How to Light a Fire in a Wood Burning Stove


Wood burning stoves have a door at the front where the wood is placed and then lit. The smoke that is produced passes up the flue and through the chimney. It sounds very straightforward, however, it is important to use the right type of wood, not only because this affects performance but also because using the wrong type can be damaging.

For this reason it is imperative to use wood that has been dried out (or seasoned) for at least a year. This is a general guideline although different types of wood take varying amounts of time to dry out. Woods that are moist can cause a build up of resin in the chimney and once this resin reaches a certain temperature it can catch light, causing a fire hazard.

To season your wood, cut it to the required size and stack it. Ensure that it is covered but that the sides of the pile are open so that the air can get to them. The wood will also benefit from being kept indoors for several days prior to use. You can check whether your wood is well seasoned because the majority of wood will become split at the ends once dried out.


Kindling is the small pieces of dried wood that are used to start the fire. It can be prepared by chopping up some seasoned firewood into small, long pieces so that it resembles small sticks. Good woods to use for kindling are beech or ash. As well as being seasoned, you should ensure that any wood used in your wood burner has not been painted, varnished or treated with a wood preservative.

Types of Wood

Some types of wood burn better than others so it is best to be aware of the qualities of different types of wood. The suitability of a particular type of wood will depend on various factors such as how easily it lights, how fast it burns, how much heat it gives off and how long it takes to season. Additionally, some woods can be detrimental, such as pine and spruce when freshly cut, as they give off a lot of smoke and sparks, and can produce a thick layer of tar on the walls of the chimney.

Generally, soft woods burn quickly, with hard woods burning more slowly. All woods have different characteristics, but some good choices for wood burning stoves are ash, beech and hazel. Those that are of a low quality for burning include alder, larch, pine and poplar.

Building the Fire

Although there are different methods for lighting a fire in a wood burner, the following method is a good one. Start by removing any ash from inside the stove to ensure that it is not blocking the flow of air into the fire. You should then open the vents at the bottom of the stove as these allow air to circulate and will therefore help the fire to light.

Next, place some scrunched up paper at the bottom of the fire; old newspaper can be handy for this. It is best to use plenty as this will help the flames to spread along the base of the fire. You should then place a layer of kindling sticks on top of the paper so that the sticks cross over each other in different directions.

Lighting the Fire

Once you have finished laying the kindling sticks you can set light to the paper. It is best to do this in several places then shut the stove door. When much of the kindle has become lit, a few large pieces of wood can be placed on the fire. You should ensure that the oven is not completely full by only adding three to four large pieces of wood at a time. As the fire builds, gradually close the bottom air vents and open the air vents at the top of the stove. The idea is to reduce the air supply whilst maintaining a good level of flames.

Optimum Performance

For a wood fire to burn effectively it needs a good supply of air. However, it is important not to overheat the stove, as repeated overheating can cause damage to the metal. You can control the level of the fire by adjusting the air supply using the vents or the grate.

To check whether your stove is burning efficiently take a look at the flames through the glass door. These should be lively and visible. Indications of an inefficient fire are if the flames are slow or intermittent, the fire is smoky, or there is tar on the window. If the window shows signs of tar then there could also be tar deposits in the chimney, which represents a fire hazard. As has already been stressed, it is vital to ensure that the wood has been seasoned before it is used in a wood burning stove, as moist woods can also cause a build-up of resin or tar in the chimney.

To get the best from a wood burner it is best to use it regularly. If a stove is used frequently for slow wood burning then it is recommended to have a hot stove twice a week as this will keep the inside of the chimney dry and avoid an accumulation of tar deposits.