Heating With Fire




About: The name comes from the First Star Trek movie, that pretty much says it all.

Fire --- the basic heat source for mankind for a very long time. It is considered to be one of the top ten discoveries made by people. We keep trying to improve on it, find something to use instead of it, or just not use it at all, and yet it is still the single best thing we have to fall back on when things go wrong and everything else fails.

I have been heating with fire for some time now. It is a simple principle, a basic steel box that sits in your house and you stuff it with things that will burn. You light the stuff on fire and the box gets hot. The smoke goes up the pipe, the ashes get shoveled out and then repeat as necessary.

This summer I improved on my steel box and got an upgrade to a better more efficient steel box. In fact its supposed to be over 70 % efficient. That's a pretty big improvement compared to what I had. It works different from my old one and it has taken a bit to get used to it but I pretty much have it down now. They don't really give you very good instructions with it. I developed my own techniques that I find work for heating with fire. I wondered if anyone else had developed the same techniques as I have in terms of making and feeding the fire so I did a search and was surprised to find that no one (None that I could find) has made a simple instructable on how to routinely use a wood stove. So if you ever thought of making an instructable on heating with wood, to bad, I beat you to it.

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Step 1: Why Bother With a Wood Stove?

Why bother with a wood stove? It's a pretty basic question. There are a lot of drawbacks to a wood stove.

1. Its labor intensive. Just having to keep putting stuff into it and taking stuff out of it takes a lot of time and effort. It's much easier to just adjust the furnace thermostat.

2, It's messy. There is just no way that it will not make a mess. You have wood and stuff constantly coming in and ashes constantly going out. Ashes get on everything, saw dust gets on everything. Sometimes you get bugs that come in with the wood. What a pain.

3. Its initial cost can be expensive. A good stove is not cheap, cutting a hole in your roof to let the smoke out is not cheap. You have to decided, is this really worth it. Many say no, I don't want it in my house.

4. They can be dangerous. Lets face it, building a roaring fire in the middle of your house almost seems like a crazy thing to do. So much can go wrong. You can find yourself second guessing it even after its in and working.

5. Sometimes they smoke up the place. My old stove used to be really bad with this. What happens is the smoke builds up inside and the temperature gets high and then suddenly the smoke will flash fire and almost explode. I used to be able to hear it, Ka-woooof , and when it did that the pressure generated from the flash over blew the smoke out through every little crack and seem. I could see the smoke roll across the ceiling. Its still not as bad as cigarette smoke but its still smoke. And if/when it happens at night you might find yourself getting up to make sure the place is not on fire. I thought maybe this new stove would not do that. Wrong, it does. But at least its way less often.

There are other bad things about a stove too, I could go on.

So you have to wonder --- WHY bother?

Step 2: Whats Good About It ---- It Works When the Power Doesn't

Yep, plain and simple --- It works when the power doesn't.

I sometimes hear on the news about all these people left in the cold for days and weeks when the power goes out from a big storm.

I know what would happen if that happened here. I would have company camped out all over cause the old primitive method, a fire in a box, will work when the power doesn't.

Another big plus, after you get over the initial cost, its cheap. Wood is still widely available, not just traditional firewood but things like pallets and building scraps, its going to the land fills all the time.

Most people can't go out and drill their own well for natural gas but you can go out and get yourself a truckload of firewood. Often just for the cost of the transportation and the gas for the saw. Other wood stuff works too, things that people throw away, wood scraps and tree limbs and even old furniture, its all fuel if you have a stove that can burn it.

Finally its ecological. Wood is a renewable energy source. You don't have to feel bad about burning it. Now it is true that in some lands they have literally cut down all the trees and turned them into ashes. That is not what I am advocating. Burning of wood that normally would get composted or buried or disposed of in another way does not impact the forests. Its already harvested wood. Your not cutting down trees just to burn them. Well, some might but usually its surplus culling. Wood is not a fossil fuel, the carbon in it was harvested by the plants in its lifetime. By burning wood your not release carbon that has been locked up for eons. Maybe a few centuries at the most.

So, in the event of an Apocalypse happening one thing you really should have is a wood stove and a chain saw. It works when all else fails.

And one more benefit to add, Ambiance

A wood stove with a window adds atmosphere. Its a hard thing to put a value to. Some people find it romantic. Some just find it comforting. Its nice to have that raging fire all under control and serving to make your life better. It is mesmerizing to sit and watch the ever changing flames.

