker things heat up, the stronger the draft. I learned to facilitate this by leaving the stove door open about a half an inch to allow lots of oxygen to feed the flames. Once things are going cheerily, I can close the door, and the stove will draw air in through the controlled damper system in the back. According to the owner’s manual, this system draws air in underneath the fire so that it burns from the bottom, allowing a more complete and controlled burn. It seems to work, as we always end up with a very find ash indicating that all the wood has burn quite thoroughly, yielding up every last BTU latent in the fibers.

Before lighting, I like to build the fire structure. The tinder goes first. I find that newspaper works well if twisted tightly into mini logs so that it burns longer. Paper egg cartons do well for tinder, as does cardboard especially if rolled up into tight spiral tubes. I recently tried paper milk cartons and found that these work wonderfully. They are waxed cardboard, and the combination of wax and paper burns evenly and long so that the flames have plenty of time to catch the tinder.

For kindling I have been using the small chips that inevitably collect around the stump during the splitting process. I periodically gather them up so that they don’t get underfoot and make my stumble, and place them in a large covered plastic bin. They dry quickly and when dry catch fire very easily. While this works well, I can see that I won’t have nearly enough of this to last the winter. So I’m going to have to make my own kindling. Easy with a small hatchet and a few dry logs. It’s a matter of a few minutes to split them down into sticks, enough kindling for a few days. You do have to mind your fingers.

I have also been the recipient of a gift of two barrels full of wood scraps from some finish carpentry project or other. This is kiln dried pine. It catches on fire very easily and make good kindling.

One the kindling is cracking and roaring a bit, I will place a few good sized logs on. My woodpile has been drying for about 18 months now, and the wood is well seasoned and burns easily and well. I don’t hear much sizzling, which is the sound you get when moisture is coming out of the wood as it is getting ready to burn. Just good clean low roar of flames and oxygen coming together and casting a nice warm glow that spreads through my entire house.

Once the stove is warmed up, the radiant heat warms the floor and walls of the house. The warmed air moves upstairs into the bedrooms to warm those spaces. Once it is warmed up I find tossing on a log about every 45 minutes or so will keep things going nicely. It really doesn't take that much. Once I piled it up pretty high, and I could tell things were getting a little too hot. I closed the damper in back a little to slow down the airflow and things settled down to a slower more even burn. I'm sure that as the winter moves on, I will learn more about how to keep the stove going efficiently.

Being warm in winter makes my bride happy. I look forward to a happy winter.

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