Fire Starting - an art...

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Wolf mom, Nov 15, 2005.

  1. Wolf mom

    Wolf mom Well-Known Member

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    I'm still learning. I've searched the web, and now I'm here, again.

    I have a wood stove and am using very old windfall wood, mostly cedar. I seem to have a hard time getting enough air inside the box. I just had a wood stove installer out who put in a heat exchanger & everything is suppose to be good to go.

    My thoughts are turning to the wood. It seems to have a lot of dirt in/on it. Is this what is making it hard to start/burn? :confused:

    Can I power wash it, let it dry & use it or is it just best to pile it in the garden, have a bonfire & spread the ashes?? ( sounds like we need some funeral music here) :eek:

    Money is real short right now, so buying a couple cords is not really feasable at this time.

    Any suggestions, options, hints???

    As usual, I'm very grateful for any information. :clap:
     
  2. Cabin Fever

    Cabin Fever Life NRA Member since 1976 Supporter

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    I can’t imagine too much dirt on firewood. If the firewood you’re using is dry, then the dirt must be dry also….right? Just smack two pieces of wood together to as you bring them into the house to get most of the dirt off.

    Try this little experiment. Use some of the firewood outside and see it you can easily start a campfire with it. If you can, it’s probably a stove problem. If you can’t start a campfire, it’s probably a wood problem.

    Make sure that you’re not closing the fire door too soon. Whenever we start a fire, we keep the doors of the woodstove cracked open for 15 to 20 minutes to insure that the fire is getting sufficient air. Once the fire is blazing, then we’ll shut the doors tight.
     

  3. Jen H

    Jen H Well-Known Member

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    Every stove has it's own quirks. To get mine started, I layer single sheets of newspaper on top of my tee-pee of kindling so there's a sudden hot woosh of hot air to get the draft going, then I leave the door cracked just a bit till the fire gets going. If you brush most of the dirt off of the wood, it should go just fine.
     
  4. Cygnet

    Cygnet Well-Known Member Supporter

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    If by cedar you mean alligator juniper, it's usually pretty hard to get started. That's probably what you're picking up in your neck of the wood. Burns nice once it's going, though -- for a softwood, it's pretty dense with a lot of BTUs in it.

    What usually works for me is to split it into a LOT of small pieces of pine kindling, about 1/2 inch or so across, and about 12-18" long. Make a "grid" of kindling, several layers, so there's lots of air space, and then set two or three split logs on top. Hint: old 2X4's split into kindling really nicely.

    Use tinder of your choice to start the kindling going. If you've used enough kindling, the juniper should get going and once it's going it burns nicely.

    You do know that firewood permits are only about $25 for a BUNCH of cords in the national forests here in AZ, right? Last year, iirc, ponderosa was free (don't burn ponderosa inside) and I believe 11 cords of oak/juniper was $25 on tonto. You pick it up, but it's worth a few Saturdays. In some areas, the firefighters have been clearing brush all summer and there are piles of already cut wood there for the taking ... they've also been burning these piles now, so ask the forest service if they can direct you somewhere where you can still pick stuff up.

    Leva
     
  5. gilberte

    gilberte Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Don't know how experienced a wood-burner you are. You say you're burning windfalls. Have they been laying directly on the ground for any length of time? If so they may be too wet to burn, especially as initial fuel.

    If you're splitting this wood is the inside dry? If small, when you bang two pieces together does it make a solid knock or is it more of a dull thud which would indicate wet wood?

    Try to get deadfalls which are either still standing or which have fallen across each other preventing them from touching the ground.
     
  6. MississippiSlim

    MississippiSlim Well-Known Member

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    I have always used a few sticks of what we call "lightered pine" It is the fat wood from old pine trees. Evidently younger pines don't turn into lightered cause the stuff is getting scarce. Anyway, it lights like it is soaked in kerosene and burns hot enouh to start the oak burning. Do ya'll have this stuff anywhere in your area?
     