The room that a stove is in is usually warmer than the rest. You don't really get that with central heating. So even if the house is cold there is almost always one room that is nice and warm. It's the room with the fire in it.

I noticed this cool reflection this winter. Its the fire in the window of my stove reflected in the fan controller of my computer. It looks like the computer has a fire in it. It's just a reflection.

Step 3: Runnung a Wood Stove

When the fire is raging and the heat is pouring out its great. But it doesn't last. Wood burns up and turns to ash and you need to clean out the ash before you add more wood. It's a pain. If the fire is still to hot you can't work with it. You have to let it cool down. This is why its usually best to do this in the morning after the fire has mostly burnt out. This new stove that I have will keep a fire going for a full 8 hours or more. I didn't really believe that when I read it. I thought it was sales hype. Turns out its true. You stuff the box at night with a full load of wood and after it gets going good, dampen the air down and leave it. The next day its usually still burning. Actually I believe that what it does is make charcoal out of the wood and then that burns slowly.

So the first thing to do is to turn the air back up and stir the coals to get them to burn off what is left over. This can take some time. It does produce heat while doing this but not as much as a full fire.

After a lot of the coals are burnt I bank then in a pile to keep them going. You want to burn as much of the coals as possible.

Step 4: Cleaning Out the Ash

When the fire has cooled down enough to work with I start by pushing all the ashes to one side. By the way it will still be hot so wear gloves to keep from getting burned.

A word here about gloves -- use leather ones around a fire. Synthetic materials could melt if they get hot and they are often flammable. Cotton can catch a spark and light on fire also. Leather will get hot but not catch on fire or melt to your skin. And splinters from wood usually will not go through leather. They don't have to be expensive, just cheap work gloves will work, but make sure they are leather.

My stove has an ash bin and a door in the bottom. So I start by dumping that down into the bin.

I always fill the trap door with ashes when I clean the stove. I found that if you don't fill it with ash air comes up through it and it will be enough to make your fire hotter which is a problem if you are trying to keep it controlled.

Next is probably going to be the most controversial thing. I take a metal screen sieve and filter the ashes. Most people would not do this but I have several reasons why I do.

First, I don't like the idea a dumping still burning coals into a bin under the stove. Besides possibly being unsafe it also wastes a lot of fuel. You worked hard to get those coals, make sure you burn them all up.

Second since I have been burning pallets as well as other wood the ashes often have nails in them. If you want to put the ashes in a garden or some other endeavor you don't want them full of rusty nails. By sifting all the junk out, the ashes in the ash bin are nice and powdery and free from junk. It takes some extra time to do it this way but I think its worth it to do. If your neighbors want some wood ashes to help condition their soil the ones they get from you will be free of everything. So yours will be prime stuff and that means people will take them from you since they are better than someones else that's full of junk and nails. So it will help with your disposal problem.

When you pick out the nails put them in a metal can, they can still be very hot.

Use a metal bowel to catch any ash that falls through when you pick out the nails.

Step 5: Build a New Fire

To start the fire back up I spread the hot coals out from the pile and put a medium size piece of wood down.

Next take some small kindling and put it next to the wood. Then add a few pieces going up and braced on the large wood. This gives you a tent to get the fire going without everything falling on it.

Add more going the other direction and another layer on top.

Now take a propane torch and set the stuff in the tent on fire. The coals will help keep it going.

Open the air all the way and close the door. In a few minutes the fire will have taken off. Add more wood and damper it down a little until it gets nice and hot.

Ta Da --- No electricity needed. This stove does have a blower fan to help circulate the heat around it but it will work without it. This little stove has manage to heat my entire house when outside temperatures have been down to 5 bellow zero. (F) During the fall and spring I need no other heat. Just wood and a lot of work.

By the way, another benefit of heating with wood is it helps to keep you healthy. You are always moving around, being outside or inside it keeps you busy.

Step 6: Stoke It Up for the Night

I usually only have to clean the stove out once a day when it is in heavy use. If your only lighting small fires it can go for a lot longer without needing to be cleaned out. I add wood during the day as it burns down.

At night I add some big logs and fill it with as much as will fit. Once its burning good turn the air down and it should be good for the night. The next day --- repeat as necessary.

