Winter’s daily chore…

By this time of the season it’s kind of automatic…


Chop kindling, …


…and lay tomorrow’s fire.

For several years this was a more emotional issue than it should have had any need to be, because ten years ago I had a chimney fire – caused entirely by my own ignorance and poor design – and for quite a long time after that the sound of a rumbling fire in the stove really made my blood pressure do bad things. But I’m mostly over that now. Still keeps me johnny-on-the-spot with the chimney sweeping, I must admit.

And unfortunately for the paranoid, the secret to good quick warmth – and ironically also to a creosote-free stovepipe – is a high hot start. This will definitely make with the rumbling noise in the stovepipe that will do the blood pressure thing and I put up with years of cooler, less efficient and ultimately more dangerous fires as a result. But now I can stack the tinder high and let the woodstove’s freak flag fly without too much early morning anxiety.

It’s been an unusually mild winter so far, easy on the firewood supply, but even during a cold one I most commonly only burn the woodstove in the morning to take off the initial chill. By this part of winter I’m more likely to reach for a sweater, and also most days it’s sunny enough for the big south window to sufficiently heat the (still quite small, even with the addition) cabin. And now that the structure is complete, it’s well enough insulated to hold the heat through the evening. I really don’t like it so warm I’m stripping down to a t-shirt every time I step inside and then bundling back up to go outside.

As for lighting the fire: I recall many discussions on prepper fora about improvised firestarters and the like. Maybe that sort of thing has its charms if you’re at a hobby campfire, but believe me – when you need the fire every damned morning and right frickin’ now, that nonsense gets old. Say hello to my li’l friend…


I used to go through a lot of wooden matches in the winter. Between a propane torch and my new spark-lit stovetop, I barely even bother to stock matches anymore. 🙂

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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7 Responses to Winter’s daily chore…

  1. Steve Walton says:

    If you ever come across (and I have no idea how likely it would be) shavings from a wood planer, they make excellent fire starter. A few handfuls out of the garbage I keep nearby, and it’s a one-match solution. Always.

  2. Steve Walton says:

    …that’s garbage BAG…garbage BAG…

    I’m getting too old for this shit 😉

  3. Geoffrey says:

    RE: Chimney fires. Had one 30 years ago in a clay-lined brick chimney, no fun at all.

    Standard drill is plain black thin wall stove pipe to connect the stove to a masonry chimney, or in some cases, all the way to the outside (which requires some sort of insulated thimble at the pass-through to protect combustible building materials).

    Standard drill is also exactly what you’re doing – begin with a rather hot fire to: 1) heat up whatever chimney material is handling the exhaust to prevent condensation of creosote on the chimney interior; 2) burn off accumulated creosote daily in very small and non hazardous amounts, and; 3) clean periodically.

    What I’ve wondered about is the usefulness (and potential benefit) of double-wall insulated stainless steel chimneys. It would seem that, once heated, the insulation would retain more heat in the inner liner section that handles the exhaust, preventing creosote condensation. I have no idea if it actually works that way, though, and since some interior heat is gained from the heated single wall pipe, the insulated pipe may be a net loser overall.

  4. Joel says:

    Landlady’s woodstove has double-wall all the way up, and she never has to clean her stovepipe. It’s also rather short compared to the Lair and she runs her (potbelly) stove hot. Every year I bully her into having a look at the inside of the pipe, and every year it’s offensively clean.

  5. Geoffrey says:

    “…she runs her (potbelly) stove hot.”

    That would take care of the creosote problem. I’ve never found a stove small enough – or living quarters large enough – that I could run the stove hot. Always had to “throttle it down” to avoid being driven out by the heat. I’ve read about the large, heavy stone and/or ceramic stoves popular in Scandinavian countries that are designed to be run very hot for several hours and then let the large heated mass radiate and convect heat for 12-24 hours. Seems like a workable procedure, but it makes the stove a structural component of the building rather than a heating appliance which seems somewhat inconvenient.

  6. Stuart says:

    If the stove is loaded as shown, what is the purpose of the cast iron cradle?
    (I live on the gulf coast and know nothing of such things)

  7. Joel says:

    I put the smallest kindling on the floor of the stove just to help the main fire get going, and also to speed the formation of a good coal bed. The main fire, the wood 2×4 and bigger, is on the grate because that way air can get to it. Once the fire is really blazing it moves a lot of air.

To the stake with the heretic!