  7. moopups

    moopups In Remembrance

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    A bale of horse bedding will last you all winter when used as kindleing, easy to light, warms the stack pipe quickly, ect.
     
  8. bachelorb

    bachelorb Well-Known Member

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    I've used wood heat only for twenty years and I think I have the winning formula.

    Kindling and paper and when that doesn't work......

    Liquid Boy Scout!! ( charcoal lighter fluid)
     
  9. Wolf mom

    Wolf mom Well-Known Member

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    Boy, guess I was in a hurry this Am. Have just about choked me out of the house by leaving the stove door open. :grit: So I'm here before my coffee.

    I have got to learn this before I kill my Grey Parrot!

    I am not experienced at all! Soon to be X used charcoal starter last year. Hated the smell. Learned it was a No No when I googled fire starting.

    When I say dirty wood, I've pulled some of it from under the ground. Cabin Fever, I throw it in the pick-up, then throw it out to get dirt off. Then its tossed around when I saw it. I'm not gentle in getting the dirt off. I mean it's been here for years and the dirt really has become ingrained in the grain.

    Don't split wood. Don't think I'm strong enough at 62. Not ready to try. Other options first.

    Cygnet. Thanks for the info. I have about 5 acres of dead wood to clean before I start there. Lot's of pine the beetles have gotten, but I've heard pine's not to good to burn. Therfore it's cedar - short, fat sometimes many branched), not juniper. I do throw a nice piece or two into my pick up when I run the dogs in the forest.

    I sometimes get white smoke, so I guess that is wet wood - sure looks dry. Guess years old doesn't mean dry inside. Probably damp inside from being onthe ground so long.

    I think a lot is learning to start a really hot fire to get a good draft. Do you all use a starter or just lot's of kindling? I hear pine cones are good, but the beetles have killed most pine around here.

    Yesterday, after getting the fire started and going well I had no problem adding logs all day. Guess my problem is more a starting problem. :bash:

    Thanks all, I'll check back periodically. Sorry to be a problem, this really is an art. Kudos to everyone that does it well. :D
     
  10. Abe R Crombie

    Abe R Crombie Well-Known Member

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    Hi Wolf Mom,
    When building a fire here I will put the wood in a cribbed fashion,meaning two sticks pointing straite in on the bottom side by side with enough room to get your paper in between without compressing the paper,then lay 3-4 sticks the other way,leave a little air space in between.You can go as many layers as your stove will allow.As said in a previous thread some paper on top that will burn fast and cause a good draw up the chimney.Maybe leaving a window or door open until it goes good.One other thing I have done in poor conditions is put an exhaust fan in the window blowing inside to give more draw.Hope this helps good luck,
    Abe
     
  11. Abe R Crombie

    Abe R Crombie Well-Known Member

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    I should also say that good dry pine is some of the best kindling you can use.I have Red Pine here I use for the kitchen range,can light it with a match.As long as wood is dry it is as good as any!!
    Abe
     
  12. JAS

    JAS Well-Known Member

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    Start with fast burning paper, newspaper; then add some cardboard, cereal box type; add the kindling at this time (we use scrap from building projects, a lot of pine)--it should be buring hot and the kindling will start easily. Add smaller logs over the kindling and keep adding larger logs until it is going good.

    The key is having a lot of air around the kindling and logs. Criss-cross the logs and don't put them too close together. We have the ash box under the burning box and if that is full it is harder to start, so keep that emptied. Also, make sure your chimney is clean, I don't think the you should be getting smoke coming out of your stove with a good draw up the chimney.
     