So, with a working wood stove in an extended emergency, no one will freeze to death as long as you have stuff to burn. You might also become very popular among the neighbors. Tell them they are welcome but please BYOW (Bring your own wood) if they can.

Oh, you can cook on a wood stove also so that is another benefit.

Fire ---- what would we do without it? It can be your friend, it can help you survive.

Step 7: Making Kindling

There are a lot of good types of kindling. One that I discovered by accident and that I think works really good is this:

If you leave old paneling out in the weather the water causes it to come unglued. When it has dried out it peals apart and gives you these nice thin pieces of wood that are very easy to light on fire. Pull it apart in strips and keep some with your wood to help in getting fires going.

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    23 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Remember you have a six inch hole in your ceiling drawing air out of your house like a giant vacuum, this air is usually drawn into your house through cracks and leaking windows, to be really efficient you need out side air for combustion, this stops the air flow from un intended places and makes a wood stove quite efficient.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Furnaces and water heaters also have flue pipes.

    I had an energy audit done to find and fix the air leaks.


    4 years ago

    How does a damper work? What is a flue? How do I know how much to leave open before I go to bed? Thanks!!

    3 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    A damper controls how much air is going to the fire. The more air you give it the hotter it will burn and the faster the wood will disappear. So the fire is controlled by limiting its air supply. That is the reason for the air tight box. How to set it is a trial an error thing. It will vary by the stove manufacturer, the type of wood you are using and the ambient temperature. For example, a bunch of pine boards will burn really fast if you let it. To control the rate of burn you would want to limit the air to it. Some oak logs on the other hand will burn slowly to start with so those you will need to give more air but they will burn longer anyway just based on their density. A long time ago when they did not do a very good job of making air tight stoves they used to try and dampen the fire by putting a butterfly valve in the flue. That is the chimney where the smoke gets exhausted. So the would restrict the air flow going OUT not coming in. It work but not very well. The smoke would find other ways of getting out and when you opened the door a lot of smoke would come into the room. It works much better to control the air going in.

    Trial and error and experience is how you will know how to set a fire up for the night.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I remember that happening a couple of times to my dad when I was little. The house would fill with smoke. So just limit the air going into the firebox. But I imagine you'd need to close a butterfly valve or something to keep cold air from getting in, or hot air from leaving the home through the chimney when not using the stove. What about splitting the exhaust pipe into 4 or 5 pipes and running a fan to capture some of the heat leaving the chimney? Good idea, or is it pretty minimal?


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I think the damper in this one is a sliding door. I am not sure since its buried in the stove somewhere. The control I have is a push pull thing. Yes, you can close the air off to prevent it from venting to the outside if not using the stove. There can be a problem with backdrafting. I had an energy audit done, where they put the giant fan in the door and create a vacuum in the house so you can find where the air is getting in. Anyway as soon as the fan went on you could smell the ash in the stove because it was pulling air down the chimney. Depending on the house and how tight it is sometimes they have to provide a source of outside air. My house is not that tight, pretty good for an old house, but not airtight.

    They used to have, and maybe still do, these heat exchanger things that you could add into the chimney. It was a set of tubes that the chimney air would flow around and you put a blower on it to push indoor air over it. They did work but they also caused a lot of problems. Soot and creosote build up in them and clog them. Creosote builds up in the chimney no matter what and giving it more surfaces to stick to makes it worse. You can easily clean out one standard pipe but anything else will be a pain. And you need to keep the chimney open and air flow no impeaded so it does not cause problems with the fire burning.


    4 years ago

    so when you take wood out of the forest it does effect the system. the materials to grow the tree were taken from the soil. these materials are meant to cycle back into the soil. when you drag the wood off you're taking the materials with you. and when you burn them your converting them into different forms and sending most of them into the atmosphere. there they can float off to the upper layers of the atmosphere or they can be absorbed into the oceans and wreak havoc on those systems. and when your burning pallets and veneers your also release the chemicals that they have been treated with into the atmosphere. no woods that have chemical treatments, glue, or paint should be burned. I'm not trying to say that we shouldn't burn anything. or that wood is worse than other fuels(other fuels have same problems and a lot have more problems). I just believe we need to be aware. and try to do our best to reduce our heating needs. this means insulation, solar gain, and even making the spaces we need to heat smaller. we all need to be aware that we share this planet. with each other and with our future children and grand children. we are all connected. and everything we do affects every other living thing on this planet. lets try to leave this planet in better shape then when we inherited it. so we can continue to pass it down for generations.

