It isn’t that long ago when an open fire in every household was the norm, and a natural flame was the only option available. What were considered basic skills of keeping a fire efficient and tending it to it’s optimum use has waned over the years with the availability and certainly the convenience of natural gas appliances.Therefor, it is quite normal these days to believe that a fireplace is just a fireplace and a fire is just a fire. Here is our guide on safe fuels burnt within the home, along with their burning properties for efficient use with your new appliance.
If this is your first experience with a woodburning stove, this section will help you to understand some of the why’s and wherefore’s of using wood as a fuel.
First of all — and it bears repeating because of its importance — do remember that a stove burning in slowburning mode will only provide about half as much useful heat from a given load of wood compared to when it is being run generously.
In Britain, we do not have the same historical association with woodburning stoves as is found over on the Continent, in Scandinavia, and in the United States and Canada. We therefore lack a popular “folklore” of how, and how not, to operate a stove. As a consequence, it is not uncommon in this country to find the new or prospective woodstove owner believing that smouldering his stove for almost 24 hours a day, from early autumn to late spring, is an acceptable practice. Of course, our temperate climate does not help in this respect, and nor does the British tendency to divide the internal space up into small rooms. Most other countries where woodstoves have a long-established history experience much colder, longer and drier winters, and it is frequently the case that houses are designed on a more open-plan basis. As a result of these factors, it is common for stoves to be run generously for much of the day, whereas our generally smaller rooms, combined with higher outside average winter temperatures, encourage stove owners to slowburn for much longer periods of time.
On the Continent they know better. With generations having used wood as their primary source of space heating and cooking, they have accumulated a “stove wisdom” which we would do well to learn from. And one thing that you will not find them doing often is “stewing” their fuel for hour after hour, day in and day out. They understand the inherent risk of tar formation in the chimney caused by burning wood too slowly for too much of the time, and they avoid the potential problem through proper stove and fuel management.
In the past, some well-meaning people have given the advice that, providing a stove is allowed to burn hard for perhaps an hour a day, it can then be safely left to smoulder for the remaining 23 hours. However, this practice is really not to be recommended: slowburning for such long periods is very likely to result in the formation of dangerous tarry deposits.
So what should you do? Does this mean that all slowburning is out of the question and to be avoided at all times? Does it mean that every time you want to pop out to the shops for a couple of hours you mustn’t turn the stove down to keep the fire going until you return? Or that when the weather turns freezing cold, you must not attempt to keep the fire going overnight?
The answer is really that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Get to know your stove and chimney, and always be aware of what the results are of how you are running your stove in your particular circumstances — your stove installation is unique, and no two stoves will work quite the same in two geographical locations or in two different chimneys. Even two stoves at opposite ends of the same house may have quite individual operating characteristics. If you want to be really safe, ideally slowburning of wood should only commence once the wood gases have been allowed to burn off completely, leaving a red-hot bed of charcoal. The stove can then be turned right down and allowed to ‘slumber’ on charcoal without any risk of accumulating wood tar deposits up the chimney.
In practice, a fair compromise is always to run the stove hot for about fifteen to twenty minutes after adding a fresh load of wood before shutting the stove down. This will allow the remaining moisture to be driven off quickly and at a high temperature, and at least the outside of the logs will be well charred before slowburning commences.