  13. Cabin Fever

    Cabin Fever Life NRA Member since 1976 Supporter

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    Okay, maybe we’re getting lazy but we no longer go thru the hassle of starting fires with paper, cardboard, pine cones, kindling, etc. What we do is buy a box of those fire-starter bricks that are made of wax and sawdust. A box contains 24 bricks and costs about 7 bucks. I take each brick and chop it into thirds or 3 small squares. That gives us 72 fire-starters for 7 bucks (or a cost of less than 10-cents each). A single 1/3 brick will start a roaring fire made with 100% large pieces of firewood….in other words no kindling, no paper, no blowing on the fire…..

    And I said in my other post, to leave the doors of your woodstove “cracked” open….not all the way open….when you’re fire is beginning to start. Air will rush in between the cracked open doors and this continuous blast of air will really get the fire going in a hurry.
     
  14. raymilosh

    raymilosh Well-Known Member

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    Hey Wolf mom
    You said the fire almost choked you out of the house. It sounds like your problem is that the smoke isn't going up the chimney and it's not starting to draft and it's backing up into your house.
    Having smoke in the house is not something that people who burn wood "just have to get used to". If your stove doesn't begin drafting all by itself, figure out a way to get the draft started before you light the fire.

    Some stoves with certain chimney configurations or in certain weather conditions don't automatically start drafting when the fire is lit.
    If this is the case, then the solution may be for you to light a piece of paper on fire and stuff it up into the chimney either just before or just after lighting the fire. That will start the draft...hot air goes up the chimney which pulls air from the room into the fireplace past the fire and gets it going and all the smoke is drawn up the chimney.
    good luck
     
  15. Cygnet

    Cygnet Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Ditto what everyone's said for starting a draft, but also, if your house is really airtight you may need to open a window a couple inches. This is not a bad idea anyway if you're burning wood inside.

    The two short, brushy trees you'll find in the White Mountains are juniper aka cedar -- cedar is used interchangeably with juniper, and I suspect you've got alligator juniper if they're short, brushy trees with very tiny, densely packed, prickly scaley "leaves" and blue-purple berries in the fall. (Incidently, the berries can be harvested and dried and used to season meat; they give it a "smokey" flavor.) Alligator junipers are kinda neat -- they live for centuries, I've seen 500 year old stumps in the dude burn area, under the rim.

    The other possibility is pinyon. If you've got pinyons on your property, they look somewhat like juniper/cedar, but if you look at the needles, they will have single needles, not clusters of needles. Look at the leaves on a ponderosa -- iirc, they're in clusters of 2 or three. There will only be single needles on pinyon. Pinyon also makes a decent firewood but their real wealth is in the nuts. Water them in dry years and you'll have a potential cash crop. :):) There should be nuts on them NOW if they're pinyons.

    As far as the wood goes, I hate to say it, but if you're pulling up deadfall that's been there for years, it's probably rotted and will not be suitable for burning inside. I won't even use nasty rotted wood for a campfire. It smokes, it smolders, it has bugs and dirt in it, as you've found. I'd wait for a good soaking rain, then pile it all up and burn it the next morning so it's not a fire hazard.

    Check your lot carefully --the beetles are killing more than just ponderosa. You may have standing small junipers/cedars that are dead. Look at the bark, you can identify them that way. You can get a surprising amount of wood out of a small juniper an the smaller ones (3-4") probably wouldn't be hard to take down with an handsaw if you don't have a chainsaw. (Incidently, scrub oak is a pain to harvest but it burns foooorevvver, if you have any.)

    For the ponderosa, you do want to get it out of there. If they're newly dead -- leaves still on -- they've got some value as building materials. My dad built a 12X16 outhouse out of bug trees, and has some logs set aside to replace the rotting 4X4s holding his porch up, tied into cement footings. Ponderosa has NO resistance to rot so you would want to make sure anything you use for projects is not in contact with the ground, and treat it with oil, but it's a nice wood to work. Relatively lightweight and easy to cut. (I am in absolute awe of the cabin I saw once, made entirely of Arizona scrub oak, over 120 years old, and likely done with hand tools. Beveled ends that tied together like they'd been machine cut. It'll probably be there in another 100 years, but man, the work to make it!) Check out the price on logs if you want to BUY them, as well.