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    You are overlooking the fact that fire is a natural process to most forests
    and the grasslands as well. Without people around many forests burn from
    lightening caused fires and sometimes even from things like meteors and
    volcanoes. Some species of pine trees will not even reproduce without the forest floor being burned over.
    Their cones only open and release seeds after they have been burned. One of the
    reasons that we have such out of control fires now is that we were so fanatical
    about stopping every fire that we didn't allow the small fires to sweep across
    the forest floor and eliminate the dead underbrush which accumulated over time
    to the point that now it burns way to hot and makes crown fires. Fire is one of
    the ways nutrients get recycled back into the soil. As I mentioned one of the
    reasons why I go to the extra effort of sifting the ashes is to

    have them cleaned of junk so they can used as a soil conditioner. Wood ashes
    neutralize acidic soil. Many gardeners are very well aware of that. Ashes from
    coal on the other hand have to be treated almost like toxic waste.

    Almost all pallets today are not chemically treated but instead are heat
    treated or even microwaved. They are almost never painted, except for a rare
    few. It costs way to much to do that. They are basically bare wood sometimes
    with a lot of dirt on them. Most of the ones I get now are branded with a branding
    iron rather than written on or stenciled. Again, it’s cheaper. In addition if a
    company wants to send goods across boarders on pallets, if those pallets are
    free of any chemicals they will not be questioned so having bug and chemical
    free pallets makes for faster import/export services.

    Finally if you look up information on pallets and the kinds of wood they are
    made of you will find that currently almost 70 percent of the hardwoods
    harvested in the US are made into pallets. That is a lot of trees. Do you
    really think its just better to landfill them? Reprocessing them for anything
    is a very labor intensive endeavor. Removing the nails is next to impossible and
    cutting them with the nails in them is very destructive of the machinery. I
    ruin several carbide tipped blades a year just cutting up pallets.

    Finally, if you have any concerns about my commitment to making the best use
    out of resources you should read several of my other instructables.





    The last 2 are in one of the latest Instructables books.

    By the way, the editor is not cooperating today, everytime I write out what I want and hit the answer button it changes the layout of the answer. Sorry for all the spaces. The editor is putting them in.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Let's not get carried away with the greenie talk. First, trees convert CO2 to O2. The wood you burn, that's putting the Carbon back into the atmosphere where it came from. Second, water comes from rain, goes into the tree and up to the leaves. Third, photosynthesis is energy from the sun. None of those three are from the soil. For the most part, the soil is a medium. It basically holds the tree in place.


    4 years ago

    Hey Fred try to grow a tree in an inert medium with just water and sunlight. let us know how well it grows please.

    Tom Hargrave

    4 years ago on Introduction

    I've burned wood for years. You forgot to mention the other benefits like:

    Smashed hands and fingers.
    You can still get stung by poison ivy long after it's dead.
    Discovering that last tree you dropped has a hornets nest.
    The exercise you get running from the tree that's falling the wrong way.
    And many more......

    But I still like heating with wood!


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    I used to use the big kitchen matches but when I got the torch with the sparker lighter it was just way easier. In case you haven't used them, they have a spark igniter so all you do is click the button and they are lit. Probably really dangerous around kids since there is no safety. But for me it's a real time saver.

    Nice instructable! I heard some one say wood warms you three times- once when you cut the tree, once when you cut the logs and once when you burn the wood. I think that you are right about the wood becoming charcoal- at least partly. The heat in the fire box is enough to drive off the volatile compounds (which burn- wood gasification) and the water. Depending on the stove and the amount of oxygen present at least some of the wood will turn to charcoal.


    4 years ago

    If you stack the wood in the box as you did and leave the door just slightly cracked, the fire will relight itself from the coals before your morning coffee is ready. No blowtorch necessary

    1 reply

    4 years ago

    Love my wood stove! I cut my own wood and it saves me hundreds of dollars a year.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Since my other heat source is propane I figure my stove saves me at least $1,000 in cost a year. I figure the original one paid for itself within the first 2 years, this one probably 3 years. Most of the companies that make the stoves can give you estimated savings depending on the current fuel you use and the cost and instalation of the stove.