    Older snags are a real danger. Don't walk in those woods when the wind blows! I've seen a tree that had to have been 60 feet tall and 3 feet across at the base snap in half in a 20mph wind, about a year after it died. First good windstorm of the year and they'll start coming down. In an area with a lot of kills, you can HEAR them coming down.

    Cutting them down is dangerous, though - you may want to just be careful, wait for them to fall, and them remove them yourself. But watch yourself really careful when you're out there!

    The reason you don't burn ponderosa in a stove is the pitch. It's fine for campfires or if you have a chimenea outside. Also, it burns quick so you have to keep stoking the stove every half hour if you use it.

    Leva
     
  16. Wolf mom

    Wolf mom Well-Known Member

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    Cygnet: Never knew... Yes, they have "little blue berries" on them now. Learn something every day! :) The dead pines are falling all over on my property. At least now I know I can use the little branches for kindling. I have been thinking about what to use the trunks for, but haven't come up with anything yet. So, after my retaining wall, job hunting, holidays, etc. I'll consider doing something along with building a greenhouse, painting the house, the list never ends! Not complaining, love it!

    An aside: Cynet: Had 2 acres in Star Valley as a 2nd home. Then bought a two-story in Pine. Love that little town.

    I muisunderstood you Cabin Fever: left the door wide open. :bash: I have so much trash wood, it's got to be burned someplace. Might as well keep me warm. I'm going to get some starters, too. Always pays to have alternatives.

    Wish I had oak to burn. Those little nut seeds are poisonous to horses though. Not ready to eat horsemeat.

    Have been saving newspaper all summer. It's gonna be used! Unless I just can't resist the firestarters.

    I live in a doublewide. Although it's got 6" walls and doublepane windows, I know air is coming in. I may keep a window cracked tho. Not my time to die. :D

    Thanks to you all I think I now have much more of an idea of what I'm doing.

    Start small, go slow, keep good air circulation, go for a very hot fire for draw.
    Add larger wood, keeping good air circulation around each log. Now to practice! :clap:

    Gads, I hate not to know & be so needy. :grit:
     
  17. stickinthemud

    stickinthemud Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Wolf mom, You're not the only one who needs to learn. Me too! Thanks for asking!
    CW
     
  18. Kenneth in NC

    Kenneth in NC Well-Known Member

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    Wolf Mom my Aunt made a fire every cold morning for 88 years. She kept kindlin in one box and some smaller "starter" wood in another. She was a firm believer in soaking one end of the kindlin in kersosene. once the fire started burning decent she'd add the larger wood. I can't remember ever having a draft problem. Could your chimney be clogged up?

    Hey asking questions is the best way to learn. I often have to review things I knew 30 years ago. :)


    Kenneth in NC
     
  19. insanity

    insanity Well-Known Member

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    A little paper and dry kindling works every time.If your kindling isnt catching its either to wet or to big.Think small when it comes to kindling.If you didnt have paper you could split it down to match size and start it with a match.
    Kindling is easier to split if you cut the sticks sorter.As short as need be.
    You also want to be sure its as straight as posible.As your axe will want to follow the grain of the wood.
     
  20. thedonkeyman

    thedonkeyman Well-Known Member

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    Check to see if there is a screen in the CAP over the end of the TOP of the smoke stack and take it out, "a screen will Plug up." Does your stack go straight up, or have an ELBOW ? there could be alot of ash in this area ? Wood Stove should be Longer than wide and most are the just the opposite. How far up the smoke stack is your DRAFT handle located, is it one length of pipe or more ? Never have it any closer than one length of pipe., and always make sure it's open (up and down) before you open the door. SO, WolfMom have someone get up on the ROOF and take that screen out, and let me know if there was alot of that black stuff on it........happy DONKEY DAYS. thedonkeyman ....from the Oregon territories.